On most evenings after I graduated from Antioch University (1994) with my Masters in Clinical Psychology, I continued my daily study habits by sitting down at the kitchen table after dinner with no less than three books in front of me related to the disciplines of Psychology, Theology or Medicine.
I enjoyed my “technical books” as my wife Leslie called them, (anyone remember the Technical bookstore in Westwood, CA?) which consisted of dictionaries of psychology, theological concordances, Big Books of 12 Step groups, etc. It was a very enlightening time for me!
As a newly minted MFCC Intern (Marriage, Family and Child Counselor), my thirst for figuring out and understanding human behavior was unquenchable, especially since Al Collins and OJ Simpson had just driven up the I-405 Freeway (literally on the day I graduated), Los Angeles had experienced and was recovering from the riots two years earlier (1992) and I wanted to fulfill my commitment to Dr. Monica Roach, who scholarshipped my attendance at Antioch upon the condition that I use my degree to assist people who were homeless.
With an undergraduate degree in Theology from Pacific Christian College (now Hope International University; in 1983) under my belt, I wanted to understand how all of these disciplines intersected, as each addressed the mind, human behavior, behavioral change, characterological disorders as well as character values, which I understood if applied in ones’s life, could hopefully offset the sting if not presence altogether of dysfunctional behaviors.
What follows in this post and in the next (“Choosing Change #5: Traveling with Intention”) are a few reflections and suggestions regarding how we could achieve change in our life and relationships by intentionally focusing on the development and growth of specific character values.
Dr. John M. Oldham and Lois B Morris researched and wrote about Personalities and how our Personality determines our behavior in their excellent book The New Personality Self-Portrait (1995, and I recommend that you take the free self-portrait test by clicking here!). They mentioned that no matter who the person is, “We can all learn to make small changes and adjustments in our lives to release unexpressed potentials when we enter into our “system” (body, mind and relationships) with the intent to “fine tune it” (p. 30).
I like Oldham and Morris’ book not only because it’s a easy to read book, but because Dr. Oldham also had a hand in the development of the “bible” of American psychiatry: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, popularly known as the DSM-IV.
I like to conceptualize that any work done in our mind, heart, body and soul is akin to working in our “personal garden.” When we work in our garden, we take steps to grow food that is beautiful, delicious to our liking and for our nourishment. Working in and stirring up our mind to produce character growth is no different.
Remember the guiding principle behind the science of Phytoremediation is to use plants (“Phyto”) to restore balance (“remedium”) to soil that has been damaged by pollutants, pesticides or other harmful material that currently render the soil useless for growth.
The spiritual and psychological crossover to this biological fact is also true. In order to remediate or heal the soil of the heart, we’re encouraged to identify then plant healthy, functional and sound values in our mind that our Higher Power will grow in and through us for our benefit and for the benefit of others in our lives.
This process, which involves much work but does occur over time, simultaneously removes the dysfunction behavior from our hearts while also resulting in the creation of healthy character and subsequently behavior that is good, fruitful, mature, solves problems, creates intimacy and edifies others who come into our presence.
I’d like for you to know that good or bad, you’ll grow something (as the Greek word Energes defines and describes the Energy of our mind as “freshly plowed land”). With that in mind, I’ll encourage you to think of your mind as possessing the power, potential and ability to create thoughts which lead to the creation of healthy behavior and healthy outcomes in your life. A few questions that come to mind are what will you grow with and in your mind? How will you best use your energy? Will it be beneficial for yourself and others (growing the “seeds” of healthy character) or will it be something detrimental to yourself and others (that is, growing the “weeds” of character defects)? The choice to potentiate positive outcomes is ours…lets choose wisely!
A word about Character Defects: The “Weeds” that we don’t want to grow
In a future post we’re going to look more intently at character defects, maladaptive schemas, maladaptive schema modes, cognitive distortions and ego defenses, as the presence of these unhealthy characteristics seem to not only trip us up with our desire to be intentional and constructive with our choices, but they also seem to sabotage the positive changes and outcomes that we wish to personally overcome.
These “weeds” (like Apathy, Criticalness, Fearfulness, Hard-heartedness, Insensitivity, Manipulation, Unforgivingness, Perfectionism, Resentment, Selfishness and Shame-based behavior to name a few) choke out our own opportunity to grow and deliver healthy behaviors from within that are desirable, healthy and healing.
Furthermore, the proliferation of these weeds (or Maladaptive Schemas and Maladaptive Schema Modes) will complicate our personal growth and leave our minds and relationships polluted with Mistrust, Entitlement, Pessimism, Isolation and Punitiveness, that some of us lapse into over and over and over again. Why is this so? Because the presence of these Schemas trigger, fire and then “hijack” our minds to take us psychologically into directions that we’ve said we’ll never again venture toward or into.
We’ll need to understand how the presence of our own Maladaptive Schemas and Maladaptive Schema Modes trigger something called “Emotional Regression” within us. This emotional regression, which tends to be triggered by Fear, Shame, Guilt, Embarrassment, Anger, Rage or Resentment to name a few, causes us to take the “psychological train” in the wrong direction with our thoughts and behaviors rather than in the right, healthier or more functional direction that is a true reflection of the values that we wish to grow, live by and share with others.
Once again, I’ll ask the question, how do you wish to use your energy? What do you wish to develop and grow as we observe the work that your mind and behavior produces? Are you aware of how your own strong emotions trigger an emotional regression episode, which complicates your ability to travel in the healthier direction toward problem resolution? What character development and personal growth could reverse these experiences?
As we begin to take a look at “character values,”I’ll encourage you to think about what you’d like to grow and develop that could help to halt the regression and reverse the direction you’re taking so that you’ll reach, change and achieve the personal and relational goals that make sense to you and that you have for yourself.
A word about Character Values: The “Seeds” we want to grow
Character is an interesting word. The Greek word is used in the Bible (“Charakter” or “exact representation” in Hebrews 1:3), as its used in reference to the person and behavior demonstrated by Jesus. Without being presumptuous, I think that it’s healthy character or His character, characteristics and character values that my God wants to develop and grow within me and through me to offset my character defects or characterological behaviors or the “weeds” that are usurping my ability to be a fruitful human being.
Identifying, developing then living by my personal values such as Acceptance, Accessibility, Appreciation, Courage, Deference, Fellowship, Gentleness, Intentionality, Nurturance, Reasonableness and Skillfulness to name a few, position me to accomplish personal and behavioral goals that I have for myself, my relationships and my career.
The development and practice of other values that I try to grow and live by consistently such as Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Respect and Self-Control help me to stay off the “drama train and drama triangle,” which only serve to threaten my resolve to be healthy and practice healthy behavior that makes good sense to me for my life and in my relationships.
Finally, the continual development and practice of specific “Spiritual Disciplines” such as Study, Prayer, Worship, Reflection, Meditation, Silence and Solitude helps me to gain the insight, discernment and wisdom to read my emotional thermometer, make psychological adjustments with my internal thermostat, then decide what’s the appropriate behavior and direction I need to take in any specific situation. These values that I practice “seasonally” provide the constant fruit and edification that I need to consume daily, if not multiple times throughout the day, because I now recognize the nutritional value of these valuable characteristics!
How about you? What values make sense to you to live by? Are you growing, consuming and reaping the psychological benefit from the practice of your values? How are your specific character values combating the effects of your character defects, so that you’re wise in your thinking, appropriate in your decisions and effective as a Healer?
What follows is practical advice and suggestions that I’d like to leave with you regarding how to grow these values in your life and relationships, so that you’ll not only experience change with your personality, but also experience and deliver change, healing and growth in your life and relationships!
The comments are excerpted from my book Cultivating Love: When Secrets Surface (2014), and are intended to assist couples who wish to grow love in practical ways when they’ve previously experienced heartache due to unfaithfulness. I’m repeating them here because I think the principles discussed below apply to all of us.
Practical Advice prior to “breaking the soil” with the Cultivating Love Exercises
Thank you reading through this introduction section. The work that you are doing to identify what work needs to be done in the garden of your heart, and, what behaviors you need to see and experience in order to continue any healing and growth will prove to be invaluable. The remainder of this section is profound in its simplicity: If we sow, we will reap, and, we will reap, what we sow.
If you work diligently, it will be shown in your return; if your work is lacking, this too will show. This is one of the reasons that I love about the fact that Jesus came 2000 years ago, in a primarily agrarian period of history: People in that time knew that if they did the work of planting, then the natural, and predictable outcome would be a reward for their hard work. They understood the simplicity of His message regarding what it would take to grow food, and subsequently, to be edified.
As you complete this section, I simply remind you of those same natural (but also supernatural) principles of what it will take to grow changes in your life that will yield the fruitful changes you desire to see and experience in your life and in your relationships, however, they’ll only be achieved if you simply, roll up your sleeves, and do the work.
In light of this, I offer a few suggestions to you as you continue in your process of working in the soil of your life and relationship, in order to eventually cultivate and harvest love.
The suggestions are:
1) The Soil contains a Power greater than Yourself: The water, minerals and the nutrients that it will take to begin the germination process of seeds to plants are not man-made, they are from God, your Higher Power, and are necessary to “jump start” the transformation and growth process.
You’re taking a great step of faith by surrendering yourself to the soil, in order to change, heal and grow. Remember, God did His very best work in the dark (in a tomb, Luke 24:2-7, but also in your suffering, or due to any “dark” place you may currently be at in your life). Interact with this power as the Psalmist says, “day and night” (Psalm 1:2-3), and expect to be changed, grow strong, and to be fruitful in this season of change in your life.
2) You contain the catalyst to initiate your change: Every seed has an embryo, and is in a “resting state” when it goes into the soil. It is the dynamic interaction with chemicals in the soil, as well as hydrogen and oxygen that cause the embryo to “awaken,” push through its “seed coat,” and begin its transformation, specifically, in two unique areas.
First the embryonic root emerges downward and begins to take in water and nutrients. It is as if nature is saying “Your first step will be one based in humility, as the downward trajectory ensures that you will draw upon the power greater than yourself to obtain the power you will need to grow.”
Second, the embryonic stem emerges and begins pushing the leaves upward through the soil, to access the energy source provided by the Sun to continue its growth. Again, it is as if nature is saying, “If you wish to grow, reach to the heavens, and constantly seek the Divine Power, if you wish to continue your growth.”
I cannot emphasize to you enough that your transformation will commence, and continue, based on your connection with the Power who is greater than yourself. Connect with God, in the same manner a taproot draws in the nutrients it needs for survival. Know that the plant never claims it has had enough of the life-giving nutrients, sap and sunlight that it will need in order to produce a fruitful and edible outcome. Please learn and practice this lesson. Your maturity, and your ability to become fruitful (said another way, mature) greatly depend on it (John 15:4-5).
3) Plant the Seed, grow the behavior: As mentioned earlier, whatever you plant in your mind, you’ll grow, so what new characteristics, values, principles and behaviors do you wish to grow in your life and in your marriage? You’ll have ample opportunity to discover and decide in the remaining exercises in this workbook. Some behaviors (like Patience, Listening, Self-Control, Humility) may need to be planted in every “micro-season,” for the next few months or even years, as you identify behaviors and characteristics that you wish to grow and improve upon.
Some behaviors are 180° opposites of what you practiced at other times of your life (i.e., planting Initiative and Perseverance, versus Procrastination and Resignation). What are the new behaviors that come to mind that you will be planting in your life and marriage, because the fruit is needed, and it is your responsibility to plant it?
4) You are more apt to be successful if you kneel when planting, versus scattering seeds from a standing position: If you are intentional with the behaviors that you wish to cultivate, then you’ll probably have, and achieve greater success if you strategically, and humbly, plant the seeds from this position, versus scattering them from a “prideful, one-up” standing position.
The birds (or the Evil One, Matthew 13:4,19) have a better chance to swoop down and nullify your work if you’re not deliberate in your attempt to plant the behavior in your mind, and practice it over and over, as if you are planting seeds repetitively, into the ground, every 6–9 inches. Make sure the seed gets into the soil of your mind; humbly plant, and practice the behavior continuously that you wish to reap.
5) Likewise, you’ll find it difficult to plant seeds in the garden, if you stand on the porch: It is quite possible that this needs to be a package deal. There will be more ground covered if both of you roll up your sleeves and get busy working in your garden.
Taking another person’s inventory about what work (s)he is or is not doing, when you are not doing your fair share, smacks of pride, immaturity, fearfulness, and the scattering of relationship extinguishing seeds that will produce resentments, much less slow down the overall process of change, healing and growth. The verse is true: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
6) Pray for Patience because this Tree will not grow (nor produce fruit) overnight: You know this, however, it is one of the most challenging truths for people to embrace. Maturity does not happen overnight, and in most cases, it will not “spring up and grow” overnight in a supernatural manner either.
Maturity is the result of a growth experience, and the healthy and edifying behaviors that you’d like to see from a person who is competent in using these tools in his or her life or in his or her recovery, will take weeks, months, and in some instances, years to produce. So lean heavily on your God and your spiritual disciplines that help you to grow and experience patience, peace and self-control, to name a few, because most aspects of your transformation, and that of your spouse, will take time, and usually, more time than you are willing to commit to and have patience for.
Remember, just because you don’t see the seed (new behavior) breaking through the ground does not mean that the transformation and growth is not occurring. Once you begin to see behaviors that are indicative of growth and change, remind yourself that it is still “premature,” and the behavior needs to “mature on the vine” (tapped into Godly processes for continued growth) before it becomes really sweet.
Don’t throw out, nor belittle the changes that your partner is contributing because it doesn’t “taste right” to you. On the contrary, let the behaviors grow, and don’t interrupt the grieving, the growth, the cleansing, the pruning, and the maturation process by prematurely picking and spitting out premature fruit. What do you expect to taste when you bite into something before it has had the time to mature?
Patience with your spouse, and patience in your thinking process of how long change and growth will take, will greatly serve you well. Plant a lot of it together so that you are both responsible for the creation, and the distribution, and the benefit of having patience between the two of you.
7) Don’t be afraid to get messy in the dirt, and don’t be intimidated by the heat you encounter while you work in the garden: Growth is a messy process. It does not have to be, nor should it be a brutal process, but it is a messy process. Mistakes in communication will be made, tools of repair will be broken (versus unused, or destroyed), rows may not be deep enough to initiate and sustain growth, and, you will get very hot and very tired doing the necessary work of planting seeds.
However, anything worth investing in, will take commitment, dedication, determination and devotion, along with other investments, if you’re to obtain favorable outcomes, and healing in a relationship when there has been infidelity and relationship trauma, for example, is no different.
I wonder, after a back-breaking day of working on your property or in your garden, did you come away with feeling good about the work you put in (immediate gratification), as well as knowing that your garden will be beautiful due to the seeds/bulbs/plants you did sow (delayed gratification)? When you feel like giving up, you’ll need to remind yourself that the investment, and the payoff, is worth the work.
Don’t sabotage your effort or the effort of your spouse when the Wounded Child or Adapted Adolescent Ego States connected to Emotional Regression get triggered (more information about these terms are provided in Assignment #11: Emotional and Thinking Saboteurs). Do engage in time-outs or other goal-oriented activities that help you to course-correct and to remember your overall purpose and goals (primarily, to cultivate love, and to implement peaceful behavior while also eliminating wrathful behavior).
Use your tools, and the necessary support (counseling, sponsors, pastors, spiritual mentors, etc.) to help you to remain upright, strong and to continue your growth; don’t abandon them, nor any process that has gotten you this far.
Finally, expect the Holy Spirit to bring about a certain form of “heat,” as you allow His presence to “prune back” parts of your attitude, personality and disposition that undermine and impede the growth that is to be done in the garden of your heart. You probably won’t like it; I don’t think many of us like having “the narcissistic weed of I want, what I want, when I want it” pulled from our heart. However, when you surrender and humbly yield to God’s process of dealing with your pride, grief and loss in this manner, you’ll be “lifted up” (James 4:7-10), meaning, you’ll grow and mature, which equates to producing edifying and fruitful behavior for you and your spouse.
8) Fertilize with the appropriate fertilizer: I don’t mean to be crass, but use the appropriate stimulant that will serve as a catalyst to initiate and sustain growth in the garden of the heart.
Remember, the 75 ways to cultivate Empathy, Sympathy, and Compassion are powerful catalysts for relationship healing and growth. Telling the Truth, and being open, honest and transparent about your thoughts, feelings and behavior is another. Being curious and not furious in your communication, and using your communication tools to gain knowledge about what your partner is feeling, and needing, is another catalyst for growth.
Taking personal responsibility for the changes you need to make and see in the relationship, and owning this, versus making your spouse responsible for it, helps as well.
Finally, the continued use of any of the “Ingredients of Healing,” located in Assignment #21, Character Growth via Values Clarification exercise and specifically the Ingredients of Agape (in the next section in Assignment #17, Cultivating Love, Exercise I) will most certainly yield a fruitful return.
Your practice and use of the right fertilizer will help you to not only become proficient in demonstrating these qualities and characteristics in your life, but you’ll also feel better about yourself, because at the very least, you’re cultivating love for yourself, and in yourself (the middle or the “1B” between the Two Greatest Commandments – Luke 10:27).
9) Take time to acknowledge and appreciate the work that you see (any form of tilling, planting, sprigs, growth, and fruit): Acknowledge any change, healing and growth that you see, because it is real, even though some of the “quick starts” you have observed in the past have fizzled due to malnourishment.
Any real growth is real growth, and should be credited as growth. At this point in your journey, perhaps because of some experiences that have occurred between the two of you, your skepticism has helped you to know the difference between “wax” fruit and “real” fruit, and you’ll never allow yourself, or each other to believe, or to accept counterfeit behavior to be submitted and accepted as if it were real, trustworthy and credible (Matthew 12:33).
However, if your spouse or partner has delivered some work, and some form of fruitful behavior to you that is encouraging, edifying, and helps to rebuild trust and does “taste” like love, then acknowledge it and appreciate them for it. Your response not only provides a cold glass of water to them on a hot day, but it is also an acknowledgement that God is doing a transformation in his or her heart, and is possibly growing changes and behaviors that heal at a supernatural pace, which is encouraging and deserving of appreciation indeed.
10) Become the best and most knowledgeable student at knowing what true love is, and, how to grow it consistently, so that you, your spouse and “other identified neighbors” benefit from your fruitfulness: In the next section are exercises to help you to learn what love is, and to be more specific, to learn what loving behaviors you need, and, what loving behaviors your spouse needs to receive from you, in this season of your life, and in the next season, to help you both to heal, grow and be fruitful in the garden of your own life and in the collective garden of your relationship.
Searching for the characteristics and demonstration of Agape Love (or settling for its undeveloped, “counterfeit” and addictive replacement) drives us, and will always be the standard to aspire to, reach for, work on, grow in, receive from God, and give to others, after we have been strengthened and nourished by it ourselves. In order to cultivate and deliver love, you will have to know what love is.
Through the practice of your spiritual disciplines and through the practice of the values you choose to live by, learn how to nurture and develop love, and by listening to your needs, and to the needs of your spouse, become knowledgeable, practical and skilled at growing, “in-joying” and delivering loving behaviors.
Draw from your previous exercises, conversations, counseling sessions, and meditation/reflective moments what you have learned about your needs, and the needs of your spouse, as that valuable information will factor into the love you’ll grow to meet his, her and your own needs.
Thanks so much for reading these posts. Future posts on Choosing Change will be labeled “Choosing Change #5,” “Choosing Change #6,” “Choosing Change #7” and so on.
Also, as time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful. I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.
Dr. Ken McGill