Grief, Gratitude, and Grace – Dr. Jenkins’ Letter of Gratitude

You can read Dr. Jenkins’ Letter of Gratitude to his father below. To learn more about letters of gratitude and dealing with grief, be sure to read his article Grief, Gratitude, and Grace in Refreshed Magazine HERE.

Dear Dad,

I have never written a letter of gratitude to you before. Sure, I’ve sent you father’s day cards and birthday cards. I have sent you angry letters when I was mad at you about something. But this is the first letter of gratitude that I can remember. I wish I could say that there have been more.

Thank you, Dad, for being such an integral part of my life. For shaping me into the man that I am today by modeling for me what it means to be a man of God.

Thank you for wrestling with me on the living room floor when I was a child. I remember how rough your whiskers were.

Thank you for teaching me how to play chess and monopoly, and the many hours we spent together challenging each other. Thank you for letting me win from time to time.

Thank you for sharing the gospel with me and baptizing me when I was 9 years old.

Thank you for working so hard for the family over the years. I know the ministry was always your first love, but you worked so hard at other jobs too in order to pay the bills. I remember there were times when you came home exhausted from digging ditches all day long. You shared your hard work ethic with me, and I too have learned the meaning of hard work and discipline. Thank you. I know you did it for us, and for me.

I remember how you drove school buses and how you would pick me up on the El Monte Road route and together we would eat the same lunch day after day. Tuna fish sandwiches.

I remember you came with me to Lindo Park Elementary School when we moved back to Lakeside. I was in 4th grade and you knew I was scared on the first day of school. After visiting the school you took me to Dairy Queen in Lakeside and bought me some ice cream. Thank you for caring for that scared 9-year-old boy.

You went with me to the first day of school at El Capitan when I was a freshman. I remember you signed me up for typewriting as my only elective. At first I was angry about that, but it proved to be a wise choice. Not only was I the only guy in a class of twenty girls, the typing skills have been a blessing throughout my life.

Thank you for the wisdom you have shared with me over the years. I have seen you care for and counsel so many people, and I know that this influenced my decision to go into psychology. I also saw how generous you have been with people, and I can only hope that some of your generosity has rubbed off on me.

Dad, in essence, thank you for demonstrating to me what it means to be a loving father and husband.

I love you and I will always stand by your side.


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Genuine Communication

Communication is at the center of relationships. The quality of a relationship depends on the quality of the communication between the two partners. The most treasured times within a relationship are those in which we tap into our partner’s authenticity with heartfelt communication – those times when we talk truthfully.

Unfortunately, these moments come far too rarely for many of us. Those who can achieve physical intimacy are not necessarily those who can communicate well verbally. Why is this? Some people simply lack the tools and experience for talking about emotional issues. Others talk a mile a minute, needing to be validated by others but instead driving them away. Some people are guarded and have difficulty in opening up about anything personal. Some people are unable to listen to their partner – they always bring the topic back to themselves, or they may see their role as the one who gives (unsolicited) advice.

Some people interpret their partner’s desire for a serious talk as criticism. They become defensive when their partner tries to share the honest truth with them. A serious talk, then, can easily lead to an argument – and this leads to a failure of honest communication. The more failures there are, the less likely the couple will try to communicate on a genuine level in the future – to the detriment of intimacy in the relationship.

Telling the Truth

Truth is difficult for many of us. We all engage in a bit of self-deception in our lives. There are things about ourselves that we have not been able to examine or accept. We have difficulty in admitting our flaws – even to ourselves, much more so to our partners. Sometimes we guard our intimate feelings because we have been hurt in the past when we tried to share them with others, so that trust is a difficult area for us. For example, if you and your partner are feeling unloved and lonely, but you try to cover it up by saying that everything is fine, you will continue to feel isolated. Our commitment to a relationship means that we have decided to open ourselves up to another person, flaws and all. To continue to deceive ourselves with our partner impedes the intimacy of the relationship.

A relationship has the potential to provide a healthy way to come to terms with our issues, both personal and interpersonal. Accepting the truth, and talking about it, can free us of pain and set the stage for a healthier future. When we share our fears within the context of our partner’s loving understanding and acceptance, the fears dissipate. The issues we have been holding on to alone for so long lose their force when they are shared with someone who loves us. Telling the truth can bring down the barriers that isolate us from our partners. It can lead to a new level of self-acceptance and authenticity in our own lives – and this in turn leads to a stronger level of commitment and intimacy in our relationship. The truth can make us whole and set us free.

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No Secrets … Telling the Truth in Our Relationships

“We had no secrets;

We’d tell each other everything…”

Carly Simon

When we commit ourselves to a relationship with another person, we rightly expect to experience a sense of fulfillment that we didn’t have before. Humans, as social beings, seem to have a universal desire to find a partner. Sexual attraction often serves as the motivator for making initial contact with the other person, and this is usually replaced over time with a deeper sense of commitment and intimacy. It comes as a terrible disappointment to some people when the sexual phase of their relationship fails to lead in time to something deeper. The task, then, is to understand the forces which block the development of a deeper sense of intimacy – and to do something about it. Fortunately, with some work – and it’s often hard work – couples can learn to move into the stage of deeper sharing and more fulfillment in their relationships.

The excitement which comes with entering a new relationship touches us at the core of our being. It influences our thinking, our emotions, and our physical bodies. In some sense it feels like a dream come true. We feel that, finally, the hard years of experiencing the world alone have come to an end. The thing that we have longed for has been achieved. We now have a partner, someone who can share, understand, and appreciate our most private experiences. The world suddenly seems like a happier and more secure place. The beginning stages of a relationship can bring a precious sense of connectedness – but when that phone call doesn’t come, when a plan goes awry, when the wrong words are spoken, the emotional high can turn swiftly into a feeling of devastation. Being in love can have its down side.

Over time the physical stage of the relationship is typically replaced by a period of getting to know more about other aspects of our partner’s personality. Some of these characteristics are endearing to us – and others irritate us. We learn how our partner attends to the demands of everyday life, and we learn that he or she may not do things the way we do them. Our partner may take a more aggressive approach than we do. Or we may find that our partner dwells on issues, mulling them back and forth, before coming to a decision – which is something that may create anxiety in us. Our partner’s sense of loyalty to the relationship may be different from our own. These differences may seem catastrophic during this phase of the relationship. And at this stage, rather than looking within to make our own personal adjustment to our partner’s quirks, we may try to force our partners to change their behavior. Power and domination may enter into the dynamics of the relationship – and this can have a major negative impact on intimacy. It is at this stage that genuine communication becomes important to the continued success of the relationship.

Genuine Communication

Communication is at the center of relationships. The quality of a relationship depends on the quality of the communication between the two partners. The most treasured times within a relationship are those in which we tap into our partner’s authenticity with heartfelt communication – those times when we talk truthfully.

Unfortunately, these moments come far too rarely for many of us. Those who can achieve physical intimacy are not necessarily those who can communicate well verbally. Why is this? Some people simply lack the tools and experience for talking about emotional issues. Others talk a mile a minute, needing to be validated by others but instead driving them away. Some people are guarded and have difficulty in opening up about anything personal. Some people are unable to listen to their partner – they always bring the topic back to themselves, or they may see their role as the one who gives (unsolicited) advice.

Some people interpret their partner’s desire for a serious talk as criticism. They become defensive when their partner tries to share the honest truth with them. A serious talk, then, can easily lead to an argument – and this leads to a failure of honest communication. The more failures there are, the less likely the couple will try to communicate on a genuine level in the future – to the detriment of intimacy in the relationship.

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Using Effective Communication Techniques to Reduce Conflict

Once you find yourself in a conflicted situation with someone else, it is important to reduce the emotional charge from the situation so that you and the other person can deal with your differences on a rational level in resolving the conflict.

The Defusing Technique: The other person might be angry and may come to the situation armed with a number of arguments describing how you are to blame for his or her unhappiness. Your goal is to address the other’s anger – and you do this by simply agreeing with the person. When you find some truth in the other point of view, it is difficult for the other person to maintain anger. For example, “I know that I said I would call you last night. You are absolutely right. I wish I could be more responsible sometimes.”

The accusation might be completely unreasonable from your viewpoint, but there is always some truth in what the other person says. At the very least, we need to acknowledge that individuals have different ways of seeing things. This does not mean that we have to compromise our own basic principles. We simply validate the other’s stance so that we can move on to a healthier resolution of the conflict. This may be hard to do in a volatile situation, but a sign of individual strength and integrity is the ability to postpone our immediate reactions in order to achieve positive goals. Sometimes we have to “lose” in order, ultimately, to “win.”

Empathy: Try to put yourself into the shoes of the other person. See the world through their eyes. Empathy is an important listening technique which gives the other feedback that he or she is being heard. There are two forms of empathy. Thought Empathy gives the message that you understand what the other is trying to say. You can do this in conversation by paraphrasing the words of the other person. For example, “I understand you to say that your trust in me has been broken.” Feeling Empathy is your acknowledgment of how the other person probably feels. It is important never to attribute emotions which may not exist for the other person (such as, “You’re confused with all your emotional upheaval right now”), but rather to indicate your perception of how the person must be feeling. For example, “I guess you probably feel pretty mad at me right now.”

Exploration: Ask gentle, probing questions about what the other person is thinking and feeling. Encourage the other to talk fully about what is on his or her mind. For example, “Are there any other thoughts that you need to share with me?”

Using “I” Statements: Take responsibility for your own thoughts rather than attributing motives to the other person. This decreases the chance that the other person will become defensive. For example, “I feel pretty upset that this thing has come between us.” This statement is much more effective than saying, “You have made me feel very upset.”

Stroking: Find positive things to say about the other person, even if the other is angry with you. Show a respectful attitude. For example, “I genuinely respect you for having the courage to bring this problem to me. I admire your strength and your caring attitude.”


Posted in Relationships

Healthy Approaches to Conflict Resolution

Conflicts run all the way from minor, unimportant differences to disputes which can threaten the future of a relationship. Conflicts with a loved one or a long-term friend are, of course, different from negotiating with someone who does not care about your needs, like a stranger or a salesperson.

However, there is an underlying principle that underscores all successful conflict resolution. That is, both parties must view their conflict as a problem to be solved mutually so that both parties have the feeling of winning – or at least finding a solution which is acceptable to both. Each person must participate actively in the resolution and make an effort and commitment to find answers which are as fair as possible to both. This is an easy principle to understand, but it is often difficult to put into practice.

We may get so caught up with our own immediate interests that we damage our relationships. If we disregard or minimize the position of the other person, if fear and power are used to win, or if we always have to get our own way, the other person will feel hurt and the relationship may be wounded. Similarly, if we always surrender just to avoid conflict, we give the message to the other person that it is acceptable to act in a self- serving way at our expense and to be insensitive to our needs. Our feeling of self-worth suffers, resentment festers, and we feel poisoned in the relationship. Instead, it is healthier if both parties can remain open, honest, assertive, and respectful of the other position. Mutual trust and respect, as well as a positive, constructive attitude, are fundamental necessities in relationships that matter.

Preventing Conflict

Most people have no interest in creating conflict with others. Most of us know enough about human behavior to distinguish between healthy communication and the words or actions that contribute to rocky relationships. It is in our interest to maintain relations which are smooth, flexible, and mutually enhancing. The problem occurs when we fail to use cooperative approaches consistently in our dealing with others. We seldom create conflict intentionally. We do it because we may not be aware of how our own behavior contributes to interpersonal problems. Sometimes we forget, or we are frustrated and annoyed, and sometimes we just have a bad day. At times we feel so exasperated that we focus on our own needs at the expense of others’. And then we find ourselves in conflict.

To prevent conflict from happening in the first place, it is important to identify the ways in which we contribute to the disagreement. One way of doing this is to identify a specific, recent conflicted situation, recall what you said, and then think specifically about how you could have used more effective language. Think about ways in which your communication could have set a more trustful tone or reduced defensiveness. Then, once you have identified your part in the conflict, such as blaming, practice working on that particular behavior for a day or a week. At the end of the time period, evaluate your progress. Did you succeed? In what situations did you not succeed? (While it may be the other person who created the conflict, you are the other half of the interaction and it is your own response that you have control over and can change.)

Next Time: Using Effective Communication Techniques to Reduce Conflict


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Communicating When You Have a Conflict

Conflict between people is a fact of life – and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a relationship with frequent conflict may be healthier than one with no observable conflict. Conflicts occur at all levels of interaction – at work, among friends, within families, and between relationship partners. When conflict occurs, the relationship may be weakened or strengthened. Conflict is a critical event in the course of a relationship. Conflict can cause resentment, hostility and perhaps the ending of the relationship. If it is handled well, however, conflict can be productive – leading to deeper understanding, mutual respect and closeness. Whether a relationship is healthy or unhealthy depends not so much on the number of conflicts between participants, but on how the conflicts are resolved.

Sometimes people shy away from conflict, and the reasons for this are numerous. They may, for example, feel that their underlying anger may go out of control if they open the door to conflict. Thus, they may see conflict as an all-or-nothing situation (either they avoid it altogether or they end up in an all-out combative mode, regardless of the real severity of the conflict). Or they may find it difficult to face conflict because they feel inadequate in general or in the particular relationship. They may have difficulty in positively asserting their views and feelings. Children who grow up surrounded by destructive conflict may, as adults, determine never to participate in discord. They may be conflict-averse. In this situation, the person may never have learned that there are effective, adaptive ways to communicate in the face of conflict.

People adopt a number of different styles in facing conflict.

First, it is very common to see a person avoid or deny the existence of conflict. Unfortunately, in this case, the conflict often lingers in the background during interaction between the participants and creates the potential for further tension and even more conflict.

A second response style is that of one person getting mad and blaming the other person. This occurs when a person mistakenly equates conflict with anger. This stance does nothing to resolve the conflict and in fact only serves to increase the degree of friction between the two participants by amplifying defensiveness.

A third way that some people use to resolve conflict is by using power and influence to win at the other’s expense. They welcome conflict because it allows their competitive impulses to emerge, but they fail to understand that the conflict is not really resolved since the “loser” will continue to harbor resentment.

Similarly, some people appear to compromise in resolving the conflict, but they subtly manipulate the other person in the process, and this, again, perpetuates the conflict between the two parties and compromises the trust between them. There are better ways to handle interpersonal conflict.

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The Treatment of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders illustrate the close connection between emotional and physical wellness. The emotional disorders of anorexia and bulimia lead directly to physical problems, which in turn can worsen the person’s emotional state. Simply gaining weight or ending the binge-purge cycle does not address the underlying emotional problems which caused the eating disorder in the first place. Both the physical symptoms and the emotional causes must be addressed during treatment. Although some people may be in very serious condition so that temporary hospitalization could be required, many can be treated successfully on an outpatient basis. Treatment plans must always be individualized to take into account the person’s own special combination of circumstances.

An effective treatment plan may include a combination of medical intervention (such as a physical examination and possibly antidepressant medication if depression is a problem), nutritional counseling (to begin to rebuild physical health and establish healthy eating patterns), as well as intensive psychotherapy.
An important first step in overcoming an eating disorder is for the person to “come out,” or to acknowledge to oneself and in front of other people, that one’s pattern of eating is a problem. This is a difficult first step in the therapy process, and the person who first enters therapy may feel that they could never do this. But it is something to be worked on. And in the hands of a compassionate and understanding therapist, it may become a possibility. 
Psychotherapy helps a person to understand the feelings that trigger eating disorders, correct distorted self-image issues, overcome fears of weight gain, change obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors related to eating, and learn appropriate eating patterns. Through cognitive behavioral therapy a person can learn to recognize feelings such as anxiety or depression that can trigger abnormal eating behaviors. Then the person can learn new responses to these feelings. Psychotherapy can also help a victim of an eating disorder to develop a new sense of self-confidence and self-esteem regarding their abilities that are not related to appearance.
Sometimes the entire family may benefit from therapy. Family members can gain a new understanding of their relationships and learn how to offer emotional support in healthier ways. Family therapy can also help the victim of anorexia or bulimia to develop a new sense of individuality which is crucial to a healthy self-image.
The rewards of finding a therapist and coming to terms with a difficult pattern far outweigh the habit of holding on to a pattern that remains hidden and a way of dealing with the world that is no longer useful. It’s probably time for real health and a beautiful future.

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Two Primary Categories of Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a disruption of normal eating habits in which the person intentionally tries to starve herself. The pattern typically starts during adolescence as a normal attempt to diet, but gradually leads to more and more weight loss. A person who weighs at least 15 percent less than the ideal weight for her age and height may be diagnosed as anorectic. There would be an intense preoccupation with food and body size, and this may also lead to compulsive exercise habits. Sometimes the victims of anorexia use laxatives and they may also force themselves to vomit.

Over time, those with this disorder develop the symptoms of starvation. Menstrual cycles may stop, and there may be an associated loss of calcium from the bones. If the progression of the disorder becomes severe, the person may suffer from osteoporosis, low pulse and blood pressure, anemia, swollen joints, an irregular heartbeat, and sometimes heart failure. In addition, victims of anorexia can suffer from lethargy, loss of interest, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and other symptoms of depression that may actually discourage them from seeking the treatment they so desperately need.

People with anorexia tend to be perfectionists. They often suffer from low self-esteem and are very critical of themselves and how they look. Anorexia has a particularly tragic quality because its victims are often those who were “model children.” They are good students, athletes, intelligent, obedient, highly responsible, and they often want to please others. They usually are people who keep their feelings to themselves. Their families often have high expectations. The victims of anorexia have low self-esteem, problems with assertiveness, and a tendency toward depression.

 Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is a cycle of uncontrolled binge eating followed by purging through vomiting and the use of laxatives. People with bulimia are often of normal weight or even somewhat overweight. They repeatedly diet and vigorously exercise. They differ from those with anorexia in that they frequently have severe eating binges, which for diagnostic purposes happen at least twice a week for at least three months in a row. Sometimes those with bulimia engage in purging several times a day. Often this remains a disorder hidden from family members and friends since there is not a significant amount of weight loss, and many times the problem goes undetected and untreated until the person is in her thirties or forties. Bulimia is two to three times more common than anorexia.

There are severe physical complications which can accompany the binge-purge cycle. Tooth enamel exposed to stomach acid may wear off and the teeth can decay badly. Associated problems with hypoglycemia, mineral depletion, kidney disorders, irregular heart beat, and ruptures of the stomach and esophagus are potentially life-threatening.

Although people with bulimia share many of the personality characteristics of those with anorexia, they tend to be more impulsive, anxious, gregarious, and at a statistically higher risk for alcohol or drug abuse.

Posted in Eating Disorders

On Eating Disorders: A Brief Overview

The Chinese used to bind the feet of women to make them smaller. So tiny and fragile were their feet, in fact, that some women were left essentially crippled, barely able to walk. To the Chinese, this was a sign of beauty and social status. But to us it seems a cruel and bizarre practice.

The irony is that we in present-day American society do something just as cruel, just as bizarre as the Chinese did. We tend to see the thin, emaciated, malnourished female as beautiful. If your body has “the look,” you are seen as healthier, younger, better able to wear the right clothes, and you will gain social approval more readily. This definition of beauty is linked to our society’s emphasis on youth – younger women tend to be thinner than those who are older. In contemporary America, thin women are hired for jobs more frequently than heavier women, and they are married sooner … to wealthier men. Many of us hate the bodies we were born with and will agree to any number of procedures to change the shape of our bodies, including starvation diets and surgeries which suck the fat out of certain areas of our bodies (and then we go on to plump up our lips!). Is the Chinese practice of binding feet any more bizarre than what we do? (Whatever happened to the notion that good exercise, healthy nutrition, and genuine liking of ourselves and our bodies, whatever their shape, might be the best way to live?) In truth, our preoccupation with extreme thinness is just a passing social fad. A century ago in America the plump look was in. (And, hopefully, our preoccupation with thinness may be changing over the years. Some models these days are older and a bit heavier than they were in years past. And there is a trend in the fashion world to emphasize the healthy body and healthy living rather than placing a premium on the emaciated look.)

Unfortunately, the current social value placed on the thin body sometimes comes together with a person’s inner emotional conflicts, and the result may be an eating disorder.

There are a number of reasons why a person may begin to starve herself.

  • Some of us yearn desperately for social approval. And if we have the “right look,” we may feel that others will give us attention. We cling to the wrongheaded notion that other people will like us for how we look rather than for who we are on the inside.
  • Or we may feel that we have no control over anything but our own bodies. We may not understand how effective it can be to assert ourselves in the world. Or we may want to avoid conflict since this has always brought us pain. Thus, we cultivate the idea that the only real control we have is to shape our own body.
  • We may hate the idea of growing up …which means looking and acting more adult. If we can stay a child forever, we don’t have to accept responsibilities or consequences in the adult world. And what better way to stay a child than to continue to look thin and young, the way a child looks.
  • Or we may dislike how our bodies look. No matter how many pounds we lose, we may still feel that we look fat. We may not see our own bodies the way other people see us. Other people may see us as very thin, while we feel we could still lose a few more pounds.
  • Or we may never have had the love we needed from the person who should have been there. So, you make yourself look right and the love may finally come. If you were heavy, you might think it would be hard to find love. These thoughts need to be examined in more depth – and that would be a reason to work with a trained therapist.

Eating disorders affect about half a million Americans at any given time, and they are far more common among middle-class and upper-middle-class females. Although there is growing evidence that eating disorders are a serious problem among males as well, 95 percent of those affected are young women between the ages of 12 and 25. People suffering from eating disorders have a very distorted image of their own bodies. They “feel fat,” even when they may suffer from extreme emaciation. They deny that they have a problem because of their intense fear of gaining weight. Without treatment for both the emotional and physical causes of their symptoms, those with eating disorders can suffer from physical problems that are potentially fatal.

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Learning to Self-Soothe in the Face of Conflict

We blame our partners when we feel discomfort, and this tends to create distance within an emotionally committed relationship. The distance, then, creates a feeling of further discomfort. The clue to dealing with this dilemma is to learn how to soothe your own emotional pain. This can open the way to more passion and closeness in your relationship. David Schnarch, Ph.D., the author of Passionate Marriage, offers several suggestions for helping people to learn the art of self-soothing.

Don’t take your partner’s behavior personally. Even if your partner doesn’t make all the changes that you’ve made, it should not be taken personally. If you and your partner are having a conflict, try some inwardly focused relaxation techniques. Focus on your breathing. Stop talking and try to slow your heart rate. Lower the volume of your speech and work on relaxing your body.

Put the current conflict into perspective. Think about past instances of the same type of conflict. What resources did you use in the past for dealing with the conflict? Think about how discomfort will surface again in the future – and if you learn now how to deal with it, you will be better off in these future instances.

Control your behavior, even if you can’t regulate your emotions. While we may have difficulty in controlling our emotions, especially in the face of a conflict, we can have control over our behavior. Prevent yourself from saying and doing things that you will regret later. Tell yourself: “I don’t have to take action on my feelings.”

Stop the negative thinking. Our thoughts drive our feelings and behavior. When you find yourself engaged in negative thinking, make the change to more positive thoughts. Accept what is happening and then calm down.

You may have to break contact temporarily with your partner until things cool down. When you are engaged in a conflict, you may need some time to get in touch with your self again. Look on this as a time-out, not a separation. Tell your partner that you need some time alone to calm down and that you can discuss the issue better later, after both of you have had some space from each other.

Self-soothing does not involve substance abuse, the abuse of food, or emotional regression. You need time to confront yourself and understand what your part in the conflict may be. This does not mean hiding out, sleeping, binge-eating, or the use of drugs or alcohol, which are all ways to avoid self-confrontation.


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