Debra Fileta: Healing of heart, soul, mind, and strength is always part of God’s plan for our life. And just like we rely on things like physical therapy or going to the gym to get physically healthy, it’s okay to rely on counseling or even medication for us to get emotionally and mentally healthy. And I think we have to give Christian’s permission to realize number one, they’re not immune to these struggles. And number two, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that they’re not okay. And then getting the help that they need.
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John Fuller: That’s Debra Fileta and she’s with us today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John the last couple of years has really highlighted the importance of health, all aspects of it, including physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. And in the face of COVID, hopefully we’re, we’re looking in the rear-view mirror of that, uh, we all scrambled to be as healthy as possible. But there’s a lot of underlying stress, worry, sorrow, anguish, uh, woven into the mix. And we hear from families every day who are broken and hurting. And that’s one of the great things that, uh, Focus provides. You can contact us for anything, and we will try to respond with help and to equip you. That’s our goal. That’s what we want to do. So, as you listen along today with one of the best of the best guests we’ve had this past year, I think she will stir in your heart some questions you may need some help answering.
John: And that guest is Debra Fileta. Uh, her content always hits the mark with her audience, and she’s a licensed professional counselor, uh, a national speaker, a relationship expert, and, uh, wife and mom to four. And she’s written a great book that addresses some of topics that we’ll be discussing today. It’s called, Are You Really Ok? Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing and Why It Matters. And we’ve got copies of that here at the ministry. Just stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 1-800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Debra, welcome back to Focus.
Debra: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Jim: Yeah, it is good to be here. Um, you know, knowing you, you have four children, you got a fairly recent arrival-
Jim: So, your hands are full.
Debra: Yes. Very.
Jim: It’s been a bit of a chaotic time for you too.
Debra: It’s a full season.
Debra: Let’s put it that way.
Jim: So, your kids are like, uh, from 11 to one, right?
Jim: Or 12 to one.
Jim: That is so awesome. So, you’re living the dream.
Jim: I loved it. Somebody can great advice saying, you know, every stage of parenting has been great, and this was an empty nester, so I’ve tried to hold to that. Uh, just every stage, enjoy it and, uh, remember the highlights from it. So, isn’t that good advice?
Debra: Yeah, it is absolutely.
Jim: Uh, coming to today’s topic. The am I okay? kind of question, there are some big issues out there in the culture right now. And as a counselor, uh, you aim to help people get back on track. What are some of the general things that you’re seeing with your clients?
Debra: You know, I would tell you this, the main thing is that we’re not as healthy as we think we are. And we just talked about parenting. And I think sometimes we have a tendency to focus so much on our children, our marriage, our ministry, and neglect how healthy we are.
Jim: Our lack of.
Debra: Our lack of health. They did a study, and they took a bunch of people and they asked them to rate themselves on a scale. How good do you think you drive? How kind are you? And the majority of people rated themselves better than average.
Jim: Oh, good. I feel better.
Debra: We can’t, we can’t be better than average, right?
Jim: I think I would do that too.
Debra: And they took that same study even to the prisons and the prisoners rated themselves as better than average. So, pastors to prisoners, we all have a tendency to think that we’re doing better than really are.
Jim: Well, let me ask you this question and certainly knock it down. I’m not trying to persuade you but could that be a mechanism to get through the day that God provides this may be overly optimistic opinion (laughs) of ourselves so we can cope or is that, you know, at some point that’s not a healthy thing.
Debra: You know, I think there’s a level of optimism that’s healthy. But I think when we go through life never acknowledging the hard things, avoiding them, repressing them, pretending like they’re not there. There’s going to be a point where they hit us. There’s going to be a point where they start to bring us down. And I think a lot of people have seen that happen over the past two years since COVID and all of the things we’ve been going through, all of the hard that we’re not dealing with are starting to come to the surface.
Jim: Yeah. And there’s some crazy things. I think the post-op on this whole pandemic thing is going to be quite brutal-
Debra: I think so too.
Jim: To everybody who was engaged in trying to manage it for the country, I, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.
Debra: Because we’ve been in survival mode for so long. And, in survival mode, you’re just trying to get through. But once you get to the other side, that’s when it starts to hit you. And that’s when you have to really face some of those hard things.
Jim: Let me ask you the, just the big, why the general, why question? Uh, we as Christians, you know, we, we believe we’re made up of body, soul and spirit.
Jim: So in that context, when we look at our wellbeing, you know, I think generally we don’t pay enough attention to our physical health. I, you know, some people really are good at. I think Colorado here is one of the-
Jim: Fittest states in the United States. But again, it’s an outlier. And then, you know, moving right through that, to emotional health, mental health and spiritual health, describe those.
Debra: You know, when Jesus was asked, what’s the greatest commandment, he said, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And he could have just said, love the Lord period. But he broke those up into four quadrants because they represent different parts of our health. Emotional health, spiritual health, mental health, and physical health. And so, I think it’s really important that we kind focus on all of those things.
Jim: Yeah. Which is good and, but understanding it is part of the battle. Because we, I mean lay people, you are a counselor, so you get it. But a lot of us don’t know how to assess or even be mindful of an unhealthy state. Let’s move to a topic that we get here often at Focus on the Family, dealing with toxic people.
Jim: Um, that’s one of the things. I mean, we might have an optimistic view of, of ourselves (laughs)-
Jim: But you know, dealing with toxic people is such a hard thing. So, first I guess, is what’s the definition of a toxic person? And then ho- what are some good tools spiritually and mentally to use in those kinds of relationships?
Debra: Well, I think it’s important that we started the conversation talking about our personal health because when you become healthy, you recognize toxic people more than you would have if you weren’t healthy. And so, once you start working on yourself and taking ownership for what you need to work on, then you kind of look around you and you can see when there’s people in your life that aren’t living in a healthy way, that are tearing you down, that are manipulative, that are constantly negative, that are critical all the time. And when we talk about toxicity, we’re not talking about a onetime event. I mean, we all have a little bit of toxicity in us because we’re sinful human beings. What we’re talking about is a pattern of behavior that is constantly bringing you down and constantly bringing the people around you down as well.
Jim: Yeah. And it’s important. I, I don’t know if we are educated enough or aware enough of knowing that toxic personality. Can you give us a little more in terms-
Jim: Of the adjectives? What does that relationship look like when the one person, let’s assume it’s you, the listener, you’re in a pretty healthy place? And then you have this girlfriend who does-
Jim: Name those characteristics.
Debra: Yeah. A toxic person is always going to be, um, using manipulative means, they’re selfish, they’re spiteful, um, they like to bring others down with their words, with their actions and they don’t take responsibility. It’s always everybody else’s fault. Um, so there’s a lot of things that you’re looking for in that pattern of behavior.
Jim: Yeah. Yeah. I would think in today’s culture too. I mean the, uh, hyper ness of toxicity is right there in front of us. I mean, on social media-
Jim: Pinterest, wherever it at. You know, there’s just like anonymous attacks on each other.
Jim: Seemingly anonymous. We know your handle, you might say, but to go after people, the way the culture goes after people today is so unhealthy.
Debra: Absolutely. And I think we’ve let our guard down. You know, we’ve started doing what we do on social media, behind this safety of a computer. And now it’s starting to affect the rest of our life in, in our real-life interactions.
John: In that regard, uh, Debra, so let’s say I have a coworker, not, this is a hypothetical because everybody at Focus on the Family is wonderful to work with.
John: But let’s say I have a coworker and they’re really, I can’t avoid them, but they’re always negative. They’re just pulling me down even though I want to be positive, how do I handle that?
Debra: When it’s a coworker or somebody that’s not in close proximity, you know, not a family member, for example, it makes it a little bit easier because you can take responsibility for your interactions. I think when we talk about the term boundaries, what we’re really looking at is what can I do here? What am I responsible for versus what can I force them to do? Because really you can’t make someone do anything.
Debra: But what you can do is begin to pull away. What you can do is set boundaries around your life and how you’re going to respond or choose not to respond, the amount of time that you’re are going to spend with someone, or lack thereof. And you start taking ownership of the things that you can change. And that’s what begins to change the relationship.
Jim: You know, one of the things I’ve observed and then we’re going to move on to some other topics, but I, I think even watching Jean, my wife, uh, when we were younger, certainly her stories, uh, being in high school, she’s a very kind person. That’s her trait, you know. And people can take advantage of that. And I know people listening, fit that category where you want to say yes so often. And Jean was like that. I mean, if-
Jim: I remember one of the things she told me about is, I think two boys asked her to the prom and she said yes to both because she couldn’t say no.
Jim: And then she had to unwind that, right?
Jim: And you can apply that later in the twenties and thirties. And I, I think a lot of people can connect with that. Especially I think women tend to want to do the right thing, be there for people, help people. They nurture. I mean it’s right there.
Debra: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: So in that context for the listener that maybe is in the thirties and forties and hasn’t built sufficient boundaries, what can they do to be aware of it? And then what, how to manage the guilt feeling-
Jim: Of saying no.
Debra: Well let me put it this way, one of my favorite analogies with a healthy relationship is seeing it like a plant. If you give a plant too much water, like in this case that you’re talking about, I’m being too nice, I’m giving too, I’m not expecting anything in return, the plant will die. If you give it too little water-
Debra: It will also die. And I think sometimes we need to see relationships in the context of a plant. Realizing that when we’re giving too much without expecting anything in return, we’re actually doing our part to kill, destroy, and harm the relationship.
Jim: Wow. That’s good. But there, is there a transaction, um, emotionally for that person that’s in that spot that they think by saying yes too much-
Debra: Oh absolutely.
Jim: They’re earning brownie points or something to where they have to get, get that right to say, wait a minute, this is costing my family, my husband, my relationship.
Debra: For many of us, we give too much because it’s rooted in guilt. We feel guilty or we don’t feel like we’re valuable enough to receive. Or we feel like God wants us to keep giving at the expense of ourselves. So, a lot of it stems from unhealthy beliefs about ourselves or about the world around us or even about God. And we have to get to the root of why we say yes too much. Why we give too much in order to be able start changing the pattern of our behavior.
Jim: Yeah. No, that is so good. Let’s move to co-dependency. Uh, it’s a term that a lot of people may not understand. So, maybe defining it would be the way to go. Uh, you have a story in fact about a young woman you counseled, what, what did co-dependency look like for her?
Debra: You know, when you think about co-dependency, I want you to imagine two cups that are half full and, and think about it this way, I counseled a woman who thought that marriage would fill up her cup. She thought it would give her the security, and the safety, and the purpose, and the value. And she gets into marriage, and within weeks, months, years, you name it, you realize that this relationship can’t fill you up if you’re not already full. Your relationship is only going to be as full and healthy as you are standing alone. And I think there’s too many people that go into relationships thinking it’s going to fill them up. It’s going to give them security or purpose. And we talk about co-dependency, we’re talking about going into relationships out of our need versus out of what we have to give.
Jim: Well, in fact, you use that term, uh, need love versus real love.
Jim: So, describe those two.
Debra: Need love drives you towards somebody based on what they can give to you because you’re feeling insecure, you’re feeling like you’re not enough standing alone, you’re feeling like you don’t have the value. You’re looking for what they can give you. But real love doesn’t look like that. When we look at Corinthians, first Corinthians 13, it’s all about the actions of love. It’s all about what we give in the relationship. And so, I think we really have come to terms with the relationships around us. Whether we’re talking about friendships or romantic relationships or marriage, do I come to the table with a need to receive, or am I coming to the table with a need to give?
Jim: Those, those gaps that we recognize in our lives, um, can be formed in a variety of ways. Many of them come from our childhood.
Jim: These triggers and you get into marriage and oh boy, do we get to really become, uh, professional at pushing each other’s triggers, right?
Jim: And these sayings in some other person, it’s not going to be a big deal.
Jim: But when, if I say something to Jean a certain way, boy, it gets a different response. And so, speak to the childhood issue and then, you know, the, the capability to recognize these things and then to begin to relax.
Debra: Yeah. So, I call them emotional sore spots and whether they drive us to co-dependent relationships or whether they’re what cause conflict in our relationships in the present, if you think about it like a sore spot, a black and blue spot… The other day I was leaving the house and I accidentally bumped my arm on the side of the door it caused a black and blue mark. Well then later my husband came over to, to give me a side hug as we were, you know, talking-
Jim: Which was very sweet of him.
Debra: And he touched the black and blue mark and it hurt.
Debra: But it wasn’t because of what he did. It was because there was a wound already. And so, if we think about that in the context of our emotional relationships, sometimes the wound is already there from childhood. Maybe I, I didn’t feel validated in childhood or, or I was neglected or abandoned or there was divorce in my family that made me feel a lack of value. Well, later on in life, when somebody gets near those wounds, they’re triggered, and we hurt all over again. And what we don’t realize is that many times it’s rooted in those past unhealed hurts.
Jim: Yeah. And that, that seems like a daunting task to be that aware of yourself. I don’t mean to-
Debra: It does, doesn’t it?
Jim: It, it’s an uphill thing.
Jim: To really know yourself well enough to know why, why is this triggering me? What do I have to do? What work-
Jim: Do I have to do in order to not let it penetrate or let that bruise-
Jim: Hurt so much.
Jim: That’s the real work, right?
Debra: That’s the real work.
Jim: What does that look like?
Debra: One of my favorite passages in scripture says, “the purposes of a person’s heart are like deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out”. When you think about drawing out waters in ancient times, they didn’t just turn on a faucet and the water came out, you had to do the work. You had to go to the well, you had to bring up that water. It was blood, sweat, and tears work. And that’s the work of becoming emotionally healthy. Sure, it’s work. And sure, it’s difficult. But if, if we want to have insight, if we want to have understanding of our own heart, we’ve got to do the work and draw it out. And I really believe we’re not doing it alone because God is with us. The holy spirit guides us a as we look back. And not only that, there’s the help of professional counselors that we can rely on.
Jim: Yeah. That’s good.
John: There are, there are a lot of helps, uh, available to you if you’re struggling, if you’re, uh, thinking, I need to learn more about this, we have resources and help for you here at Focus on the Family. We would point you to Debra Fileta’s book, Are you Really Ok? Uh, we do have copies of that here at the ministry. Just call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Debra, uh, 2020 with COVID, uh, a lot of the research is indicating right now, the, the spikes in depression and anxiety.
Jim: And, uh, I guess in that context, what are some of the signs so people, uh, can notice them? I, I would really encourage parents to be on the lookout with your children.
Jim: Because, uh, I was, uh, getting a haircut the other day and in the waiting area, there was about an eight-year-old boy and his dad. And he was pretending to be a doctor and was saying, “Daddy, let me give you a COVID shot.” And was swabbing the arm with the tissue and a, you know, an invisible syringe. And I thought, wow, the impact of that, here is this eight-year-old boy, that’s his play time with his dad-
Jim: Is pretending to give him a vaccine. Uh, that shows you how in tune children are with the world around them.
Jim: So how, how do we notice depression and anxiety? What does it look like?
Debra: Yeah. We talked earlier about how, when we don’t deal with certain things, they inevitably make their way to the surface. And I call that an emotional explosion, kind of like a volcano. The pressure just builds. And we’ve seen a lot of emotional explosions this year. And when we talk about depression and anxiety, it’s not just feelings of worry or sadness. Many times the emotional struggle starts to manifest in physical things. So, all of a sudden, you’re not hungry or you’re eating too much. Maybe you have insomnia, and you can’t sleep. Or maybe you’re sleeping too much, you can’t get out of bed. Maybe you’re are having a hard time concentrating. Maybe you feel fatigue and a lack of energy before you even get out of the bed. And all of these things, point to something going on underneath the surface emotionally. And I think sometimes we write it off because we don’t always understand the body-mind connection. But when you start feeling hopelessness and then you start seeing all of these things begin to manifest in your body, it’s time to take a pause and check in and really ask yourself what’s going on on the inside?
Jim: Yeah. You know, so much of what we deal with and what we talk about with great guests like you, is this, you know, informed, you’re a counselor, you’re an informed professional, you have, uh, you know, gone through the rigors of learning, training, practicing the art of counseling. It is a Christian thing to do, ironically.
Debra: It is.
Jim: In my opinion, you don’t need a state license to say it’s good to help somebody.
Jim: And, uh, but now combining those two things, you know, some people in the Christian community put kind of a stiff arm to counseling and psychology because it sounds too worldly. But the realness of that is combining both a great theological foundation with practical scientific application. The two kind of run together. They don’t run apart. And that’s the point, I guess-
Jim: For the Christian community. It’s okay to get help with a counselor.
Debra: Healing, heart, soul, mind, and strength is always part of God’s plan for our life. And just like we rely on things like physical therapy or going to the gym to get physically healthy, it’s okay to rely on counseling or even medication for us to get emotionally and mentally healthy. And I think we have to give Christian’s permission to realize number one, they’re not immune to these struggles. And number two, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that they’re not okay. And then getting the help that they need.
Jim: Yeah. And I, I think back to the idea of working toward a good goal with emotional wellbeing, God wants you in that place because you’re more effective for him. I mean it’s not a selfish thing, but a healthy Christian is a magnificent tool in the hands of a mighty God, right?
Debra: Absolutely. And the opposite is also true.
Jim: (Laughs) Correct.
Debra: An unhealthy Christian is a magnificent tool that the enemy can use because all of that unhealth and struggle and conflict begins to overflow into all of our relationships and our family and our ministry.
Jim: Yeah. Oftentimes, and again, I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but people that I encounter that are the most rigorous against counseling and additional help, medical help even are sometimes the most toxic people (laughs)
Jim: If I could say it that way because they’re, they’re unwilling to open themselves up to some additional help. They just say, you know, if I just pray, God will take care of me and then they tear people apart around them.
Debra: Yeah. There’s two types of people when you hear the, the title of the book, Are You Really Ok? The ones that worry me the most are the ones who answer too quickly and say, “Yeah, I’m good.”
John: Yeah. I’m fine. I’m fine.
Debra: “I’m fine.” No time to really sit with that question-
Debra: And dig deep.
Jim: Yeah. And Debra, in that regard, I’m going to press you a little bit. You, you dealt with anxiety personally. It, it impacted you. It affected you. Describe what happened in your own life and how you got through the forest of that.
Debra: Christians are not immune, and neither are licensed professional counselors, right? None of us are immune to the struggles of this world. And you know, the trauma from my past paired with the stress in my present caused me to have an emotional explosion at one point in my life. And I dealt with different things from depression to anxiety, to panic attacks that came to the surface and in a stressful season of life. And I had to learn to recognize the symptoms and get myself into help. Get myself the support that I needed. I’m not just talking the talk here. This is something that I have lived out. I’ve been a… There has been a point in my life where I wasn’t okay, and I needed to take the steps to get there.
Jim: And I think in the book, you even relate that to your childhood where you were fearful about things and… Describe some of that so we as parents-
Jim: And even if we’re experiencing some of that can relate to it.
Debra: The roots of our past have so much impact on who we are today. And I think sometimes we look on a superficial level in the present without going back. But when I look back, I see glimpses of who I am today in my childhood. I was an overly sensitive child. And there’s beauty in that. That’s why I’m a therapist today.
Debra: But on the other end of the spectrum of sensitivity is anxiety where you’re taking too much upon yourself. You’re too aware of things. And so, I think it’s important for parents to be able to look for those traits in their children, early signs of anxiety, early signs of depression, and even realize that it’s our role to help our children acknowledge our emotions and understand what’s going on underneath the surface.
Jim: Let me ask you, this is a really delicate example, but oftentimes here at Focus, if we’re talking about marital strife-
Jim: One of the things the producer are always reminding John and I to mention that if you’re in an abusive relationship, you need to get yourself into safety. Uh, there’s been some examples in the culture recently where people that should have known better did not give that advice to people who were in an abusive situation. And that’s, that’s such a poor choice, not to help them in that moment. And sometimes that can end in death, right?
Jim: Death of a spouse where you have a husband who’s out of control, uh, and just cannot manage it. And a lot of Christian people may give the wrong advice. You know, stick with the marriage.
Jim: No, you got to get yourself to safety, then work on the issues. But that’s one of those examples of where you don’t know if you’re really seeing it, but as a counselor, how would you encourage people to not only be observant, but when they need to speak to speak.
Debra: Yeah. You know, just because something is familiar to you and you have seen it happen in your childhood or, or in your marriage again and again, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Sometimes we are so comfortable with unhealthy things that we don’t call them out, that we don’t recognize them, that we don’t put some accountability there. If you’re seeing signs of abuse in your relationship, if there’s manipulation and selfishness and, and you feel like you’re not safe in your relationship, the first thing you need to do is get yourself to safety. Set those boundaries around yourself and then get yourself healthy. Work on yourself before you begin working on the relationship.
Jim: Debra, this has been so good. Uh, and you’re so quick and capable of giving a pithy answer and getting right to the kind of the gem that people need to hear. And I so appreciate it. This is so good. And this is the second time we’ve come back to your wonderful book. Are You Really Ok? Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing and Why It Matters. And I’m sure we’re going to have you back again and again and again. And the listeners just really love how you approach things. So, thank you for being with us.
Debra: Well, thank you. The main reminder here is just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you’re healthy and we can work alongside of the holy spirit to get to a healthy place.
Jim: That’s it. And you know, Focus, John, we are built to help you. Uh, that’s what we’ve been doing for over 40 years now. And Dr. Dobson set that great foundation in place, and we’re continuing that tradition of having a state licensed counselor, Christian counselors available for you. Call, we’ll probably have to take your name and they’ll get back with you to help you, and guide you, and pray with you, and give you some ideas on next steps. And take advantage of it. I don’t think you’re going to surprise us after 40 plus years, we’ve heard a lot. And uh, I think we’ll be able to participate with guests like Debra, with her great book and with other resources to help you move in a better direction.
John: And as you get in touch, uh, if you’re in a good spot, remember that our donor community makes these counseling services available and other great resources to help people where they’re, uh, at their point of need. So, donate as you can, either a monthly pledge or one time gift and, uh, support the ministry of Focus on the Family. You can donate to the work here when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And, uh, when you donate to Focus, uh, we’d be happy to say thank you for joining the support team by sending a copy of Debra’s book, Are You Really Ok? Just request that, uh, when you make that contribution. And join us tomorrow, American Idol contestant, Phil Stacey will encourage you with a reminder about God’s love and work in your life.
Phil Stacey: What God is doing through your life is bigger than you’ll see here. But this life is just a moment. And one day we’ll open our eyes in eternity and forever feel the fullness of joy, forever feel the fullness of peace and, and our, and our faith and our hope is that God is orchestrating our lives. The best part of heaven is with us today. It’s God’s presence.
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John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.