1/29/2017

Poem to a Little Child

Little child so filled with fear,
I wish your mom had held you near,
Had hugged you when you felt so scared,
And let you know that someone cared.
Who helped your heart to slow its beat
So you could firmly plant your feet?
No help came, and so you hid
Yourself below a heavy lid.

Little child so filled with rage,
I see you there inside your cage,
Your heart like water boiling hot
Kept beneath the lidded pot.
You swallow down this burning hate;
It’s the portion on your plate.
But oh, dear child, don’t you know
Your rage has nowhere else to go?

Little child, I see your hurt,
Your hard heart crushed to powdery dirt.
I hear your sobbing, hear your cries.
I see your tears and downcast eyes.
I see you when you cannot stand
Without someone to hold your hand—
Locked away inside your vault.
Dear child, this is not your fault.

Little child, God made you good.
I wish you only understood
That you were not created bad.
This sight makes me feel so sad:
To see you out there all alone,
Turning your precious heart to stone
So you don’t feel the aching pain
Of longing that will long remain.

CC0
To the extent possible under law, J has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work. This work is published from: United States.

2/29/2016

What Is Countertransference?: An Attempted Explanation

[This post was edited on 3/1/2016 because I forgot to insert reference information for the article I cited.]

Last February I wrote about the difference between two interesting but often confusing concepts: projection and transference. You can read my take on those concepts here. This February I'm writing about a real humdinger called ‘countertransference.’ Quite a mouthful, right? Based on the reading I've done over the past couple weeks, it seems that even the professionals vary in how they define this complex concept. Of course, that might just be because I lack proper academic perspective. Whatever the case, this is my attempt to explain what I (think I) have learned about countertransference.

One way to understand countertransference is to remember its number. What does that mean? In the post I mentioned above, I approached projection and transference the same way. There is a minimum of 2 people involved in projection, 3 people in transference. In countertransference, you most likely will have at least 4 people involved. The picture below illustrates this. There are 2 active participants (Me and Therapist) and 2 inactive and absent participants (My past person and Therapist's past person).

Just like with plain old transference, countertransference is a subconscious mind trick that takes a person from the past and brings them into the present. In a clinical context, it is the counselor who exhibits countertransference behavior in reaction to the client's transference behavior. How about a hypothetical example? Let's say that during one of my appointments my therapist says something to me that triggers a strong reaction and all of a sudden my mind causes me to see my therapist as my dad. So I am no longer talking to my therapist in the here and now. I am talking to/yelling at my dad in the there and then—that's transference. In response to my transference behavior, my therapist's mind is triggered and all of a sudden instead of seeing me, her client, she sees her child who is in need of a proper scolding. This is countertransference. [Important aside and personal note: My therapist has never scolded me as if I were her child. I work with an incredibly talented and professional counselor who does a great job of regulating her own emotional state despite my frequent emotion dysregulation. End personal note.] You can probably see where this initial exchange could snowball into an ugly mess instead of a productive therapy session. Good thing this is merely hypothetical!

A great way to visualize transference and countertransference is by picturing a pendulum swinging back and forth. Hence the balls and strings in the picture above. One article I read about countertransference spoke of it as “the emotional pendulum effect that starts with the client’s natural transference behaviors” (Jackson, 2002). Imagine yourself taking your emotional weight from the past and letting it fly towards your therapist. If he isn't prepared to encounter transference behavior, he may react with his own emotional weight and swing it towards you.

Just like with transference, countertransference isn't always negative and isn't limited to the clinical setting. We all wear both hats on different occasions. From an everyday human being's perspective I think it is helpful to understand to some degree what countertransference is. Sometimes it is easy to forget that everyone comes with their own emotional baggage. But when we all see each other for who we really are and not so-and-so from the past, then we are able to adapt and learn and heal and grow in our current relationships and life situations.

Quoted source:
Jackson, K. C. (2002). Counselling transference / countertransference issues. ContactPoint Bulletin (Winter 2002). Retrieved from https://contactpoint.ca/2013/01/counselling-transference-countertransference-issues/

2/08/2016

How God Introduces Himself

[This post was edited on 2/10/2016.]

Have you ever thought about what God calls himself? How does he identify himself to others? Does he tell us a job title or define his qualities? Does he tell us his name? These may be basic questions. But I think sometimes it's helpful for people who grew up going to church to take a step back and reacquaint ourselves with God, perhaps even at the most basic level. We may find we don't know him quite as well as we assumed.

I decided to go back to the most basic part of relationship: introductions. It's hard to have an ongoing relationship without this initial step. It's also hard to have a coherent conversation with a phone caller, brand new supervisor, or the run-of-the-mill disembodied voice if they launch into it without ever telling you who they are. Below are some examples of God introducing himself or identifying himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.

When God renames Abram Abraham and Jacob Israel and reaffirms his promises to them, he identifies himself as God Almighty.

  • Gen 17:1—When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yahweh appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty. Walk before me, and be blameless.”
    (See Gen 17:1–8 for context.)
  • Gen 35:11—God said to [Jacob/Israel], “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations will be from you, and kings will come out of your body.”
    (See Gen 35:9–12 for context.)
In these instances, God uses a title/quality to identify himself. Introducing himself as God Almighty is, perhaps, his way of verbally emphasizing his authority to rename Abram and Jacob and to offer such great promises.

God also introduces himself in terms of his relationship with others. Most commonly he introduces himself as the God of Abraham or the “God of your father.”

  • Gen 26:24—Yahweh appeared to [Isaac] the same night, and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you, and will bless you, and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
    (See Gen 26:17–25 for context.)
  • Gen 46:2, 3—“Jacob, Jacob.” … He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Don’t be afraid to go down into Egypt, for there I will make of you a great nation.”
    (See Gen 46:1–4 for context.)
  • Ex 3:6—Moreover he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look at God.
    (See Ex 3:1–6 for context. See also references to this passage in Matt 22:32, Mark 12:26, and Acts 7:30–32.)
I find it interesting that in all the abovementioned passages there is mention of fear. God allies himself with Isaac, Jacob, and Moses by emphasizing his relationship to people they know or know of. These men need not fear because they know others who have or had relationships with God, giving them indirect experiential proof that he is someone that can be trusted in some capacity.

Now we get to the name of God. God's name has been transliterated a number of ways including YHVH, YHWH, Yahweh, and, perhaps the most common to us American folk, Jehovah.

  • Ex 6:2–3—God spoke to Moses, and said to him, “I am Yahweh; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them.”
  • Isa 42:8—“I am Yahweh. / That is my name. / I will not give my glory to another, / nor my praise to engraved images.”

God reveals another name to Moses when he appears to him in the burning bush: I AM WHO I AM, or, more simply, I AM. Various biblical sources conclude that this name is connected to the meaning of God's name Yahweh, which has to do with the concept of existence.

  • Ex 3:14—God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he said, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Note that God's name was officially revealed to Moses, the one who related God's law to the Israelites after their Egyptian captivity. The giver of the “new law” is recorded as echoing God's words to Moses in John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, ‘Most certainly, I tell you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM.’”

I take great comfort in the fact that God's name essentially means “to be.” God exists! No matter what else may be happening around me, to me, or within me, God IS! There is someone bigger than me. Someone permanent, who IS, present tense. Always present tense and always present. It is great to meet the God who is. What an impressive introduction from a God interested in long-lasting, never-ending relationship.

To wrap up, I'm going to end with one of the most memorable introductions in the Bible. It's one I recently mentioned, but it is too powerful not to mention again. In it we see the declaration of a name and defining of relationship. The underlying emphasis I see throughout is the emphasis on the meaning of the name and how it defines its owner. We're going back with Moses to the burning bush. God has just commissioned him to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of captivity. Here is the ensuing conversation between Moses and God:

Moses said to God, “Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you;’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What should I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he said, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God said moreover to Moses, “You shall tell the children of Israel this, ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations.” (Ex 3:13–15)

Scripture quoted from the World English Bible. The World English Bible is in the Public Domain. That means that it is not copyrighted. See copyright information here: https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/World-English-Bible-WEB/#copy.

1/25/2016

Who Is God? And Who Am I?

It often seems the simplest questions have the most complex answers, if they can be answered at all. With an opening sentence like that you probably guessed I'm going to wax philosophical. And if you did, you are correct. So bail now if you're not in the mood for abstract quandaries.

I'm going to start with something I've been thinking a lot about lately, and that's the second question in my title: Who am I? As part of the “Millennial Generation,” it should come as no surprise that I would be asking myself this question on a daily basis. (Just google “millennial narcissism” and you'll quickly see what I mean. *wink*) Who am I? That is quite the loaded question. Put another way, What makes me me?, the question doesn't get any easier.

  • Is it a relational thing? Does who my parents are define me? Who my friends are? Is it where I fall in birth order?
  • Is it something intangible, like my hopes, my dreams, my desires? My likes and my dislikes?
  • Maybe what defines me are the characteristics you can see. Is it my height or weight or skin color? Is it my stunning blue eyes? (Whoops, narcissism.)
  • Could it be the words I say or don't say? The things I do or don't do?
  • Maybe I'm thinking about this too hard and it really is as simple as the old adage “You are what you eat.” I hope that's not it because I'd be half a bag of potato chips right now.

I think the answer to the questions in the list above is “Yes, and….” (Though I am partially joking about the potato chips thing.) The answer to the question “Who am I?” must be complex if I've spent the last 30 years with myself and still find it hard to explain.

It dawned on me a few days ago that there is really only one way I want to define who I am. And that is in relation to God. I thought about infants, how their whole world is their mom and/or dad (and/or [insert applicable caregiver here]). What if my whole world centered on my relationship with God? What if I allowed him to help me figure out who I am? (Spoiler: He already knows.) That train of thought ended with, “Who is God?” Now there's a loaded question if ever there was one. There were several train stops between “Who Am I?” and “Who Is God?,” but I'm going to save those for another time. Consider this a springboard launching us into (an amateur) study of who God is in relation to us, and in turn, what that says about not only who I am but who you are.

11/16/2015

No Longer Invisible

The other day as I browsed my Netflix watch list for a way to occupy some of my Friday evening, I noticed a documentary was about to be removed. It's a documentary I've seen before, and even four-starred (out of five possible stars). And believe you me, I am stingy with those stars. The documentary is called The Invisible War. In it, filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering interview dozens of women and men discussing the topic of military sexual trauma.

When I hear the words “military” and “trauma” in the same phrase, I think of PTSD resulting from combat, the horrific experiences felt and witnessed by men and women in war. Toss the word “sexual” in the middle of those two oft-linked words and the issue gets confused. String those three words together and my mind goes to POWs grossly abused and tortured as in the events that took place at Abu Ghraib. Certainly that would qualify as military sexual trauma. But this documentary is about US soldiers who have been traumatized and assaulted, not about US soldiers perpetrating heinous crimes against foreign POWs. The military sexual trauma discussed throughout The Invisible War, indeed the “invisible war” itself, is the infliction of sexual crimes by US military against US military and the ensuing battles that rage within and around the survivors as they try to come to terms with this most personal betrayal and seek justice from a biased and unjust system that would rather close its eyes and ears.

My understanding is that since the release of The Invisible War, several members of Congress have taken a keen interest in the plight of US military women and men who have been hurt and betrayed by their very own. A recent bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, attempted to address flaws in the military justice system, but did not gain enough support to become law. Though the bill was not enacted there have been changes in how the military handles sexual assault cases. The documentary gives a bit of insight into those changes.

At the end of The Invisible War, the viewer is directed to the website http://www.notinvisible.org/. Shortly after viewing this documentary for the first time, I added that link to the “Helpful and Informative Sites” section of my blog (see “Not Invisible — US military” under the “PTSD” section heading). The website contains a variety of resources, current events, and general information for vets who experienced sexual assault while serving in the military. To the affected service men and women, the war you have fought and are fighting against military injustice and sexual trauma no longer has to be kept secret; this no longer must be an invisible war.

As I reflect on my own (nonmilitary) experiences with sexual trauma, I realize that one of the hardest parts was carrying the secret of what happened on my own. For more than two years, I lived completely alone with it, with the fear, the guilt, the shame, the sadness. I still struggle with that today. With keeping certain aspects of my experiences secret. Sometimes just the thought of someone else knowing even a little bit of what happened is enough to terrify me. But then, when that surge of fear passes, I know it is good to not keep this a secret. I need to not be invisible. If the war is invisible—if my struggles are invisible—I cannot be helped. And that may be as tragic as the experiences themselves.

Whether your heart seeks out stories of injustice because you are overflowing with desire to show compassion to the wounded in your community or whether you know someone personally who is struggling with issues or life events like those discussed in the film, I recommend you watch The Invisible War and find out how you can get involved. You can stream it on Netflix until 11/20/15. It is also available on iTunes or Amazon. And I'm sure there are a variety of other ways you can gain access to it as well. However, be warned that if you are easily triggered by this topic, you should proceed with caution. This film contains several accounts of sexual assault, some discussion on suicide, and some instances of harsh language.