December 1, 2016

Friday solace

by Rod Smith

As you reflect on your life and on your family you may find some solace in the following….

  • No one is healthy and highly functional all of the time. It’s a sign of health to recognize when you are not doing well and you allow yourself a little room to mend.
  • Most people have a tough time learning from their mistakes and sometimes it takes a few similar errors and a lot of pain and sometimes expense before we get the message and resist making the same mistakes again and again.
  • The healthiest people and families are low functioning in some ways and at some times; the lowest functioning people and families a highly functioning in some ways and at some times.
  • Grief is a gift even if it not one you sought after. Some wounds and some pains will never heal or go away. The notion that “time heals” is not always true at all. It really is only sometimes true.
  • Things like excessive debt, unresolved conflict, harbored failure to forgive, and avoiding people you love can weigh on you more than you realize. These are energy and enthusiasm drainers that can lead to poor health, unwise choices, and further into the “hole” we need to escape.
November 24, 2016


by Rod Smith

Today hundreds of millions of citizens and residents of the USA will be home, or have found their way home, to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Many families will volunteer at a church or a community center before their own lunch or early dinner to serve the poor and often homeless a wholesome meal. Others will hike in a state park or do the family rounds of visiting relatives or play football in the back yard until they sit to eat the traditional meal of turkey and a variety of side dishes.

The conversations will range from politics to sport to the untrustworthiness of the media. Lodged within the conversations will be shades of unresolved conflict between spouses, siblings, and stuff that surfaces year after year and show families that living in different cities or on opposite coasts has its rewards.

My sons and I will have a quiet morning – perhaps I will throw together their favorite breakfast – and then we’ll head off just a few blocks north of our home to Durban-born Nolan Smith’s house.

And, before we eat we will pray and remember the goodness of God, the pain that so many, many people endure on these landmark holidays and be grateful, very grateful for who and what we do have.

November 20, 2016

Goals of therapy

by Rod Smith

Sometimes a would-be client will ask how talk therapy (with me) works. Here are some of the goals I have up my sleeve. It’s important to know approaches vary widely: 

  • To guide, stimulate, and provoke healthy growth for the client after taking all the time necessary to hear about how he or she views and experiences given dilemmas. By “given dilemmas” I mean whatever circumstance landed the client in my office.
  • To encourage the preservation, and empowering of families, churches, groups with the understanding that not all relationships can or ought to be preserved.
  • To help the client identify his or her multiple micro and macro systems. We are all “part of” a larger network of family and an even larger network of multiple communities. Seeing the role we each play in each is usually very empowering.
  • To challenge the client move him or herself to greater levels of maturity and to higher functioning. My sometimes subtle question is always “How can we all grow (up) from this?”
  • To teach responsive (as opposed to reactive) living.
  • To encourage self-differentiation: the simultaneous increase in levels of interpersonal intimacy and purposeful autonomy.
  • To help people find helpful ways to reduce their own levels of anxiety and to model respect, equality, and mutuality for all relationships.


November 15, 2016

BraveHeart Children and Teens

by Rod Smith

Principals, teachers, and coaches, in a culture appears to endorse poor manners, selfishness, bullying, I know there are school that promote and teach excellence in manners, respect, and courage.

Please identify, acknowledge, and reward the brave-hearted students among you.

Brave-hearted boys and girls:

  • Tell the truth even if it is inconvenient.
  • Respect and acknowledge adults and afford them due and appropriate respect.
  • Are accepting and helpful to people who are less fortunate, by any measure.
  • Are generous, hospitable, and inclusive.
  • Can think and act alone and yet be an integral part of a community.
  • Are willing to be unpopular so right and good and honesty may prevail.
  • Demonstrate social bravery by doing what is right even in the face of opposition.

If you have a story where a student has demonstrated most of the above please write to me about it (200 words). Include first names only please and the name of the school.

I am grateful to all the readers who contacted me and informed me that my column had moved!

November 9, 2016

My parents fight all the time….

by Rod Smith

“My parents have been fighting for years and it’s gotten to the point where the smallest thing turns into an explosive fight. I can’t handle it anymore, I feel so low these days that I lock myself up in the bathroom and cry so hard that I can’t seem to stop. I walk around trying to act normally but on the inside I’m desperate for someone to notice that I’m not okay. Except no one does and I feel on the verge of a breakdown. They’re so unhappy and they say these horrible things to each other and scream and scream. I want to crawl under my bed and hide. I am 19-years-old.” (Edited)

Your parents apparently have a well-established fight routine that’s been mutually choreographed for years. It belongs to your parents and, as unsettling as it is for you, it apparently works for them. I’d suggest you establish your response routine that involves removing yourself from the battle zone by getting yourself out of the house and away from the crossfire. You are incapable of being your parents’ peacemaker and you will sustain possibly lasting injuries if you try. Get out of their toxic routines and leave it to them. That really is about all you can do.

November 8, 2016

Growing in maturity…..

by Rod Smith

How I know a student (of any gender) is on a helpful and meaningful track*:

  • He takes full responsibility for himself.
  • She tells the truth as she sees it even if it is not in her favor.
  • He resists the urge to blame others when he’s in a difficult spot.
  • She assesses her own behavior in response to events and difficulties rather than focuses on what others may or may not have done.
  • He makes amends as far as is possible.
  • She refuses to cheat.
  • He thinks alone, acts alone, experiences things alone, while being a functional member of a community.
  • She is polite and thankful even under stress.
  • He has an eye for the underdog and offers a helping hand.
  • She is learning to stand up for her beliefs and her values even if it results in a lack of popularity.

*As always, it’s a note to self, too.

November 2, 2016

Question about suicide

by Rod Smith

Do you think it is possible for one event to cause a person to commit suicide?

Yes. At the root of your question is perhaps the thought that something else, something unknown to those who were close to the person who takes his or her life, was troubling a person, and what was known, became the final straw.

Of course this may also be so.

Teenagers are particularly at risk for spontaneous suicide (and I cringe as I type that phrase).

A situation may feel overwhelming to a teenager and he or she (in that instant) may genuinely feel as if it is the end of his or her world. Added to the overwhelming feeling is the lack of developed cognitive abilities to think things through, to see and appreciate a larger context, and the resources to establish necessary objectivity.

My writing about suicide has, over the years has come under fire from readers, but I remain convinced that some suicides are desperate acts of prayer.

My experience almost exclusively involves youth suicides and other acts of self-harm among youth. In each event it seems there was a child (or teen) who did not know how to reach out to a person and instead reached out in the sure hope of touching the hand of God.

October 24, 2016

Danger brews

by Rod Smith

This week I have interviewed a woman whose husband:

  • Destroyed her underwear because he couldn’t get the thought out of his head of another man seeing her in it. She has never had an affair. He has.
  • Listens to her voicemails and messages and records her phone calls without her knowledge. Any call with a man (she is a saleswoman with many male clients) is “decoded” into affair-talk.
  • Not worked in years. He has to stay home and make sure his wife is meeting men when he is not home.
  • Blames her for covering for him when his alcohol issues began. He says he would have gotten help had she not lied.

Clearly the husband is a very troubled man and both people need help. It became clear to me once more, as it has in so many situations, that the woman (usually) is an expert in the behavior of her husband but somewhat (not fully) unaware of her own behavior. It became very clear to the woman that she is in danger of her life. As a result of our meeting she will pursue the divorce she’s already planned.

I am thankful to share these generalities and would encourage any woman facing anything vaguely similar to get help. Some men (and women) are very dangerous.

October 16, 2016

More about rebound relationships

by Rod Smith

“I read about rebound relationships – please explain.”

The term is used to describe a relationship that is in reaction to a breakup or a loss where one or both parties enters a relationship before finding “closure” on the immediate-past relationship:

  • Falling in love (or into a relationship) to fill a vacuum rather than because of who the new person is.
  • Falling in love (or into a relationship) because the grieving or abandoned person has apparently nowhere else to go.
  • Falling in love (or into a relationship) out of anger, revenge, or to prove a point, in the wake of a troubled breakup.
  • Falling in love (or into a relationship) out of a sense of novelty rather than because of who the new person is.
  • Experimenting with someone and dating as a sense of loss dissipates without being honest about intentions.
  • Entering a relationship because being alone is too frightening or shameful to contemplate.
  • Falling into a new relationship thoughtlessly and therefore showing little or no respect oneself or for the new person.
  • Entering a new relationship when the past relationship has not fully ended.
October 16, 2016

Being collegial…..

by Rod Smith

Secrets to working relationships:

  • See every opportunity or challenge as a potential to learn something new or to grow in new ways. No matter how many years experience you have there’s always room to learn and to grow. Your teachers may often be half your age. Get used to it.
  • See every conflict as an opportunity to learn more about grace and forgiveness. This is not some odd subservience or rolling over and playing dead. It’s acknowledging your possible part in any conflict and the willingness to learn from it – even if you didn’t cause it.
  • Do what you can to cooperate even with those who are not necessarily in your camp or on your side. Building bridges is usually better than burning bridges.
  • When you are wrong or make a miscalculation or a misjudgment or you over react to something admit it and make things as right as you are able. The truth is always better and easier to deal with. Nothing can be solved if you are protecting image over integrity or accuracy.
  • Volunteer wildly, but stay within your skills and talents. Things work better in organizations when people do the jobs they are hired to do and resist “bleeding” into other areas they are not necessarily skilled to work in – even as a volunteer.