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Peter's Blog

I have found that my life experiences shaped what I believe about myself. I realized that many of the things I believed about myself were based on wrong conclusions and false beliefs, due to trauma in my life.  The freedom I have found has been a result of seeking truth and choosing to believe what is true about me.  Often my clients will ask me during a session, "Do you have any of this in writing?"  This blog is my attempt to share the universal truths I have discovered.  Revelations 12:11 says that they overcame by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (story).  God's grace has been abundant in my life and my story has become strong.  I invite you to experience God's grace and write a powerful story of your life.

Changing Behavior & Acceptance Commitment Therapy
Category: Changing Behavior

Carl Rogers the American psychologist and founding member of client-centered therapy once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am then I can change.”   Strong feelings and the conclusions we form often keep us stuck in the false beliefs we hold about ourselves.

I have recently completed intensive training in the evidence-based therapy Acceptance Commitment Therapy or ACT.  As a result, many of my clients are shifting their perspective of “doing” to find meaning in life, to “being” and finding life meaningful.  This is helping them “unstick” from past trauma or feelings that continue to trigger painful events. 

The ACT model helps clients move from the false beliefs they hold towards what they value most in life creating a greater flexible functional lifestyle.  ACT helps clients come into contact with painful experiences and still choose.  They notice what they are feeling and not driven by the pain to make decisions.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT is a powerful new psychotherapy based on cutting-edge research into how the human mind works. It has been clinically proven to be successful in a wide range of psychological problems. It’s premise is to learn how to accept those things that are out of your control, and commit to changing those things that can be changed to make your life better.

The therapist strives to help the client obtain what is called psychological flexibility.  Psychological flexibility is defined as the ability to come into contact with painful experiences and still choose.  Clients notice what they feel and are not driven by the pain to decide.  Therapists use psychological flexibility as a measure of emotional and mental health.

An example: I have a thought “I am an idiot.” Being inflexible, my range of coping is limited and I withdraw and shut down. Being flexible, I am able to reframe the thought expanding my options of coping whereby I share my feeling and ask for validation.

We can train people to be psychologically flexible. We want people to be able to come into direct contact with painful experiences and still make a functional choice.

There are six common core processes that create Psychological Flexibility.  They are:

1. Acceptance – being willing to sit in our pain

2. Defusion – taking our minds less seriously (rather than being fused with thoughts, feelings, memories and sensations.) 

a. Bringing awareness to thoughts, feelings, memories and sensations, the response to them, and the consequence of that response.

b. Inviting openness to the effectiveness of the response to the feelings and thoughts.

c. Promoting engagement with a flexible response to thought

3. Present Moment – different from traditional mindfulness (being aware of feelings and thoughts in the present moment.)  In the present moment, I hold onto my pain so that I can choose to do the things I care about.

4. Self as Context – You are not your thoughts.

5. Values – Who and what matters most

6. Commitment – Doing of what matters most to you. 

No one common core process is more important than the other.  They are grouped into three stages to better understand how to flow through each process. 

The first is the Open stage where the process of Acceptance and Defusion occurs.  In the Acceptance process we are noticing (identifying) what we feel without judgment. We sit in our in our pain.  During the Defusion process we identify the meaning we give thoughts, feelings and experiences without letting them define us.

The second stage is Aware where we engage the process of being in the Present Moment.  During this process we realize we are in the here and now and rather than there and then. The second process is Self-as-Context where we come to believe that our feelings, thoughts and experiences do not define us.

During the last stage we Engage.  The Values process identifies what is true about us, and what and who matters most to us. The final process of Commitment identifies the things we can choose to move towards what we value most and is most meaningful to us in life.

I am excited about ACT therapy as it compliments and completes concepts of Belief Systems Therapy. Belief Systems Therapy (BST) theorizes that behavior is motivated by our thoughts and feelings, which flow from what we believe about ourselves.  In order to change our behavior we must discover what motivates that behavior.  Our actions are motived by our emotions (the power source) that originate from the conclusions we have formed about ourselves.  These conclusions or beliefs are the root of our behavior. 

We learn to identify feelings and thoughts and the meaning we give them utilizing a tool called the Belief Check In.  Once we identify what is true about us, we are free to make a choice based on reality and not a false conclusion from our past feelings or experiences.  Do I choose behavior based on how I feel, or do I make a decision based on what I know to be true?  We ask the following questions to unpack a given event and create change in the present moment.

  1. What do I feel? 

  1. Why do I feel this?

  1. What do I believe about myself at this moment?

  1. What is true about me?

  1. What do I need?

  1. How do I get this need met legitimately?

The Belief Check In helps discover what we are feeling, what is true about us and what we need.  Through this discovery we are able to make a choice based on what is true versus false conclusions from past experiences.

The BST process overlays with the ACT process three stages of Open, Aware and Engaged.  During the open stage we ask ourselves the questions of what do I feel, why do I feel this?  In the Aware stage we ask ourselves what is true about us.  Finally, in the Engaged stage we identify what we need and how to get it met legitimately by asking the last two questions.

ACT utilizes a tool called a Life Map to help clients identify how they move away or towards their values.  Working through this process enables clients to begin to live in the present moment, sitting in their pain but still moving (choosing) towards what is most important to them.  By laying the Life Map over the BST model, we combine the Belief Check In to help us accept painful feelings, thoughts and experiences without creating coping behaviors that ease our pain temporarily but move us away from our values.  Below is a diagram showing the two theories overlay.

Systemic change happens when individuals are able to observe their behaviors, identify the feelings that motivate that behavior and connect the core belief or conclusion about themselves to that feeling.  In doing so, change occurs when the individual changes what they believe to agree with what is true that creates new feelings motivating changed behavior. 

The place that many get stuck in is the painfulness of those feelings attached to conclusions they hold about themselves.  It is in this stage that individuals will say, “I know what is true but I don’t feel it.”  This results in decision being made based on feelings rather than what is actually true.

ACT helps clients accept the painful feelings and experiences and be OK in that painful place.  They are free to make choices based on what is true instead of trying to avoid or escape the painful feelings.  Individuals discover what the true meaning of their pain is and begin to move towards what is most important to them.

I am excited and motivated to implement the key concepts of ACT in helping clients discover what is true about them and free them to move towards a more fulfilled and meaningful life.


Posted by Peter M. on 04/25/2017

Grief and the Holidays
Category: General
The holiday season is a difficult time for many people.  It does not always bring tidings of comfort and joy but of regret, sorrow and loss.  For those who have experienced loss they feel the pain and grief of that loss particularly at the Holidays.
 
Grief is a normal and common response to loss.  While it is a normal occurrence, God did not create us to experience loss.  Loss came about because of sin. This is what makes grief so difficult and different for everyone.   Grief is the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one—which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief—but any loss can cause grief.
 
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a relationship break-up.  People experience grief over a variety of loss such as a job loss, failure of a business, or loss of a home.
 
The five stages of grief
  1. Denial - Denial occurs as a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It's a defense mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely.
  1. Anger - Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them.
  1. Bargaining - Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with God. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?.." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death.
  1. Depression - Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it's the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the 'aftermath' although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It's a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.
  1. Acceptance - This stage is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
Grief Cycle
People enter a cycle of grief when experiencing loss.  Each stage of the cycle and the resulting emotions may occur simultaneously.  This complicates the experience of grief as a person floats in and out of each stage creating emotional chaos that the person attempts...

Posted by Peter M. on 12/15/2016

Changing Behavior - Part II
Category: Changing Behavior

The Belief Check In (BCI) identifies what is motivating our behaivors and changes the ones that are maladaptive in our life.

The first part of the BCI helps us identify feelings and the core beliefs they are attached too.  We find freedom when we are able to make choices that are based on what is true about us. 

Using the Tree of Belief as a metaphor, the apples represent our behavior.  The apples attached to the branches, show that our behavior is attached or motivated by something.  The branches represent our thoughts or feelings.  Our thoughts and feelings originate from the conclusions we made about ourselves based on life experiences.  These conclusions become our core beliefs.

If we want to change our behavior we must change what we believe about ourselves which changes how we feel and what we do.  When we begin to believe what is true about ourselves then our self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth grows and we become a more solid self.

Belief Check In


Our beliefs about ourselves change when we reinforce through action what is true about us.  The second part of the BCI identifies the need I have and how to meet it legitimately.

We see the first four questions are a discovery of what we believe and whether it is based on something false or true.

The last two questions identify what we need and how to get it met in a legitimate way.  This will reinforce either the feeling or the truth.

The Belief Check In is a powerful tool to changing behavior.


Posted by Peter M. on 06/12/2016

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa
Category: General

Over the holiday’s I heard the classic Christmas song “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  The original recording by Jimmy Boyd was recorded on July 15, 1952 when he was 13 years old.  The song describes a scene where a child walks downstairs on Christmas Eve to see his mother kissing "Santa Claus" (his father in a Santa Claus costume) under the mistletoe.  While with extended family my 22-year-old nephew told me the true meaning of this song.  I was flabbergasted when I realized I had given this song the wrong meaning for over 50 years.  

I had interpreted the meaning of the song through the false conclusions from my childhood.  I never saw my parents show affection or even kiss.  So when I heard the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause” it was filtered through the dysfunction of my childhood and I concluded it was about being unfaithful.  I was dumbfounded when I realized the true meaning of the song that daddy was Santa Claus. 

I have noticed how couples emotionality leads to misinterpreting things that are said between each other.  I often find myself asking clients “What meaning are you giving that statement?”  Recently in session, a spouse made a factual comment.  I observed her husband becoming defensive and offended and asked what meaning he gave her comment.  He responded saying she had rejected him.  I asked her if she was rejecting him and she said no.  He was able to see that her comment went through his filter but was not based on what was true but rather a false belief he held.

People form conclusions based on experiences they encounter in life. Often these conclusions are false and the result of others behavior towards us, and no fault of our own.  Healing involves discovering what is true about me apart from my experiences and reframing events in light of this truth. 

In our interactions with others, it becomes necessary to ask ourselves what meaning I give something said to me and is it true.  One thing you can count on in marriage is conflict.  Whether it is not shutting cabinet doors, drinking milk from the carton or leaving dirty clothes on the floor there will always be something to complain about.  We create distance when we become offended by something our spouse says or does and give it meaning it does not have.  Choosing to not be offended necessitates that we exercise empathy and ask ourselves “why would they say or do that?”  “What is the true meaning of their words or action?”  By asking these questions we begin to enter our spouses world and hear their heart.

If we believe the best about our loved ones, then we can begin to discover why certain behaviors bother us.  When upset I often ask myself, “Why is this triggering me?  When do I remember feeling this in my youth?”  Then I look to be sure I am not giving it meaning it does not have.  If I am unsure, I ask the other person why they said or did that.  If we can begin to operate from a position of not being offended by our spouse, then conflict will only be conflict and not mean I am not loved, respected or valuable.  Remember, Santa was daddy.

Posted by Peter M. on 02/15/2016

The Power of Sharing Feelings
Category: General

I was at a shopping mall recently and observed an elderly couple walking together hand in hand.  I wondered how long had they been married and what their life journey must have been.  I hoped that some day my wife and I would be as old as them walking hand in hand at the twilight of our life.

A healthy marriage is three-dimensional encompassing emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy. Marriages that regularly experience all three levels of intimacy weather the storms of life creating the kind of bond I witnessed with the elderly couple in the mall.

Recently a client shared a letter he sent to his wife after an argument.  He wanted to “step into the relationship” by sharing his feelings with her.  He was able validate her feelings, affirm her and risk sharing how he was feeling. 

Emotional intimacy is experienced when we risk being vulnerable and expose our most tender feelings and in return are heard and validated.  The outcome of this clients exchange was a deeper level of intimacy and trust being built between them.

Husbands letter to his wife

My dear sweet Wife,

There are so many things that I love about you. I love your creativity, how you are able to see the beauty in things and create something that expresses it’s beauty to share with others.

I love your tender heart for others and how this gentleness reaches out to those hurting, even when you don’t know them. It upsets you to hear me be critical or judgmental of strangers I see on the street and make comments.  I love how you honor the value that God places on people by seeing the good and lovely in people.  I love how you have been my champion. Even when I didn’t believe in me, you did. You have been my constant companion always believing the best about me.

You are one of the most beautiful women I have ever met, inside and out. Your beauty flows from the strength of your character.  I love that you love God more than you love me. I love your dedication and commitment to him above all else. I love that you get up every morning to meet with him. I love that you pray for me and hear God on my behalf.  You are the most valuable thing outside of Christ in my life.

I am struggling to find intimacy with you that I have never been able to have because of my fear of being rejected. I recognize that his fear is so ingrained that in my most intimate relationship with you, I am often afraid to risk. This is my fear to conquer; my battle to wage; this does not say anything about you. This is about my fear and what God is compelling me to do, to fight.

You see if I can push through and find intimacy with you, I am convinced that I will find the kind of intimacy with Him that has evaded me my whole life. Understand, I feel close to God and often feel his presence, but I know he wants a deeper relationship with Him. And I believe He wants to use our relationship to accomplish this...for me and for you. He is after our hearts.

I felt hurt by your anger tonight. Please forgive me for triggering your anger. I know at times I am self-absorbed which is damaging to such a precious and gentle heart like yours. I feel sorrow over driving you to that place of anger.

Part of being intimate is sharing how one feels, including and perhaps most importantly those powerful feelings that attempt to falsely define us. If I am clumsy about that I am sorry.

I work hard and diligently at not letting shame define who I am. I have done terrible things and hurt you at the core of who you are. I will forever be sorry for that and grieve the pain that I have caused you. I want to be able to validate your pain my past actions have inflicted upon you.

Your words about “Tennessee” felt accusatory. They cut me and pushed me to a place of mistrust and defensiveness. I don’t like th...

Posted by Peter M. on 01/23/2016

Changing Behavior
Category: Changing Behavior
Changing Behavior - Belief Systems Therapy

Life is made up of experiences and the conclusions we draw from them. Emotions attached to repeated and similar experiences forms beliefs. If the meaning we give these experiences is grounded in what is not true, then our behavior is driven by feelings based on these false beliefs instead of what is true about ourselves.  We form conclusions based on these experiences.  These false conclusions form beliefs we hold about ourselves which create negative emotions that impact our choices.

It is commonly thought that experiences determine how we feel or behave (Ridgeway, 2005).  Belief Systems Therapy (BST) theorizes that behavior is motivated by how we feel which flows from what we believe about ourselves.  In order to change our behavior we must discover what motivates that behavior.  Our actions are motived by our emotions (the power source) that flow from what we believe about ourselves.  These beliefs are the root of our behavior.

In the picture we see an apple tree which the apples represent our behavior.  Looking at the apple tree, we see that the apples are attached to branches which represent our thoughts and emotions.  Thus, our behavior is attached to what we think or feel at any given moment.  Buried are the roots of the tree.  If the roots of this tree are bad then the tree will be sick and eventually die.  The roots represent our core beliefs about ourselves and how we fit in the world.  It is our world view.  If a person wants to change their behavior, they must identify their feelings and discover what beliefs these feelings are attached too.  Change the root belief and everything including behavior changes.

Belief Systems Therapy Major Concept

The major concepts of the Belief Systems Therapy are a combination of several like therapeutic modalities.  The concepts of these therapies have been researched and proven to be effective therapies.

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT)

  • Underlying beliefs and philosophies are the foundation for behavior.

  • Beliefs about yourself creates behavior that maintains, prevents, and allows recovery from emotional disturbance.

  • Biological and social factors along with cognitive factors are involved in the experiencing and acting process.

  • Psychological disturbances are influenced by biological tendencies, environmental and social conditions, created and sustained by a philosophy of dogmatic, rigid commands or demands and irrational conclusions” (Bendersky Sacks, 2004).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy's (CBT) central premise is that “behavior is maintained by its consequences” (Nichols, 2010, p. 245) and that thoughts or cognitions influence our thinking and feeling.

Intergenerational Family Therapy (Bowen)

  • Bowen’s Intergenerational Family Therapy believed that “human relationships are driven by two counterbalancing life forces:  individuality and togetherness” (Nichols, 2010, p. 113).  Self-differentiation (emotional separateness) allows individuals to be secure in themselves while relating to others without others defining us.

Integration of Ideas

  • REBT evolved from CBT with the distinction of the need to change attitude in order to promote and maintain behavioral modification (Nichols, 2010).

  • Bowen stressed that self-differentiation led to balance between separateness and togetherness.  He believed that the nuclear family was a significant contributor to...

Posted by Peter M. on 01/02/2016

Attachment Theory
Category: General

Attachment is an emotional bond to another person and is described as a “bond or tie between an individual and an attachment figure (Prior & Glaser, 2006, p. 15).”  In its simplest explanation, attachment theory involves mothers being available and responsive to their infants’ needs, resulting in establishing a sense of security for the child.  An attachment is thus formed.

Psychologist John Bowlby was the first to articulate attachment theory.  Mary Ainsworth and others later followed his work.  Attachment theory centers on the bond that an infant develops with his/her caregiver.  It is seen as proximity-seeking to the attachment figure when the child feels threatened.  Bowlby originally formulated his theory as a start-stop system (Prior & Glaser, 2006).  When a child experiences comfort the system is relaxed.  Attachment behavior is activated when discomfort occurs.  There four stages of attachment development.

  • Phase 1 – Orientation and signals without discrimination of figure (Bowlby)
  • Initial pre-attachment (Ainsworth)
  • Phase 2 – Orientation and signals directed towards one (or more) discriminated figure(s) (Bowlby)
  • Attachment-in-the-making (Ainsworth)
  • Phase 3 – Maintenance of proximity to a discriminated figure by means of locomotion as well as signals (Bowlby)
  • Clear-cut attachment (Ainsworth)
  • Phase 4 – Formation of goal-corrected partnership (Bowlby and Ainsworth) (Prior & Glaser, 2006, p. 19).
Phase one occurs from birth to 8 weeks of age in which the infants develops behaviors designed to attract the attention of caregivers.  Phase two occurs from 8 weeks until 6 months where the infant begins to be able to discriminate familiar and unfamiliar adults.  Phase three occurs between 6 and 7 months of age and potentially beyond one year.  With the child now able to move from place to place the infant begins to explore while recognizing his caregiver as his base to explore.  During the final phase the child begins to see his/her mother figure as an independent figure from him/herself (Prior & Glaser, 2006).

Through her research Mary Ainsworth described three characteristics of attachment; secure attachment, ambivalent attachment, and avoidant attachment.  Secure attachment occurs when a child that is in distress receive the comfort sought from their caregivers.  Ambivalent attachment occurs when the child becomes distressed whenever the caregiver leaves.  While this is seen as uncommon, it is thought to be a result of poor maternal availability.  The child with avoidant attachment avoids the caregivers when given the choice between the caregiver and a stranger.  This is thought to be the result of abusive or neglectful behavior of the caregivers.

Fundamental in the concept of attachment theory is the idea that a basic need being developed and nurtured is one of trust.  Understanding attachment theory helps therapists deal with clients problems at very basic and core levels – the need to be able to trust others and feel loved.  From my perspective resolving issues of inability of clients to trust is rooted in the understanding of how this basic need was met or not.  Using attachment development theory opens the understanding of what clients need and why they are unable to find it as an adult.

Erik Erikson identified eight stages of development that begin at birth and end at death.  These stages trust autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, ...

Posted by Peter M. on 12/20/2015

Recovering from being wounded
Category: General
Life is made up of experiences we have and the conclusions we draw from them. Emotions are attached to these experiences, which over repetition become beliefs. If the meaning we have given these experiences is not grounded in what is true, then our behavior is driven by feelings based on false beliefs instead of what is true about ourselves.
 
We all will be wounded and we will wound others that are close to us. If there is a system in place of restoration then our spirits can experience healing. If there is not a system in place, or that system is not accessed, then there is no healing of the wounded spirit. Defense mechanisms develop to help us survive as we build walls of protection to keep out further wounding.

TYPES OF WOUNDING: 

  1. Intrusive wounding – Wounds that are committed against you (i.e. sexual, physical, emotional abuse.
  2. Non-intrusive wounding – Wounds that are of omission such as neglect.
CORE NEEDS
Emotional – love, acceptance, purpose or significance
Physical – food, nutrition
Spiritual – uniqueness, worship, know God, meaning of life 
Psychological – purpose, significance, work
Mental – creative expression, vision
 
Belief System Check-in is the process that addresses the walls we build to protect us when wounded. 

This restoration begins first with restoring our relationship and intimacy with God.  Start recovery where the presenting problem is. Sexual addiction penetrates down to our wounded spirit (core needs).
RESTORATION
This restoration begins first with restoring our relationship and intimacy with God.
 
Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  1. We must commit to step 1 100%.
  2. The lie from Satan resides in step 1. It must be completely exposed.
  3. Dirt – Things I have control over
    Seeds – wounding
    Trees – beliefs
    Fruit - behavior
  4. Cut the trees eliminate the fruit.
  5. Pull the roots eliminate the beliefs.
 Step 2 – Came to believe that Jesus Christ could restore us to sanity.
  1. Fill the chasm from pulled roots with healthy behaviors.

PROBLEM: ADDICTION

We start recovery where the presenting problem is. Addictions penetrate down to our wounded spirit (core needs).
  1. Detox (stop the addictive behaviors)
  2. Address disorders
  3. Expose barriers and/or compulsions
  4. Gain awareness
  5. Begin to shut/tear down barriers
  6. Address core...

Posted by Peter M. on 12/19/2015

   
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