Monday, January 5, 2015
How do we forgive ourselves?
Dr. David Coombs, Ed.D. MFC
All of us make mistakes, some serious ones. In spite of going through the steps of repentance, including confessing, forsaking, and diligently serving others, far too many people refuse to be comforted. It is as if they are saying that the Savior's atonement is not enough to cover their sins and that they have not suffered sufficiently to become worthy. When people refuse to forgive themselves for remitted sins, (sins that have been confessed and forsaken), they are denying the power of our Redeemer. Instead of listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd, who freely forgives as often as we sincerely repent, (Mosiah 26:22,30) they hearken to the voice of Satan who would have them believe they are not good enough to have their guilt removed.
Hasn’t Satan won a great victory when he convinces people that the Lord did indeed atone for the sins of all mankind, BUT his atonement does not apply personally to them? It is as if some single themselves out and egotistically make themselves the one grand exception to the infinite and merciful plan of redemption. They convince themselves that their sins are so uniquely gross that they do not qualify for the Savior's love. Perhaps, we all limit His love to some degree.
The great message of the scriptures is: just as the Apostle Paul, who before his conversion persecuted the Christians and gave assent to the killing of Stephen, was pained by his former sins no more (Acts 8 & 9), so we too can be freed of our guilt. Just as Moses, who killed an Egyptian task master, was pained by his former sins and sought forgiveness, so can we also enjoy the same blessing of freedom from pain (Exodus 2). Just as Peter, who persistently denied the Christ three times (Luke 22 & John 21) was assured of the Lord's forgiveness and was encircled in the arms of His love, so can we feel those same arms around us. While we may know this intellectually, we may be fighting within ourselves emotionally by doubting our worthiness and convincing ourselves we don't qualify for Christ's atonement.
All people have running conversations within, and all too often they are unkind, harsh, and unforgiving of themselves. When people are steeped in negative self-talk, they come to the unfortunate conclusion that the very core of who they are is not of much worth. They quickly look to their foolish sins, of which we all have many, and view them as evidence that they are not good or at least not good enough.
To apply the atoning blood of Christ, people must repent not only of their sinful behavior but also of their sinful negative thinking. For example, when people recall past remitted sins, instead of reliving the horror and the pain, they must practice saying, "STOP! I have repented of those sins. I refuse to beat on myself. I have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. I rely upon the mercies of Him who has paid the full price for my sins. I will not allow Satan to rob me of my peace. I am grateful for a merciful God who has set me free.”
As people accept themselves as flawed but lovable, they are not only released from a terrible burden, but they also lift a great burden off their families. A huge barrier is broken. Finally, families feel whole and complete as all experience the most marvelous of all marvelous feelings: having the unnecessary guilt of forgiven sins swept away.
(Dr. Coombs is a therapist in private practice. His website is: DrDavidCoombs.com.)
For my doctoral dissertation, I studied self-esteem. I wanted to know how people develop self-esteem. If it can be changed, how do we change it? I learned several exciting things.
First, all of us have suffered or do suffer from low self-esteem to one degree or another at one time or another. No one feels completely adequate all the time--nor should we. God made us with weaknesses and mortal imperfections for a reason. He wanted us to feel our dependency upon Him. We have the promise from God that as we humble ourselves before Him, He will make our weaknesses become our strengths (Ether 12:27).
Second, we can change our self-esteem. We don’t have to feel locked into thinking and feeling a certain way about ourselves. Change occurs when we decide to change. We begin by repenting of our sins and living in harmony with our values. Persons who are emotionally in conflict and who carry heavy burdens of guilt and shame will never feel good about themselves until they repent. The old saying is true, “We can’t feel good when we are doing bad.” Christ is mighty to save and freely forgives when we sincerely repent. When we are in harmony with God, we feel clean, worthy, lovable, and forgiven.
Third, self-esteem is effected by experiences we had as children. We are conditioned by home lives and traumas from our childhood. Those of us who were abused, discounted, and abandoned often feel of little worth. Because of our experiences growing up, all of us have running conversations with ourselves. If our parents or significant others were harsh and critical, then we will likely talk to ourselves the same way they did.
Fourth, we can change our negative self talk. In fact, if we are to change the way we feel about ourselves, we must change the way we talk to ourselves. Learning the language of self-support is likened to the process of re-parenting ourselves. We must lovingly discipline, kindly correct, constantly support, and quickly forgive ourselves.
Many of us were taught that it was prideful and wrong to say nice things about ourselves. We were warned not to “get a big head.” While we do not want to brag to others, it is imperative that we educate our feelings by reminding ourselves (not others) of our qualities, virtues, and strengths.
For example, from time to time we might say to ourselves: “I am getting better at forgiving myself. I am learning to accept Christ’s atonement as applicable to me. I am learning to meet challenges and difficulties with increased faith, courage, and confidence. I am patient and kind more often. I can frequently say that I like myself and in the process feel more compassion for others. I am angry less often. I am getting so I can truly say I love life. I seem to be going from one special experience to another. Life is really going well for me.”
As we work at being better people and learn to be more kind to ourselves, we will have improved self-esteem, and we will grow in our love for ourselves and for others.
Dr. Coombs is a therapist in private practice. His website is: DrDavidCoombs.com.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Boundaries necessary to prevent costly and painful affairs
David and Marva Coombs
Many people give in to the temptation to look past their spouses and notice others who appear more interesting, more attractive, more responsive to their needs, more willing to listen, more empathic, more understanding and even more in need of their love. Most of us think this would never happen to us because of our determination to keep our marital vows.
However, the reality is that adultery happens too often and to those who believed it could not happen to them. And it is devastating to everyone involved. But there is an easy solution: people can establish boundaries that make it clear that they are not available for any inappropriate relationships. By doing so, they protect themselves from liaisons that may jeopardize their marriages. Here are some suggestions gleaned from my counseling practice that may help couples avoid being unfaithful to their spouses.
Dress modestly; avoid clothing and styles that are provocative and that say, “I’m available; I’m looking.” Dismiss inappropriate and lustful thoughts and avoid anything that feeds them.
Limit the amount of time spent alone with anyone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse: i.e. don’t share rides to work or to church; don’t go on errands or to lunch, lectures or social activities with persons of the opposite sex. Don’t share intimate details regarding your personal lives. Don’t give or receive personal compliments, personal gifts or special favors that may be mis-interpreted.
Men cross lines when they tell their lovely, attractive co-workers, “My wife doesn’t understand me. She’s not as sensitive to my needs as you are. She doesn’t take care of herself as well as you do.” Not only is this an unfair comparison to wives who may be stay-at-home moms, but it is an invitation that can lead to chaos and heart break.
Husbands also cross lines when they try to rescue female associates in trouble. Men can refer these women to helping agencies. They should never go to a woman’s home to help out or to fix a few things alone.
These situations may be reversed and apply to women as well to men.
Some greet people with hugs and kisses. Such greetings can be appropriate; however, some are too intimate and generate uncomfortable feelings. All of us must use caution and block any such greetings that seem to go to far.
All people like approval, validation and acceptance by others, but if this desire is too strong, it can lead insecure people to want everyone to think they are especially attractive. Those going through mid-life crises may be particularly vulnerable because they wonder if they are still desirable. Some flirt and make comments with sexual innuendoes yet believe they are impervious to any consequences. This is a mistake; there are always consequences.
Pride interferes with sound thinking. Whenever people think they are exceptions to the rules, they have crossed lines; they are in danger. Rules are simply boundaries that keep us safe. That bears repeating: rules (some known as commandments) are simply boundaries that keep us safe.
Those with their boundaries firmly in place are spared the pain, embarrassment, remorse and possibly divorce caused by infidelity.
Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Phone 435-705-3579 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.
Forgiveness in Marriage
David and Marva Coombs
“A happy marriage is a union of two good forgivers,” said Dr. Frank Finchman, co-author of a report entitled, “Forgiveness and Relationship Satisfaction” (2011 Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 551-559). “Forgiveness is a process, not an event.” He also said that failing to forgive carries a heavy burden that can actually shorten our lives. “So if you want to live a long and fulfilling life, you will want to find forgiveness as a way of life.”
All people have been victimized and have been offended. It is also true that all have been guilty of afflicting harm. All have felt the pain of being betrayed, and all have betrayed others to varying degrees. We must not only give forgiveness but also must ask for forgiveness; to be forgiven we need to repent.
Possibly that is why the Lord, when giving us the example of how to pray, included the phrase, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). As emphasis to this point, He adds: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). We are forgiven to the level we are willing to forgive. We can’t say, “Lord curse those who offended me. But Lord, be gracious and forgiving of my offenses.”
Possibly, we may not understand the principle of forgiveness. We may think that if we forgive, we must forget the incident and the pain. In serious circumstances, this may not be possible. God promises to forget those sins we have confessed and forsaken. He has said He will “blot out, as a thick cloud, our transgressions” (Isaiah 44:22). However, it may take a long time, coupled with many positive experiences in order to forget. Certainly, with small trespasses, we can quickly forgive and even forget.
Some think that to forgive means we condone the wrong, that we pretend the wrong is not that bad. People fear it is our responsibility to reconcile, to immediately trust and to allow closeness. Not true.
Dr. Finchman explains that forgiveness “is more like giving up the perceived right to get even. It’s like giving up the attitude, ‘You owe me.’ Forgiveness is a response to being wronged that entails a change in which justified anger and resentment are freely given up.” When forgiving we no longer want harm to come to the offender. We’ve given up any need to punish.
For marriages to endure, transgressors must sincerely apologize and ask for forgiveness. This validates their partners’ pain. When forgiveness is granted, the transgressors receive an undeserved gift from their spouses. This is similar to our approaching the throne of God, unworthy and undeserving, and asking for God’s gift of forgiveness. As we forgive we are developing a God-like quality.
When the gift is granted, all is not immediately well. In serious offenses the transgressors promote healing by their actions showing that they have fully and honestly confessed, sincerely repented and have made the necessary changes.
It is most unfair, for example, for a husband to say, “Ok, I know I have been addicted to drugs since I was a teenager, but I have mostly stopped. With the exception of a few recent incidents, I have been good. Now it is up to you, my dear wife, to forgive me and get over it. God has forgiven me so why haven’t you? You are the one who is creating the rift in our marriage.” He hasn’t yet won her trust by completely quitting or by getting help to quit. He has minimized his behavior and counter attacked. She may have empathy for him, not wish him any harm, but also not want to be with him.
If we have seriously offended our loved ones, we need to be patient with them and not think that we can correct long-standing issues with a quick fix. Large doses of humility help others forgive us. Human emotions cannot be switched on and off. Pain may linger longer than any would like which requires the repentant to be patient and humble as part of the penance. There cannot be quick flights into health with expectations that all is well immediately.
No marriage can last long or be happy unless spouses become good at apologizing and at forgiving each other and “find forgiveness as a way of life.”
Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Call 435-272-4292 or email to email@example.com or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.
What is the difference between guilt and shame?
David and Marva Coombs
Guilt is the feeling people have when they have done something wrong and feel bad about it. Shame goes deeper: people feel they are bad. They feel rotten to the core and think they have little or no redeeming value. Guilt is relieved by repenting, forsaking past sins, asking for forgiveness and seeking actively to live a better life. Shame is an overwhelming, dark feeling of worthlessness and hopelessness that afflicts some people, and they refuse to let it go. They believe they will never be worthy to receive forgiveness from God, from others and certainly not from themselves.
Guilt plays a healthy role in helping people repent and change. Such feelings keep them on righteous tracks, let them know when they have crossed lines and motivate them to make course corrections. But shame is another matter. It creates a barrier that family and friends can’t cross. Shame’s victims seem impervious to comfort or advice.
I counseled with a young, single woman who had aborted her baby although her family and friends tried to convince her not to do so. But she could not see a way out of her predicament except to abort her baby. Immediately after the operation, she felt she had committed an unforgivable sin and fell into a deep depression. She made several attempts at suicide and was admitted to a treatment center.
She allowed me to meet with her in private sessions but refused to attend group therapy. She remained distant and uncooperative but, paradoxically, wanted to continue our sessions. Apparently, she sensed me as someone who hadn’t judged her; perhaps I was her link to the outside world. Six months passed and I began to wonder if she would ever come out of her dark, self-imposed prison.
Her shame could not be alleviated by medication, counseling or encouragement from family and friends. She came from a deeply religious home. Regardless of efforts to explain the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ and how she could be forgiven, nothing worked. She had built an impregnable wall around herself, preventing anything or anyone from getting in. In her shame, she was convinced she was worthless and unredeemable.
But then a ray of hope began to shine upon our sessions. She gave herself permission to smile and began to take care of herself. She bathed more often and cut her long hair which she had used to cover much of her face. She enjoyed her food. She opened up in her sessions and began attending group therapy. It was like watching a person being reborn. It wasn’t long till she was able and willing to leave the facility and live a normal life.
I asked her what the turning point was in her therapy that began her healing. She told me she felt she had simply suffered long enough to pay for her sin. She was ready to let go of the need of further punishment. It was as if she believed she had to atone for her own sin before she could accept love from others and particularly love from her Heavenly Father.
Those who suffer from shame often have to hit bottom before they can begin to move up. They have so developed the inner language of self-destruction that learning the language of self-support comes slowly. Because of their negative self-talk, they have trouble accepting the truth about their self-worth.
As they come to believe that all their sins are forgivable, they realize that God still loves them and always has. They realize there is no exception to the word “all” and no matter what they have done, they finally believe in the atonement of Jesus Christ and that it applies to them.
Through the process of repentance, the Lord’s love heals all of us from our past sins. Our God is big enough to deal with all our guilt and with all our shame.
Dr. Coombs is a professional marriage, family and individual counselor. Call 435-705-3579 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Making Valentines Day easy
David and Marva Coombs
I counseled with a husband who was reluctant to romance his wife; I asked him to explain his fears about courting his sweetheart. He said he just didn’t see himself as the romantic type. He felt awkward doing things he had heard that other men do for their wives, particularly at Valentines. He reasoned that jewelry, flowers, candy, movie or a concert and dinner at a restaurant were all too expensive. And he was not about to write love letters because his handwriting was illegible and his spelling was awful. He didn’t know any poetry, and she would probably laugh at his silly attempts to write something mushy.
He continued, “Besides, she knows I love her. I shouldn’t have to buy her expensive gifts to prove it. I feel I am being manipulated into doing something that is unnecessary and costly.” I assured him he was not being manipulated, but he was being invited to join with others in an international holiday for couples to express their love for each other. I said, “Your wife is entitled to small gifts of appreciation and sweet expressions of love. And they don’t have to be costly.”
He rambled on, “The bottom line is I am afraid I wouldn’t do any of this romantic stuff right, and I would feel stupid. I fear failure. So the safest thing for me to do is to do nothing.” In his frustration he stated, “Why doesn’t she accept me just the way I am?”
I asked the wife what she expected from her husband. She said, “I need to feel loved and special. When I tell him this, he looks at me with those eyes that say, ‘I don’t know if I can give you what you want.’ I say nothing because I want him to show his love for me and not do some thing I tell him to do because then it won’t mean as much. If I tell him, then he’ll be doing it because I told him to do it.” Her attitude reflected the romantic myth that people in love simply know what the other is thinking.
I invited her to re-consider her self-imposed rule. I told her she needs to state clearly what she wants. “He can’t read your mind. If your husband is not aware of your thoughts, dreams and hopes, how will he ever know how to be successful as your loving husband? He thinks he has to dazzle you with a lot of expensive activities and gifts which he can’t afford. And if he doesn’t do it just right, he fears you will be disappointed and be critical of his efforts. And his worst fears will have been realized; he will have failed. Is that what you want?”
She turned to her husband and said, “This is what I want. You don’t have to bring me a bouquet of flowers; a single rose would warm my heart. I don’t need a whole box of chocolates but giving me my favorite ice cream would be super. I love having not to cook, but if a restaurant costs too much then bringing home a dinner from Kentucky Fried would be great. I’ll set the table nicely and we’ll eat by candle light. Movies can be expensive but a romantic DVD rental would be perfect, and we could watch it as we cuddle on the couch. While I would cherish love letters, a special card signed by you would be something I would save. Hugs and kisses and sweet nothings whispered in my ear telling me I am beautiful will make me melt in your arms.”
He responded, “I didn’t know it would be that simple. This will make you feel loved and special? This I can do.”
Blessed are those who make efforts, great or small, to send the important message that they deeply care for and love those who are special in their lives. When husbands and wives ask one another what they would really like, they are saying, “I love you.” When folks love each other, they need to say so, to show their love with tender deeds, to give gifts and to hold their loved ones in their arms and kiss them. Now that doesn’t sound too hard does it? Happy Valentines!
Dr. Coombs is a marriage, family and individual therapists. Call 435-272-4292. Email to email@example.com. or visit drcoombsmarriageandfamily.blogspot.com.