Tim Butler

Counselor, Life Coach & Speaker

Filtering by Tag: direction

A View From The Bridge

Time creates a bridge that spans the hole, created by the death of a loved one. One has to decide whether to cross over the bridge, or choose to walk down into the depths of the crevasse. This choice has to be made often. Clearly the walk over the depressive opening is harder and takes intentionality.

The week between March 25th and the 30th always presents that same opportunity for me to stop on the bridge and look down. Looking contemplatively, into the vast expanse of emptiness resulting from the death of our daughter.

Emotionally it seems so attractive to dive into the depths below. Over the years, however, and after a few trips down, I come back to the surface realizing I am not able to accomplish what I thought I might, namely, feeling better for having drowned in my sorrows.

Instead, I have learned the beauty of stopping—intentionally—on my otherwise activity-filled life to remember what the hole really means to me: The joys and sorrows that accompany the life and death of our sweet little Linette. Born on the 2nd of January, 1990, and advanced to Heavenly bliss on the 25th of March, 2002.

As I look over the bridge this year I find myself healthier than I was in 2002.

I find myself a much stronger person as a result of clamoring up the banks of the deep divide to find footing on the bridge.

I find myself cherishing all the memories of her life, and being less traumatized by the events preceding her death.

I am able to clearly see the beauty of my life, and yet still embrace the tears when thoughts of missing her come to mind.

I do not push the thoughts away, but I am able to breathe deeply the bittersweet fragrance of her short life and still maintain my footing, as I journey life without her. For those who knew her, feel free to look over the bridge for your own contemplative remembrances. Share them with me if you like.

For others who only have heard the stories, take time to pray that her impact will penetrate the beauty of life for those of us who have learned to walk with a limp.

How Does That Make You Feel?

Kids are given instructions regularly in the educational process urging them to exercise self-control. We tell them to ignore something, walk away, take deep breaths, forgive the ones who wronged them, etc. Yet, as adults, we somehow forgot these caveats and let our emotions propel us into doing things, saying things—or at times—totally dictating our feelings.

What happened to the sage wisdom we preach to our kids? Are we going to model it or simply enforce the behavior that we feel is appropriate?

We are never too old to learn. For most of us, we never totally grow out of the potential of letting emotions control our day. In the great read, The EQ Edge, authors Steven Stein and Howard Book point to the need to be aware of our emotions for the purpose of controlling them. Clearly, this skill—referred to as our emotional intelligence or emotional quotient—is not as simple as it appears for a lot of us, myself included.

How often do we “feel” something negative even though the environment around us has not changed one bit?

Then, as if by magic, we feel different or even more self-controlled in another few hours; however, nothing has changed except what we feel or what we tell ourselves. This see-saw of emotions is draining not only on us, but those around us—especially our family.

Take your own emotional pulse.

Ask yourself what is behind your current emotions. Is it something that justifies your emotional response, or are you simply acting on raw emotional whims? And even if it is something that justifies your emotional response, are you still willing to let that be your response? Would there be a more mature way of handling your response? Would you feel better later if you were to cool down, calm yourself, walk away, remain silent, and controlled?

We have to decide how much of our lives we are willing to let external factors play such a major role.

For some, we have to decide how much we are willing to let our own fluctuating moods drive us. Clearly, the art of self-control is always better in the long run, but it is not always easy. Commit today to be more determined to know your emotional state for the purpose of controlling it better. Feel better as a result.

Resiliency (Part 3)

Finally, concluding the theme of building up you cumulative reserves to be able to better withstand life’s ongoing pressures, I submit the next 4 ideas. Refer back to the first 2 blogs for the first 6 items already on the list. Again, as you read this, look for those areas that seem to resonate best with your lifestyle and expectation, and seek to apply them to your life. Remember, if nothing changes, nothing will change.

7. Keep hope alive. When we lose hope we lose everything. Hope will test our existential foundation, namely, what we believe to be the meaning life. We find strength in hope. However, it is not always easy to generate hope when reality looks hopeless. Our emotions play a huge role in remaining hopeful even in the face of evidence to the contrary. We cannot deny our emotions, but we also should not deify them. Remaining hopeful means we need to look at the wider picture, as stated in my earlier blogs. Friends and loved ones can help us look beyond our emotions and get a healthier perspective. Metaphorically rising above our immediate circumstances to get a wider view will show us where hope is still alive. Again, when we lose hope, we lose everything.

8. Build/Improve relationships. We were created for relationships. Married people live longer than singe folks. “Two are better than one”, to quote a Biblical passage. I am continually amazed when patients share their deep wounds or struggles with me, and then inform me that no one else knows what I now know. How sad, I think to myself, to be so lonely. Things can definitely become darker if no one else is in our dark room of life with us. Clearly not just anyone, but that special person or two that has the ability to listen, and when appropriate, give truthful counsel. Getting another person’s perspective allows us to gain greater insight into something that may have seemed hopeless, or impossible. Reach out; it helps you to stay on track.

9. Develop self-confidence. We are doing both ourselves and our young children a grave injustice when we insist that we as parents are responsible for their self-confidence. Think about it; what is the only way you are totally certain that you can “climb a mountain” as it were? The obvious answer is, by doing it. Someone telling you that you have all the right stuff to accomplish that next thing can be good and helpful from a cheerleading standpoint, but not a self-confidence builder. It is all theoretical until we actually accomplish that thing. Kids are growing up thinking everyone is a winner. Sometimes adults still believe that. Unfortunately, that is not the case; there are losers in the game of life. The goal is to find that thing(s) in which you can be the winner, and work at perfecting that skill/talent, and thus develop a genuine confidence in yourself.

10. Keep your body, soul and spirit in shape. We all possess the same basic equipment from birth. First, our physical bodies that allows us to move, work, eat, play, etc. Next, our soul, or the place that allows us to have feelings and emotions. Finally, our spirit, or the element that gives meaning to life and allows us to find hope and significance. If any one of these three areas is out of balance, or not functioning properly, our entire being suffers. If we desire to stay resilient in the face of challenges, we do well to be purposeful about taking care of body, soul, and spirit. Physical exercise, emotional self-control, and spiritual exploration is the bare minimum for staying fit overall. The word I like using is intentionality. It seems to conjure up in my mind the direction of my life that I want, versus, letting mere chance run my existence. To be resilient, we need to be intentional.

Be strong: be resilient. Feel free to share with me your tips for resiliency; the possibilities are as varied as our personalities.

Resiliency (Part 2)

On the continuing theme of building up you cumulative reserves to be able to better withstand life’s ongoing pressures, I submit the next 3 ideas. For the first 3 items on the list, refer back to Resiliency (Part 1). Again, look for those areas that seem to resonate best with your lifestyle and expectation, and seek to apply them to your life. If nothing changes, nothing will change.

4. See crisis as opportunity to grow. Things happen to all of us from time to time. Some more sever and impacting than others. Regardless of the crisis, can we calm our emotions enough to process the event and learn from it? When my kids were younger and they would either make a mistake or experience something earth-shattering (age-appropriate), I would frequently ask them, “what did you learn from that”. What life-lesson can be drawn from the event? What can we do differently the next time? Accept the fact that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.

5. Look for self-discovery after the struggle/loss/crisis/event. It has been said that crisis builds character. More accurately though, crisis reveals character. Our character gets formed over time as we respond appropriately to life’s everyday events. When the big trauma hits us, we show what we are made of. Much like bumping a glass filled with liquid; what has been filled with spills out. Self-discovery is the ability to be introspective and realize the improvements that need to be made in our beliefs, values, or emotions. At the top of the list of necessary improvements, needs to be the element of self-control. When we lose that, we risk being taken over by life’s external pressures.

6. Look at the wider picture. Myopic views of life are limited in scope. We can easily make quick conclusions or decision with very minimal information, but experience teaches us that those decisions may not always be the best. Keeping with the resilient theme, if we are to position ourselves to withstand the daily pressures of life and stay strong, we need to look at the larger picture, or meaning, of life. Clearly, there are always details of our situation over which we have very limited knowledge. We may feel like we are the only ones suffering, until we take a look at others who have not only suffered as we, but have shown tremendous coping strategies. Wider views bring deeper knowledge and greater understanding. Let it not be said of you that you cannot see the forest for the trees. Rise above your situation and see the view from a wider angle. Accept the fact that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.

Resiliency (Part 1)

From my window of the world in the mental health profession, I get to listen to many folks on a very personal level. This degree of intimacy allows me the opportunity to witness the inner strength that others may simply pass by unaware. I stand continually amazed at the strength and internal fortitude exhibited by folks in downright disparaging situation. John Locke was reported to have said that internal “fortitude is the guard, and support, of the other virtues.”

I am also been privy to the inner struggles of folks who have seemingly no coping strategies for dealing with stressors of any magnitude. What is the difference? What makes one person reach down and drink from that well-spring of inner strength, while another, in a very similar situation, finds the ability to move on analogous to walking knee-deep in Jell-O.

It does seem the difference may be found in the individuals’ cumulative resiliency factors. Resiliency, the ability to adapt well to stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy, is enhanced when there are cumulative protective factors. Good habits.

A healthy level of resiliency is not reserved for the wealthy, or highly intelligent. No, in fact, it becomes effective, just as soon as you do. If you are older than 9, I am sure you have heard the well-worn quote of German philosopher Nietzsche; “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” It would not be worth repeating if it were not so true. The key lies in asking yourself in what areas are you becoming stronger, more resilient? Let me suggest three for now; in the next blog I will add additional ones. A long list of suggestions is worthless if you do not apply what you find relevant to your life. So, consider…

1. Accept what you cannot change.  This expression is often coupled with the prayer to receive from the God the strength to change the things we can. Alcoholic Anonymous has used this well. So many things in life are not able to be altered by us (weather, death, some sicknesses, others changing their mind that negatively affects us, the state of the economy, etc.) We find it hard, at times, to accept the things that are being presented to us. We may not want them; we may feel it is not fair; it may go against our principals; in theory this unwanted “thing” should not work this way; and the list goes on. Whatever the reason, the outcome may still be the same…it is not going away anytime soon. The ability to release my grip and literally, or figuratively, walk away is foundational to strengthening my resiliency factors. A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

2. Set new goals. Once you can see clearly to accepting what you are not able to change, you then need new goals. Not necessarily life changing goals; baby steps are appropriate. If we do not set our minds on a new direction, we will simply be holding our breath, as it were, and waiting for the preferred way to reappear. That is not resiliency. That is stubbornly doing the wrong thing. I love working with stubborn people, once they have decided to use that strength in the right direction. What is the new direction in which you now need to walk? What would be small, attainable goals in that direction?

3. Take the necessary action. We can take a page from the Nike playbook: Just do it. There is so much empowerment in that statement. Good intentions are not sufficient. Food will not make its way into my stomach without the action of eating. Action keeps us from getting hopelessly stuck in the quagmire of life disappointments. Do something different, once you have determined what that one thing would be. Even if it ends up different than you planned, action still takes precedent over lethargy or apathy.

Life Interrupted

I had lunch the other day with a colleague. She mentioned that she and some other women were going through a workbook entitled, Navigating a Life Interrupted. The series led the reader through a parallel comparison of the biblical figure, Jonah, and our lives today. The term, Life Interrupted, instantly resonated in my soul as a great way to describe many of the experiences of life. Think about it: How many times have you been on a “road” to some ideal, some expectation, some hope, dream, plan—you name it—and you find your road blocked. Impassable. Go another way. Turn around. Something other than, mission accomplished. You have been there haven’t you? We all have. To not have your road blocked in some way, as you travel through life, is to not have lived more than a day. Yet, I am so surprised when it happens, as if something strange were happening to me, and me only. We have all felt like a helpless victim at some point of the Life Interrupted journey.

Here is a quote from Navigating a Life Interrupted forwarded to me by my daughter, “Interruptions are not limited to huge, horrible things. In fact, they can be rather minor by comparisons. Car trouble. Chicken pox. A funny, spoiled smell in the meat you’d set out to cook for dinner. Still, it’s caught you by surprise. You weren’t expecting it. You were traveling along with your list of to-dos in mind, fully knowing what the day held when something just crept up out of nowhere and caught you off guard. Suddenly your schedule is shot to pieces, along with all your preset notions on what it would take to get everything done. You’ve been blindsided, forced to deal with a new wrinkle, a new obstacle to navigate around.”

So, what are we to (1) learn from these life interruptions, and (2) what do we do with them?

The answer to those two points will correlate with who and what is the source of your hope. This refers to the existential issue of what is your definition of the meaning of life. If all your paths lead to you (you are the center of your universe), and if you are fully in charge of your life, then you are the only one who makes interruptions. But if you have lived long enough, and been observant enough, you have noticed that bad things happen to good people, as do good things happen to bad people. You are forced to face the reality that someone/something exists beyond our control. If you believe in a sovereign God (One who is ultimately in charge of this cosmos), then you recognize that He may be causing—or allowing—things to happen that do not always make sense. And, happenings that I feel may be in my way, or, life interruptions.

I adhere to a conviction that I have the freedom to hold things tightly, but I will need to do so with an open grasp. I do make plans, I do set out with a specific direction for the day, or for that matter, for life, but I am keenly aware that “stuff” happens, which may interrupt my plans. Another quote from the book that speaks to this, “we’ve all seen our Plan A’s take a backseat to other realities—realities we just don’t want to accept or live through. Yet here they are. This is our life. We can run but we can’t hide.”

Peace is found in embracing these life interruptions, and, if applicable, learning from them.

We are all on a learning journey. Sometimes the lessons along that journey are small, sometimes large. But whatever the scale, to learn from them, and make the necessary changes to our life, will result in more peace. To insist that they never happen will set us up for constant frustration. As a patient once said, “you can be right, or you can be happy, but you can’t be both.” Control what you can, and release your grip on the stuff you can’t control.

Seek to better know the One who has His hand on the controls.

Spring Cleaning

Spring is right around the corner for those of us in the US. After such a difficult winter for many of us, the thought of a coming change in environment seems even more encouraging. January and February usually show the highest utilization of mental health services. Those months seem more depressing when we have limited sunshine, colder temps and snow that lingers well past the time when it was pretty and white.

Winter does not “make” us depressed, it can simply darken whatever gloom might be lurking in our soul (emotions) already. As one proof of this, it might surprise you to know that the highest months for suicide are not until April and May. The rationale behind this may be related, in part, to the simple fact that spring did not “fix” the troubled soul. Combine this with the reality that others around us who are only mildly affected by weather, have moved on to happier moods. Weather simply exacerbates whatever is going on already.

The key to any season is to manage ourselves such that we are able to rise above the external pressures that may discourage us. I have listed 5 considerations for staying fit emotionally throughout all the seasons. See which ones of these most relate to you, and determine to provide the best self-care possible.

  1. Proclaim the truth: Be honest with yourself and your friends in terms of your feelings. Contrary to popular conviction, better living does not come through denial. Knowing the truth, and beginning to deal with the truth, will start you on a path to freedom.
  2. Pull from others: Be ready to receive input; be teachable. Oftentimes others might see a side of you that you do not see. There is hope and help in a social community.
  3. Process whatever is in the rear view mirror of life; get help processing past hurts and disappointments. We all have something in our past that was not helpful, and in varying degrees, may have been very hurtful. You are not alone. Left untreated, these events can easily define you in a negative way, or, with help, can be used to carefully shape you into a healthier person.
  4. Practice good habits for a healthy body, soul, and spirit. We all have the exact same three core components. How you invest in each will significantly affect your quality of life. They do not run on automatic pilot; they need intentional care and maintenance.
  5. Prioritize your life for maximum efficiency; you can simply work hard, or you can learn to work smart. Make the main things, the main things. Sometimes the smallest details matter, but more often than not, they serve to distract us from the more important items.

Why Is Life So Hard Sometimes?

Ever feel like you are repeating the same actions day after day and getting the same results? We all do at some time in our lives. We all have the ability to find out what does not work, and keep doing it. You are not alone. However, maybe that’s not necessarily a group that you want to be a part of? Maybe you want to break out of the rut you find yourself in, and do something different? Maybe you are ready to stop blaming others for your current emotional distress, and start taking ownership? Here are some action steps to guide you in the process:

1) Acknowledge your reality

A great prophet once said that if you “know the truth, the truth will set you free”. Living in light of your current reality is the first step to improved emotional, physical, and spiritual health. We cannot run a race in life without first knowing where the starting line is. Where is your starting line? Where do you stand right now? Not where do you wish you would be, that is step two. Take inventory of your current state of affairs—include all the details. Ask close friends to give you objective and honest feedback to your reality. Put it down on paper if that helps you acknowledge it better. Get a firm grip on your current reality.

2) Determine where you want to be

The only person you can control is you. As much as you would like to try and control other adults in your life, you are probably ready to acknowledge that those efforts are overrated. (This of course does not apply to parenting our children; that is a different topic, since we are given the charge to bring them up in the direction we feel they should be heading.) So, just as you have determined the starting line, determine the finish line—at least as you have vision for it now. Start with the end in view. Where do you want to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually? Again, putting these target point(s) down on paper can be a great way to solidify the process. Keep this step simple and doable. Set yourself up to win.

3) Put together a plan of action

Deciding a road map from the starting line to the finish line can include many small decisions. Keeping the map realistic, and time-sensitive can be helpful. It is good to be both optimistic, and, realistic in your plans. What do you need to do differently to get out of your current situation and headed towards your goal(s)? We can all be blinded to our possibilities so sometimes this step is aided by the objectivity of friends or professionals. What is within your ability to change/modify/eliminate, and what is not? As the old, but wise saying goes, the road to your success begins with one small step. Take that step and feel empowered to take the next, and next, and…