Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Searching for the Positives in Life

by Russ Beck

Storm clouds over Twisleton Scar End
(Mike Green) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Throughout my career, I've had occasion to visit with many people who were struggling in life ... or rather, struggling with life. One lost a child and could not understand why God allowed that to happen. Another lost a spouse and wondered how to continue without him. Others had horrible acts perpetrated upon them and lived with emotional suffering and pain. Some questioned their ability to ever retire with the economy being so bad, while others wondered if they’d ever find work.

All of these, and hundreds of other reasons, can cause people to feel despondent about life. I know in my own trials, I’ve often found myself asking the age-old question “Why me?” It can be hard finding the silver lining in some of life's storm clouds.

It's been said, “The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” In other words, we can choose how we are going to respond to any circumstance.

For example, let's say a car cuts us off on the interstate, and in a knee-jerk reaction, we become angry and it ruins the rest of our morning. Now, let's change one factor in that hypothetical situation and see how our response would be different. Let's say that an injured child lies in the back seat of the offending vehicle and the parent is desperately racing to the hospital.

Wouldn't that alter our reaction to being cut off?

How about the loss of a loved one? We can focus on the sadness and become depressed, or we may choose to remember the joy and blessings of life with that person, and go about living a good life that the lost loved one would be proud of.

It might sound simplistic to suggest that choosing to respond positively will alter our lives, and some might decry that it's not real advice. However, the statement about choosing one’s attitude in any given circumstance was spoken by Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps. He spent time in three different camps, being a prisoner in both Auschwitz and Dachau. His family and friends were killed and he was treated inhumanely. He watched as fellow inmates despaired and many committed suicide or just gave up, while others turned to hatred and revenge as their motivation for living. Frankl, however, chose a different path and sought opportunities to help others. That's what he did to survive; he brought humanity into an inhumane setting. He performed small acts of kindness and assistance, often in a clandestine manner.

In the most horrific conditions, Victor Frankl found meaning in life. Or, as he would say, he made meaning out of life. I would suggest reading his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. It is a testament of our ability to choose our responses to difficult situations. As Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

The power to find the positive in a negative world lies within each of us. It will not necessarily be easy, but it is possible. We truly do control our own destinies.

Until next time …

~ Russ

-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Prayer, Faith, and Butterflies

By Russ Beck

I’ve often been asked why I chose to go into counseling and particularly, why I prefer pastoral/religious counseling. The answer to the first part is that I’ve always been fascinated by people. I’ve often wondered how we become who we are and how we change.

While in college for my bachelor’s degree in sociology, my adviser directed me toward a class on theories of personality. He felt I’d enjoy it and he was right. I was hooked from the beginning. Captivated by all the different opinions as to where our personality comes from, I read about the thinking of Freud, Adler, Pearls, Rogers, Ellis, and many others. Each had their own special twist on things. They all believed that by understanding how the personality is formed, we can then figure a process for producing change.

Finding the truth in such a myriad assortment of ideas and theories was difficult. There were those in my field of study who ascribed to only one theory, excluding all the others, while most became “eclectic,” choosing bits and pieces from this or that one. I, like others in the field, had my preferences, but used bits and pieces of all of them.

As my career expanded, I had the opportunity of serving as a Bishop in the LDS Church. It was there I came to fully realize the power of another force in helping to understand personality and the process of change. While I always worked hard to help people change their outward problems, lasting change always came from the inside—through prayer, faith, and the acceptance of Christ and his principles. Pastoral counseling offers a counselor a wider selection of tools for helping.

I have seen ordinary men with no training in counseling give the best advice and counsel as they prayed and exercised faith in Christ. The inspiration they received far surpassed any counsel a mere mortal could give, regardless of the amount of training received.

As an individual prayerfully approaches God, they establish a communication with the Almighty, who loves them. As their faith increases, their confidence waxes strong to the point they recognize they have within themselves the divine spark of change, which enables them to make necessary course corrections for a happier life.

Over the process of time and because of the many experiences I’ve had in the church, I recognize that there are three main areas affecting the development of our personality; nature, nurture, and the pre-mortal existence.

All of us are subject to the laws of mortality. Genetics govern much of who we are. We have our mother’s eyes, our father's nose, Aunt Julie’s ears, and our grandfather’s walk. We inherit tendencies for various illnesses such as diabetes or heart problems. Our height, body structure, and even our laugh comes from the genetic process.

The environment of our youth influences our personal concepts of who we are. Through the interactions of family life we learn who mom and dad are and what moms and dads do. We can feel loved or not. We find out what our position is in society—we've all known someone who seems to have the “right name” and is instantly accepted at school or work.

I’ve had the occasion to meet many people who are struggling in life because of the atrocities which occurred to them in their youth. Abuse, violence, and the lack of feeling loved can generate within someone a belief that they are worthless and unloved by God. This is very difficult to change later in life.

Pre-mortal existence

All of us have lived for eons of time with God prior to coming to this mortal existence. Each of us brings some of that with us. Our memory may be gone, but still, there is more of God in us than of man. Tapping into this knowledge through prayer and faith will cause us to start changing from within.

All of us want to be happy. It is the number one thing people say when asked what they want in life; even more than money. Yet how many recognize that happiness is right within our grasp if we but calm down and seek God. There is a saying by Thoreau that puts it well: Happiness is like a butterfly. As we chase after it, it constantly flutters away, just out of our reach. Yet, if we sit down and ponder about the beauty of the world, the butterfly comes over and lands on our shoulder.

Through true change that comes from a companionship with God, we may have the ability to have butterflies fluttering around us in our lives and sometimes, even landing on our shoulders.

Until next time …

~ Russ

* Names have been changed.

-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Do We Truly Want?

By Russ Beck

Photo © sxc.hu/spekulator

Case Study

Joan, a middle-aged woman, came in feeling despondent. She slumped into the recliner and gave a deep sigh. She told me her life was good, but not all she thought it should be. Joan discussed her feelings about this regularly with John, a male coworker, who was approximately the same age. Their relationship had grown close over the past few weeks.

As she spoke, it became apparent Joan’s feelings towards John were deepening and she wondered if she might be happier leaving her husband, Rick, of 32 years for this new and exciting relationship. Joan spoke of feeling younger since meeting John. She also stated she looked forward to going to work now and seldom took time off. On the other hand, Joan’s tolerance for her husband’s flaws was at an all time low and she was considering a trial separation.

Joan said her feelings of dissatisfaction with her life began several years ago. She noticed that small things began to bother her about her life with her husband. They were still driving ten-year-old cars and were living on a budget. She felt bored most of the time. She never spoke with her husband about this as she believed he would not have listened to Joan reported her early life was quite good. She loved her five children and still enjoyed them and her grandkids. She spoke of many fun family outings and fond memories of vacations.
Joan rubbed her temples as she spoke. “I see all that my neighbors and my siblings have and somewhere along the way I feel like I’ve missed the boat.”

Like most of us, Joan had moments where she saw the things others amassed and she believed she had fallen short. In a world of "things," it is easy for us to measure ourselves against what others have. The reality of what is really important is quite different. When asked to give up one of her children for a million dollar home, Joan looked at me in surprise. How could I ever suggest such a thing? How about trading the 32 years of marriage with Rick for a successful career and a multi-million dollar house? Again she shook her head like I was crazy.

An old saying states: “Happiness consists not in having everything you want, but in wanting everything you have.” When Joan evaluated her life in these terms, she began to gain a different perspective. She started to see that her present considerations would cause a great loss in her life. Interestingly, Joan then started to become protective of the “things” which were most important to her–children, grandchildren, and yes, even Rick. She did not want to lose all the relationships she had worked so hard for over all those years. Joan started to see her life differently and instead of feeling bored, she started looking for ways to ensure that those she loved never left her life.

Real Life Applications

All of us experience times in which we feel less than successful. We all get caught in the comparison game where neighbors, relatives and business associates all seem to have so much more than we do. This is normal for living in the world. It is however, a nasty trap that places at risk all we truly do value in life; our families. Try this. On a piece of paper, list all of the relationships you treasure and would not want to lose. Then list all the things you think you'd like to have. As you examine the two lists, which of those relationships would you want to give up for anything on the other list? Chances are you wouldn't do it.
Also, looking at the first list, how would your life change if you lost a couple of those relationships? What would you do to prevent losing them?

Ironic isn’t it? In the mist of feeling we have so little, if offered a great deal in place of what we do have, we recoil in horror at the possibility of losing that which really is so dear to us.

Until next time …
~ Russ

* Names have been changed.
-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Silent Treatment ... by Russ Beck

Case Study
Joe and Mary entered my office and took a seat at opposite ends of the room. Mary stared at Joe through tear filled eyes as he sat fiddling with his cell phone. When I asked what the problem was, Mary folded her arms and turned towards the wall while Joe looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. Joe felt clueless about what was wrong and Mary wasn’t talking.

Through 18 years of marriage, Mary and Joe handled disagreements through avoidance. When offended, Mary typically became quiet and stayed to herself, but in reality she wanted Joe to apologize for his actions. She believed he knew what he'd done yet he chose to ignore it. It infuriated her.

For his part, Joe disengaged. He didn't press the issue and went off to watch TV or mow the lawn. Eventually, perhaps two or three days later, they gradually moved back into a congenial relationship where they spoke to each other again.

This time, however, they were not moving back together. They hadn't spoken for two weeks.

I asked Mary if she could explain to me what Joe had done. After several minutes, Mary looked at me and said she shouldn’t have to, Joe knew perfectly well what he'd done. “It doesn’t take a genius to know when you’ve insulted someone,” she said with her eyes flashing. Joe remained unmoved by this and continued to press buttons on his cell phone. More upset than ever, Mary refolded her arms tightly across her chest, exhaled sharply and turned to stare at me. “See what I mean?” she said in disgust.

The situation with Joe and Mary had reached critical mass. Something needed to be done quickly or they would divorce.

The ability to communicate with others is a learned skill which is vital to a healthy marriage. Joe’s choice to disconnect wasn’t helping and Mary’s expectation that Joe should “just know” what he had done was driving their marriage off a cliff. Joe needed to let Mary know how frustrated he became when she would not explain to him what was bothering her. Mary needed to tell Joe what she was feeling and why. Both were contributing to the problem. Joe failed to let her know how much he loved her and how much he wanted to help her feel better. Mary failed to let him know what he did to offend her.

Mary came from a family where innuendo and slight suggestion was interpreted accurately. It was very much like a second language. When she was young and the family was eating, her mother would say, “Oh, those potatoes look yummy.” Immediately someone would grab the bowl and offer them to her. Whereas, Joe came from a family where members said exactly what they wanted. If someone wanted more potatoes, he asked for them. Because of the difference in family structure, Mary had trouble comprehending why Joe never understood her nuanced statements and hints. She felt he was either being mean or that he just didn’t care. She failed to realize that just like another language, Joe was clueless as to what she was saying, or attempting to say.

In order to help Joe and Mary, I suggested they take time to practice this second language and to make a game of it. Mary was amazed at Joe’s lack of understanding. Over time, she started to help him and it became a shared, fun thing to do. Mary also began to see that not everyone was so adept at the language of hidden meanings. Over time, Joe became more aware of what Mary was saying.

In addition, Mary worked at expressing her needs more directly, rather than couching her requests in hints. It was a difficult transition for her as she felt she was stating the obvious. Mary did come to realize that clear communications gave her what she was looking for. Her convoluted attempts at expressing her needs were not only time consuming, but frustrating for her and Joe. She also came to understand that plain and simple talk yielded the most positive results. Their relationship blossomed and efforts at saving their marriage paid large dividends. Both willingly worked to avoid giving the silent treatment in the future, and to discuss issues as they arose.

Real Life Applications
Trying to get your needs met through hints and insinuations is like trying to catch a fish by sitting on the end of the dock and merely thinking about it. Just like needing a fishing pole, line and bait, it's necessary to use honesty and openness to make your wishes known. Taking the initiative to say, "I feel this way, or I'd like it if you would..." is the first step that's needed to prevent misunderstandings.

If the silent treatment is an issue in your life or marriage, work to change that. Whenever you're tempted to hide behind a stony wall of silence, try expressing your needs as mentioned above. Practice conscientiously, and over time you'll experience a positive change in your life.

Until next time …

~ Russ

* Names have been changed.

-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ways to Cope with Aging... by Russ Beck

Finding the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Case Study
Ed, a gentleman in his 50’s, came to see me about a lack of energy. Ed gave a deep, “Umph” as he slid into the recliner. Looking at the floor, he let out a sigh and said, “I guess I’m suffering from depression. I have no energy and everything hurts.” He had been to see a doctor who suggested starting a trial of antidepressants.

After several questions it became apparent that Ed was in good physical health. The doctor had ran several tests to see if physiological causes accounted for his condition and when everything came back good, a diagnosis of depression was considered. For Ed, his future appeared to be one filled with sadness, pain, and pills.

As we discussed his life, Ed sounded like any normal male. He enjoyed his childhood. He was active in middle school and high school. Ed even had success in sports while in school. His children loved him, and he was currently happily married with grandchildren. He felt it cruel that at this stage in life he should be stricken with such a debilitating illness as depression.

I asked about changes in his life over the past year. Ed considered the question and told me one of his daughters had moved with her family to Seattle. Another child, a son, moved to Atlanta to attend college. He felt worried about keeping his job in the worsening economy and mentioned he'd taken on more work with no pay increase, as his company was not replacing people as they left. His parents had health problems and he traveled 60 miles to visit and help them with their home and yard work on a regular basis. On top of that, Ed had injured his back lately and had trouble doing much of anything.

Life has a way of overwhelming us at times, especially as we age and are no longer able to accomplish as much physically as we did previously. Ed felt a lack of control with the moving of two of his children, the aging of his parents, work uncertainties, and his own experience of growing older—with all the associated aches and pains. All of these challenges took a toll on Ed, causing him feelings of discouragement. A disheartened frame of mind over time will lead to a despondent spirit, digging a rut in which Ed could become stuck. He needed a reality check before happiness drifted away from him.

I asked him to consider what life would be like without his wife. With a furrowed brow and shaking his head no, Ed said, “It would be miserable.” I asked the same question about his children, and received a similar response. Then I questioned him about his parents. What was it like growing up in their home? Ed smiled as he remembered family outings and times spent alone with his mom or dad. We then talked about the aging process. Could he think of any advantages to growing older? With a wry smile he looked at me and said, “Well, I do know it’s better to be seen than to be viewed!”

Real Life Applications
Ed’s experiences in growing older are not dissimilar to anyone else’s experiences. There are many losses that can result from a death, but it's just as important to recognize there are also losses that come from loved ones moving away, or family members not being able to care for themselves, as well as our own sense of loss as we are no longer able to do things to the same degree as in the past. Also, the many aches and pains we experience on a daily basis are a constant reminder that things have changed and we’ve lost the energy and stamina of younger years.

In coping with these difficult life challenges, Ed needed to adjust his perception of life and aging.

AcceptLife is a gift. With all its difficulties and struggles, life offers us what no other thing can–opportunity. Even though opportunity can come to us disguised as hard work, it is, nonetheless, a chance to grow and be happy. Ed came to realize he had a marvelous opportunity to show love through caring for his elderly parents. He also realized he could learn to use the webcam on his computer as he maintained communication with his children living in another state.

AdaptEd told me of a dog he once had as a kid. It had been a mangy thing with only three legs. Ed explained the dog loved to chase cars, got too close once, and lost his leg in an accident. I asked about the dog’s life and Ed said the dog seemed happy and never noticed his handicap. Just like Ed’s dog, it is important to adjust to new situations, even though difficult, with a positive outlook for all that is still left to enjoy in life.

AppreciateIn talking with Ed, it became apparent he did feel gratitude for all the wonderful things he had in his life. He spent many years living close to his parents, near his children and had a loving companion by his side. This sense of thankfulness helped Ed to gain a fresh perspective.

In conclusion, even though life is filled with pain, it is also filled with joy. What you choose to focus upon determines your quality of life.

Until next time …

~ Russ

* Names have been changed.

-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----

This article sponsored by YourLDSNeighborhood.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Is Retirement In Your Future?

By Russ Beck

A few months ago I found myself discussing the topic of retirement with Bob, a sixty-year-old colleague. He pointed out that just five years ago he excitedly looked forward to retiring, going on trips with his wife, and spending leisurely days with the grandkids. Now, with the ever-worsening economy, he expressed anxiety over the real possibility of never being able to retire—at least in the way he traditionally thought of retirement. His hopes for not having to get up and go to a job, spending days doing what he would like, and having sufficient money for all his needs were vanishing.

Looking at me with eyes filled with sadness Bob said, “Even if I retire from my job, I still have to get another job somewhere. I can’t live off my retirement pay, and I need to have insurance.”

Bob’s revelation of the difficulties of our economic world has no doubt been on the minds of many people in their late 50s and 60s. The world we watched our parents live in seems to have come to an end. Ours appears filled with uncertainty and a loss of prosperity.


As with everyone, Bob had firmly held beliefs about what the future “should be.” Based upon what he observed as he grew, Bob assumed he would likewise be entitled to have the same opportunities. His father, Karl, had retired from a 30-year career with the U.S. Post Office. At that time, the retirement package included full insurance coverage and a guaranteed cost of living increase for his pension. Karl spent his retirement years doing what he wanted and taking trips to Hawaii and Europe. This instilled within Bob a strong desire to have the same when his turn came to retire. The reality, however, is proving to be much different. Bob is now upset as he has to cope with the knowledge that this is not going to be the case and therefore, he feels cheated.

Regardless of how we feel about something, or what we believe to be the truth, a reality exists. Anytime we butt heads with reality, we come away feeling disillusioned. Bob had it all worked out in his mind exactly what his future would be like. This did not turn out to be the case and now, unable to have it go the way he wanted, he struggled with despondency. At first, Bob frantically tried to figure out how to accomplish his goal. He originally thought his large 401K would provide the funds necessary to supplement his pension so he could live the same lifestyle his father had. Now, with a severely depleted 401K balance, he knows the only way left to enhance his pension is to take on another job. He finds his future to be depressing because it is not what he expected.

How often does life turn out the way expected? Looking back at Bob's father, Karl grew up during the great depression. His expectations for his future, therefore, were very low. Karl knew he would have to work hard for anything he would ever have. He also knew it could be lost too. He fought in WWII. The amount of human suffering and sorrow Karl saw made him aware of how fragile life is.

Bob, on the other hand, had an entirely different experience growing up. Bob had many of life’s luxuries including the knowledge that there would always be food on the table and he’d always have a warm bed at night. He didn’t think twice when he attended college and acquired a good position making decent money after graduation. Bob also figured this run of good fortune would continue.

Coping Suggestions

Have Flexibility: Too often, our expectations make us rigid and unable to deal with course corrections. The ability to bend in the face of the strong winds of reality enables us to move forward in life with a more positive attitude. Expect the unexpected. In this way we maintain the ability to turn and pivot towards new directions instead of standing stiff and unyielding. Approach life with a sense of awe and wonder. Being childlike in our amazement at all of life's wonderful twists and turns presents opportunities for growth and exciting new experiences. Just because life doesn’t appear to be as expected, it still can be fulfilling and happy.

Reframe: Looking at a situation from a different angle will often allow us to see it in an entirely new way. I knew a man who was strongly against having the Olympics come to Utah several years ago. He saw it as a waste of tax payer’s money as well as a time that would be filled with terrible human congestion. His trips to the city would become a nightmare, filled with traffic, detours, and people clogging the streets and businesses. Then, one day while reading in the Old Testament, he came across a scripture talking about the house of the Lord being in the tops of the mountains. He realized that referred to the Salt Lake Temple. Then he read that all nations would flow unto it. Light dawned upon him as he recognized that was exactly what the Olympics represented—all nations coming to Salt Lake City. From that point on, he became a strong advocate for the Olympics in Utah.

Concluding Thoughts

Life contains so many variables that it is impossible to know what the future holds. The key, then, is to approach it with a sense of childlike wonder and awe. As we gain an appreciation for life’s unexpected changes, our ability to handle unanticipated circumstances increases. It also helps to remember that happiness is a journey, not a destination.

Until next time …

~ Russ

-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----

This article sponsored by YourLDSNeighborhood.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Missing Love ... by Russ Beck

Case Study

Judy, a woman in her thirties who worked at a local business, came into my office fidgeting with her key chain and looking all around the room. Obviously uncomfortable, I asked her to sit. She continued to jiggle the keys, but finally sat, leaning on the edge of the recliner.

After a few minutes, she slowly started to talk about not feeling happy and being concerned about the future. Then she said, “No one loves me.”

Tears formed at the corner of her eyes and then rolled down her cheeks. It took her a few minutes to speak again. She spoke of having loving parents, and a brother and three sisters who loved her. She also spoke about her wonderful extended family, all of whom loved her. She spoke of friends and church leaders who cared for her, but still she felt unloved.

Missing from the descriptions of important relationships in her life was any mention of a boyfriend. Indeed, this was the deep heartache causing her so much pain.

Judy went on to explain she had a great childhood and enjoyed activities in the LDS church with her entire family. She had even gone on a few dates in high school and a couple more while in college, but nothing serious. Judy, now thirty-one, felt alone, and filled with dread for a long, solitary future.

We took time to discuss her understanding of the meaning of life. Did we exist only to have a spouse and children? What of the many couples who were childless? Or the couple who lost their child? Or what about the spouse who has an unfaithful partner?

Judy said she believed we were here to learn, grow, and help each other. I agreed with her wisdom.


It was natural and normal for Judy to feel lonely and wonder about the course her life was taking. I honestly don’t know anyone who hasn’t sat down and wondered about roads not followed or opportunities missed. I think we all have the experience at times of wondering “why me.”

The answer may not be easily accepted or understood, but the management of the situation is clear. In speaking to a group of unmarried women, the LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “To you wonderful young women I send a charge to reach beyond the routine of your daily work to serve in the Church, in the community, in the society of which you are a part. Though your talents be meager, polish them. Increase your skills, extend your love to help those who need your lifting hand .... The best antidote for worry is work. The best medicine for despair is service. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.”

Being able to move beyond our sadness through compassionate service to others in need is a skill and quality born of the angels. To see examples of this we need only look towards those serving in positions in our local ward and stake. These good men and women serve unfailingly whether they feel happy or sad, whether they are healthy or not feeling so well, whether things in their life are going great or not so great.

Real Life Applications

In a local psychiatric hospital there is a saying painted on a conspicuous wall which says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a difficult battle.” I’ve heard it said in another way, "This life is tough—no one gets out alive!" It is true, however, that some do have a more difficult time in this life than others. Focusing more on others who are having a difficult time helps us deal better with the inequities in our own lives.

Ideas for consideration:

Volunteer at a local elementary school and work with children with special needs.

Work with teens in a troubled youth home. Learn about tragedies that have occurred in their life.

Pick a charity, any charity, and become involved in helping. It can be breast cancer, autism, leukemia, juvenile diabetes, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, mental retardation, spina bifida, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, etc.

Volunteer at a psychiatric mental hospital or mental health facility and help those suffering from mental illness.

Work with mothers against drunk driving or victims against crime, or organizations supporting battered women and children, or other worthy organizations.

Look around your community and see where the needs may be. Talk with the local social service providers, police, and religious leaders to get ideas of opportunities to serve and carefully select one.

Ultimately, serving others who are in pain brings us out of our own concerns and allows us to be a part of helping to ease their burdens in this life. Additionally, we will find our own pain and suffering eased as well.

Until next time …

~ Russ

-----© Russ Beck, 2011-----

This article sponsored by YourLDSNeighborhood.

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