introduction to Beverly, by Jane:
I was introduced to Beverly by a friend who felt sure I would be inspired by her “late bloomer” story. Oh, I was! In fact, I often refer to her in my mind when I get discouraged in thinking it’s just too late for me to flourish. Wrong! Beverly is living proof of just how wrong my thinking was. And not only did her life-story inspire me, but she also graciously and lovingly walked with me through my “dark night of the soul” that converged with my midlife crisis. She was a God-gift to me. And as a gift to my readers, Beverly has offered some of her wisdom for me to publish here that she used in helping me and many others over her years of counseling. Her descriptive images of “swamp monsters,” “embracing cactus,” “amazing people,” and “dancing on the performance stage” are helpful memory hooks when confronting unhealthy patterns of behavior. I pray that as you read it, a new perspective will come to help shed Light on the dark, murky, confusing areas of your life in which you are perhaps stuck, and transformation, freedom, healing, hope, fresh inspiration and buds of life will begin to emerge.
Ms. Brim is a late, late bloomer who went back to school at 55 to save herself from boredom. She ﬁnished a B.A. in psychology and then realized she needed a master’s degree to get a job in counseling. So she continued in school, getting her M.A. in counseling at 59. At 61, she began working at the Episcopal Counseling Center at St. Barnabas in Deland, Fl. There for the last 18 years, she has worked with a variety of clients who have taught her how to depend on God to be the true counselor. This late life adventure has been a rich blessing for which she is very grateful. She would recommend that everyone pursue their interests, retiring only when absolutely necessary. Mental Health 101 is her basic look at human nature. Please enjoy what is helpful and ignore what is not. Beverly
Beverly Brim’s Mental Health 101
Good mental health gives a person a sense of gratitude, a sense of humor and the ability to handle the challenges of life. This enables a person to love and work with their fellow human beings. Then with hearts at peace, they can stand and withstand all that life here on earth throws them.
There’s no line in heaven that you go down to pick out your characteristics. You have no choice in your looks or talents. Nor is there any control over where you are born. Thus you are a product of a package you did not create from an environment you did not choose.
Since you did not create your package, you should not be ashamed of it. Your job is to be yourself and enjoy the talents and abilities you have, while coping with your short-comings—something everyone has to do.
We are not born knowing how to do everything. Thus we are an experiential creature that has to learn from mistakes and misjudgment. We learn good judgment from experiences that are a result of bad judgment. All too often we criticize ourselves when we make mistakes, forgetting this is how we learn. Being more kind to ourselves when we fail will make us more tolerant of others when they do the same.
Our worth comes from being a creature made in God’s image. Behaving in a good way increases our self-esteem, but our worth comes from God. Therefore our task in life is to explore who we are and make peace with our package and our family of origin. Remembering any of our strengths carried to an extreme, are our weaknesses. Life is all about balance.
EARLY LIFE PATTERNS
Our early life experiences create patterns that shape our feelings about ourselves. Babies, whose caregivers respond to their needs, learn that they are important and they grow up having a sense of self-esteem. Babies whose needs are ignored will develop a lack of respect for their needs and will have low self-esteem. Unless these feelings are corrected, they can last a lifetime.
At about four, ﬁve, or six, we begin to think we understand what is going on around us. Because we are very egocentric at this age, we mistakenly think that our actions control our universe. If someone is mean to us, we think it is because we are not good enough. Therefore our ﬂawed interpretation of events can determine if we think we are wonderful or bad. It is at this age we start collecting memories like leaves in a barrel. If we collect “I am good memories” and believe the world is wonderful, we will collect memories that ﬁt this template. But if we think “we are bad” we will collect memories that ﬁt this feeling.
These beliefs/feelings become the lens through which we see life. If we expect to be given negative comments, we will only collect memories that ﬁt this pattern while ignoring comments that are positive. And we will avoid people that tell us how wonderful we are and seek out people that will tell us how bad we are. It is fascinating to see how these early life patterns, if not corrected, can continue throughout the lifespan.
You will know that you are thinking with these early childhood patterns when you used words like “always” and “never.” Everything will be black and white absolutes, because this is how a child thinks. I’ve begun to think that self-hate is at the basis of a lot of our misery. These early patterns that can develop from criticisms we take to heart, create a sense of being ﬂawed that is hard to overcome. It’s as if we create an inner critic that constantly judges and condemns us. If self criticism worked, we would all be perfect. But all it does is create misery and self-hate. Self-acceptance is the only cure for this “disease.” Self-acceptance and a tolerance for less than perfection….and the giving up of all the negative things we say about ourselves.
THINKING & FEELING
To better understand how we think and feel, it is helpful to know that our brain works on two major pathways—the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic system handles our emotional reactions to what we experience. The parasympathetic is the thinking/creative/logical part of the brain. We are either on one track or the other. Each system runs on diﬀerent chemical patterns.
The sympathetic runs on cortisone and adrenalin while the parasympathetic runs on endorphins and adrenalin. When we have a ﬁght, ﬂight, freeze, faint, or forget emotional moment we are not in the thinking part of the brain because we have the wrong chemicals ﬂooding our brain.
Note: This is why a person having an emotional meltdown cannot successfully understand someone’s logical thinking—they don’t have the right chemicals to hear what the logical person is saying. This is where it is better to use reﬂective listening rather than logic—gently repeating back to the person what you think they are saying, rather than trying to get them to think logically. To do otherwise increases the emotional meltdown. In time, they will calm down and be able to think logically.
The sympathetic system contains information that allows us to react quickly. Here are stored the patterns that give us the responses we need to protect ourselves. This is why people who deal with emergencies are trained over and over again. Airline pilots, police, ﬁremen, etc. go through extensive training for this reason. Emergencies are not a time for logical thinking, they are a time for reactions. This is why people, not trained for an emergency, will sometimes do strange things. Their logical brain has been shut oﬀ and their emotional brain takes over and does illogical things as it seeks to rescue the situation.
The sympathetic system is where we store barrels of memories relating to emotional experiences we have had. These barrels, if they are full, can be triggered by present day events. When this happens we have an emotional meltdown over a minor issue. We go up like a rocket and later wonder why we overreacted. We then berate ourselves for our anger. But a more helpful technique would be to question how old we were when we ﬁrst felt this emotion. We can then ask what negative belief about ourselves did the event trigger. Often the barrels of memories are chained together like Christmas lights and barrels called “ I’m not good enough” will trigger others that are similar, like “I am bad,” “no one loves me,” etc.
The brain has a wonderful ﬁling system. Things that are not important are usually forgotten, but what is very important, a memory that is emotionally charged, will be unforgettable. Meltdowns help us ﬁnd areas in our thinking that need change and they highlight issues that need to be addressed. After we calm down and are back in our logical brain, we can then analyze the message of the meltdown.
If the meltdown occurs during an interaction with someone else, we need to carefully analyze what has happened. Frequently, people will angrily accuse us of things that confuse us. They will say we are being selﬁsh, mean, etc., but in our heart we don’t feel it is true. When this happens be aware that it is probably true of them, not you. Those that I call “amazing people” very easily accuse everyone else of something for which they are guilty. When we are not guilty, their accusation goes to our head and we think “what are they talking about?” But if what they say goes to our heart and we feel guilty, then chances are we need to make amends. But if their accusations do not feel true, we need to have the courage to not be intimidated by their anger.
“Amazing people” are those who want to control us. They are people who always say they are right, perfect, and the standard for how all humans should behave. We, of course, are the “losers” to their “winners.” And their certainty can confuse us into believing they are right. Mental Health Counselors depend on “amazing people” to keep them in business. While “amazing people” will not go to a therapist, each “amazing person” is guaranteed to send at least 10 of their relatives, friends, and business acquaintances into therapy! All a therapist has to do is convince their clients that they are normal while helping them develop a backbone to deal with “amazing people.”
Note: When in a dialogue with “amazing people” their illogic is at odds with your logic. You are talking two diﬀerent languages. So instead of trying to be logical, which will only make the “amazing person” angrier, it is better to use neutral comments like “you may be right,” “I’ll have to think about that,” “in your opinion,” etc. What you are doing is allowing them to remain “amazing” without trying to ﬁx their thinking. You cannot ﬁx their thinking and your life will be easier if you repeat this statement until you get it! Unfortunately a lot of time is wasted by logical thinking people trying to ﬁx the “amazing people.”
THE PERFORMANCE STAGE
One way that we get trapped by “amazing people” is when we try to get acceptance by dancing on the “performance based acceptance stage.” As we dance on this stage, we hold up a mask to hide our real selves to obtain praise from the “should, ought, and must people” and avoid the jeers of the “shame, blame, and guilt people.” When we do this, we lose sight of the wants and desires of our own package and instead adopt the values and plans of the loudest or most powerful person in the audience. This, unfortunately, can lead to anger and depression. Anger because we do not feel comfortable in the dance we are dancing and depression because we are failing to express our own unique wants and desires.
When we are tied to the opinions of others, in hopes of gaining love and acceptance, we become plastic people. We fail to realize that plastic people are boring people that no one wants to be around. Authentic people are the most interesting people to know. They have learned the value of self-acceptance and appreciation. They have taught themselves to listen to their own voice, not be slaves of other’s opinions. Isn’t it ironic to learn, that by being our natural selves (with good manners), we are more attractive than if we try to become the clones of others’ ideas?
When we are not being who we really are, we are killing oﬀ our real selves. We are parroting songs written by others, instead of singing our own unique melody. Once again, this happens when we feel that who we are is not good enough.
The only way to really live life is to get oﬀ the stage. We need to acknowledge that we are a very special and valuable package—one that we did not create. We do not have to feel shame, blame, or guilt for who we are. We simply need to explore the gift that is ourselves. Thus getting oﬀ the stage requires honesty, integrity, and courage. This is not easy if we have had our feet glued to the stage for a long time. We need to remember that God created us and only His opinion of us matters.
There are some people I call “swamp monsters” who live in the Swamp of Resentment. They ended up in the swamp because of something that happened to them that they believe was not fair, not right, and not their fault. There they sit on their little island in the swamp of resentment wearing their “victim” t-shirt with the “it’s not fair ﬂag” ﬂying above. The swamp will naturally drain, so Swamp Monster has to continually get fresh resentments or rehash old ones to keep the swamp ﬁlled.
Someone I call “Mercy Heart” hears their cry of woe and feels they must help poor Swamp Monster get well. Unfortunately this is not a mutual care and concern relationship no matter what Swamp Monster says. Because the unwritten rule of the swamp is “Since I am a victim, I can do what I want, when I want, how I want, if I want, and nobody can tell me what to do.” So Swamp Monsters keep control of the relationship and make “Mercy Heart” a co-victim.
Swamp Monster’s average emotional age is ﬁve years old. And all the buttons to get out of the swamp (forgiveness of past wrongs, acceptance of life’s unfairness, assuming responsibility for their own feelings by not blaming others for those feelings, and letting go of past hurts) are on the inside of Swamp Monster. And no matter how much eﬀort Mercy Heart puts into the project, they will not be able to touch those buttons to free swamp monster. Only Swamp Monster can touch those buttons and free themselves. The steps in an AA program are designed to help swamp monsters grow up when they are ready.
What Mercy Heart does not realize is that their “agenda” for Swamp Monster creates an “anti-agenda” in Swamp Monster. In order to retain a sense of control and independence, Swamp Monster has to have an opposite agenda. This creates a sick dance between Mercy Heart and Swamp Monster that goes on until Mercy Heart lets go of their agenda.
Freedom from Mercy Heart’s agenda (no matter how helpful it would be for Swamp Monster to follow it) forces Swamp Monster to be confronted with the consequences of their choices. This is extremely hard for Mercy Heart to do because they feel they must help people be happy and they feel guilty if they are not “helping.” But this is the only way to give Swamp Monster the opportunity to get rid of their “anti agenda.” Al-Anon was created for this purpose because a Mercy Heart giving up their “agenda” is as hard as getting Swamp Monster to give up their addiction.
All addictions are excesses—gambling, shopping, gossip, anger, controlling others etc. —that are mood altering. Instead of feeling the pain, we attempt to numb it or forget it. Unfortunately our addictions cause more pain. And this resentment, that our addictions cannot ﬁx our emotions, keeps the little voice alive that says why not keep on doing what we have been doing.
Change can feel scary. It’s as if you have lived in a dark woods and are familiar with all the paths and dangers of the woods. Then one day you peek through the edge of the woods and see a beautiful meadow with grass and ﬂowers and leafy green trees. It looks so very inviting, but you feel you would be out of place there. The woods, dark as they are, are so familiar.
So you have to force yourself to gently explore this new place, with the knowledge you can always return to the dark woods. As you give yourself permission to leave the dark woods and fully enter into living in the sunlight, you are getting well and allowing yourself to enjoy life with an emotional freedom you have never had. So even though a new way of thinking and feeling is scary, change can give you the opportunity to have a better life.
EMBRACING THE CACTUS
All of us are starring in a movie. But we fail to realize that God is writing the script and directing the story line. We’re simply starring in it one day at a time, with as much grace as we can muster. But inside we are in rebellion. We just KNOW how much better the movie would be if OUR wishes were being followed and we question why God doesn’t get it.
Somehow we think God is asleep and we as “god-junior” have to create the perfect movie and be the perfect star in that movie. The fog of this thinking ignores outside circumstances and promotes the feeling we have more control over life than we do. We feel it is our fault that we missed the turn which would have led us to the perfect life. And we continually, restlessly, look for that turn!!! This is a lie for which I recommend what I call “embracing the cactus.” Embracing the cactus means accepting reality and letting it kill oﬀ our expectations.
When we embrace the cactus of reality, we accept life as it is, instead of how we think it should be. Otherwise we struggle with “what is,” trying to turn it into what we think would make us happy. This creates a war between the reality of where we are, and where we think we should be. This is a waste of time. By accepting reality, hard as it may be, we stretch ourselves and develop the ability to ﬁnd happiness in the moment, not happiness dependent on circumstances meeting our expectations. I think this is one of the major lessons of life. We either go along with God’s script, trusting He knows best, or we ﬁght for our own, arguing that we know better.
People able to embrace the cactus, will engage in making the best of their “blessings in heavy disguise.” I call it “mining the misery” so we can grow wiser and get credentials with which to help others. Trials produce character, perseverance, and faith in God, and most of all, knowledge of His overwhelming love for us.
There are periods in life that seem impossible. When seemingly everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. It’s when an overwhelming avalanche of problems “sink the ship.” And as you ﬁnd yourself bobbing in the giant waves, with your nose barely above the foam, you feel the end is near. Life as you knew it is over and the life you are now living seems impossible to survive.
Many have been through similar experiences and there are books about how to be positive in such situations. But when it is you bobbing in the big waves, such “think positive advice” feels useless. There’s a feeling that while others survived their nightmare, you will not. In some ways, you are right. You at the beginning of your trial will not be the same you as before the nightmare. You will be changed by the circumstances you experienced. So the life as you knew it will not survive. Your thinking will be changed and you will have gained knowledge and experience you did not plan on gaining from this nightmare.
Good or bad? It depends on how you handle the nightmare. Some people are not able to move on and accept the changes as a part of life’s experiences. They grieve over the life that was and refuse to develop ﬂexibility and grow in their new experiences. They become prisoners of their expectations of what life should be and refuse to budge. So for these people, nightmares become a sticking point that freezes their life into a dark cave of misery.
Others begrudgingly accept the changes and move on while mumbling and grumbling over how bad they have it versus everyone else. They wear a cloud of woe (which eﬀectively blocks out any sunshine of happiness) and trudge on with a heavy burden of “life is not fair” on their bent backs.
The fortunate ones choose to ﬁnd “gold” in the “unexpected adventure.” For them life is a challenge, ﬁlled with experiences, not a contest to see who can have the more perfect circumstances. Thus they look at life as a book with many interesting chapters, none of which can deﬁne their worth. As they accept that one chapter of their life is over, they courageously determine to ﬁnd blessings in their new adventure.
Is it tough to face a new chapter? Of course it is!!!! Most of us love our “ruts.” We are comfortable in the familiar, the routine, the expected. So when we are kicked out of our comfort zone, we become discombobulated, upset, and scared. All of us at heart are scared little children when confronted with catastrophes. The future seems like a black hole that will suck up all of life as we know it and we will be left destitute or dead.
Everyone reacts at ﬁrst with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. But in reality that is when we have to let go and let God come to our rescue. Now that is even more frightful —to depend on the invisible God to come to our aid! Yet that is when He does come. Unfortunately He does not come on our timetable. He always seems to be late! So the “dark night of the soul” is the period between the start of the crisis and the solving of it. When life goes from what it was to what it becomes. But it is in this period of life, when all hope is gone, that we learn important truths. Truths that allow us to grow in perseverance, experience, and faith. By going through life’s challenges, we become equipped to help others when they face their own nightmares. No one wants to go through life’s Boot Camp of Learning, but we can come out stronger if we choose to face the challenges of change.
Each life is like a book in God’s Library. And our book becomes more interesting after we submit our will and our care to our Heavenly Father who created us and loves us just like we are. Yes, life can be diﬃcult, but the blessings outweigh the pain if we allow God to write the script of our movie. When we choose to accept “what is,” with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can ﬁnd joy and peace in the most diﬃcult circumstances. And by giving praise and thanksgiving to God for everything, good, bad, and ugly, we drive away the devil’s voice and allow ourselves to enjoy peace and joy.
Beverly’s disclaimer: Beverly Brim’s Mental Health 101 is designed to be a simple look at some aspects of mental healthiness. She hopes you will enjoy what helps you and ignore what doesn’t.