Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Stepparents in Oklahoma #2

Oklahoma Stepparents: Conflicts in discipline of the kids in a blended family is the #1 reason for another divorce! Here's a preview of what we will be presenting on Feb 21st in OKC (Sat). Learn what works & what doesn't!
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Stepparents in Oklahoma #1

Oklahoma Stepparents: Here's  a 75 second preview of a portion of what we will be presenting on Feb 21st (Sat) in OKC. We will walk through this diagram of unpredictable relationship development in the blended family.
To register:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Appointments with Pain

How do you define pain?  Please take a few moments before you read further to think about that.

Funk & Wagnall’s definition of pain:
The sensation or feeling resulting from or accompanying some injury, derangement, overstrain, or obstruction of the physical powers: any distressing or afflicting emotion, or such emotions in general: grief.  Pain is a disturbing sensation from which nature revolts, resulting from some injurious external interference (wound, bruise, harsh word).  Ache  - lingering pain. Pang – short, sharp, intense and perhaps repeated. Throe – a violent pain.  Paroxysm – alternately recurring and receding, comes in waves. Torment and Torture – intense and terrible sufferings. Compare: adversity, affliction, agony, injury, and suffering.

To me, the above categories of pain can apply to emotional as well as physical pain.  We can have a lingering emotional pain; a sharp, intense and repeated emotional pain; a violent emotional pain; an emotional pain that comes in waves; and a terribly intense emotional pain.

Please take another few moments to answer these questions.
What do you do when you are confronted with physical pain?  What do you do when emotional pain shows up in your life?  After determining how you respond to both kinds of pain, how well are your coping mechanisms working?

If someone could take away your ability to feel pain (physical and/or emotional), would you accept the offer?  I think at first thought, most of us would say “yes.”  This is usually the answer I get when I ask audiences.  What would happen if you didn’t feel physical pain?  As people think about that a bit more, the realization hits that pain actually warns us of trouble.  Physical pain sends us to the doctor – sooner or later.  I know there are types that push the “over-ride” button and respond very stoically.  There are also those that have a low tolerance and run for help immediately.  I think there is another type that talks a lot about it, but does nothing.  And there is the type that determines to get it checked out and deal with it so they can move on.  What is your response?

Emotional pain is also a warning that something inside needs care and attention.  Revisiting your answer to my initial questions, what do you do when emotional pain hits?  Ignore it, run around it, deny it, laugh it off, spiritualize it, drown in it, or obsess with it?  I’m sure I’ve missed a few options or alternatives.  What I find interesting is, most of us develop coping mechanisms that seem to work temporarily (when we settle for a quick fix), and then we find the pain/problem recycling because it wasn’t thoroughly dealt with for long-term resolution.

During one of the most painful seasons of my life, my counselor had the gall to suggest that I was trying too hard to get rid of my emotional pain and the real cure would be to “go with it.”  At the time that seemed like the most ridiculous thing anyone could say to me when I thought I was drowning – except – this was a man I highly respected, valued and who had seen the emotional crash of my life coming five years before it happened.  He saw the part of me I wasn’t even aware of and may have been unconsciously ignoring or rationalizing away.

If your attempts are not accomplishing the desired result of resolving the pain and initiate healing, you may find peace in handling pain differently.  After all, the best definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

What does it mean to “go with it?”  The shortest route through pain is heading right into it.  Like surgery.  If something needs to come out of my body, the sooner it is eliminated, the better off I’ll be.  Surgery can be frightening, painful, and the recovery period may take some time.  When properly handled, I am able to live free of the problem.

After I recovered from the previously mentioned painful season of my life - which happened to be my divorce - since I was in the film industry, I produced a two-part series on ‘marriage, divorce and remarriage.’  It is entitled “Pieces to Peace.”  The first film is “Breaking Points” and the second, “New Beginnings.”   Even though the series has been in circulation for two decades, the content remains current today.  In “Breaking Points” there is a section on pain.  Here are some of the comments of the people I interviewed (including myself) in being confronted with pain and finding their way through it.

“I want to understand why they did what they what they did.  I want to understand what they did to me.  Why?  What do I really want?  I want a little piece of paper to hang on my wall that’s a guarantee this will never happen again.  But the truth is, understanding what they did to me will not lead me to healing and recovery.  It’s not the circumstances that need to recover, it’s me.”

“Something’s I understand, and something’s are still painful and confusing and disappointing.  And I find my mind spinning sometimes, like I’m rehearsing the tapes over and over again.  And I can’t turn it off.  And I just wish as I’m doing that, that the tapes would either erase or just self-destruct.”

Dr. Gordon Hess:
“One of the ways people deal with pain is to spiritualize it – to rise above it as though it could not affect them.  Another way of dealing with pain is to repress it or to deny it - to push it down or to ignore it.  Another way of dealing with pain is to try to run around it, to escape it, to avoid it.  The healthiest way, however, is to just go straight through it, to admit that we’re human and that we hurt.”

“I really believe that going through the pain is your ticket to mental health.  It’s your bridge away from the crash scene.”

“I realize that there’s no rushing this healing process.  I have to move through it, not around it.  And if I don’t deal with it now, I’m going to have to deal with it later.”

Dr. Gordon Hess:
“Pain need not be our enemy it really can be our friend.  It always pushes us to places we would never go if we were comfortable.”

“Pain is a teacher.  And if you don’t walk right through it and experience it, you’re short-circuiting what God wants to do with your life through the pain.”

Dr. Gordon Hess:
“Pain always has a backside of blessing.  You don’t see it until you’ve gotten all the way through it.

“When I’m hurting, the last thing I need is a simple formula, platitudes, a quick response.  I need flesh, heart, and a listening ear.  Someone to be there for me and to even let me ramble.”

“We think asking for help is a sign of weakness, we’ll nothing could be further from the truth.  As a matter of fact, had it not been for the help of some significant friends in my life, I wouldn’t even be here today.  They said, “Terry, you may go down, but we’re going down with you.”

“I wasted two years trying to understand why.  Then a release came for me when I changed my ‘Why, God?’ to ‘Where do we go from here, God, and how do we get there?’”

After producing “Pieces to Peace,” I had a chance to use this information in my own life in a new way.  This time, what my counselor had said to me a number of years earlier took on real meaning.  I was engaged to be married and there were some issues that I believed needed to be resolved before the Wedding took place.  I had worked hard getting to know myself, determining my goals and purpose for being on the planet, and the dynamics (non-negotiables) that would be important to have in a committed relationship.

In my mind, two dynamics were not coming together in this relationship, so less than two weeks before the Wedding was to take place, I talked with my fiancĂ© and upon my insistence we called the Wedding off.  After finding his way through the shock and disappointment of my decision, he offered to cooperate in writing a letter with me to all the guests explaining the decision, as well as make phone calls to them.  Even though this was initially my decision and I had no peace proceeding, I was still broken-hearted and disappointed that I wouldn’t be getting married.  So, what was I going to do with the pain?  I decided to “go with it” and really try on a new way of coping.

In my bedroom there was a mirrored wardrobe sliding door.  Every night when I went to bed I would turn toward the mirror, look at myself, cry, talk, yell, and pray, until I was ready to go to sleep.  In the morning I did the same thing – turned toward the mirror, cried, talked, yelled, prayed, and then got ready to take my daughter to school and go to the office.  If during the day the pain would creep up on me and begin to overwhelm me, I scheduled 10 to 15 minutes with myself to “go with it” or head into it.  When that time was up I would go back to the tasks of the day.  Sometimes I realized the next “appointment” might have to be longer than the 10 to 15 minutes, but just knowing I would attend to the wound allowed me the freedom to get on with life. 

I was amazed!  By the end of the first week my “mirror” conversations were changing.  I had definitely unearthed that I was blaming him for not being what I wanted him to be and had expected of him.  I started realizing that it wasn’t his fault; it was mine!  He was who he was and had every right to determine that.  If I was uncomfortable with any part of that, or believed it would cause serious issues in our relationship; that was my responsibility to handle.  I had a choice to be or not to be with this person.  It was not my right to change him or demand things from him that would fit what I wanted him to be for me.

By the end of the second week of my “mirror” conversations, I was in a whole new place.  I was still sad and disappointed, but I was back into my life in full swing with hope about the future.  It was pretty clear to me that I had personal work to do, which I did within myself, with God and with professional help. 

The bottom line was, I realized I kept falling for the same man in a different package.  Some of the characteristics in these men were not necessarily good for me.  I did the work of regrouping, revisiting what seemed to be attractive to me, what I really wanted and where I was headed in my life.  This changed who and how I dated.

Another very painful time for me was when my daughter at 16 decided to “take off” because I wasn’t giving her what she wanted.   It was really a lot deeper than that because she’d gone through the divorce of her parents, had been with me as a single divorced parent for 41/2 years, and then in a stepfamily for two years.  She was in a lot of pain and unable or unwilling to use healthy coping methods.  (That’s an article for her to write.) 

When she “took off,” at first I didn’t know where she was.  Eventually I found out and after some extremely painful encounters, she ended up with her father and proceeded to hit bottom.  The pain was great and overwhelming.  I was helpless and at that time she wanted nothing to do with me.  So, I went for it – the pain, that is.  I would go into her room, sit, cry, smell her things, talk to God, and have my “appointments.”  My new husband was very supportive.  He has since said that he learned a lot just watching me.  Again, in about two weeks I was in another place.  I was still very sad and disappointed, but my life was back in full swing and I was able to see a new view of the situation.  She was now in God’s hands.  I even began joking about it by saying that I had been violently thrown into the “empty nest” syndrome.

During her absence God was working in me and in her – not the way I would have wanted or ever expected, but in His way.  She did request to return home and we all (the all included her Stepfather) determined to commit to a more responsible and skillful way of being together.  The road wasn’t easy and the pain wasn’t gone, but I can say 14 years later that the new bridges we were building then with one another and continue to build; have proven to be very strong.

When we are wounded physically we bleed – this cleanses the wound.  An appointment to cry may be a way to bleed emotionally and begin cleansing the wound.  The chemistry of tears is very different than when our eyes water.

One way I’ve always known I’m healing is when I start to laugh about the situation a bit.  I’m not talking about making light of things in our life and using humor to avoid the pain.  I’m talking about the kind of humor that comes only after I’m clear with myself and with the other who I believe has been the focus of the pain.

What happens when we don’t head into the pain?  I believe the tentacles of the pain will reach into every area of our lives and invade our attitudes without conscious awareness.  Some times we may even be aware that the pain is seething inside and may not know what to do with it.  The first knee-jerk reaction is usually to blame others, the situation or event; and justify our own behavior.  That’s a sure formula for staying stuck and encouraging rot in our own frame of reference towards others, life, and interestingly enough – ourselves.

What I’ve addressed so far is how to handle the pain when it has already hit.  What about managing myself when I’m getting shot at?  That takes a new world-view of pain and it takes learning new communication and conflict resolution skills.  A new world-view involves changing my mind about the pain.  It involves a willingness to grow through and learn from the pain.  New skills allow me to implement and exercise my new frame of mind regarding pain.

Pain management skills are paradoxical.  Usually the very thing I want to do in the situation is the last thing that will take me through it with grace.  The best news is: you can learn new skills.  I’m grateful for the skills I’ve learned and now teach.  Not only have communication skills helped me get in touch with myself at a much deeper and fuller level, they’ve allowed me to traverse the barriers into another person’s life.

I’m ever amazed at how possible and effective being a skillful communicator can be – especially in the face of emotional “terror” coming at me.  Underneath anger are softer, primary emotions such as: sadness, fear and disappointment.  Listening for those emotions in myself and in others, allows me to see broader and deeper.  It allows me to touch the pain inside of the other and inside of me, instead of building higher, thicker walls between us.  Those walls may serve the purpose of seemingly protecting myself by keeping someone out.  They will also wall in my own emotional poison.

After a recent painful encounter with a family member, this is what I wrote to myself.
What have I learned?  I can’t fight resistance, nor change someone’s mind.  Many times the way to a win is being willing to live with a loss.  God is in charge no matter how it looks from my point of view.  Most (probably all) of us are coming from pain (hurts, losses, disappointments, perceived or real threats) our goal is to protect ourselves from further harm.  Christ modeled to us how to respond.  He never defended Himself – who has to if God is for us?  He knew who and whose He was, He knew His mission, He forgave shortsighted people and loved them anyway.  So what is my job?  To be sure my behavior and intentions are in line with God’s – even though I’m humanly struggling in the moment.  I won’t hear their pain unless I LISTEN to understand. That means listening beyond the words; listening beyond the anger to the fear, sadness and/or disappointment; listen to see how they see me whether I see myself like that or not.  I can be aware and know that my own pain from the past, and that is being created in the encounter of the moment (attack, onslaught, surprise, whatever) will cloud my vision and block God from using me to accomplish His will in that particular setting.  Going through the pain makes me stronger, enlarges my vision, and draws me closer to God’s heart.

After working with a client through a difficult encounter with one of her friends, I wrote this to her, which she said she will be keeping close at hand.  It was not meant to be profound, but if it sheds light and encourages you, here it is:
Hang in there with the communication skills - I believe using them is a wonderful way to live life. It will always be like walking a tight rope wanting to balance between healthy boundaries (valuing myself) and graciously considering and acting on the wants of others (valuing them).  Then the wisdom comes from discerning ill intentions and knowing when to beef up the boundaries and when to allow them to be more permeable.  That's where the Holy Spirit can direct us.

In conclusion: pain is a sign of life, the road marker to direct our path.  Heading into it has been the fastest way to healing for me.  Embracing it into my life has allowed me to grow with it and enlarge my understanding of God, the world and myself.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Communication: "Do you hear what I hear? .....NO!"


I don’t even see what you see!! And, you don’t see what I see either!! This is normal and typical communication. The truth is: no one understands me and I don’t understand anyone else. Sound disappointing? Maybe at first, but once I make the transition and embrace this belief, I quit spending so much energy trying to make something happen that may never come to pass.

The closest I can get to understanding and connecting with someone else is by learning the skills it takes to do that. The closest I can get to having someone else understand me is by skillfully getting in touch with me, organizing my content and delivering it in a clear way. Does this come naturally? Not in my experience of being me and working with others. Can it be learned? Absolutely! Can it change your life and relationships if you do? You got it!

Communication skills are like learning to play an instrument, a sport, use technology, etc. There is always a learning curve. Because of our human (or sin) nature, our intuitive response to people and situations is usually exactly wrong.

SKIING / Lesson One

When I got out on the slopes for the first time I was really clumsy and fearful. I was also excited because I was learning to do something new. When I thought I was going too fast or falling, my tendency was to lean back against the hill – get away from the danger. What happened? My skis lifted out from under me and I ended up doing exactly what I didn’t want to – sliding down the hill and falling. Then the instructor told me to lean forward, into the turn. Was he kidding? I thought I would die if I did that. Yet when I did, I found control, I found the ability to manage myself on the skis and the thrill of the sport started becoming mine. This is true of learning anything.

Good communication comes from learning the skills that are counter-intuitive to me – in other words, the last thing I really want to do – but the first thing that allows me to lean into the communication transaction and make the turns in my life that I’ve wanted to.

What are the moves to leaning into the communication transactions in my life? That’s what I teach. Learning those moves myself has opened up my eyes to myself, others, the world around me, and taken me through many difficult transactions with others in my life much more gracefully.

Why bother to learn these skills? Research has discovered (and I have experienced) that the #1 skill missing in all relationships – business or personal - is communication. I believe communication skills are imperative for people to even have the ability to address their issues, whether intrapersonal or interpersonal. Without these skills, the issues can easily turn into problems, and when problems go unresolved we end up in the trees, off the run, with broken skis and maybe some physical (and emotional) injuries to others and ourselves.


Some people have asked me what the difference is between therapy and communication skills training. It’s the training! As a Communication Skills Trainer I have a different relationship with my clients than a Therapist does. In fact, a number of Therapists refer clients to me in order to improve the work they are doing.

When working with a couple, family or business team, instead of talking to me, as they would a therapist; I keep them talking and listening to each other about their issues. This is accomplished using a skillful process that leads to collaborative resolution. With an individual, I became the listener that allows them to hear themselves more clearly, design interventions for tough situations in their life (using the communication skills), as well as identify and develop goals with action plans to move their life forward.

It actually is a very “therapeutic” process. All issues come alive, but the intent is not to dig them up, as in therapy. The intent is to identify the issues that do surface and determine how they are blocking pro-activity in the client’s life and preventing them from accomplishing their goals.


Another important factor in communication skills training is “awareness.” I believe most people go through life unaware of themselves – how they come across in another person’s world, and very unaware of what’s going on around them in communication transactions. Yet, I haven’t met many people that admit this. In fact, the starting point is usually the opposite. Most clients I work with really believe they have a clear picture of themselves and argue with anyone (boss, mate, children, parent, or friend) that might suggest the picture is different. At most, clients are aware that something is wrong, but are not able to clearly identify what.

I call it “waking up” – waking up to myself and how I enter another person’s world. Also waking up to things that are going on around me. Then with skillful interactions, the development of an effective approach starts changing my life – even when dealing with “unskilled” people. The key word here is “approach.”


I may be headed for the right airport and even have my eye on the landing strip, but if my approach is too fast, too slow, too high, or too low, I may be in trouble and not land safely. If I don’t pay attention to the flight controllers and my instrument panel as I’m making my approach, my landing, and my way to the gate; I may just cause more interference and collisions. In this particular landing how many others am I taking with me?

Communication skills start with understanding me. Taking a look at how I have been and am approaching my communication landings. Having a willingness to seek out and learn more effective ways of listening to information that will guide me along the way. Checking my attitude toward the others that are with me on this flight (caring or uncaring).


To me, a lot of people are going through life as if they’re on a cruise ship. But they’re stuck in their cabin, looking through the porthole. Since that’s all they see, that’s all they know. They are absolutely sure that their view through the porthole is the truth, the reality. Unfortunately, their interactions when they leave their cabins are with people who also believe the view from their porthole is the truth. Some views are similar (the cabins were close to each other) – and some views are not (the cabins are either in the front or back of the ship, or even on the other side). Then the arguments take place as to whose porthole is the “truth”

What I believe communication skill training does is to get a person up on the top deck of the ship. The person’s view is still limited, but much more expansive. The skills allow the person to turn around and do a 360 – still realizing they will never see it all at once. There is more to see on either side of them and behind them. Skills teach a person how to get the information they were previously eliminating. This inevitably leads to better decision-making in every area of life.


I’ve had many clients tell me that it’s like taking dark glasses off and seeing clearly for the first time. This can be exciting and scary all at once. I’ve also watched some clients chose to put the sunglasses back on. The problem is handling my emotional responses to seeing clearly. I may be uncomfortable with my life and/or situation, but the anxiety of changing my behavior and doing something different (like getting on the ski slopes for the first time) produces much anxiety. I know I’m not going to do it well. The anxiety surpasses the discomfort and all of a sudden I’m willing to settle for uncomfortable rather than push on through.

SKIING / Lesson Two

As I push on through the anxiety and see I’m making it down the hill with fewer falls and collisions, I’m getting positive results. The positive results start bringing comfort and the anxiety starts to diminish. I actually begin taking some risks with my new skills and continue to see results. I learn from my falls and collisions. I get back up and proceed with vigor!

The difference between skiing and communicating, in my mind, is this: most of us, whether we know how to ski or not, can probably recognize a bad skier from a good one. However, when it comes to skillful communication, most of the world doesn’t know or understand good communication skiing (skills). Who taught us? My parents didn’t. I went after this on my own.

I encourage my clients to do what I did. At whatever level your skill development is: go with it; try it on; try it out; when you fall - get up; when you blow it – repair. Do it poorly – you will improve. The world around you will be amazed. You will make a difference. I could tell you many stories of my own and experiences my clients have shared with me, about how this works.


Some years ago I got a speeding ticket and you can guess the rest. I went to traffic school. I left with one major concept that reminded me of something my Dad instilled in me when learning how to drive – SAFE SPACE. Dad taught me to always drive aware of what was going on around me. He told me to look in my mirrors often, scan ahead, around and behind so if something happened, I would know where to take my vehicle. He also impressed upon me that my vehicle was the only one on the road I could control. Upon completion of traffic school I realized a drove a second too close to the vehicle in front of me and wasn’t leaving enough SAFE SPACE if that vehicle or any others went out of control.

Now think about that in your interactions with others. I am the only one I can control in the interaction, although I can remember spending lots of energy and time trying to control the other person (obviously trying to get them to drive the way I wanted them to). When I, along with the others I was interacting with, eliminated SAFE SPACE from our conversations, communication collisions occurred. This many times left horrible accidents to clean up and repair.

Learning communication skills teaches me to drive effectively in my interactions with others, creating safe space, increasing my ability to check the mirrors (verbals and non-verbals), and learn how to manage my vehicle (ME) skillfully – thereby avoiding collisions. By this I do NOT mean pleasing and/or avoiding difficult situations, but knowing how to do the diagnostics and determine my direction – where I want to go and how I want to get there.

When there is an accident (or communication collision), I see it from my side of the street (perspective) and whoever is involved in this with me will be looking at it from the other side of the street. Then the argument takes place over whose side of the street is RIGHT. When in fact, neither of us have the entire picture. How do I “cross the street” and see it from another’s point of view? Not easily! I have to give up being “right” and live “ready to be wrong.” In embracing the other side of the street (that I can’t see), and having someone embrace my side of the street (that they can’t see), our vision is enlarged, truth is expanded and we acknowledge that we are both right and wrong. Unfortunately, this can be very humbling.

Many times I see myself as a “communications traffic cop” in working with clients. Everyone involved in the collision is seeing it from their street corner. I get the report from all the corners, teach people the skills to “cross the street” and see the accident (or situation) from another vantage point. Is this easy? No. I have met with a lot of resistance encouraging people to “cross the street” or realize that their street corner is not the only one.


I think most people react to situations in their lives without being aware of the process they are using. It’s usually an immediate reaction. Content comes into our lives, whether an experience, situation, or encounter of some kind, and we easily knee-jerk into a response or action. What I like to do is open up the space between stimulus and response. In that space lays our ability to make conscious choices vs. subconscious reactions.

Communication skills training identifies the process you are using to move from the content or stimulus in your life to an outcome or resolution. This happens through the teaching of a process that increases and broadens your awareness of self and others, learning talking and listening skills, and identifying styles of talking and listening. Then understanding different conflict resolution patters and how the talking and listening skills can be used specifically to resolve your conflicts in a collaborative (win-win) manner.

During the entire skills training process, your issues are addressed. You can become proactive versus reactive in responding to life’s challenges. You can have a new structure or map to organize any situation or issue. You can also learn to embrace resistance, identify different types of anger, manage your own and skillfully respond to the anger of others.

During the training, your important key life values and goals will be identified. New paradigm shifts can take place and new behaviors implemented, resulting in many resolutions to your issues. After the training, coaching specific situations in your life becomes the focus using the foundation that’s been created.


What I’m doing is taking apart something you have been doing your entire life and putting it back together in a whole new way – talking and especially listening (which I don’t believe the world knows how to do – they wait to talk instead).

The end result is the redesigning or recreating of your life - relationship - marriage - management team and/or family.

Copyright 2014. Opportunities Unlimited. All rights Reserved

About Me

Carri is a documentary film producer and communication skills trainer. She and her husband speak nationally on relationships, communication and stepfamily development.