Choosing Change #13: Building Character and Building People (Part 3 of 3)

Thank you for reading…

  1. The Introductory post about Choosing Change,
  2. Choosing Change #1: Safe People, Safe Places, and Safe Processes
  3. Choosing Change #2: So what’s my reasonable contribution to your change process? (Part 1 of 2)
  4.  Choosing Change #3: So what’s my reasonable contribution to your change process? (Part 2 of 2)
  5. Choosing Change #4: Gardening with Intention
  6. Choosing Change #5: Traveling with Intention
  7. Choosing Change #6: Schemas, Defenses, Distortions and Resolution (Part 1 of 3)
  8. Choosing Change #7: Schemas, Defenses, Distortions and Resolution (Part 2 of 3)
  9. Choosing Change #8: Schemas, Defenses, Distortions and Resolution (Part 3 of 3)
  10. Choosing Change #9: The A-C-T-I-V-E Model by Dr. Ken McGill
  11. Choosing Change #10: Blueprints and Building Change
  12. Choosing Change #11: Building Character and Building People (Part 1 of 3)
  13. Choosing Change #12: Building Character and Building People (Part 2 of 3)

You only have this post and one more to go to close out the Choosing Change series, and I applaud your perseverance to read, integrate and benefit from the suggestions provided to build a house to protect those you love, a home to inspire those you love, and a changed life to transform those you love. This is never truer than when you think about your children, who have been given to you by your God to love, care for and bless each and every day of their lives.

So as we continue our walkthrough with specialists in your home, in this post we’ll take a look at your Children’s room, your Office/Study and finally, your Kitchen.

In your Children’s room, we’ll be joined by Gary Smalley and Dr. John Trent, who’ll provide foundational values about how to bless your children. We’ll also be accompanied by Dr. Erik Erikson, as we’ll take a look at the first 5 stages of the psychosocial development of children. Finally, and I’m really inspired by this specialist, we’ll hear from Dr. Tina Bryson, a colleague of Dr. Dan Siegel, who has researched and applied the concepts of Interpersonal Neurobiology to children and their psychological development.

In your Office/Study, we’ll hear from Rick Warren, as he’ll provide commentary about your overall purpose in life, above and beyond your career (or your ministry).

While we’re in your office, we’ll look at “life lessons” that you’ll want to consider, focus on and integrate into your life, in order to accomplish your personal and relationship purpose and your mission in life. I’ve found that integrating these simple but profound concepts into our lives helps us to “stay in our lane” when it comes to living a safe, serene and purposeful life.

After leaving your Office/Study, we’ll look at what’s going on in your Kitchen, and although I’m not a Nutritionist, I’d like to suggest certain staples, ingredients and “recipes for our wellness and well-being” that you’ll want to have on your menu in order to integrate psychological nutrition for your benefit and for the benefit of others.

So there you have it, this is what we’ll look at in this post. Ready to start your walkthrough? Let’s begin!

Walkthrough Area #3: The Children’s Rooms

G & M

Marissa and Gabriel McGill, 2007

Specialists #1: Gary Smalley and Dr. John Trent

I first became aware of Gary Smalley and Dr. John Trent’s book The Blessing during my Sophomore year in college. Having grown up in a home without a father, I decided that if I ever became a father that I would practice the five principles described in The Blessing with my children.

The five principles, as outlined in the book are:

  1. To provide meaningful (and safe) physical touches,
  2. To speak positive messages to them,
  3. To attach high value to their life,
  4. To picture a special future for them, and
  5. To actively commit to ensuring the blessing was cultivated in their lives.

I can attest that as Leslie and I applied these principles intentionally in the lives of Marissa and Gabriel, that we observed the positive impact the principles were “designed” to have on children, through their infancy, preschool-age, elementary, middle school and in Gabriel’s case, High School and now College/Young adult phases of development. Little did I realize when I set out to integrate these five principles that I’d be planting, fertilizing, then helping them to “harvest” edifying behaviors that would not only nurture their growth and development but also help me to mature and become the father I always wanted to be for them.

So let me share a few of the behaviors that I practiced with my children, which resulted in Leslie and I imparting these blessings into their lives. As you read what I did, I encourage you to think, pray, reflect then create and implement words, behaviors, and experiences that you’ll provide to your children (or grandchildren), who are the most important treasure and responsibility that you’ll ever receive!

Principle #1 of The Blessing: To provide meaningful and safe physical touches

There are all kinds of research that states from the moment a baby is born, that physical touch helps the newborn to bond with their parents, provides comfort when they’re distressed, which in turn helps them to “self-regulate,” which is a prime need and function of their developing brain. No one had to prompt me to touch, hug, or hold my newborns, Marissa, born in 1994 then Gabriel, born 4 ½ years later. I wanted to bless them by providing paternal warmth, affection, and love in abundance!

One way that I provided meaningful and safe touches with them (which incorporates the next two blessing principles, a spoken message and high value), was to cradle Marissa in my arms and recite a poem that celebrated the day she was born (I recited a similar version to Gabriel when he was born, and it became a bit more difficult to hold her in this manner when she was a teen!). Anyway, I’d hold her like a baby, look into her eyes and say…

“I remember the day that you were born. And on the day that you were born, the doctor… ‘No, the nurses!’” (My stating “Doctor” was Marissa’s clue to interrupt me in this interactive encounter, as she reminded me that it was, in fact, the Nurses who gave her to me in the hospital so I would continue…) 

“Oh yea…the Nurses gave you to me, and I held you in my arms and said, “Oh she’s so beautiful.” 

 And I held you in my arms, and I looked in your eyes, and kissed your nose (which I did), and said “what a beautiful little girl. And do you know what? You’re just as beautiful today, as you were then. The end” (with Gabriel it was “handsome”).

In that exchange, it was important for me to convey to her my memory of that beautiful and life-changing day, the day God blessed Leslie and I with her, as well as the special place that she will always have in my heart. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, to convey to her, and to Gabriel, how much they are my favorite son, or my favorite daughter (stating of course, that they’re my only son or only daughter!).  I knew that by saying this every day, it was feeding, nurturing and growing their spirit, their esteem, their sense that they were to be honored and that she and Gabriel were very precious in my sight.

Another way that I’ve conveyed physical touch to the kids was to make sure that I hugged, then kissed them at bedtime every day of their life (except when traveling or currently, as Gabriel is away at College). After the hug, I gave them a kiss on their right cheek, nose, then their left cheek, followed by the words “I love you!”  This “C-N-C” affection (which I’ll sometimes text to Gabriel), is the special way that I convey a physical blessing to them. In most pictures (probably all of them) taken with Gabriel, you’re apt to see me with my arm draped over his shoulder. Saying I love you and you matter to me in this manner and in other ways (i.e. holding hands when praying or giving a pat on the shoulder when walking past him) is my way of imparting a blessing to my son (and of course to Leslie as she’s a recipient of my affection as well!).

Occasionally I’d ask Marissa and Gabriel “are you going to do this with your kids?”  to which they usually responded with a “yes” or an up-and-down head nod affirming my question. Again, I can’t begin to tell you how much the physical contact blessed me, but I also know the continued expression of healthy affection has blessed them.

So I’d like to ask you what form of physical contact will (or do) you convey to your children or grandchildren to impart this unique form of blessing to them? 

Principle #2 of The Blessing: To provide a blessing in a spoken message

There were many times in their lives where I mentioned to Marissa and Gabriel “Do you know what?”  and Marissa and/or Gabriel would say “What?”  and I’d say, “Do you know that I’m glad that God gave me the opportunity to be the Daddy of you?  I am so fortunate to be the Daddy of you.”  I truly am! As a proud parent, I think it’s an awesome gift that God chose to give to Leslie and me these two incredible, loving, beautiful, intelligent and talented children to raise and bless on a continuing basis. God entrusted us with their lives and I wanted them to know how much I loved and treasured them, and telling them how special they were (and are) to me was one way to impart the blessing to them.

Shortly after we lost Marissa in 2008, I created a personalized version of Proverbs 23:24, printed two copies, and put one in Gabriel’s room and one in my closet, where we’d both see the message each day. I wanted to bless Gabriel and let him know how I see him and what he means to me. The simple message from my heart to his is:

“The Father (Daddy) of a righteous man (Gabriel) has great joy; He (Daddy) who has a wise son (Gabriel) delights in him” – Proverbs 23:24 (TNIV)

It still hangs in our rooms to this day, and because I want him to know how much of a blessing he is to me I’ll either write it in a card and give it to him or text the scripture to him (most times around, versus exactly on the 23rdday of the month!).

Marissa and Gabriel have imparted spoken blessings to me as well, through letters, cards or notes that they have written through the years. A few of those precious and inspiring sentiments are laminated and on my desk in my office. They’re an encouragement to me not only because they came from my children, but they’re a sign that they’ve taken it to heart to bless others, especially their Dad, in this special way.

Allow me to tell you about a moment when I was glad that I had practiced this form of blessing with my children. It was in May 2009, on the first anniversary of Marissa’s homegoing. Leslie was in the other room sharing pictures with a dear friend who came over to support us during our time of grief, and I was in the other room and decided to look at some videos of Marissa. You need to know that Leslie is the “Creative Memories” photographer in our family, and I’m the videographer who documents our times/trips on video.

On that particular day, as much as I felt sad because of her absence, when I watched the videos I not only saw my Sweetie, but I also heard myself speaking kind and encouraging words to her; I was blessing her! I realized that even though she was with us for thirteen short years, at least those years were filled with moments where her Dad, Mom, and her brother were conveying spoken messages of blessing to her! Watching those videos was a concrete testimony and reminder that as much as we missed her presence when she was physically present with us we loved her, and she knew we loved her, as evidenced by words of blessing spoken to her at any given time.

 So I’d like to ask you what is (or will be) the spoken message that you’re conveying to your children or grandchildren, to impart this unique form of blessing to them?

Principle #3 of The Blessing: To attach high value to your child’s life

This type of blessing meant Leslie and I would provide meaningful experiences with the children by supporting their interests, be they at home or in the classroom, at the sports complex or on vacation. We always had the philosophy that exposure to different types of activities and experiences would help to shape their character and their life, so if they showed a heightened interest in an activity, hobby, or area that deserved pursuit, or, if an idea came to mind that we thought would be beneficial for one or both (or all of us) then we always tried to make it happen for the kids.

We encouraged and supported their creativity or their interest level when they were young (becoming a cartoonist for Marissa; operating heavy equipment/fire-fighting for Gabriel) and enjoyed visiting historical and fun places where they learned about the valuable contributions people made in society, and how they too could become people who could make profound differences in the world (as we saw during our “American History” vacation, where we visited Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, the Amish country/Hershey, PA, and Booker T Washington’s birthplace on one particular trip).

Leslie always amazed me with her creativity, especially on special occasions like birthdays or graduations, where she’d honor the kids by planning parties with themes based on what the kids were interested in (remember Barney the Dinosaur or Bob the Builder?). Family, friends and Leslie’s specialty cakes helped to celebrate the kids in meaningful ways that said whatever you’re interested in or whatever you have accomplished, no matter how big or small, it all matters to us.

I deeply enjoyed honoring and valuing the children by spending one-on-one times with Marissa (Daddy/Daughter “dates” and the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in Baton Rouge and New Orleans in 2008) and with Gabriel (trips to the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, attending sporting events, and more recently his college recruiting/campus visits). Taking time to invest in our relationship and their interests, whether academic or athletic on any level, was our way of encouraging them to dream big, and hopefully conveyed the message I believe in you, I enjoy spending time with you and of course, I love you!

With all of this, I think the best gift that Leslie and I worked to give to the kids to convey you’re highly valued was to provide them with a home where everyone was loved, valued and could “blossom” in an environment that was conducive for their spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, relational and athletic development, where serenity, fun, and peace were prized values that we tried to deliver continuously.

So I’d like to ask how will you or in what way will you convey to your children or grandchildren they are highly valued by you, as you endeavor to impart this unique form of blessing to them? 

Principle #4 of The Blessing: To picture a special future for your children

Helping Gabriel and Marissa feel that they are special, in the eyes of God and in ours, and as such, they have a special place and purpose in His universe to use the unique gifts and talents they were blessed with is how we perceived and expressed this particular blessing in our home. Equally, Leslie’s daily encouragement for them to “glow in the dark” reinforced that everyday opportunities would surface in which they could make a valuable difference in someone’s life; this was the “bar” that we set for them.

Helping Gabriel and Marissa (who at first wanted to be a Psychologist, then a Missionary to Africa) to think about, envision then support their dream to become whatever they wanted to pursue or achieve became our vision as well, and when visions were expressed, the next step we took was to determine how we could help convert their intangible vision into a tangible reality. We did this by encouraging them with our words and by exposing them to opportunities that would educate, equip and help develop their interest and skills in the areas to which they were drawn.

Leslie reminds Gabriel that as a young boy he stated a dream and goal of his was to play football in college and in the National Football League as well. It’s no surprise to us that as a Sophomore at Wheaton College (IL), he’s currently a successful student-athlete where he’s committed to being and becoming the best student, the best athlete and a capable leader among his peers. He’s in the process of living out and achieving the special future that he envisioned for himself!

No matter the dream, I never wanted to “rain on their parade” and subsequently dampen their spirits. On the contrary, Leslie and I lived by a faith principle that we wouldn’t let finances get in the way of an opportunity to develop, explore or achieve something that could help them reach their short or long-term goals.

Finances aside, I think one of the most valuable contributions to their lives was to live out our values before them, especially values that encouraged and empowered them with the belief that they could achieve great outcomes in many areas of their life based on their focused investment of time and energy.  Leslie and I would marvel (and still do) at what the kids accomplished and are thankful that each day provides us with the opportunity to see God work and accomplish what we think is the spectacular in Gabriel even though it’s occurring within what some could say are “mundane” day-to-day acts in which he’s involved. Our “future” could be interpreted as the current/present time that we exist and are living in (“right now”), and as we consider Gabriel’s future, we’re very proud of what we see in him!

So I’d like to ask you what is the special future that you envision for your children or grandchildren, and how are or will you impart this unique form of blessing to them? 

Principle #5 of The Blessing: To actively commit to ensuring the blessing was cultivated in their lives.

As I mentioned earlier,  it was our mission as parents to expose Marissa and Gabriel to experiences, events, and people that would not only build their character and shape their lives but would also provide them with assistance to convert their dreams into goals and eventually their goals into real outcomes.

It’s hard to answer the question “when did all of this begin?” but I do know that trips to the park, reading books before bedtime or throwing and shooting the ball in the backyard eventually gave way to other activities like spelling bees, soccer, basketball, and track practice for Marissa, and soccer, baseball, flag and eventually football with pads for Gabriel.

I do need to say that one weekly and family-focused activity that was very important in our process (and still is) is that we enjoyed going to church. At church, we learned about the importance of Agape-oriented values and principles and how to demonstrate them at home, school, work and on the fields the kids played on. Equally, what’s also important is that the church provided the kids with exposure and interaction with others who encouraged them to be the best that they could be, at any given time. It’s the “village” principle, in that Leslie and I were successful as parents because we leaned on and exposed the kids to the insights, wisdom, and encouragement of those teachers and encouragers (some of those educators on Sunday were Marissa and Gabriel’s teachers from school!).

Our commitment to bless the kids while helping them to achieve their vision took Leslie all over the State of Mississippi as she drove Marissa (with Gabriel in attendance) to basketball games, track meets and soccer matches, and both of us to football practices and games that began in Texas and now takes us around the country as we enjoy supporting and watching Gabriel achieve his goals. It’s my belief that these experiences have helped us become the family and people that we are, and the expression of our commitment helps me now, and hopefully on my dying day to say wholeheartedly that I have no regrets with how we spent our time and energy. Also, when I blew it as a Dad, it was usually these blessing principles that helped me to course-correct with my behavior.

I cannot convey how much Leslie and I have been blessed by our children as we practiced these values from day one in our parenting with them. We have seen the “fruit of our labor” and if you are expecting, have young children, or if your children are grown, or if you wish to apply these principles with friends, family or co-workers, but especially with your children, then I think the application of blessing them by practicing these five principles will yield positive and fruitful returns in their lives. Take a moment and bless your children, grandchildren or someone’s child today. I hope you (and they) will be glad that you did!

So I’d like to ask you what is, or how will you actively commit to your children or grandchildren to ensure this part of the blessing is cultivated into their lives?

Specialist #2: Dr. Erik Erikson

Dr. Erik Erikson was a Neo-Freudian (a student of Dr. Sigmund Freud), who studied personality development over the course of one’s lifetime. His research led to the development of his model, called the “Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development (Growth).”

Do you remember the table below? Dr. Erikson accompanied us on our initial walkthrough, and provided information about Stages 6 and 7, however in this post we’ll look at Stages 1 – 5, which deal primarily with the psychosocial development of children, from Birth through Age 18 (we’ll present Dr. Erikson’s thoughts on Stage 8 in the final post in this series).

In the table are the stages, the age range of each stage, the developmental tasks or “conflicts” for a person to work through in each stage, in addition, the specific virtues that Erikson identified a person cultivated as a result of doing his or her work in that particular stage of development.

Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial

As a reminder, Erikson realized each stage of development presented the individual with internal conflicts that he or she needed to overcome if they were to successfully advance to the next stage of personal development. However, Erikson noted that overcoming the internal conflict doesn’t mean that we “live at one end of the pole and never move toward the other end” (i.e., living at Trust and never having problems with Mistrust in each and every situation of our lives, as in Stage 1).

For Erickson, overcoming the conflict presented in each stage of psychosocial development means that we learn to live in the tension that exists between the two extremes, knowing that there will be times where we’ll have to cultivate Trust even in the midst of times when we feel and experience substantial Mistrust.

Erikson believed that when we’re able to find the “healthy middle ground” between the two poles, then we’re most likely to cultivate and experience the virtue that comes from doing the necessary work in that stage. With this in mind, let’s look at the tasks, conflicts, the virtue and a few values that are inherent in Stages 1 – 5 of Erikson’s model of personality development. Equally, I encourage you to keep in mind how the application of the 5 principles of the Blessing could help you to “sow success into your legacy” and thereby accomplish the tasks that are associated with each stage of development.

Stage 1: Trust versus Mistrust (the 1styear of life; Virtue: Hope)

 “May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!” – Proverbs 23:25 (TNIV)

 Building a nursery in your home could be one of the most exhilarating times that you’ll ever experience in your life, as you await the arrival of the most valuable and prized jewel that you’ll receive as a person and as a parent. If you’re like my wife and me, we read books and articles, attended parent-to-be classes,  and talked with other parents as we endeavored to prepare ourselves to give to our children the very best that we could provide, as we considered their life and their development.

In this first stage of psychosocial development, Erickson’s theory and research helped us to understand that a child develops a healthy sense of trust when his basic physical and psychological needs are met by parents or caregivers in a nurturing, fulfilling and timely fashion.

Although we didn’t know the clinical terms to describe what we were doing, it was our hope that our practice of the 5 Blessing principles in their lives would help us to develop what we now know is called a “secure attachment” with them. A secure attachment with one’s children is developed when the child’s caregiver provides for their basic needs consistently and in a timely manner, which is enhanced when heavy doses of love, attention, and care are unconditionally and freely provided to the infant.

These and other nurturing behaviors help the infant to trust that his needs will be met, in a timely and qualitative manner. The timely and appropriate responses of the parent when the infant cries (which are signals that he has unmet needs: hungry, soiled, sleepy, etc.) helps the infant to begin to be able to “emotionally regulate” or calm himself, due to the belief and trust that his needs for survival will be met. As his needs are met, there is Hope and trust that he will not only survive, and that he could depend on others, who at this stage of development, are his caregivers.

If Trust is not developed, Erikson states the child may be prone to withdraw or Withdrawal, which is the opposite of Hope, due to the fact that his needs are not met from his caregivers. This mistrust of others may surface later in his life in the form of fear of rejection, fear of being abandoned from others, or, withdrawing from relationships due to a fear of being hurt.

As you could surmise, it pays off to focus appropriate attention on your child as you attempt to reasonably meet their needs for survival during this critical and foundational stage of their psychosocial development.

So I’d like to ask you, given the 5 principles of the Blessing and the description of this stage of psychosocial development, what behavior are you moved to integrate to help your child’s development in this stage of their life?

Stage 2: Autonomy versus Shame and Self-Doubt (Age 1 – 3; Virtue: Will)

In addition to learning to gain “mastery” over his bodily functions, motor skills, simple tasks, etc., this stage is also marked by a child wanting to do most things on his own, that is, by the exertion of his Will. In this stage, parents are apt to hear their child repeat “I can do it myself!” as the child wants to demonstrate age-appropriate independence and competence over simple tasks that impact his life.

When you consider the principles of the blessing, the application of healthy touch is certainly reassuring to your child that you’re present and you’ll “be there” for him, but just as important is to speak positive messages of praise to them, especially when they’re exerting energy and effort to develop competencies with the age-appropriate tasks in which they’re involved. Applying and building in this form of “trust” with your child validates that they can, in fact, accomplish certain objectives competently, and your consistent, attentive and supportive comments go a long way toward the creation and development of the creative, authentic and contented child mode that you wish to instill within them!

Erikson states if “autonomy” and age-appropriate independence is not supported nor developed in this stage, then the child runs the risk of feeling or being (a)shamed for his inability to separate and engage in activities apart from his parents. Anxiety, self-doubt, a lack of self-worth or enmeshment tendencies could form in the child if their independence, which is vital to this stage, is discouraged.

Erikson believed this is where Compulsion and neuroses originate, which are behaviors that “help” the child to relieve any anxiety and/or any shame he may feel that is connected to his “lack of performance.” The chief question that represents the struggle in this stage is “Can I do things myself, or am I dependent on the assistance of others?

     So I’d like to ask you, given the 5 principles of the Blessing and the description of this stage of psychosocial development, what behavior are you moved to integrate to help your child’s development in this stage of their life?

Stage 3: Initiative versus Guilt (Age 3 – 6; Virtue: Purpose)

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” – Deuteronomy 6:4–7 (TNIV)

All of the stages of development are important, but I think this one, in addition to Stage 5 (Identity vs. Role Confusion) is crucial to the development of your child’s personality and their character, as is suggested in the verses above.

In this stage, your child typically observes and identifies with the same-sex parent, and in so doing, takes the initiative to adopt and display the values, virtues, and roles(s) as modeled by that parent or caregiver. Even though your child will come to experience a sense of purpose by engaging in creative play in which they’ll learn by doing, they’ll also develop a sense of purpose by doing things that  “mirror” and reflect activities that are important to you as well.

This is what makes this stage of development so important because it’s at this critical time in their life that we’re prompted to demonstrate, repeat and “impress” upon them values, virtues, mores, ethics, beliefs, and behaviors that reflect love, meaning, and purpose in their presence, and in all our affairs with others. Years ago when I read this passage of scripture, I realized it was talking about “twenty-four-hour-a-day” type living (i.e., when we sit during the day, then when we get up to walk and engage in activity throughout the day, then prior to eating and sleeping during and at the end of the day, all to be repeated when we awaken the next day!).

This means one of the most important tasks I’ll have as a parent or caregiver is to work to provide a safe home environment, where to the best of my ability virtuous behavior is continuously displayed.  When I do this, it increases the possibility that my values will be “uploaded” into the minds and psyche (heart and soul) of my children “virus-free.” If I do my part as a parent, then more than likely I’ll accomplish my objective (which as the Oikeodomeo, is to build my house on rock-solid principles), especially if it is coupled with the application of the 5 Blessing principles in this most important room in the house!

Getting back to Erickson: he mentioned that to block or frustrate your child’s curiosity in this stage of development may cause him to feel guilt(y), because he may feel he is doing something wrong that does not meet with the approval of his parent or caregiver. Guilt experienced in this stage may cause your child to become Inhibited, which in this stage may cause him to “hide,” suppress or not be vulnerable to his caregivers about what his psychological needs are because he is led to think that having, or expressing his needs, is wrong.  The chief question that represents the struggle in this stage is “Am I good or bad?” As a parent, these are not the thoughts you want ruminating in the mind of your child, so…

So I’d like to ask you, given the 5 principles of the Blessing and the description of this stage of psychosocial development, what behavior are you moved to integrate to help your child’s development in this stage of their life?

Stage 4: Industry versus Inferiority (Age 6 – 11; Virtue: Competency)

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” – Luke 2:52 (TNIV)

This stage is marked by your child developing an age-appropriate skill and mastery of conceiving and constructing things, within or outside the home or the classroom. By producing or accomplishing age-appropriate feats or tasks, more than likely your child will develop a sense of Competence in his ability to create, achieve and be productive in their activities.

So this stage invites you, the parent or caregiver, to follow-up on the dreams, hopes, interests and aspirations of your children, because their involvement in activities of their own choosing (academic, sports, hobbies, etc.), in addition to being exposed to opportunities that you deem worthy for their personal growth, are just as important. Under your observation and care, these activities will provide your child with life experiences and moments where they’ll be tried, tested, stretched and developed academically, athletically, socially, spiritually, relationally and of course, psychologically.

These life experiences will provide them with moments where they will succeed and fail in their endeavors, however, with your wise integration of the Blessing principles, they’ll not only feel your support (which is necessary and critical in moments like these), but you’ll also render the appropriate response that will help them to resiliently bounce back and re-engage in the activities, or help them to select new ones where their character will continue to be shaped.

Since you’re creating, refining or building a healthy family system, you’ll want to appropriately lavish praise upon your children for his achievements, which tend to result in them feeling good about themselves and/or their accomplishment(s). Providing all of the blessing principles, especially Principle #2 (Spoken Message) during this stage results in your child not only feeling good about himself, but also feeling good about his role and his position in the family, and most of all, feeling securely attached with you and/or his caregivers.

To not be encouraged, noticed or validated for their contribution or process in this stage of development, no matter how small or great, may leave your child feeling Inferior,or toward the unhealthy experience of Inferiority, and subsequently, Inertia, which could be seen in your child’s resistance or disinclination to engage in any action, activity or change.  The chief question that represents the struggle in this stage is “How can I be good,” (in order to get my psychological and my intimacy needs met because what I am currently doing may not be working and validation is important to me?!).

So I’d like to ask you, given the 5 principles of the Blessing and the description of this stage of psychosocial development, what behavior are you moved to integrate to help your child’s development in this stage of their life?

Stage 5: Identity versus Role Confusion (Age 12 – 25; Virtue: Fidelity)

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” – Proverbs 22:6″

It was Stage 5 that originally piqued Erikson’s interest so much that he began to study human psychosocial development over the course of one’s lifetime. Needless to say, for him and for the adolescents in our lives, this is a very important stage of development! And still, no matter what occurs in the life of a child prior to, or up to this point, I hold onto the scripture above, which hopefully will provide you with hope, just as it has done so with me, especially as you consider what could be a turbulent time frame for you and your adolescent children, who are simultaneously a child and a young adult when in this stage.

No matter what you have poured into your child up to this point, great virtues and values, splendid experiences or moments where you’ve modeled the right behavior toward your children to obtain what you feel is the correct spiritual, cognitive, emotional or behavioral outcome, nature (and the Enemy of Humanity) will challenge all of this in the mind, body, spirit and relationships of your child during this period.

To some degree, this could be a good thing, because most every child during this developmental phase is biologically predisposed to ask the question that is appropriate for this stage: “Who am I?” (and the other important question just outside of one’s consciousness: “How shall I live?”). This means that no matter what has taken place in their past, every adolescent will question the good, bad, ugly or traumatic that they have been exposed to, and through their questions, fears, hopes, and their activity, wrestle to make sense of life issues as well as to find their place in it as they struggle to answer this all-important question.

In speaking about this developmental phase, it was Erikson who coined the term “Identify Crisis.” Why you may ask? Good question!  Because Erikson found that adolescents, in their quest to discover who they are and what are their values (versus the values modeled by their parents or caregivers), may “experimentally” weave through what James Marcia describes is one of four “statuses” as they begin to form an identity of who they are, what is important to them, and how they wish to live their life, independent of their parents and their parent’s philosophy of life. The four statuses are:

  1. Identify Foreclosure: This is where your adolescent seizes upon an identity without giving too much thought regarding if this is an accurate reflection of him or not; it’s like he’s trying on different hats each day (i.e., “today I’m a brain, tomorrow a jock, the next day a druggie, but a preppie after that”).
  2. Identify Moratorium: Both Marcia and Erikson thought this was a period of high anxiety for the adolescent, who, while trying to figure out what direction to take in life may need a “time out” to decrease pressure and not make a premature decision that was going to impact the rest of his life. Erikson actually took a “time-out” for self-discovery after his college graduation to travel around Europe.
  3. Identify Diffusion: This rhymes with “confusion” because this foggy period is a picture of an adolescent who perhaps through procrastination, fear or apathy, has not quite developed nor committed to values or experiences that gives his life direction, meaning or purpose.
  4. Identity Achievement: This is the phase that most parents hope their adolescents will reach, which reflects they have “successfully” made it through the various crises of adolescence and in the process, have settled upon and integrated some values, mores, ethics and pro-social beliefs and practices where direction, purpose, goals and a commitment to developing their nascent life goals is demonstrated.

Erikson thought that Fidelity is the virtue to be cultivated, indicated by the adolescent’s integrity, devotion and choice to live life-based on his adopted and developing values, beliefs and ideology about his future, and his place in it.

Erikson thought that the adolescent’s inability to integrate values and develop the “wing strength to launch successfully from the parental nest” during this critical period of his identity formation could cause the adolescent to Repudiate values, or, develop a negative identify role. Repudiation, or, not engaging in nor achieving a positive role identify, may lead the adolescent to join a fringe group, cause, or organization that could be associated with fanatical activity (the notion of “if you don’t stand for something, you may fall for anything”).

This is where the sage wisdom of  Dr. George Bell, a former colleague from the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles (and for me, an Old Testament scholar!), provided reassurance about the parent’s repetitive demonstration of their values in the lives of their children (remember Deuteronomy 6:4-7).

As I recall the conversation I had with Dr. Bell and his insight about Proverbs 22:6, he mentioned when we talk about and practice our Agape-oriented values through the course of our child’s life, what we are doing is shaping our child’s mind, much like the word picture for the verse, which is pouring wax into a candle mold. Dr. Bell then mentioned if a child takes a “divergent path” for a period of time in his life (i.e., Identity Crisis, where he may experience Identify Moratorium or Diffusion) and attempts to “fit himself into a different mold,” he will not feel comfortable until he returns to the original mode in which he’s shaped! What this tells me is that there is a “payoff” for imparting blessings and promises into the lives of our children. The challenge is even though we may not live to see the “seed blossom into a plant” and witness or taste the mature fruit that will come when our child “ripens” into adulthood (as in Erikson’s Stages 6, 7 and 8), we can rest assured that God is faithful with His promises to our children!

So the chief question that represents the struggle in this stage is “Who am I?”  This is a critical time in the life of an adolescent as a “template” is being formed regarding his values, beliefs, convictions, and decisions about who he is, how he views himself, how he interacts in relationships and of course, how he will live his life.  This template will guide him in the choices he makes, how he views and solves problems, and most importantly, what decisions he will make as an adult, and in the relationships, he creates as an adult.

     So I’d like to ask you, given the 5 principles of the Blessing and the description of this stage of psychosocial development, what behavior are you moved to integrate to help your child’s development in this stage of their life?

So as we close our walkthrough with Dr. Erikson, I’ll leave you with the second half of the verse we opened this section with:

“The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him” – Proverbs 23:24

As we close out our walkthrough of the children’s room, Dr. Tina Bryson will join us to provide her insights regarding how we as parents, can deeply impact the brain and subsequently the lives of our children, as she has developed, integrated and practically applied valuable information about how we can create good interpersonal neurobiology in the lives of our children.

Specialist #3: Dr. Tina Bryson

Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is a Psychotherapist and Founder/Executive Director of The Center for Connection and The Play Strong Institute in Pasadena, California, where she offers parenting consultations and provides therapy to children and adolescents.

Dr. Bryson is the co-author of The Whole-Brain Child and has co-authored this book along with other books with Dr. Dan Siegel, who accompanied us on our walkthrough of the Living and Dining rooms. This is important because a number of the strategies that Dr. Siegel contributed in his walkthrough (i.e., The River of Integration, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and one we’ll explore below, the Wheel of Awareness) are concepts that Dr. Bryson has developed and applied in her treatment with children.

I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Bryson in 2015 at the 21stAnnual Counseling Skills conference in Dallas, TX, wherein her plenary presentation she spoke about Whole-Brain strategies: From reactivity to resilience (you can read about her presentation on Dr. Ken McGill’s Blog – www.drkenmcgill.me, under the title So what did you learn at your conference, Day 2 of 3).

In her talk, Dr. Bryson highlighted some of the excellent and practical points from the Whole-Brainbook regarding how to parent your children so that we nurture versus frustrate the minds of our children. There are numerous nuggets of gold that I obtained from reading Dr. Bryson’s book (and to date I have three of her books in my library!) and it’s hard to highlight only a few of the strategies that you’ll want to incorporate into your parenting processes, but what follows is a few of the many contributions she’ll provide toward the health and life of your child!

First, Dr. Bryson talks about the concept of “Connect, and Redirect.” Dr. Bryson states that when your child is upset and emotional because something in their life has dysregulated their current state of being, the best thing for you to do is help them calm down (which is Connecting with their Right or Emotional side of their brain). Holding, touching and calmly validating their emotions are excellent ways to dyadically regulate this part of their brain and body. When your child has calmed down, you’ll be in a better position to talk rationally with them and to impart information that could help them to understand their current situation (this is Redirecting to their Left and Logical part of their brain). By doing these simple “whole-brain” actions with your child you’re helping to integrate both hemispheres of their brain as you engage in creating attunement (and building a secure attachment) with the Right hemisphere of their brain while also helping them to explore and communicate logical insights about their situation with the Left hemisphere of their brain.

Second, Dr. Bryson talks about the “Upstairs – Downstairs” of brain functioning. The Upstairs is the cerebral, higher-order reasoning that we’d love for our children to develop, settle into and live by, especially when decision-making and relationships are being considered. It’s this part of our brain that “re-minds” us that there’s more to the picture than what our emotions are telling us, helps us to make good decisions in spite of our emotions (that is, when they flood us) and finally, positions us to repeat good decisions due to reinforced neural connections because cells that  “fire together will wire together.”

The Downstairs part of our brain is more “reactive,” which is helpful when we perceive that our survival or well-being is being threatened, and it’s this part of our brain that snaps into action, typically with a flood of neurochemicals and stress hormones to ensure we’ll be able to fight, take flight by running, or freeze and feign because our survival depends on these (re)actions.

Finally, Dr. Bryson suggests a great tool to help the Upstairs brain of your child to “cognitively override” the reactions of the Downstairs brain by using The Wheel of Awareness.  Let me explain what it is and how it works. Keep in mind (no pun intended) that the Wheel of Awareness works for children, adolescents and adults, so no matter what age you are, Drs. Siegel and Bryson (and me too!) want you to get the full benefit of this easy to use and powerful tool!

The Wheel of Awareness 

The Wheel of Awareness (adapted by Dr KenMcGill)

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The Wheel of Awareness is a tool developed by Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Bryson that among other things, helps us realize two important truths regarding how our mind operates and processes information. The first truth appears on this side of the handout (everything “north” of the bird’s eye view of the person looking “up”), and you’ll find the second truth on the opposite side of this sheet (everything “south” of the bird’s eye view of the person looking “down”).

Here’s the first truth: The experience of troubling, traumatic or “triggering” events in our life could cause mental and/or emotional dysregulation within us, which diminishes our ability to “see the larger picture” beyond the scope and range of the particular stressor that’s currently bothering us.

These dysregulating stressors, which are embedded in our life-experiences (with descriptions next to the first 4 pictures below), create a type of “mental tunnel vision,” where our ability to focus elsewhere (like on solutions) becomes seriously impeded. When in this mental state, we may report feeling trapped, stuck, or frustrated because we “can’t think about or focus on anything else.”

If the dysregulating events listed below were located on the outer rim of a wheel (hence the “Wheel of Awareness”), and you were situated in the middle or “hub” of the wheel, where the only thing you could focus on was the distressful event(s) itself, then, as depicted in the picture below, your awareness, focus, attention, perspective, and viewpoints could become limited to the data and stimuli that are currently dominating your mind.

This focused “attention on affliction” is problematic in that it limits your ability to see beyond your current set of circumstances. This means your ability to render self-care to yourself, or, be open to alternative ways of viewing and integrating information, or, your ability to imagine and brainstorm possibilities with others, or, your ability to work with others to create and develop win-win strategies could be delayed,  interrupted, or worse yet, lost!

Take a look at the next 4 pictures and their description below. Imagine the images as being on a wagon wheel at the 10, 11, 12 and 1 o’clock points. Which of the events (there could be more!) is creating distress in you and are threatening your ability to see the larger picture?

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Unintegrated Adversity: Distress occurs when hurtful experiences do not receive a therapeutic response in a timely manner. Denial, Dismissal or other Ego Defenses are the culprits that interrupt the safe and caring expression of behavior that could help you feel better, which is when actions like this are needed the most!

alcohol couple

Dyadic Dysregulation: Distress occurs due to the presence and continuation of conflict in your relationship(s). These episodes “emotionally hijack” you, which means your energy will be misspent and the all-important intimacy needs that beg to be addressed will be ignored until a recommitment to safe and boundaried behavior is practiced by all.

dad-shouting-at-daughter

Posttraumatic Repetition: Distress occurs because current episodes of conflict could trigger traumatic memories from your past. This type of conflict triggers “fight, flight, and freeze” responses and/or the experience of emotional regression, which results in your engagement of child-like reactions versus intentional and therapeutic behaviors delivered by the adult part of you.

shame

Emotional Flooding: Distress occurs when emotions like guilt, fear, shame, pain, humiliation, grief, rage, sorrow or hopelessness threaten your ability to feel reassured, safe and grounded. Emotional balance in your brain and body is stymied because the “downstairs” emotions are not being helped by your “upstairs” cognition(s).

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So here’s a couple of points about the pictures above:

Important Point # 1: Distress limits our vision, focus, and awareness on the Wheel of Awareness to about  130° of the 360° circle. That means there’s about 260° left in the circle that remains unnoticed. Are you willing to look at the remaining part of the Wheel of Awareness, which could be of great assistance to you?

Important Point # 2: Focusing on the remaining part of the Wheel of Awareness is about 4 – 5 deep breaths away. However, you’ll need to psychologically (and in some cases, literally) stand up and turn around to change your point of view. After you’ve done this take a look at the other side.

Make sure you’ve taken the 4 – 5 deep breaths. After you’ve done that, stand up and turn around so you can change your vantage point to see the other part of the Wheel of Awareness. Now, read on!

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Here are a few more points about the “other side” of the circle:

Important Point # 3: The other 260° of the Wheel of Awareness invites you to view and use the 9 “functions” of your Middle Prefrontal Cortex. This part of your brain helps you to see the other options, possibilities, and solutions that are obscured or goes unnoticed and subsequently unintegrated when you’re dysregulated.

Important Point # 4: Integrate and practice the 9 Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions to regain your calm, refocus your thoughts and position you to make collaborative decisions with others as you endeavor to repair relationship connections and experience good outcomes!

The Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions on the Wheel of Awareness

Vector Body temperatureBody Regulation: Regaining calm is the first and most important gift for you to experience in your brain and body. You cannot be anxious (or dysregulated or distressed) when you’re relaxed, so practicing activities like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, aerobic exercise or even walking (for bilateral stimulation of your brain) will help you to discharge pent up energy that interrupts your ability to focus.

puzzle piecesAttuned Communication: When you’ve regained your calm, pull back to the hub of the wheel and focus your attention only on strategies that help you to “stay in your lane” verbally as you speak to others. Using words, tones and processes that demonstrate you’re “cooking with C.O.A.L.” (being curious, open, accepting and loving) helps you to create safety, respect and to facilitate understanding.

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Emotional Balance: Shifting your vision from the spokes on the wheel that end in dysregulation to the other spokes where your attention is focused on practicing behaviors that create regulation and attunement means you’ve made a cognitive shift called a “cortical override” with your emotions. The override succeeds because higher-brain strategies are used to constrict lower-brain reactivity.

response flexibility

Response Flexibility: When the regulation, attunement, and balance are experienced in your brain and body, typically more “spokes” (where your focus is on options, solutions, and possibilities) begin to appear on your Wheel of Awareness. Taking the cognitive “road less traveled” invites you to explore, look at, consider and integrate viewpoints that are far beyond your current pain or distress.

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Fear Modulation: Developing awareness of what possibilities could or do exist at the end of the other spokes on the Wheel of Awareness doesn’t mean you’re ignoring your fear. Not at all. But it does mean that you’ve chosen to integrate other information and (especially human) resources that permit you to envision a different and possibly positive versus fearful outcome as the adult part of you helps yourself!

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Insight: Insight that yields perspective, solutions and possibilities are achieved by taking regularly scheduled “Time-Ins,” per Dr. Bryson. These moments, created by silence and prayer (and your use of other spiritual disciplines) help you to reflect, deliberate and be intentional as you “S.I.F.T.” your mind. “SIFTing” means you’re continually paying attention to and monitoring your Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts that could be part of your solution/resolution to the set of circumstances that are currently bothering you.

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Empathy: Practicing and becoming proficient with the 9 Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions means you’re getting better at recognizing there’s more than one way to look at people and life circumstances. Your insight, helped by your Intuition and by the Values you’ve elected to live by (your Morality), will assist you to deliver the appropriate Empathetic response to yourself and to others in the right way at the right time.

morality

Morality: Aspiring, then living a moral life reflects which values, virtues, ethics, mores Changing your Mind with the practice of LoveWorksand principles matter to you, which could be demonstrated or delivered in concrete and measurable action(s) at any given moment. Morality, whether intuited or learned, “re-minds” us that we’ve uploaded therapeutic options that exist on our Wheel of Awareness, ready to help us to come to our own assistance or to the assistance of others.

Woman Looking in Mirror

Intuition: And with Intuition we’ve come full circle on the Wheel of Awareness, as this unique part of your Middle Prefrontal Cortex, aided by knowledge that comes from listening to your body, helps you to discern then focus your attention to “take the next right step” toward the part of the rim that results in experiences marked by co-regulation, collaboration, and cohesion!

The Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions: Child, Adolescent and Adult Goals, Activities and Skills

Do you ever wonder what it would look like if a Child or Adolescent had their Adult Parent/Caregiver deliver to them specific, value-laden behaviors during each of their psychosocial phases of development, to enhance the functioning of their brain, mind and their relationships, resulting in a good Triangle of Well-Being, on their way to cultivating good Interpersonal Neurobiology?

If you’re an Adolescent, do you think it would be helpful to be given a “map” that could assist you to focus your energy on what matters now in your life journey and to prepare you with insights and ideas that could help you to launch effectively into the next stage of your life journey?

Or, if you’re an Adult, and life circumstances cause you to emotionally lose it or blow your stack, would it be helpful to be given pointers that could assist you to not only regain your composure, but also help you determine what you might need to give to yourself based on the “age range of your emotional regression episode?”

Based on the research of Dr. Bryson and Dr. Siegel, I’ve created a chart loaded with information to convey how the nine functions of your middle prefrontal cortex could support a Parent or Caregiver to give assistance and guidance to their child or adolescent during these critical phases of their development.

When we think of our Children, we think of goals that we have for them, so most of the information in the Child’s entries are goal-oriented that a Parent or Caregiver will want to focus on delivering to them.

When we think of Adolescents, we not only think of goals for them, but we’d love for them to be engaged in activities to gain confidence, competence, and proficiency, so most of the information in the adolescent entries focus on activity.

When Adolescents grow into Adulthood and become Partners and eventually Parents, we think of their life experience rewarding them with age-appropriate wisdom and skill, so most of the information in the Adult entries focus on skill development.

Taken together, if the executive, higher-order part of your brain and mind focuses attention on appropriate goals, activities and skills then more than likely you’re setting yourself up to produce and experience some good if not great outcomes!

So what you’ll find in each of the Child, Adolescent or Adult entries are suggestions regarding how the nine functions of the middle prefrontal cortex could help each age range to develop “whole brain” strategies to be successful in that particular stage of their life.

Equally, what you’ll find under each of the nine headings are insights regarding how that particular function of your middle prefrontal cortex could assist you to focus on developmental tasks that are critical over the course of one’s life.

Finally, as mentioned above, when adversity, dysregulation, traumatic recall or emotional flooding threaten or actually hijacks your ability to function as a Healthy Adult, Healthy Adolescent or as a Contented Child, then I suggest you read the material under the headings in reverse order to recall what activity you’ll want to engage in and what goal you’ll want to focus on that will hopefully halt, then help you to course-correct from the emotionally regressed episode you may be experiencing.

Since we’re talking Integration, I encourage you to think about how the application of the nine middle prefrontal cortex functions as written in the Integrated Chart could help you to see the other side of the Wheel of Awareness, as you endeavor to see a whole and more complete picture of your current situation.

Thanks for allowing me to give you my insights as gleaned from the wonderful work of Dr. Bryson and Dr. Siegel, as you think about the development of your children in this important part of your house!

The Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions  (Child, Adolescent and Adult Goals, Activities and Skills)

1. Body Regulation

Vector Body temperature

Child (Birth to 12): For children, Body regulation begins with the creation of a Secure bond and Attachment with their Caregiver(s). Safety, nurturing words and responsive behaviors convey love to them. Your goal is to create an environment where calm, connection and stability helps your child to feel soothed, which will be internalized and repeated by them as they learn and benefit from this skill given to them by you.

Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Breathing, walking or exercising are activities that help you to discharge energy and remain calm. Going on “automatic pilot” and allowing your emotions to reactively hijack your cognitions will take you to a non-productive state of mind. You’re encouraged to investigate your emotions and what’s causing your arousal, to determine which of your values will help you to engage in helpful, intentional and functional behavior.

Adult (18+): “S.I.F.T-ing” your mind is a reflective practice to determine your sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts. Others will benefit when you take ownership of your thoughts and feelings by taking a “time-in” to engage in this mindful activity, which helps you develop the skills of insight, flexibility,  receptivity, empathy, and compassion. Know that your ability to create Regulation will also create openness and possibility for you and others.

2. Attuned Communication

puzzle pieces

Child (Birth to 12): It’s never too early to identify and integrate Healthy Adult mode thinking and behaviors, based on smart values that help you to feel good about yourself and maintain internal peace. Practicing inclusive values that help you to establish secure and respectful connections, even when others have different values or beliefs than yours is your goal.

Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Identifying, adopting and practicing values that help you to be aware, mindful, open, honest, kind, inclusive, empathetic and compassionate, in addition to being in touch with your thoughts and feelings is important! Creating and maintaining an “internal working model” in your brain that is flexible and open to change is an ongoing activity that will serve you best in the upcoming seasons of your life!

Adult (18+): Attuned communication is protected by a state of mind when memories from the past may intersect with your current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but are carefully monitored for their positive and negative potential. Skill is acquired when accidental (or intentional) ruptures are repaired by integrating the values that help you to respect any differences you have with others and to live a life that demonstrates and imparts love.

3. Emotional Balance

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Child (Birth to 12): Caregivers who create environments where love, dialogue, encouragement, support, understanding, validation, and connection are experienced tend to be successful in achieving their goal of facilitating emotional balance in the lives of their children. Modeling these values with your children helps you and them to avoid or eliminate chaotic and rigid extremes that are associated with emotional and dyadic dysregulation.

Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Adolescents who take daily “time-ins” to  “S.I.F.T” their minds are engaging in activities that promote awareness and insight. The payoff for the practice of these middle prefrontal cortex behaviors is the ability to “decipher then decide” what intentional actions you’ll implement when you feel strong or unpleasant emotions. Empowerment occurs when your thoughtful choices and healthy responses “cortically override” any reactive emotion that threatens to derail your intention!

Adult (18+): By deciphering then deciding what response you’ll implement when a strong emotion is felt means you’re developing skills to create productive and desired outcomes that are focused, inclusive, curative and balanced. Equally, you’re probably noticing that you’re reducing the frequency, intensity and number of “emotional hijacking episodes” that are connected to unpleasant, uncomfortable or traumatic memories from your distant past or current circumstances.

4. Response Flexibility

response flexibility

Child (Birth to 12): Drs. Bryson and Siegel encourage parents to develop family environments that evidence flexibility, adaptiveness, coherence, (useful) energy and stability (“FACES”). The demonstration of these characteristics helps both hemispheres of your child’s brain to develop and function so that intentional, responsive and predictable behavior occurs instead of maladaptive schemas and mode behaviors.

Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Engaging in activity that brings awareness to feelings of fear, anger, shame or loneliness which could be “cortically overridden” (versus allowing your feelings to catapult you into impulsive or regretful behavior) is critical and will determine your success at creating and maintaining a functional “Window of Tolerance.” A larger window of tolerance, coupled with your increased reflection, provides you with a greater range of options and responses from which to choose.

Adult (18+): Practicing Agape-oriented values that are mutually beneficial and consistently delivered when options, solutions and reasonable and respectful responses are needed is a reflection of a focused brain that wants to achieve and enjoy good interpersonal neurobiology with others! Thoughtful and intentional responses reflect skill, flexibility and they cultivate attunement and compassionate connections with others!

5. Fear Modulation

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Child (Birth to 12): The last thing any parent wants to expose their child to is behavior that creates Avoidant, Ambivalent or Disorganized attachments (i.e., Come here!/Go away!), in addition to Maladaptive Schemas/Schema Modes (i.e., Defective, Mistrust, Failure, Unrelenting Standards). It’s good to know that even with the painful pasts that could have been experienced in childhood, we’re able to “reparent” ourselves to develop “Earned” Secure Attachments with people and processes that are restorative!

Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Identifying Who I am and How I’m going to live my life are critical issues in the life of an adolescent, especially when you’ve been exposed to bad, ugly or traumatic life experiences. Identifying and living by values that make sense to you is a great way to productively use your energy instead of constructing or hiding behind ego defenses that result in you “getting lost in the same old familiar places” dictated by unexamined or unintegrated fear.

Adult (18+): It’s the Healthy Adult part of you that comes to the assistance of the fearful, shamed or Vulnerable Child part of you to integrate safety versus abuse, listening versus ignoring, true help versus a “habit” of escape, value and worth versus shame and encouragement to modulate your fear. Please know that when the “narrow window of fear” is opened by the presence and demonstration of your Healthy Adult responses, you’re equipping your self with a skill to see a broader, clearer and unobstructed “Plain of Possibilities.”

6. Insight

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Child (Birth to 12): Dr. Bryson quotes Dr. Siegel’s definition of Mindsight: “Understanding our own mind as well as understanding the mind of another.” Helping your children to develop the skill of mindsight (insight) occurs by helping them to interpret and make sense of their body sensations, images or pictures from their memories or current experiences, and their thoughts and feelings. It’s great to teach, then see them becoming skilled as they use their mPFC!

Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): When current emotions or experiences threaten to “hijack” your mind and take you to personal or interpersonal places that are not good for you, what goals, values, skills or “Healthy Adult” processes could you draw upon to refocus your energy, mind and actions? Hopefully, you’re “uploading” values that help you to feel grounded, think intentionally and behave morally and empathetically each day.  If you feel dysregulated, is there anything coming to mind that you could use to help yourself? 

Adult (18+): Paying attention to your body, mind and uploaded values so you’re able to act intentionally is living in the moment with awareness and skill. Focusing your attention on your “internal map of deliberate behavior” keeps you centered in the River of Integration (versus the “sandbars or shore” of Chaos, Rigidity or Regret). Repeating these mental processes keeps your focus on neurobiological goals.

7. Empathy

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Child (Birth to 12): Children need to see their parents model Agape-oriented values in their behavior with others. Observing behavior that treats others with love, respect, esteem and worth not only “uploads” into their brain Healthy Adult behavior that is safe and makes sense to them, but it also increases the likelihood it will be repeated due to the synaptic and neural connections that are “firing and wiring in” these very valuable values!

Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Empathy, Sympathy and Compassion are values to be encoded into your long-term memory, in light of the developmental phase you’re in (Identity vs. Role Confusion), or phase you’re about to enter (Intimacy vs. Isolation) or the emotionally-regressed phase (Adolescent) you’ve lapsed into. Dr. Bryson encourages you to “Monitor (sense) and Modify (shape)”  your behavior so you’ll create and enjoy good dyadic and mutual regulation experiences with others.

Adult (18+): Larger Windows of Tolerance coupled with mental processing tools (like “Cooking with C.O.A.L.” – being Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving) leads to attuned communication that is integrative,  focused and inclusive (versus exclusive) of others. These skills help a person to see what others see, feel what others feel, imagine what it’s like to be them and understand what life is like for them.

8. Morality

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Child (Birth to 12): Children thrive when parents identify and demonstrate values that facilitate growth that’s appropriate for their phase of development. Among other needs, Infants need safety, security and hope, Toddlers need support while Preschoolers could use encouragement and Elementary-aged kids could use validation with their achievements. What are you finding that your kids need and are you consistently giving it to them?

Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Who am I and how shall I live are questions to ask yourself not just in this phase of your life but hopefully each day for the remainder of your life. Answering these questions and producing behavior congruent with your answer will depend upon the values and virtues that you deem important, integrate and become proficient with. I encourage you to live an examined life…you and others will definitely enjoy the benefits!

Adult (18+): The timely practice of values and virtues (awareness, responsibility, negotiation and collaboration, all seasoned with healthy amounts of Empathy!) produces repair in your relationships when there’s been a rupture. They’ll also help you to create and maintain space in your mind for new ideas as well as options and possibilities that not only help you in your repair but could facilitate interpersonal healing and thriving!

9. Intuition

Woman Looking in Mirror

Child (Birth to 12): Children, who are very instinctual, have innate drives that cause them to engage in “proximity seeking behavior.” According to Dr. Siegel, this behavior prompts caregivers to move toward and connect with them, resulting in behavior that helps them to feel soothed, secure and safe. Affirming your child’s intuition validates their ability to hear and trust their own and very important biological messages!

Adolescents (Age13 – 17): Adolescence is a beautiful time to listen to your body, which is full of messages for you to explore and affirm. Coupled with your values, your intuition will inspire you to examine your ideas, concepts, people, and opportunities, and if you’re listening carefully, it will guide you to make thoughtful decisions that are mutually beneficial for you and others. Enjoy the mental maps you create with your mind, energy, creativity, and intuition!

Adult (18+): Listening to your “gut knowledge” that you sense in your body keeps you safe, validates your feelings, informs your decisions and prompts you to act. Integrating insight and truth, derived from your self-messages may mean you have unfinished business you need to tend to, and more than likely you’ll feel wiser and peaceful when your job is done. Is there anything that your body is hinting at that needs your current focus? 

Questions for the Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions  (Child, Adolescent and Adult Goals, Activities and Skills)

  1. From the Wheel of Awareness, what events or experiences located on the 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 or 1:00 o’clock position on the Wheel are creating a problem for you and causing you distress? What exactly is the problem?
  2. As you look at the other side of the Wheel of Awareness, in addition to the Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions, is there anything that comes to mind that you’d like to integrate or develop that you’ve discovered which could help you to solve your current problem? What is it?
  3. When you think of blessing and setting goals for your Children (or Grandchildren), which of the listed suggestions would you like to develop in their life?
  4. When you think of blessing and seeing your Adolescents involved in an activity that would assist them to develop competencies, which of the listed suggestions would you like to help develop in their life?
  5. As an Adult or Parent, what goals, activity or skills would you like to develop for yourself, in your effort to love, bless and develop skills that will help you as a person and as a Parent or Caregiver?
  6. What practical strategies come to mind that you will integrate and practice regularly so you’re able to regulate your body and mind (Walk, stretch, exercise, Yoga, meditation, journal, etc.)?
  7. If you’ve noticed that you’ve experienced one too many Emotional Regression episodes (or the intrusiveness of any of the Ego Defenses), what information located in the chart will you focus your attention on to cease this activity?
  8. Revisit the “12 Steps to Changing your Mind with Interpersonal Neurobiology”. Which of the Losing strategies will you eliminate and which of the Winning strategies will you integrate for your benefit and the benefit of others?
  9. Revisit the “Changing your Mind in the River of Integration.” Which of the Psychological or Theological strategies will you integrate to help your Child, Adolescent or Adult?

Thanks for reading this post on “The Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions” and for your desire to love your children as you love yourself!

Walkthrough Area #4: Your Office/Study

“There’s too many men, too many people, making too many problems, and not much love to go round. Can’t you see this is a land of confusion.

This is the world we live in, and these are the hands we’re given, Use them and let’s start trying, to make it a place worth living in” – Phil Collins from the song “Land of Confusion”

 “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground” – Psalm 143:10 (TNIV)

I love engaging in the spiritual discipline of “Study.” As mentioned earlier in Insights from the River of Integration (Theological), Studying, and specifically studying scripture, helps me to get to know my God. My study(ing) has helped me to understand that my God is a God of Love, and the chief purpose and charge that I typically take away from my studying sessions is to try and answer the question what can I learn and how can I integrate and practice the virtue of Love in all of my affairs?

It’s taken me many years to get to this place where I realize and conclude that this is my purpose in life, and what has clearly helped me to arrive at this conclusion is the result of hours and hours and hours of studying and learning who God is and what he wants of me, what He wants to do in me, and what He wants to do through me. I’ve also realized that God allows me to go through various life experiences in order for me to accomplish His purposes and objectives; more on that point later.

So in this sub-section, we’ll invite Pastor Rick Warren to accompany us into the Office/Study area of your home, where he provides a few insights about your purpose. After his comments, I’ll provide a few “life lessons” that I’ve learned about one’s purpose, based on the time I’ve spent over the decades of my life “in my Study.” As you read this, I pray that you’ll be inspired to think about who you are (your identity) and how you will live (your mission), which is based upon your understanding of what is your purpose (the “2.0 Operating System” that guides and informs your decision-making) in life. May God reveal Himself to you in your Study!

 Specialist #4: Pastor Rick Warren

 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing your mind” – Romans 12:2 (TNIV)

Pastor Rick Warren is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, California. Pastor Warren has authored many books over the course of his ministry, and one that has caught my eye is The Purpose Driven Life (2002, Zondervan), which has sold over 30 million copies. As I mentioned earlier in this post, Pastor Warren provides sage wisdom about your purpose in life, a subject and focus that I trust you’ll revisit frequently (and hopefully every day) when you sit down, work, study, then eventually rise and leave your Study to engage the world and its inhabitants in a meaningful and purposeful manner.

What follows are a few of the high points from the book, and in the spirit of “take what you can use and leave the rest,” I hope you’ll integrate what you find helpful as you consider and think about your own purpose in life. To identify your purpose in life, Pastor Warren suggests that you…

1. Change the way you think: Pastor Warren suggests that one of the first steps to take toward identifying your purpose is to change your mind (actually, and with God’s help, to “renew” it) so that you hear and respond in a qualitative manner to God’s prompting, leading, guidance and direction in your life. Why does God want you to do this? I think His plan is to produce in and through you a new, better and superior way of producing character and subsequently behavior that reflects His best intention in you and for the benefit of others close to you.

For me, this is helpful, because left to my own device, I can be short-sighted and selfish in my thinking, which has resulted in me missing golden opportunities that God would have loved to use to impact others for good. So with His help, changing my mind (Metanoeo; Meta [change]+ noeo [mind, think]) and typically going in His direction, not mine, will yield better, advanced and what I’ve typically witnessed are exceptional outcomes in my encounters with others. Surrendering my will and being open to His input and guidance places me closer to hearing then acting and finally accomplishing behavior that resembles His character and tends to be more in line with His purpose.

2. Circumstances develop our character: “We are ‘transformed by trouble,’ that is, we’ll learn things about God in suffering that we can’t learn any other way” (pg. 194). Pastor Warren goes on to say that “everything that happens to a child of God is Father-filtered, and He intends to use it for good even when Satan and others mean it for bad.”

As I reflect on moments of suffering in my life, these statements have rung true in that I now see how those experiences eventually developed God’s character in me, which has always been His purpose for me through the good, bad, ugly or traumatic experiences I’ve encountered. I’ve realized that God’s intent isn’t to torment nor destroy me or us when we experience trials. On the contrary, when bad things happen to us, they tend to draw us closer to our Higher Power and in the process, develop certain characteristics, strengths and abilities in us that typically wouldn’t occur because we hadn’t yet experienced that level of difficulty in our lives.

I’ve also realized that my mind has been transformed to view situations through the lens of mercy, as a result of assertively inviting God to be present in my suffering process(es). Inviting my loving, compassionate and merciful God into my experiences of suffering has shaped, motivated and empowered me as a Christian and as a Counselor to be able to sit with others who may be wondering how a loving God could help them grow and transform through their suffering experiences as well.  As Pastor Warren suggests, growing through experiences that help us to take on the nature and character of God is also part of God’s purpose.

“The purpose in life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

On the face of it, this is a hard quote to hear. But allow me to share something with you. In 2008, shortly after the accident where we lost Marissa, and in the midst of my suffering, I realized that I needed (and wanted) God to grow me through this devastating experience. He combined the passions of my heart (counseling and working with people to assist them in their recovery from addictions and addictive behavior) as well as my experience connected to our devastating loss, with a profound desire to learn how to cultivate an “uncommon love” that could help me and eventually others to live beyond current and what could be devastating and overwhelming pain that envelops people when tragedy hits their family (especially as it did to my wife, son, family members and friends of Marissa).

This was not an easy, nor quick process of personal or professional growth and transformation. For example, God put great ideas about renewing relationships into my head and upon my heart, but it took six years to convert those ideas into the Cultivating Love book series, because denial/shock, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (all of the feelings connected to the stages of grief) tempered my ability and usurped my energy to write after the death of Marissa.

One of the biggest issues that I could relate to about Pastor Warren’s thoughts on suffering was who am I, and what is my purpose, beyond the excruciating pain that I felt after losing my daughter?  Life lost its glimmer and dark clouds began to form for a period in my life. Happiness was an infrequent visitor, a fleeting blip on the radar of my mind and I knew that in the core of my being, I wasn’t a happy person (as Leslie and Gabriel could attest!). I didn’t ask for, nor plan for this type of loss in my family but I did ask “How does one recover from the worst possible experience that a person could have in life?”

Although I hadn’t read the quote by Emerson at the time, in hindsight I could begin to see God’s supportive hand and His purpose in and through my loss, which was to help me heal so that I, in turn, could participate and help in the healing and strengthening process with “my neighbor,” who by definition is always the closest person in proximity to me (i.e., my family, the people who came to my office for counseling, the children we would eventually support in Africa, and others that I would meet in different settings in my life).

In addition to the Fruit of the Spirit called “Joy,” which I wrote about in a previous post, the following scripture in Romans 5:3 – 5 became very real to me, and proved to be a clarifying and defining statement about the experience I was going through and growing through:

“…we rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” 

By engaging daily in the study of scripture, I was inviting God into my brokenness.  I realized that consistently inviting God into my brokenness helped me to endure what I was going through because He was helping me to endure the suffering, versus me giving in to, and allowing this circumstance to destroy me and others around me. I realized that God is a merciful God, and by definition, the function of mercy is to relieve suffering. Why? Because God had a plan in store for me, and as bad as I felt, I knew it wasn’t to hurt nor harm me, but to give me hope, a future and above all else, character like His that responds well to adversity and suffering and in the process, a renewed purpose.

I realized I could only experience these changes by being open to God, seeking Him out, inviting Him into my life (versus resisting Him) so that God could shape, heal and strengthen me to do the unique and intentionally deep work which He intended for me to do. So by admitting my current state of brokenness (which at some point if you’re human, you’ll probably encounter an experience of “being or living with brokenness”) and by inviting God into my brokenness through the practice of the spiritual disciplines of study, worship and fellowship (I met with other Godly and loving men on a weekly basis), I began to heal, and in the process developed a sensitivity and compassion for others who experienced a similar level of hurt, pain or devastation that I had experienced. I knew how God was merciful to me and how He helped me, and I, in turn, was moved and motivated to deliver the same level of sensitivity, love, and compassion to other “neighbors” as our paths crossed.

So the constant seeking after God during this time period (and I’m still pursuing Him daily!) created change, empowerment, direction, insight, and most of all character, as His power gave me power, His ways became my ways, and His words and actions which God has always wanted me to grow up in me became the way I aspired, endeavored and eventually began to demonstrate in action on a daily basis. He was cultivating His love and wisdom (Sophia) in me, in spite of my circumstances.

I say love and wisdom because wisdom (as described on page 37 and later in this section), infers that I’m becoming skilled at living, and even in the midst of a devastating experience, God was developing in my mind, spirit and actions the acute ability to know when and how to deliver the right “behavioral brushstrokes,” on the canvas of my life, Leslie and Gabriel’s life,  and in the lives of the “neighbors” who would come into my life. Leaning on and being led by God during this critical season in my life helped me to touch, participate and co-create merciful, loving and compassionate acts with others “one brushstroke at a time on the canvas of their life,” as I became competent and skilled at knowing, saying and doing the right action at the right time to effect the right outcome, based in the situation(s) that arose.

This was the compassionate, loving and character-building purpose God wanted me to participate in as He healed and restored me in, through and beyond my suffering experience. This is also how these unenviable circumstances began to change me and helped me to become fruitful as a man, counselor, and human being; because I simply hungered, thirsted for and invited God into my brokenness and I remained in Him to let Him quench, season, shape, edify and transform me (John 15:4 – 5).

My healing and my renewed purpose started in my study and spread to others in my house, continued into my office, and eventually, by wishing to honor the dream of our daughter, developed into ministries with children in the countries of Ethiopia and Uganda. I realize this is my identity and the purpose that God wanted to develop in and through me, far beyond my past or present experiences with suffering. What about you? If you are going through an unenviable season in your life, are you aware of the person that God wishes for you to become in spite of, or beyond your current set of circumstances?

Today I enjoy seeking God and asking Him to change, heal, empower, guide and use me. My circumstances have changed me, and I can’t say enough about the process of change which simply began by my engagement in and the practice of my spiritual disciplines. But each day that I have in my study, and with the practice of my spiritual disciplines, the two questions about my identity and purpose, along with God’s help, who steadily revealed Himself to me, now serve as a compass that guides my thoughts and actions, beyond the dark forest of hurt, pain uncertainty and devastation that I lived through, and into the light of clarity, empowerment, vision, purpose and opportunity.

So I have a question or two for you:

  1. If you’re in the midst of a suffering experience, do these verses or my comments about Pastor Warren’s book currently apply to you and your experience?
  2. In light of your suffering experience, at some point in your life journey, do you think it would be possible to view your own experiences(s) with suffering as a “transformative opportunity,” that among other things, could uniquely prepare you to love His world and the people in this world in a unique way that makes your suffering experience purposeful?
  3. Are there any “life-lessons” that you have personally learned in light of the “father-filtered” experiences you’ve had or are currently experiencing? What character(istics) do you see God developing in your life so that as you get better, you’ll help others to get better?
  4. Who or what might you need to integrate into your life that will help or assist you to become the person you wish to become?

Finally, a third important piece and insight that I gleaned from Pastor Warren’s book are:

3. There are no short-cuts to maturity: “It takes years for us to grow to adulthood, and it takes a full season for fruit to mature and ripen. The same is true for the fruit of the Spirit. The development of Christlike character cannot be rushed. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, takes time” (pg. 217).

 As my previous comments about change, healing and growth indicate, I’ve realized this comment from Pastor Warren is also true. Sometimes it could be discouraging because the impulsive side of me (and dare I say us), “want’s what it wants when it wants it,” which is typically “now,” even if the desire of my heart is to grow, produce and deliver good behaviors and works to others. As we discovered in Choosing Change #4: Gardening with Intention, it may take a while for good habits to develop and materialize into the fruitful behavior that edifies us and others.

However, since we’re in the “office or study” part of the house, I’ve taken the liberty to pause and reflect on a few life lessons that have helped me to mature and become the person that I am. True, there are no short-cuts to maturity, but I’ve learned that the steady and consistent practice of the behaviors below have helped me to grow into the “maturer” person that I am today. I call these behaviors the “24 R’s for Reflection, Remind(ing), Recovery and Renewal.”  Allow me to share them!

Choosing Change: 24 “R’s” for Reflection, Reminding, Recovery and Renewal

So in my “study,” I’ve noticed there are certain behaviors that I’ve practiced repetitively that begin with the letter R, which have proven to be beneficial either to me or to others in my life. There are twenty-four in total.

I’ve noticed that practicing these “24 R’s” over the last 30 years has helped me to experience indispensable changes with my thoughts, feelings, insights, and behavior, and has guided me to think about then engage in behaviors that matter when I’ve risen from my desk to rejoin the world after my “study sessions.” In the spirit of keeping it simple, I hope some if not all of these suggested processes will assist you in your endeavor to develop then integrate strategic, intentional and purposeful behaviors as a result of your own personal study sessions conducted in your study or home office.

The 24 R’s fall in three categories: Remind, Recovery and Renewal. How the 24 R’s have helped me is listed below, along with a few reflection questions. So I ask you to take what you can use, make it work for you, apply it, then enjoy the benefit of your work! I wish you the best in your process of Re-minding your thinking processes, Recovering and focusing on that which is vital and important in your life and above all, engaging in activities that Renew yourself and your relationships!

The 24 “R’s” for Reflection, Reminding, Recovery and Renewal  

24 R's

I encourage you to take a moment each day to reflect on one of the R’s in each category. Think about what’s coming up for you and what changes you might wish to make as a result of your reflection. Feel free to include others in your reflection process as you devise your strategies; remember, there’s wisdom in the counsel of many (Proverbs 15:22). Finally, know that it could take some time to get all of these 24 R’s up and working effectively, so be merciful with yourself and with others who may be involved with your overall process, but by all means, do keep working!

REMINDING

  1. Reflection: Reminding begins with reflection, which beckons me to give careful consideration to what I’m thinking, feeling, or about what is important. What life issues beg for your deeper and focused reflection?
  2. Remind: Reminding occurs when my Adult Ego state pauses, thinks about causes and consequences and makes good and considerate decisions the majority of the time. How could this reminding process help you?
  3. Recall: Recalling who I am (my identity) and what’s my purpose (to cultivate love in all my affairs) easily helps me to determine how I’m going to live. What’s your answer to these questions and are you recalling each day how you’re going to live?
  4. Reintroduce: Reintroducing printed, audio/visual or good counsel from others helps me hit my targets, reinforces my purpose, or validates the direction I’m traveling. What data might you want to reintroduce into your life because it could still be helpful to you?
  5. Release: Releasing prompts me to let go of cognitive-distortions, ego defenses, maladaptive schema modes that my personality wants me to default to. How is your personality or mind out to get or derail you, and what could you do to curtail this?
  6. Rewrite: Rewriting prompts me to replace my outdated “1.0” cognitive operating system with a creative and more considerate “2.0 Operating System” to live by. What new and rewritten cognitive processes will you upload today?
  7. Remember: Above all, I need to remember my purpose is to demonstrate Agape Love. Where and to whom do you need to demonstrate Love, Esteem, Favor, Honor, Acceptance, Devotion, etc. as a reflection of Love?
  8. Recreate: As a result of working hard, I give myself the benefit of engaging in “healthy play,” which is fun, and also stimulates my brain and my creativity. What acceptable activity motivates you to be a better person?

RECOVERY

  1. Revisit: Revisiting wise people and valuable activity that contributed to my past growth is something I revisit from time to time. If it was good then, it could be good, or better now. Who or what ideology might you revisit?
  2. Resentment(s): I’ve learned it’s better to deal with challenging issues and the feelings associated with those issues sooner than later because ignoring them creates resentment. What issues or feelings do you need to work on resolving?
  3. Reset: Resetting occurs when I remove myself from bothersome stimuli, to explore and learn about an issue, then “cognitively recalibrate” so I can effect constructive change. How could you and others gain by you employing a reset?
  4. Refine: Refining occurs when I practice and get better at the good and right behaviors that I know to be helpful, to me or to others. Practice making proficiency, not perfection. What behavior(s) might you consider refining?
  5. Routines and Rituals: Practicing these 24 R’s (and “Cooking with the C’s” in the Kitchen), to the best of my ability, has helped me to create and enjoy life-promoting routines and rituals that work for me. What rituals promote life in you?
  6. Reinforce: Reinforcement occurs when I practice my rituals over and over. Doing so creates neuroplasticity, which means “the cells that fire together wire together.”What constructive connections are you reinforcing by practicing good rituals over and over and over?
  7. Reconciliation: Reconciliation occurs when I choose to “lay aside wrathful behavior and simultaneously impart peaceful behavior.” It’s a character trait developed with the help of my God. How could your engagement in reconciling behavior help you?
  8. Resilient: Working a 12-Step program of recovery has helped me to connect with my God, cease harmful behaviors, recover my dignity and treat others thoughtfully and with respect. How could working a program like this be of assistance to you?

RENEWAL

  1. Ruptures to Repair: Not allowing Ruptures in my relationships to linger longer than 24 hrs. has been beneficial to me (and others), because serenity is a value I hold highly. What ruptures in your relationships need your immediate and strategic attention?
  2. Reason and Respect: When it comes to repairing ruptures, reason, and respect beckon me to examine my part in the rupture and what reasonable response(s) I’ll contribute for repair. What’s your part in the rupture and what’s your reasonable contribution to repairing it?
  3. Recipes to Edify: Along with providing reasonable responses to repair, I’ve learned that Love, Empathy, Romance, Safety, Tenderness, and Kindness are great recipes to “prepare and serve up.” What recipes do you follow to serve up repair?
  4. Responsibility: I’ve learned regardless of the other person’s behavior, it’s important for me to “stay in my Adult ego state.” Doing so ensures I’ll use tools of repair versus weapons to harm. What tools are you using that help you to fulfill your responsibilities?
  5. Rachets and (W)renches: A long time ago I realized to do a job effectively I need to have top quality tools that I know how to use to adequately accomplish repair and renewal. What necessary tools might you need to acquire to do your job adequately?
  6. Rejuvenate: I’ve also realized malnutrition or dehydration is a direct result of not consuming regular quantities of “food” (that is, data) that strengthens and informs my Psyche and my Spirit. What data are you consuming that rejuvenates you?
  7. Regenerate: Personal and relational regeneration occurs when I practice the 10 principles of Agape, the 9 Fruit of the Spirit, the 5 Love Languages, the 2 Greatest Commandments and engage in activity in the 7 Core Areas. How is your practice of these (and/or other behaviors) regenerating you?
  8. Reevaluate: Finally, I’ve learned that introspection, feedback, and reevaluation are valuable processes that have helped me to mature as an Agent of Change. What growth is occurring in and through you due to you reevaluating your life?

Life Lessons from the Study

Finally, here’s a few additional thoughts I’d like to pass along that I’ve learned over the course of my life that began in (or developed beyond the confines of) my study:

  1. Connect with God daily! No matter what spiritual discipline(s) you practice that helps you to enhance your conscious contact with God, engage in it daily and equally, throughout the day. Connecting with God provides breath for calmness, insight for direction, clarity with motive and decision-making, fuel to keep traveling, and strength to keep acting with reason and good intent!
  2. Be aware of your Schemas and Schema Modes! Make sure that you study and incorporate the principles of the A – C – T – I – V – E  Model to ensure that your psychological (or trauma) history isn’t sabotaging your current efforts to build or rebuild your life. Maladaptive schemas pop up very quickly but your awareness and immediate practice of the healthy values that you keep close to your chest will help you to transform contaminated and dysfunctional moments into functional, resolved and repaired outcomes.
  3. Focus on being a Safe Person: You’ll want to practice the principles in Choosing Change #1: Safe People, Safe Places and Safe Processes to help you become successful with the psychological concept called “Differentiation.”  Differentiation simply means you’re going to see, think and feel differently about issues than others in your life, who also deserve the same level and depth of respect because they see, think and feel differently about the same life issues as you.  The practice of Differentiation means you work to protect and contain your cognitions and all of your emotional energy connected to what you’re discussing, while you simultaneously make room to listen to and respect the cognitions and all of the emotional energy the person you are conversing with has.  Being guided by the healthier, Functional Adult part of you (that you convene with and provides counsel to you in your Safe Place), is what will help you to practice safe and respectful communication in addition to other values that help you to respect and honor the differences you have with the other person, even if you don’t agree with their interpretation of the issues that you are discussing. Good Differentiation means you’re becoming skilled and competent at managing your emotions so you’re able to remain in and practice your identified values in your “68° to 72°behavior range.” Doing so means no one gets frostbite nor burned in your communication, conflict intimacy or conflict resolution process. Good Differentiation is the epitome of being a Safe Person!
  4. Keep your purpose simple – Love God, Love Self and Love Others as Yourself: Now that I understand what actions are associated with the word Love, it’s important for me to do my best to “stay in my lane” and give myself permission to only engage in healthy behaviors intrapersonally and interpersonally. Responding to the simple question of “How could my conversations and actions help (people) to make the world a better place?” makes sense to me. The practice of this simple principle makes a lot of complex situations very clear and doable to me.  Equally, my faith reminds me that I’m a citizen who is to practice “upside down behaviors,” that is, behaviors that may not make sense to others, but they make perfect sense to me. The genesis and examples of this thinking and living is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew  5 – 7) where I’m called to love my enemies, pray for those who persecute me, do good to those who mistreat me (5:43), work to resolve conflicts with others who may have no intention of engaging in reconciliation (5:23) and to make sure my actions result in the production of “good works” (7:17).  In thinking about Emerson’s quote, if I can engage in useful,  honorable, and compassionate behaviors, then I will have made some difference in my life and at the end of my days, I will have lived well.
  5. Have good conflict resolution tools and move to resolve conflict quickly! Remember to practice the “Diaper Principle”; the minute you smell “offensive behavior,” whether it originates from you or from your spouse/family member, the next right thing to do is to clean it up quickly. Allowing soiled diapers to remain on a child (or unresolved issues to linger with adults) is neglectful and borders on abuse, especially when we have the ability to change or correct the issue or behavior immediately! Possessing, using and getting good with the practice of tools like the Imago Dialogue or the Models of Intimacy could help you to communicate effectively and to clean up, resolve or solve relationship issues immediately.
  6. Commit to developing and delivering Empathy until your last day: Practicing Empathy means you’ll not only get good at the practice of Differentiation (point #2), but you’ll also become skilled at noticing, asking, treating and touching others in thoughtful, tender and compassionate ways that help them to feel safe, cared for and honored. Remember, becoming wise means you’re becoming skilled at living, and Empathy is a skill that means we’re learning when, how and what to do at the right time, in the right measure to effect the right (behavioral) outcome with others, even if it’s doing something as simple as listening to another pour out his or her heart to you. Becoming skilled to consistently deliver Empathy in all your affairs is not easy, and I encourage you to not give up on the development of this virtue because if you stay with it, it’ll provide some of the best relational returns based on the investment of your energy.
  7. Develop the 4 Virtues from Stages 5 – 8 of Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development: The “virtues” that Psychologist Erik Erikson’s identifies in Stage 5 of his Psychosocial Stages of Development model is Fidelity, in Stage 6 it’s Love, in Stage 7 it’s Care, and in Stage 8 it’s Wisdom. To me, the development of these four virtues (which occur over a 50+ year period according to Erikson’s model) is another way to simplify my purpose in life.

Fidelity (during the ages of 12 – 20) calls for you to identify and integrate, practice and “remain committed” to values and virtues that make sense to you and will guide you during your formative years of identity development. If you chose good values in your past (and it’s never too late to revise them or add to them today!) that helped you to treat yourself and others with dignity and respect, then you’ve prepared yourself to learn about, develop and remain committed to what could be the greatest of all virtues, Love (the virtue to cultivate during the ages of 21 – 35).

Understanding the nature and benefits that accompany the practice of Love guides you to make Love the foundation from which your thinking and actions emanate. For me, these decisions reflect how I treat myself, my wife, my children and they help me to identify and maintain healthy boundaries regarding my speech, what I “take in” from others, and of course, how I counsel and encourage others to treat their self and their loved ones. I’ve found that the virtue of Love has been “the best compass, flashlight and map” that guided my actions down the paths I’ve chosen or have been privileged to walk in life. The practice of the virtue Love has not only directed and clarified what actions I’m to demonstrate, but it has also “sweetened” the delivery of Care (during the age period of 36 – 65) to others, in the various communities I’ve had the benefit to live in and to work, especially as a Psychotherapist.

Care, if you may recall, is an “ingredient” of Therapeuo (from which we obtain the English words Therapist or Therapeutic), and when found in the New Testament this word translates into the English word Heal (Matthew10: 1, 8). Care, in combination with the practice of the other components of Healing (Attending, Helping, Serving, Ministering to Yourself and Ministering to Others), helps me to focus on what is important and how to responsibly and maturely apply my values to create respectful, considerate and humane “win-win” outcomes with others. Finally, Care has also helped me to make choices throughout these critical years of my life so that as I near the end of my life, I’m able to see, think and feel that I’ve lived my life purposefully, in the service of others, no matter how near, far or the frequency of my encounters with others.  Practicing Care in this manner has “qualified” me to experience Wisdom, the last virtue in Erikson’s model.

Wisdom, as stated throughout this book, means that I have learned how to use my energy effectively. The demonstration of Wisdom means that I’ve learned how to listen to my Higher Power, who enlightens me with insight(s), guides my intuition, empowers me with endurance and gifts patience to me when it’s needed. The demonstration of Wisdom means instead of burning down the forest to get out of it (as my “Little Professor Ego state” would want me to do) the maturer Functional Adult part of me has learned to use tools that I’ve become skilled with “to come to my own assistance,” and to the assistance of others to locate the appropriate path(s) and to patiently and gracefully travel on it with reduced incidence. There are a myriad of ways that quantify that I’m growing in Wisdom, but the easiest way to observe it (in me) is to be guided by Values that reflect a mature expression of Love evidenced by the appropriate demonstration of Care to those in close proximity.

Thank you so much for allowing me to pass along a few insights and ideas that I’ve gained from my “Study!”  We can’t close this post without a quick trip to your Kitchen to see what “spices” you have in your cupboard to cook with, so all within your house will receive nutrition and nurturance from the hearty recipes you’re preparing for them!

“Cooking with the C’s”: A visit to your Kitchen

If given the opportunity to attend your housewarming party after you’re moved into your new home, if you didn’t hang a spice rack in your Kitchen then I might suggest you acquire one, and stock it with some of the “spices and recipes” listed below, all which happen to begin with the letter “C.”  I think these “psychological spices and recipes” are nutritious in value and are edifying to any relationship, family, and of course to any meal!

Of course, there are other items you’ll want to have on hand to help you season and prepare “healthy encounters” that you know will nourish and nurture others within and outside of your household. We’ve talked about a few of these healthy processes in the Killer D’s and Empowering E’s, in addition to “The Ingredients of Empathy.” Being well-stocked with these strategies will ensure you’re never without “that special” or most important ingredient you’ll need to complete the dish that provides energy or the meal that strengthens others when served. Finally, keep in mind the repetitive preparation and serving of these psychological “favorite recipes” will definitely create the behavior that in the long run helps people to grow and mature wisely!

The “C’s” to cook with, prepare or have on hand are:

  1. Conscious(ness): Chief of all ingredients is your ability to be conscious or aware of what you are thinking, feeling and how your thoughts and feelings will guide then determine your behavior. Being conscious and aware of what thoughts and feelings are flowing through your mind at any given time could make all the difference in the world between you serving up behavior that’s healthy and promotes healing or behavior that’s toxic, causes harm as well as unnecessary suffering to others. I encourage you to be awake, aware and conscious!
  2. Current: On College Gameday™ I heard Univ. of Wisconsin football player Jonathan Taylor talk about how mindfulness meditation helps him perform effectively on the field. What he also said is that he “works to keep his mind exactly where his feet are.”  In other words, he’s not ruminating about the past nor fretting about the future, because he’s precisely where he needs to be: in the present. How could staying “current” with your thoughts and feelings be advantageous to you?
  3. Calm/Centered: To that point, the integration of self-regulating processes that help you to remain Calm or enhances your ability to be Centered will assist you to quickly access the Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions. The regular inclusion of these “staple foods” in your “Wheel of Awareness” daily diet ensures strategic, flexible, insightful, creative and mutually empowered outcomes.
  4. Care: We’ve looked at Care earlier in this section, so a question for you to consider is does your Consciousness prompt you to know when you need to serve up thoughtful, appropriate and timely expressions of Care when others need to experience and be sustained by it?
  5. Compassion: In addition to the demonstration of Care, when you serve up ample helpings of Compassion, Tenderness, Kindness, Mercy, Empathy, Sympathy, and Love you’re serving up psychological “Chicken Soup of the Soul.” Having an abundance of this stock in your cabinet, or, using these as stock in your other recipes will serve you and others and help them to heal and regain their strength in record time!
  6. Creativity: Creativity is a byproduct of good interpersonal neurobiology. This means you and others in your home environment are committed to facilitating openness and the safe expression of ideas and feelings, which helps the inhabitants to dream, envision, connect, collaborate and create, which is very empowering!
  7. Compliment: In addition to facilitating Creativity in your home, the love language of some of your family members may be “Words of Appreciation,” and I encourage you to season your speech liberally with this spice. Why, because everyone loves and feels celebrated with a compliment!
  8. Celebration: Which leads me to ask, how do you celebrate the mere presence of a person in your life? Do they know how special and valuable they are to you? How do you celebrate who they are and what they mean to you?
  9. Currency: I encourage you to cook with words, values, and behaviors that convey to others they have great worth in your eyes simply because they are human beings, who are deserving of honor, esteem, favor, and value.
  10. Cuddling: And speaking of Love Languages, more than likely the love language of someone in your family is “Physical Touch.” If that’s the case, I encourage you to initiate or look for opportunities to be warm, tender, affectionate and generous with respectful physical contact that communicates your love for them!
  11. Choice: There are not many things that are more empowering (and healthier) than making choices and decisions. Exercising your right and responsibility to make good, informed and wise choices is a gift from your Higher Power that distinguishes you from other life forms on this planet. Good choices always include Truth and Reality as you see it, but they also make room for the feelings, perspective, truth, and reality of others as well.
  12. Change: Equally, making Choices that lead to Change(s) where “win-win” outcomes are experienced in your family and relationships is just as empowering. Facilitating changes that help people in your family to develop, mature, recover, heal and grow are some of the best and nutritious dishes to serve up repeatedly!
  13. Communication: It goes without saying that good Communication tools and the practice of healthy Communication is the oil that makes all good encounters flow smoothly. Good Communication consists of Active Listening and “Mirroring” what you heard, Validation of the thoughts that make sense to you, asking for Clarification when explanations don’t make sense to you, Containing your own defensiveness and delivering Safety and Empathy when vulnerable feelings are expressed to you.
  14. Curiosity: Being Curious (versus furious) when viewpoints differ is a great way to refocus your energy from defensiveness to inclusiveness. Remember, if you’re not inclusive, you run the risk of being abusive, and being Curious by asking questions increases your knowledge about a person or a situation and usually leaves them feeling respected, honored and heard. 
  15. Connection: Care, Compassion, Curiosity, Communication and Conflict-Intimacy are ingredients that produce repairs in relationships when ruptures have been experienced. Repaired ruptures tend to result in the re-establishment of healthy connections. Since Healthy Connection(s) provide life to any relationship, I encourage you to make sure these nutritious conflict-intimacy ingredients are forefront in your cupboard!
  16. Conflict-Intimate: Becoming skilled with your use of good “Conflict-Intimacy” tools means the Functional Adult part of you is using the psychological “compass, map, and flashlight” to help you exit the forest of relational difficulty, versus burning down the forest as a way to remove obstacles in your relationship, which is typically suggested by the impulsive Adolescent in you. Learning to follow “recipes” that lead to relationship repair and reconnection is a competent expression of your Functional Adult!
  17. Collaboration: Collaboration (or “co-laboring” with others) is a function of the Equality/Empowerment Triangle, and means you’re striving to be responsible with your choices, brainstorm “out-of-the-box thinking and options, while also using your energy in the best possible way to negotiate win-win outcomes. Any relationship or family is strengthened by Collaborating to overcome challenges in life.
  18. Charisma: This is actually one of the ten descriptors of Agape, and it speaks to you offering Favor, Grace and undeserved benefits to others. Charisma also alludes to specific gifts given to you to assist others within and outside of your home. Take a look at this website (Spiritual Gifts test) to discover and determine what unique and helpful gifts you’ve been given that will be useful in your endeavors to be spiritually therapeutic.
  19. Consistency: Consistency is a necessary ingredient of Trustworthiness (along with Predictability, Reliability and Dependability). Being Consistent, Predictable, Reliable and Dependable with your behavior is a sure-fire way to create or recreate meals that need a steady dose of Trustworthiness. Where and with what (behaviors) might you need to cook up deliver Consistency?
  20. Competence: Competence is also a byproduct of Consistency. The steady repetition and “consumption” of behaviors that are Loving, Helpful, laced with Responsibility, Trust and are steeped with Care and Consideration for others builds faith in them and adds credibility to your actions. Where in your life might you need to become Competent?
  21. Challenge: There’s the old saying “what doesn’t break me will make me stronger,” which is typically verbalized when we’re going through some form of trial or challenge in our life. What’s currently in your cupboard (or home or community) that when accessed and “taken in” to your being, could help you to be successful with the challenge(s) you’re currently facing? 
  22. Courage: Equally, what might you need to access, develop, internalize and be Consistent with to experience Courage, which when developed will help you to eliminate unhealthy and toxic processes and to recover and practice healthy behaviors?
  23. Confidential: When others share sensitive information with you, do you protect their right to privacy by being confidential with the material they share with you? Practicing Confidentiality doesn’t mean you’re to keep a toxic secret for them; that’s not what it means. What Confidentiality does mean is you’re electing to be a Safe person who knows and practices talking and listening boundaries so that others will benefit from your wisdom, containment, and assurance.

As we leave the Kitchen, there are a number of other “C’s” that we didn’t list which are just as important as the ones listed here that contribute to your overall personal and relational health: Conviction, Conversion, Commitment, Communion and Community to name a few. So what do you think? Which of these spices and recipes are currently in your Kitchen? What other necessary ingredients might you need to acquire and add to your inventory because they’re useful, health-giving and invigorating? What do others think and have suggested that you might want to have on hand? What’s their favorite “energy-boosting psychological snack” that you’ll want to have around because it’s good for the psyche and spirit? I trust and hope you’ll enjoy stocking your Kitchen with items that’ll help you and your family to develop, mature and thrive!

Thank you again for reading this long post as we’ve visited your Children’s Room, your Home Office (Study) and your Kitchen!  In the last post in the Choosing Change series, Choosing Change #14: Living, Loving and Leaving a Legacy, we’ll invite clinicians and scholars to accompany us on our walkthrough of your Master Bedroom, to consider the “good, bad, ugly (and traumatic experiences)” that couples encounter in marriage, especially as sensitive matters that impact your sexuality and sexual health are involved.

We’ll finish the post (and the book) by visiting the Front Porch, where occupied Rocking Chairs in the “twilight” of your life will entertain conversations that honor the vision, choices, and “no regret” decisions that you’ve made over the course of your life, that reflect a legacy of love you’ve created, lived and will be left for others to admire.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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