By: Darren Lane, Director of Residential Therapy
I was raised old-school; don’t cry, never disagree with dad, and don’t laugh at the dinner table. It’s how my step-dad was raised and probably his father before him. If I had an opinion that ran opposite of his, I discovered to keep it to myself. This taught me two things: stuff emotions and thoughts inside, and a model to follow when I became a father. So many times, we become our parents.
My first child was a strong-willed girl. I attempted to raise her as my step-dad did me. Quash all disagreeing viewpoints, force my personal beliefs onto her, and use ambivalence (conveys “I don’t care what you do”) with surgical precision. The result was a severe disconnection in my relationship with her…just like me and my dad. So, naturally, I combined these amazing personal and relational skills with a life-long passion that lines-up perfectly. I became a counselor!
Early on as a counselor, it didn’t take long to see other people who seemed closed-off. It’s masked in things like depression, anxiety, anger, ambivalence and various health issues. People learn to survive emotionally by closing up or using anger, turning to substances or relationships or incorporating a myriad of other methods. Some can build a barrier that seems impenetrable. I discovered that fear of being emotionally hurt kept people closed, and that by showing people emotional safety, walls and rebellion came down. I learned a priceless lesson from the people I served.
When a person feels safe – that I will not intentionally hurt them emotionally – they begin to open up. This is what eventually happened with me and my daughter. I notice it in the people I serve, too. Wounded relationships seem to heal when I work hard at removing fear. This means that a person can share their opinions, beliefs, dislikes, and needs without being afraid that I’m going to reject what they’re telling me. I also learned that when I place the value of the relationship above trying to be right, or trying to get someone to think like me, people’s fear diminishes and connection increases!
There’s something amazing that comes with a stronger connection. I can have deep and meaningful discussions that would’ve NEVER happened until I proved unconditional acceptance. Before becoming emotionally safe to the person, things I say come across as lecturing, and lecturers get tuned out, right? Ever feel like you’ve given the same unbelievably important advice a hundred times and it just does not seem to be getting in? So, what do you do? Keep doing it? Please understand that I do not endorse unconditional approval of poor behavior and/or decisions; those still need correcting. But I learned (in a higher percentage of instances) that as connection strengthens, trust builds. As trust increases, rebellion decreases.
Through working with others, I was able to mend the broken relationship I had with my oldest daughter. I gave her room to be heard and let her share her opinions and what she really needed from me. Turns out that what she wanted all along was for me to stop trying to conform her to the image of me and just understand her heart. This is how she felt loved. This is one reason why emotional safety and fighting for a relational connection will forever be at the forefront of my counseling.
Darren Lane has been a part of The Joy House team since 2008, initially serving as a Counselor for the Residential Program, and then becoming our Director of Therapy. Darren has lived in Pickens County for almost 40 years. Darren has a B.S. from Kennesaw State University in Psychology and a Masters in Family and Marriage Counseling from Liberty University.