Lecture Notes - Richard A Goodwin

"The waiting list for stress counselling for lecturers and other staff at Cambridge University has grown to six months.  Demand has risen by more than 60 per cent in four years and a second full-time counsellor is to be hired to help cope with the workload.  Jill Collins, one of the counsellors, said: ‘In this kind of environment, people are working with great intensity.  Expectations are very high.  This pressure can have both positive and negative effects" The Daily Telegraph (Quoted from The Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal, October 2004)

Can you respond to these statements/questions about your own life?

  • Area of stress - name one particular area
  • Level of stress - on a scale of 1 - 10 (10 high)
  • What would make it decrease?
  • What is the trigger?
  • Who has the ability/responsibility to something about it?
  • What could you change?
  • Do you know anyone who seems not to suffer from stress
  • A dialogue with stress. Personify stress and dialogue with what it says to you.

The phone went and Sue asked if I could speak....

My resonse? Stress - Yet another event to fit into my schedule? Stress - wanting to help a friend?  Stress - not having time to do all that I want to do?

Why is it that I want not to do my best for folk, but want 100% perfection? Why do I criticise myself even for things that were not noticed by others?

So,  I turned to my many books on stress - guess what I feel as I contemplate the self-discipline to gain mastery in managing stress?  You're right - stress

As I've studied the topic of stress for this presentation, it has led me into ever widening areas of study.

However, although you may want quick fixes regarding stress - on Monday morning? - I want to explore the topic so that we may take a deeper look and go to the roots, as well as exploring various approaches and attempting some Biblical perspective to the issue.

Is stress always bad and harmful?

No - we need a certain amount of stress/tension to spur us into action - to take dominion over the world.

Also, consider James 1:2-4

It is not so much stress that is the problem but distress.

What is stress?

Stress is defined as anything that pushes us away from equilibrium.

Stress is "an excess of perceived demands over an individual's perceived ability to meet them" - Institute of Management

  • Trying to meet needs in a wrong way leads to problems
  • External circumstances won't let needs be met
  • Fear of failure
  • The devil will try and make us think incorrectly
  • Why is it that some people are stressed and some people aren't stressed?

    Should we expect stress?

    There is the simple truth that "our souls are not designed for a fallen world full of sinful people, disease, and natural disasters." (Shores)

    Consider the futility of work as reported in Ecclesiastes

    What about the physiology and impact of stress?

    I do not want to dwell on this, although it is important to recognise the signs, symptoms and associated problems (OCD, relationships, panic, skin complaints, etc)

    Note: Barbara Killinger in her book  Workaholics - the respectable Addicts, states:

    "Most workaholics manage to function with only periodic fits of anxiety or periods of depression, but frequently they can relate to no one intimately."

    What about techniques for coping with stress?

    Much could be said about the physiology of stress and the techniques for coping, but although there is a place for techniques, I suggest that they have more to do with dealing with the symptoms than looking deeper at internal issues.

    Yes, Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) has identified seven secrets of stress management.

    Even a handout I received at a workshop went into many pages - stress in itself!

    We also need to ask ourselves, what is the difference between handling our stress and finding relief from or within stress?

    Two particular, secular theories that go beyond technique are REBT and Reality Therapy.

    (a) Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (Albert Ellis) is the model adopted by the Centre for Stress Management.

    A-B-C theory

    Epictectus observed: People are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of them.

    It is not the Activating event that causes the Consequent emotion.  There is no such cause and effect.  What determines our emotional response is our Belief system - what we tell ourselves in and about the event.

    Consider: It is raining. One man is smiling, the other is looking glum.  Same situation. However, it is understandable when I tell you that the former is a farmer, whilst the latter is a golfer.

    (b) Reality Therapy (William Glasser)

    Glasser's distinctives are an emphasis on

    (i) needs: POWER, BELONGING, FUN, FREEDOM

    (ii) the idea of a quality world (pictures in our head of what we want to meet our needs)

    (iii) the importance of CHOICE (not Stimulus-Response theory) and of THOUGHT, ACTIONS, FEELINGS and PHYSIOLOGY. All behaviour has a function.

    So, now we are into seeing that stress is not the inevitable effect of some external cause.

    Rowland Croucher, reviewing the book, Unloading the Overload by Cliff Powell and Graham Barker states: "I'm finding a high correlation between a father's relationship to his son/daughter during their early adolescence and their subsequent stress-levels."

    And further: "I have come to believe that while lifestyle variables are important in dealing with the symptoms of stress, the causes of stress lie deeper, in our unconscious needs, fuelled mainly by family-of-origin experiences."  He then quotes from the authors: "Unless we do something about internal reconstruction, there will always be a gradual regathering of those discarded and unstructured external stresses" (p.67)

    Stephen Palmer (Centre for Stress Management): "In fact, most of the stress is caused by their own internal perfectionist demands."

    Barbara Killinger again:

    1.     Children are taught that it is not okay to talk about problems
    2.     The family does not believe that feelings should expressed openly
    3.     Communication between family members is usually indirect, with one person acting as the messenger between two others
    4.     Children get the message that they should strong, good, right, and perfect
    5.     Parents expect children to make them proud
    6.     "Don't be selfish" is a common admonition from parents
    7.     Children are told, "Do as I say and not as I do."
    8.     Children learn that it is not okay to play or be playful
    9.     "Don't rock the boat" is a family motto

    From the Christian world Dr Richard Winter writes in an article on Perfectionism:

    Thought Patterns and Fears

    1. All or nothing, black and white thinking
    2. An intolerance of ambiguity
    3. A tyranny of the shoulds and oughts of life
    4. One practical consequence of wanting to do everything right is procrastination and indecision
    5. Relationships are understandably often impaired because of the underlying fear of rejection

    The Roots of Perfectionism

    1. Hypercritical Parents
    2. Psychodynamic Theories
    3. Genes, Temperament and Culture
    4. Reaction to Fallen World

    Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy in their book on Attachment Theory, show how different responses to parent/child bonding can throw up tendencies toward certain emotional turmoil.

    The need for a Christian framework

    What makes counselling Christian, as opposed to counselling carried out by a Christian?

    We are told to guard the heart above all else (Proverbs 4:23) "for it is the wellspring of life".

    At the heart of every problem is a problem of the heart.

    Much of what we see is the application of psychological techniques, even biblical principles, without any examination of heart issues.

    So, what do we know about being a mankind?

    As Christians we do have a complete anthropology.

    We were created as personal beings (impact/belonging; significance/security; contribute/connect), rational beings (images/thinking), volitional beings (goals/behaviours), emotional beings (feelings) and physical beings.

    Thus, just from this we can see that each and every aspect or sphere is important in dealing with our lives - including our approaches to dealing with stress.

     Every method presupposes a metaphysic or worldview.

    The secular person does not have a sufficient understanding/framework for understanding man (= mankind).  We cannot adequately explain the colour blue in terms of red.  However, when we understand the integration of the spectrum by looking at the other side of the prism, we gain a full understanding.  Likewise humans are created as beings and our existence is refracted through the prism of this life. Reason, behaviour, emotions, etc are like the colours of the spectrum.  Without such an integration point, the unbeliever has to raise one aspect above all others to explain the nature of man. This is idolatry.

    Thus:

    • Dignity and depravity is never fully explained.
    • That there is a moral issue at the root of our problems is denied.

    What we tend to find in Christian circles is that we have a secular method overlaid with a supernatural/spiritual take.

    How do issues/problems with living arise?

    (Based on Larry Crabb's work)

    1. I hate God - he is not sufficient.
    1. I need you - I turn to you for my needs
    1. I hate you - nothing created can fully satisfy my desires
    1. I hate me - because I can't get you to ‘come through' for me. To the extent that I cannot I am at fault. It also keeps me in control to think that.
    1. I will survive
    1. Style of relating - I hide what will cause pain or what I think will make you reject me.  I give you what I think you require of me (works, humour, beauty, intellect, etc) but never my soul.

    Steve Shores in his book: False Guilt - Breaking the Tyranny of an Overactive Conscience, writes:

    "The overactive conscience finds supplies for the empty soul self-atonement.....The shamed person is always probing for new ways to prove that he is okay - to say ‘no' is to close a door on a chance to feel okay"

    Alfred Adler reckoned that driven adult professional males take on impossible career-loads in order to feel better about themselves.

    The importance of story

    Carl Jung: "The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you."

    The Christian writer, William K Kilpatrick, writes about our psychological problems from the perspective of story: "Only people who have lost the sense of adventure, mystery and romance worry about their self-esteem.  And at that point what they need is not a good therapist but a good story.  Or more precisely, the central question for us should not be, ‘What personality dynamics explain my behaviour?' but rather. ‘What story am I in?"

    Don Hudson writes: "The illusion of counselling is that we can be fixed in this life. No, I called this man to much more than that.  I offered him story - and story does not remove suffering but redeems it.  Story pillages suffering's most seductive illusion - that the present moment is the only moment that matters."

    Based on Steve Shores....

    We all live out a story.            We each have a theme to our life

                                                    We each have a dream about life

                                                    We each devise a scheme for life

    We may, for example, be stuck in a story with these primary themes: it's all right if others dump their demands on me; when they do so, I am to work hard to please them; if I don't please them, I must feel guilty and subject myself to self-hatred.

    Might not our level of stress depend both on our degree of ‘stuckness' within an old ‘safe' story and the degree to which we resist the new story God offers us? [Consider the disciples on the Emmaus road?]

    Let us not forget the larger story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Heaven

    In many a time of stress I have found myself, like Peter, looking at the waves. I have forgotten, no - I've failed to believe there is a larger story.

    In my stressful situation I have forgotten whose business I am about.

    In my stressful situation I have not seen the spiritual battle

    In my stress I have not seen the heavenly hosts - the great cloud of witnesses

    The larger story does not throb in my veins.

    As John Eldredge writes in his book, The Journey of Desire: "Those who have buried desire beneath years of duty and obligation may need to give all that a rest so that their hearts can come to the surface..."

    Dallas Willard reminds us that we as Christians and in our Christian walk have lived a life denying the heart - we have lived out a gospel of sin management and duty.

    Need (so often a trigger for action) does not constitute the call, but as Os Guinness writes: "Calling provides the story line for our lives and thus a sense of continuity and coherence in the midst of a fragmented and confusing modern world."

    What happens at church?  We take on even more duties and activity. Should not church be a place where we recite and remind each other of the larger story?

    Interestingly, the Chinese symbol for ‘to be busy' is, apparently, a mixture of two symbols - ‘heart' and ‘killing'.  To be busy is literally heart killing.

    We need to listen to the deep themes of our own life story.

    What will be the most important moment in your life?

    - Consider the example of Edith Schaeffer's ‘Museum of Heaven' as told in her book  Affliction.

    That stressful situation is painful; it may seem unbearable, but before whom and to whom do we actually live out our life?

    Finally, what gets squeezed out in times of stress? Prayer

    Was it not Luther who, the more he faced a busy day, the longer he needed to pray?

    Larry Crabb asks: Are we concentrating on seeking the blessings or the blesser?

    Authors worth reading:

    Steve Shores
    Gaius Davies
    Richard Winter
    Samuel Pfeifer
    Dan Allender
    John Eldredge
    Larry Crabb

    DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

    Share, as you feel able, your responses to the initial questions and activity

    What do you tell yourself when you are in a stressful situation?

    How might this be a lie or misbelief? (shoulds, awful, etc)

    How might they be seen as idolatry?

    What do you do to handle stress?

    How does it feel?

    -        eg dutiful

    What diversions or distractions are you tempted to run to?

    When is a coping strategy a diversion or a distraction?

    Is your chief motivation in your work to earn money to survive? to thrive? to gain prestige in the eyes of others? to help others?

    In what way is your work connected to your spiritual life?

    What is your day-to-day plot?

    How does talk of the larger story impact you?   Too remote? Wishful thinking? Exhilarating? Curious?

    Are we too obsessed with comfort?  Consider living in the days before anaesthetics - did they consider life as not worth carrying on?

    Does church offer an antidote to stress or merely increase your busyness?

    How might we alleviate the stress in other people's lives?  Consider Glasser's four basic needs: power/respect/achievement, belonging, freedom/choice, fun.

    Any key phrases that you will take with you from today?  Either from your own thinking, the talk or group discussion?