By: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
The world is too complex to already know everything about even the smallest field of knowledge. And, when it comes to the complexity of the individual human psyche and interpersonal conflict, it is literally impossible to already have an answer for every problem. But, as a counselor, I still must intervene in a way that helps to ease the pain, and move the person or couple toward a new state of harmonious relationship. As a Naturopathic Physician I am licensed to counsel as one of my therapeutic modalities, but because of my background, I counsel more like a doctor and an engineer than the typical psychologist.
From my education and life experience, I learned how to think and be flexible, creative, and intuitive. I think in pictures and convert those visions into words. I see situations made up of elements, each applying force and creating an outcome based on the summation of the forces applied. I see situations evolving based on their similarity to various types of mathematical and natural phenomenon (e.g. charge distribution on a plate, separation of phases at the triple point of a liquid, statistical distribution of a chaotic phenomenon, plane slip of a material defect, the second order differential of a rapidly changing variable, etc.). I may share my personal vision as a tool for understanding the circumstance, or I may simply use it as a personal model to understand the dynamics of the situation.
I temper my logical method of processing and categorizing life with a very intuitive, fluid, and metaphorical process. My mother is an artist, and I have a sense of balance, harmony, and rhythm. I was raised as a Christian and accepted the Word of God as my standard of life at a very young age. In adolescence, I rejected Christianity and began searching for more concrete answers than were given in the Bible. I explored many other world religions to find an intellectually satisfying explanation of the problems of life. After 15 to 20 years of searching, I came back, with a new perspective and was able to fully embrace the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the Living God, and His Son, The Word, Yeshua, Jesus as the Lord of the universe who died for our sins and brought the world into reconciliation with the Father. I use the Word of God, the Holy Bible, as my foundational premise in determining the truth in any given situation, and as the model by which to judge the righteousness of any given circumstance. I attempt to understand the intent and lessons of the Bible and teach those lessons as metaphors, proverbs, and principles of life. I see my job as a guide, coach, teacher, analyst, and friend.
Everyone is struggling to meet the challenges of life in some way. Some people are sufficiently high functioning and resourceful that they do not appear to need help, but everyone has a limit to their capabilities. I consider it a privilege and honor to help a person resolve their current life problems. I have experienced some of life’s pain through my own personal trials, which allows me to resonate with many of their dilemmas, disappointments, heartaches, confusion, and dramas. I find it very satisfying to work through a problem with another person to reach a new level of understanding, perspective, and skill at resolving their current and future life problems.
As a counselor, I approach the human psyche as a complex system of elements and forces. The elements are the inborn and learned patterns and programs of behavior and instinct. The forces that drive the mind and body to action are the desires and aversions of the heart. The patterns of life and the desire to satisfy or avoid them are mostly automatic, inborn, and instinctual. But, with wrong programming, normal desires and aversions can be inverted. But desire-inversion does not relinquish a person from personal responsibility to act in a moral manner. Rather, such a person must choose to override his passions with moral principle. Such burdens are common among humans. The addict has a passion for peace, the philanderer has a passion for women, and the thief has a passion for gold. Each man must temper his inborn passions and sanctify them according to righteous principle.
There are elements of the personality which we view as positive traits such as being right, looking good, and winning. Undesirable elements of the psyche include patterns of behavior such as sloth, inconsistency, dissipation, selfishness, unbridled pride, anger, lust, and greed. The desires and aversions are deep, strong, and automatic forces that drive us to act. In general, our innate drives and aversions are excellent guides to behavior. But without temperance, the drives push us to excess and inappropriate satisfaction of those drives. In other words, we are all naturally susceptible to the addictive satisfaction of our needs. It is our duty as maturing humans, to learn to moderate our emotional drives with the overriding force of will, logic, and knowledge of right principles. It is because of the relationship between forces and elements of the personality and their similarity to physical phenomenon, that it is often possible to illustrate complex social interactions with examples of physical phenomenon which behave in a similar manner.
Counseling is the job of looking at someone else’s life and seeing the variables, judging which factors are most significant, recognizing the patterns and forces in play in a situation, confirming my assessment with feedback, and then intervening with a solution. These elements are an important part of bringing a patient into a place of mental and emotional health, and are the foundations of “Relationship Therapy”.
I consider counseling to be a ministry, an education, and a privileged journey into another person’s reality. Counseling is not just being told what to do by an expert, it is an opportunity to be coached, and observed while attempting to develop new habits and correcting improper programming (from trauma, wrong teaching, family spirits, and rebellious choices). Everyone who arrives at adulthood has errors in their programming and inversions in their desire-aversion profile. It is each person’s obligation to diligently work to reprogram their passions and programs. It requires a miracle, but miracles come by faith and works.
This new reality that I seek to create is a space of healthy mental-emotional processing where people honor each other’s boundaries. The concept of boundaries is rich, full, deep and wide and includes the necessity to honor each other’s psychic and physical space. Territory/space/ownership/property is the foundational principle of existence and life. Each of us extends our territory along hundreds of different axi such as our taste in music, color, timing, smells, art, form, space, and texture. Thus, we each have a different sense of offense and affinity with regard to behavior, style, speech, emotion, and gestures.
When we have developed an innate passion for creating that healthy relationship space, we are concerned about satisfying our neighbor’s best interests with the same passion and investment that we exert in meeting our own needs. In the space of healthy relationships, people negotiate contracts, speak honestly about their feelings, and take action after reaching agreements.
The problem is that people often don’t listen, don’t understand, and they don’t even know they haven’t listened and understood. The result is the pain of aloneness, the frustration of being out of control, and feeling hopeless about ever having their needs met. The foundation of solving any problem is understanding and knowing the elements of the problem. But, this means getting understanding from another person who is locked inside of his perspective. Thus, the solution to solving my own pain must include helping the other person solve his.
The lack of understanding can bring up the companionship and control, and the emotions of desire and aversion may begin to flood and overwhelm the process of reason. Flooding happens when survival is at stake. When a threat is too great or a need is not met and survival appears to be at stake. These powerful survival programs overwhelm the psyche along with their associated emotions. When people become flooded, there is little room for logic and understanding. Self-preservation and need-meeting behaviors overwhelm the mind and passions at that time, and little else can be considered until safety is restored.
Even when a full-fledged survival response is not initiated, people have a hard time understanding their mates. Other impediments to understanding another person include:
A belief that he/she must be trying to be resistant to understanding because he/she has not changed his/her behavior,
The concept is so far away from the belief structure of the listener, that the listener believes the speaker must be deluded, incompetent, or not serious,
The level of grasping the initial presentation appears so poor, that the speaker believes the listener is trying to hurt, frustrate, or retaliate (imputation of motives).
This menagerie of problems arises when people are unable to listen, understand, negotiate, reach mutually satisfactory agreements, and then execute their agreements. It is the failure of one or more of these elements that necessitate a couple engaging in reparative therapy for a marriage. Some of the goals of the therapy may include:
Understanding each other’s perspectives
Bringing their passions under control
Forgiving past transgressions
Repenting of those habits and instances of trespassing
Learning and committing to right behavior in the future
Making changes of character and habit in choosing and doing right.
Everyone has imperfections of character and skill in executing a perfect relationship. We each choose for various reasons to keep those quirks and deficiencies of behavior, thought, and judgment. The motivation for our continued embrace of error are numerous:
Ignorance of a better and more perfect way of thinking, acting, and living
Overwhelm at the prospect and process of change
Being stuck inside the patterns of life, quandaries, dilemmas, and psychic pain
Having tried, failed, and given up struggling against the temptations of the flesh
Having capitulated to the temptations and fully embraced the pleasures of life
Feeling victimized by mate, parents, kids, friends, boss, coworkers, the government, God or Satan
Life is a delicate balance between personal responsibility and environmental forces. Life does truly allow for victimization, conspiracies, malicious and selfish acts, random convergence of natural forces, and acts of God. We are tempted to reduce life to one-dimensional slogans such as, “you are responsible for your life”, or “Just let go and let God”. While there is truth in such broad maxims, life is far too complex and multidimensional to imagine that we can predict it, control it, or apply a simple set of rules to resolve the tension. We can exercise care and diligence in our daily walk, but, it is impossible to remain unscathed and clean in this world. Upon hearing of some calamity, a college friend of mine would say, “Into each of our sterile pedestrian lives, a little dirt must fall.” The best we can hope for is to learn how to cope with the dirt and pain of life, learn lessons from them, and embed our souls with righteous character in response to these trials. We can reframe taxing circumstances as an opportunity and stimulus to develop character and an actual personal relationship with God.
The stresses and joys of life are the context in which we exercise love for our unseen God. We have all been given absolute free will and we are each totally independent moral agents with the authority and autonomy somewhat like God. But, our choices have consequences. Some of the choices we make can run afoul of God’s Laws, and the consequences will be automatically executed by spiritual forces. Thus, even though we can choose to act, we cannot escape the reaction. Thus given the cost of rebellious self-will, the best long term choice is to walk according to His rules.
Every person is intimately woven into the web of life. Any change on the part of one person will automatically affect the lives of everyone in his circle. And, in the case of resolving interpersonal problems, it usually requires that two people change. Each person in the interaction must act properly, otherwise one or both will continue to experience pain, and it is usually just a matter of time before the person who is doing the 100% accommodation will eventually flood, lose control, and express his/her pain. Pain is a warning signal of the soul to inform us when we feel that our partner has stepped on our toes in the dance of life. Dancing is the most concrete metaphor of human relationship, and if one can master good dancing on all levels, one can be assured of eventual social success and happiness.
We all believe we are living inside reality. But in fact, we are looking at the inside of our minds. We can easily prove this by simply closing our eyes. The nerve signals from the eyes to the brain stop and the observer, the “I”, the part of us which is actually spiritually alive and actually perceives consciously is being given nothing to see from the outer world. The result is that our spirit simply sees the darkness of the mind without the stimulation by light from the eyes. But our spirit watches more than just sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell from the outside world. Our minds can perceive the internal world of feelings, advice, concepts, memories, slogans, bias, books, prejudice, hurts, songs, lessons, and movies. This cacophony of internal voice, vision, and concept influences our perception of the drama of life to a greater or lesser degree at every moment. As a result, the absolute reality of life, the raw perception of “what is” is altered by the superimposition of our internal voices, movies, and feelings. Our goal should be to perceive absolute reality with utter clarity. Absolute reality is God’s perspective of life, which includes the perception of physical circumstances (what happened in the external world), plus an accurate view of what is/was going on in each person’s internal world of mind and emotion.
The first rule about reality is that I don’t know the mind of God completely. In practical terms this means, I don’t know for sure what you are thinking, feeling, or perceiving unless you tell me. And, on top of that, I may have made an error in my assessment of physical circumstances. I may be very convinced about what I think is going on inside you, and I may actually be right. But, I don’t know for sure. I may be totally convinced that my viewpoint is correct, unbiased, logical, and free from the clouds of emotion and past pain, but in fact, it is simply my point of view. No one has the right to tell me what I am thinking, and I don’t have the right to tell you what you are thinking. My mind is my most private property, a space that no one except God and I can truly know. In fact, God knows the depths and width of my inner space better than I. Thus, when interacting with my neighbor/mate, I must resist the temptation to act on the feeling that I already know what he/she is thinking or feeling before I ask him/her.
No one is obligated to adopt my perspective, or even to listen to it. If I want to be heard, I have an obligation to attempt to present my position persuasively and lobby the world to adopt it by various appeals such as logic, accuracy, correspondence, fairness, and benefits. To live in this world effectively we are required to act, and to do so with the faith that our actions will produce fruit. The rules of this world require us to exert force, but it must be force tempered with kindness and consideration of the other person’s space. We must act and speak with integrity, and govern our actions and intentions by the truest and most righteous standards. We must stay open for another person to present his position with equal fervor, and be willing to adopt or incorporate that perspective if convinced of its truth.
Even those who are evil believe that what they do, say, and stand for is good. But, their definition of good is small. An evil, selfish, or rebellious person’s concept of good is often defined by “that which is good for me, my passions, and my short term benefit.” Such redefinition for personal benefit is a common tool of the person who wants to justify his small passions. This error in processing by those who have been seduced by evil illuminates a key process of life. To get a true picture of life, we must enlarge our perspective, and attempt to see the largest whole of life that we can grasp. All of life fits into God’s plan, there is nothing which is out of his order or control. Evil, and evil people have their place and purpose in the plan of life. Just as good people have their duty and obligation to resist evil and do everything possible to win them back from their position of error and destruction.
Evil is not a principality and power that God desires, supports, and wishes to flourish. But, it is a principle which must be present in the world as it is currently constituted. Without the polarity of evil, there would be no temptation, no drama, no lessons, no way of separating those souls who love God from those who hate Him. Without evil, there would be no sieve, no separation possible, no building of character, no journey, no victory, and no overcoming. Ultimately, God has created this world as a place where we have free will. Unfortunate circumstances require that there be those who play the part of “the bad man, the sad man, fated, to telling only lies” (The Who). But, just because you have been dealt a bad hand at the card table of life, doesn’t require you to accentuate the defect. Every situation and circumstance can be approached with hope, faith, and love, or fear and anger. Making the best of a bad situation develops character. Things don’t always turn out the way we hoped or planned, but living life according to Godly principles throughout painful circumstances exalts the soul.
To deal with life joyously and with long term success, we must live life in reality – that is, we must look at life from God’s perspective. But, given that we are limited, and can’t be sure that we are looking at life in its fullness, we must engage in an ongoing process of testing, checking, examining, and comparing our views of life with those with whom we interact. Reality isn’t determined by a vote, it simply is. Reality always has three components:
How I perceive life
How you perceive life
How God perceives life
With enough listening, self-disclosure, prayer and meditation on the leading of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to get a fairly accurate view of Reality. When we don’t engage in the process of comparison of our lives with that of our neighbor, we are tempted to act like tyrants and attempt to impose our will and view of life on others. This is the source of much personal and interpersonal pain. People are inherently free will agents, this is our heritage and gift from God. Thus, one of the elements of the personality is a desire for personal autonomy, free will, and choice. Passion rises up inside the human soul and rebels against anyone who tries to usurp that God-given right to liberty.
Most human relationship discord is about circumstances that are very mundane. In some way, we each feel that our emotional or physical space has been violated. We want an apology and confession, or punishment to repay the error. Each person in the conflict usually has his own view of proper behavior, and the initial perpetrator has his own justification and reasons for his actions. The reasons for acting badly can be:
He made an honest mistake, was ignorant, didn’t realize the consequences of the situation or the moral laws involved
He knew it was wrong, but felt the violation was insignificant compared to the payoff and chose the violation instead of the moral path
He was taking more than he deserved in this situation to make up for the times of not getting a fair return in the past. He has taken justice into his own hands and attempted to balance the scales of personal payoff by theft.
He was repaying the hurt of his past in a current situation, again taking justice into his own hands.
The victim becomes the perpetrator in such circumstances, but he feels justified for his retaliation at the perceived violation. At some point in the verbal parrying, one person or both usually crosses the line of simply defending his/her own territory and becomes the aggressor. In the original transaction, there may have been a perpetrator and an innocent victim. But, the victim usually handles the violation in an aggressive or retaliatory manner and becomes a perpetrator. Thus, the original perpetrator now has grounds to claim victimization and a rightful basis for retaliation. Thus, both parties usually end up being violators and victims. Accusations of wrongdoing by both sides and a sense of self-righteousness and victimization stand in the way of giving an apology. The truth is never admitted, no confession of wrong can be made, no repentance and changing of heart and mind are engaged. Nothing can change until the truth is told, repentance is declared, and penance is paid.
The first principle in Relationship Therapy is to search for the objective reality in every situation of interpersonal conflicts. Everyone who is party to a conflict must understand 3 realities: Yours, Mine, and God’s. To fully appreciate your reality, I must understand your beliefs, history, perceptions, and emotional state. If both parties really understand the “state” of the other party, it becomes possible to have mutual compassion, to understand how the other person could have thought “X” when “Y” seemed so obvious and right. Thus, the foundation for resolution of couple conflicts is for both parties to “get” the other person’s reality. This means both parties must sincerely try to understand why the other person felt justified in acting as they did. When the two have acknowledged the fact that errors were made, accepted the reasons for hurtful retaliation, and understood the perceptions and assumptions which lead to action, it is easier to have compassion and forgive the offending behavior.
This process of letting go of hurt is dependent on hearing, understanding, and feeling what it is like to be in the other person’s life, and subject to their particular set of desires and aversions. Until that empathic connection has been made, it is simply a power struggle, a competition, a fight to get our needs met. It’s good to meet our needs, even necessary. If we view other people only as a vehicle for satisfaction of our flesh and soul, we will miss the deep satisfaction of giving, serving, and sacrifice. Such a life is empty, barren, and shallow, and the pain of that emptiness is its own feedback and the automatic cost for our error.
The Second Rule of Relationship Therapy is: I don’t know God’s rules or judgment perfectly, and neither do you. Jesus knew God’s mind and followed His will perfectly. Until we are given renewed minds and immortal bodies, we will probably not be able to break the Second Rule. If we choose to be unequivocally judgmental of another person, we are saying, “I know God’s mind with absolute certainty.” It is better to make tentative statements and hold the posture of, “I believe” and “I feel strongly” when talking about what God wants and doesn’t want. This does not mean we soft-peddle morality, right and wrong, good and evil and declare that it is unknowable or individual. We just don’t have the right to make absolute judgments about other people’s motives, why they did things, or the eternal consequences of their choices. That’s God’s job. We must each sincerely attempt to know God’s way of looking at a situation. But, until God speaks out loud so we can all hear it, we are each going to have to do our best to hear His voice, advocate for the position we believe is right, and attempt to convince our brother of its truth through precept, evidence, and sound reason.
The mind and emotions are the two gatekeepers that guard the door to change. We may first be convinced of the need to change, or we may be impressed viscerally by the consequences of our actions. Having allied both together, the will is enrolled, and we make a firm decision to change. The mind gives reason, the emotions give passion, and the will focuses our effort. We must forcefully and steadfastly choose to change and engage in the actions that reflect our new direction, otherwise, we will stay the same.
For deep change to occur, at some point we must invoke a miracle. Faith and works must operate in concert to create a change which could not happen with either principle acting alone. Thus, the elements of personal transformation are:
Pain (about the circumstance)
Evaluation & Recognition (of the error in acting, thinking, speaking, & feeling)
Decision (to do the right thing in the future)
Action (to actually do the right thing)
Transformation (of the heart by grace)
The heart must actually change, come to a place of passionately desiring to do the right thing, and be at peace with doing righteous action. Until this state has been reached, the work is still in progress, and the character is still being tempered.
It is possible for anyone to acquire a taste for evil and unhealthy habits. There is an inherent duality that exists within the mind and heart of man. God pulls us toward righteousness, and the flesh/Satan pulls us toward self-satisfaction and the thrill of rebellion and destruction. The part of us that knows right speaks softly to our spirit and soul. The innocent soul is repulsed by or fearful of evil, but as we are exposed to the experience of evil, we become familiar with its dark pleasures and may eventually come to desire them. As we entertain evil, the voice of the Holy Spirit and conscience can become dulled. As we participate and identify with evil our hearts can acquire the taste for it and eventually require it to feel energized. Unless we are vigilant in our thought life and resist engaging in the actions of evil, we may be snared by the hooks of temptation. We are all susceptible at some level to being brought down to the depths of depravity. It is only our commitment to a righteous moral compass and proper mental and emotional hygiene that prevents us from falling prey to a fate similar to others who walked this path.
It is possible to override the unhealthy forces of passion, desire, or habit, simply by deciding to “Just Do It”. But, until the heart (emotions, desires, and passions) transforms to truly desire the highest righteous principles of the mind, there will continue to be a struggle between the desire for perfection and the drive to satisfy human passions, patterns, and habits.
Transformation happens when a patient is convinced that his old reality was wrong, he sees the pain associated with it and rejects it in favor of the new reality. To make such a transformation, there must be a transformation in the way he processes, conceives, and evaluates life. Every man operates on only what he believes has the highest payoff. But, our judgment of what beliefs produce the highest payoff can be wrong. This is where we need to get real. A rational man will choose to make a movement toward adopting a new belief and habit if the old belief and habit are clearly seen to produce mostly pain and only marginal pleasure.
Typically we are seduced into destructive habits because of marginal payoffs. The desire to “not feel pain” drives many addictive behaviors since the addictive substance and habit deadens or dulls the pain of life to some extent. There is pleasure in being a victim because I can get sympathy, I can complain and be justified and right about how I am being treated. I can go along with the wrong crowd, because as long as I do it, I have a form of acceptance that feels somewhat like love, and I crave that. Or, I could engage in some other misapplied instinctual survival-pleasure-program-payoff to give me a marginal amount of pleasure, which seemed to be otherwise lacking in my life. Thus, somehow I have to be convinced that my old behaviors are giving me a poor payoff and that it is possible to actually engage these new behaviors, and in so doing get a better payoff.
To create this new moral force in a person, it is helpful to present facts, psychological theories, scripture, examples, and metaphors. It can be helpful to come to a new understanding of points of spiritual law. But, ultimately each person must come to a heart conviction that his emotional response is an inappropriate signal and has led him into error and pain. When this level of conviction comes, he may be convinced to resist that old familiar temptation, and instead, dwell on a new and right way of thinking to replace the old habit patterns. Many tools and techniques may be used to produce this transformation, but ultimately he must choose to arrest his passions and habits and act, speak, and think in a righteous way. When a man does all he can to submit his heart, mind, will, and body to God, and resists the temptation to act, speak, and think in unrighteous ways, the tempter will flee. God will reward our surrender of the soul, and answer our vigorous and conscious prayer for his transformation of the heart. It is in this final surrender to renewing of the mind by acting, speaking and thinking in God’s way where we ultimately receive the miracle of change.
May 19, 2002 written
May 20, 2009 edited