Archive for July, 2017

July 30, 2017

This week at Chatel…..

by Rod Smith

cropped-e-is-for-enmeshment1Five (very lofty) goals for the week

Teach, facilitate group so students and staff are empowered to find, enjoy, and use their backbones, most creative brains, and voices, each to maximum of his or her current level of helpful, “growthful” discomfort. (Yes, I occasionally make up my own words).

Facilitate each student’s possibility for growth (to get bigger or smaller) into his or her appropriate size (a) as a distinct individual, (b) as a distinct individual in within a variety of contexts (like current or immediate family, family of origin, a class of students, a sub-culture and a broad culture of national heritage), and (c) finally, as a member of the Church, immediate and universal. This means examining contexts, roles, boundaries, skills, talents, gifts, and resources.

Teach, model (if it possible) Differentiation of Self by “watching” it in Scripture. We will use three Gospel encounters to illustrate this delicious way of life.

cropped-ladderjpg.jpgGive practical insights into healthy or unhealthy TRIANGLES, GENERATIONAL TRANSMISSION, HERDING, and other usually INVISIBLE pressures that can undermine or sabotage healthy individual, family, and organizational functioning. We will use two, perhaps three, Gospel encounters in order to illustrate.

Give practical tools to minimize individual and group anxiety, to grow and support healthy invisible individual and group loyalties, and to develop the awareness of necessary sifts from REACTIVITY to RESPONSIVENESS, from STEMMING and EMOTING to THINKING, and from AMPLIFYING or IGNORING to EMBRACING and EMPOWERING.

Further reading: Bowen, Murray; Friedman, Edwin; Schnarch, David; Gilbert, Roberta; Satir, Virginia; Framo, James; Minuchen, Salvador

July 29, 2017

“Easy” challenges

by Rod Smith
  • Increase your tolerance for pain (of those whom you love and your own) – this will keep you out of “rescue mode” with those whom you love and decrease your likelihood of engaging in your own unhelpful behaviors.
  • Focus on being a step-down transformer (rather than a step-up transformer) for the anxiety that surrounds you. Reduce rather than amplify surrounding anxieties.
  • Develop and eagle eye so you may see your life from afar and from “above.” Look beyond today for the larger context of who you are and what you are called to accomplish.
  • Listen patiently to others without waiting to speak. You do not have to agree but it is essential that you listen. Perhaps the only tangible evidence of love is that we listen to those whom we say we love.
  • Forgive before it is asked of you and especially if it is not. This is, of course, about you and not about those who are in need of your forgiveness.
  • Develop a “long-haul” mentality for your family and other intimate relationships. People are allowed to fail, people are allowed to let you down, other people are as fallible as you are. A long-haul mentality encourages you to stay with it even if things don’t go your way.
July 27, 2017

Groundwork for desired change

by Rod Smith

If you really want some change in your family then here are some counter-intuitive ways to set positive change in motion:

  • Shift your focus away from those whom you wish to change, or to be different, or to be more “open” or obedient, onto your own responses to these very people.
  • Become an expert in your own behavior. While you are caught up in what they are doing or are not doing you will be blinded to your own behavior and your contribution to what’s happening among you.
  • Make a radical attempt to unearth your family history – the secrets, unresolved issues, cut-offs, addictions, and the bonds and binds. This can always be done with kindness. Asking questions about your own life and your own family is absolutely appropriate. Such unearthing may initially spike anxiety but it will bring your long-term understanding and relief and make you a stronger and more defined person to live with.
  • Do whatever is necessary to reach and connect with your parents – if they are deceased then work with finding out as much as you can about them. No one can be enduringly emotionally well and be a positive influence on their current family while he or she harbors unresolved issues with his or her parents. 
July 24, 2017

Respect the blood

by Rod Smith

When relating to a family – be it to one or many members of a family – ignoring or discounting blood-ties or invisible loyalties is done at peril, even if it is at the family’s invitation and if the family is experiencing considerable turmoil.

If a relationship is professional (helper, counselor, coach, teacher, head of school, pastor, or health-care worker), or if it involves befriending or dating a member of a family, blood is and almost always will be thicker that non-blood, and any insertion by an outsider into the family that violates the invisible loyalties (even when invited) will not occur without retaliation.

Ignoring, discounting, or dismissing invisible loyalties is the emotional equivalent of swinging from live power-lines.

While invisible loyalties often defy logic and can be thoroughly irrational, while they can appear to switch without notice and can be denied even while their enforcement may be glaringly obvious to an outsider, messing with blood loyalties will be rewarded in ways the intruder will regret.

The wise “outsider” – a paid professional, an educator, or a person who is invited into the family as an intimate, the wise outsider respects the blood, the pre-existing bonds, even if they appear to be unhelpful or destructive binds.

[This phenomenon is tough to identify but it explains something of how and why some people really never become “part of the family”, why step-parenting is so very difficult for many families, and why family business is so hard to do well.]

July 23, 2017

Son and boyfriend don’t get along…..

by Rod Smith

“My son (28) and my live-in boyfriend do not get along. At best there is unspoken tension. At worst they go at each other and insult each other. Neither works nor brings in any money and both accuse the other of living off me. I support both. My son says this is ‘more acceptable’ for him since he is my son. My boyfriend says he at least helps around the house and that’s how he ‘pays’ his share. Please don’t tell me to ‘get out of the middle’ because that’s impossible. I am not going to put my son out in this economy where it is so hard to find a job and my boyfriend has nowhere to go.” (Vast edits)
Since you are aware of the necessity to get out of the middle you will do so when you are ready.

Your situation is a fine example of how we treat people how to treat us. You have enabled two fully-grown men to live off you and you all apparently regard it as acceptable.

Of course the men don’t get along. If they had meaningful jobs they’d feel better about life, and you, and have no time to engage in immature games.

Millions of people work – the men in your house can, too.    

July 17, 2017

Monday Challenge 1 of 5

by Rod Smith

Five days to improve your immediate functioning and change your life:

My approach to therapy is taught (a little) and then lived (a lot).

The consulting room or classroom isn’t usually where the change occurs. It starts as you step out and into your life.

If you are tenacious, in sufficient pain or discomfort, or desire a shift, and you make a plan, it is possible to facilitate desired shifts.

Reading any column will not compare with seeing a therapist face-to-face, but it is a good start if you are willing and ready.

This week I will offer 5 days of one challenge per day.

If implemented, the challenges will cumulatively impact your life and shift your trajectory into something you’d probably prefer over what you are now (not) enjoying.

Here’s the first: create a blueprint.

Get a large piece of newsprint and cast your dreams and desires for the years you have left.

I am 62. I’m planning for at least twenty-five more years.

Create your blueprint in any manner that suits your thinking. I cover immediate relationships and local responsibilities, formal and informal education, writing goals, traveling and speaking opportunities. Given that I think in symbols and metaphors, my blueprint reflects my crazy mind.

Let your blueprint stretch your imagination and put what you imagine for yourself on paper.

As the cliché goes, if you aim at nothing you’ll probably hit it.

July 16, 2017

Voice? Or just talking….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Voice? or Talking? 

Don’t get them confused….

Learning to use your voice is no simple task and ought not be confused with talking. Many people talk an awful lot, who’ve been talking almost non-stop for years, but seldom use their voices. 

Some people, very sadly, for a variety of reasons, don’t even know they have one.  

All talking does not mean the speaker is using his or her voice anymore than banging on a piano always produces music.

Talking without using your voice:

• Talking because silence is painful or even unbearable

• Talking without thinking 

• Saying things you’ve said countless times because the tape (CD, record) runs whether you like it or not  

• Talking about things that are safe and familiar – even intimate matters – to avoid and even bury material that is aching to come out. 

Using your voice:

• Addressing necessary conflict and areas of disagreement with kindness and compassion even in the event it results in discomfort in relationships

• Allowing necessary silence to promote thought and the time to allow ideas to develop

• Expressing (even sometimes with necessary caution) the things that really matter even if the potential exists to upset those whom you love.

July 11, 2017

Things I want for my sons:

by Rod Smith


• That they will be generous men offering time and talent and financial help to worthy causes.

• That they have a growing and accurate perception of their active role in establishing the lives they want.

• That all their relationships, from intimate to formal to casual, are respectful, mutual, and equal.

• That they will not blame others or circumstances when they face inevitable hurdles and troubles.

• That they will never lose touch with their humanity, not to religion, to the pursuit of wealth, or the pursuit of status or power.

• That they will have the resilient respect for themselves and therefore deepest regard for others.

• That they will treasure the memories of their imperfect childhoods.

July 8, 2017

Teaching others how to treat you…..

by Rod Smith

• Allow others to speak down to you and you will begin to look down on yourself. You will begin to see yourself through their lens and even begin to agree with them. 

• Allow others to speak ill of you and you will begin to hide and avoid people and believe their disrespect is somehow deserved. You will begin to carry a sense of shame that’s difficult to shed.  

• Allow others to lie to you (and then on top of that make excuses for them) and you will begin to fumble with what it true and what is not and soon you will be unable to tell the difference. You will begin to question your judgment (and sanity) about the most insignificant of matters.

Firmly, kindly address those who choose to treat you poorly, knowing you will ruffle feathers (or more). 

Use “I” statements. Define yourself; not others. Don’t go into detail. 

People who treat others in the ways I have described – power-hungry people – love an argument. They will bully you into seeing just how wrong you are and how much you’ve misunderstood them. 

Relationships are not about winning or losing and you know they that. They don’t. 
Do not be afraid to walk away from ANY relationship that does not hold you in highest regard. Life is far too short and already far too difficult to have to bear the added burden of accommodating another person’s unresolved power-issues.

July 7, 2017

Weekend hopes….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury – Friday

In a world that is enduring senseless violence and illogical expressions of hate, vengeance, and selfishness, I hope that you will have a merciful weekend. 

Such a weekend begins with you and with me. 

I know, I know, almost every Friday I write to you in the hopes that we will be part of the healing, and I am not going to stop now.

I always see weekends as restful times with the promise of new beginnings.  

Here’s what I am committed to this weekend – it’s called offering or operating in the “opposite spirit” – and I trust you will join me with similar challenges appropriate to your unique context:

• Embracing the stranger

• Welcoming the refugee 

• Forgiving a debt – real or imagined

• Enjoying my sons – watching them explore the world and come to terms with and enjoy their own beauty

• Getting off-line – at least for several extended hours 

• Paying for someone’s meal – and then quietly exiting the restaurant 

• Listening, really listening, to someone who’s not accustomed to being heard

• Trying to be the most generous person I know

I am fully aware that the world will not change because you or I think it is a good idea or because surreptitiously we really want to make the world safer or more predictable for ourselves and our children although there’s nothing of course wrong with that. 

But, we are capable of extracting the most goodness from within ourselves – we each have a really good place within us – and sharing it wildly and extravagantly with others. 

I’ll see you in the paper tomorrow, and then again on Monday.