Archive for April, 2013


What does it mean to be a combat veteran? Often the answer can be found in training and learning how to fight in a combat situation. A combat load in the military is regarded as a full load of everything needed to fight whether it’s a tank or a rucksack. What goes in a tank or ruck gets hauled whether it weighs 64 tons on a track or a 120 pounds on a back. As prior Infantry, I remember my first real combat load and couldn’t believe what was being handed to me to carry. My usual training combat load varied anywhere from 35-75 pounds depending on the mission. Not this time, I weighed it in disbelief before deploying approaching 120 lbs. By some standards and units this is still considered low. This is crazy, how can anyone carry this much weight and still be effective? It was cliché for the cadence call referencing “I used to drive a Cadillac, now I carry it on my back.”

Point number one is that a combat load is heavy. It’s everything you need and then some. If it’s not needed then worry about that later but for now, it goes. That brings me to point number 2. In training the mind gets conditioned like this, “Yeah, its heavy, suck it up and get over it. Don’t’ worry about your feet, knees or back, it’s all skin and bone, pain is temporary, it grows back if it gets worn out.” These are the types of messages many of the veterans hear to teach them how to push through pain and suffering. They learn how to suck things up and keep moving. One thing to remember, if  you are pushing hard so is the enemy, so push harder, make them miserable. In the end it makes the guy on the other side want to quit fighting so it makes sense to learn pain management.

Conditioning the mind works great if someone is struggling to carry a rucksack that is equivalent to almost 70% of their body weight. The problem with this theory is what happens to the veteran after they return from war and still have the mind set to keeping “sucking it up.” They carry the wounds of war back to their families and communities and try to readjust back to a sense of normalcy. The combat load they are now carrying is in their mind and the images of their experiences dealing with life threatening situations. They may have PTSD or depression. They turn to substance abuse and in a worst case scenario they may take their own life to end the pain they feel that they can no longer “suck up.” Military suicides over the past few years out numbers combat deaths.

The weight of their experience becomes too heavy and difficult to carry anymore. They struggle to “just get over it.” The difficulty of trying to get over it often leads to misinterpreted feelings of guilt, shame and trying to shed painful memories. Trying to adjust they may experience feeling abandoned, rejected, nervous, have trouble sleeping, nightmares and helplessness. This is the combat load they struggle with. This is the part where they try to continue to suck it up and it becomes an overwhelming task and trying to go it alone becomes daunting.

So what can be done about it? First and foremost is teamwork. If you know a veteran who is struggling do not be afraid to approach them. They may feel a little like a failure, or have some guilt and try to shrug it off, after all, they are supposed to be tough and be able to handle it. There is a little known secret out there in addition to the Veterans Administration called The Vet Center. There are many of these located in communities across the country and often have great counseling resources available. They are funded by the VA yet they operate separately. Another option is to find private veteran related support groups and church ministries geared toward veterans. Most communities have these and might have to do a little digging to find them but they are out there. In Orlando, one of those organizations is called The Camaraderie Foundation.

One of the greatest assets to healing is getting plugged into a social setting with other veterans. It gives them a place of connection with others who can relate to their experience and lets them see that they are not alone. In these environments talking about their experiences can help relieve some of the load and burden they have been carrying around.  There is healing in relationships and the transformation can begin to build resiliency in the veteran. Encouragement and appreciation can go a long way as it helps to normalize their experience.

The military doesn’t teach people to take the easy way out, it teaches people that when things get tough then it’s time to get tougher. The problem with this theory is everyone has a limit as to how much they can carry. When the combat load is too heavy to carry alone it’s time to ask others for help.

About the author- Brian M Murray is a devoted professional helping to empower people and overcoming difficult obstacles in life. He is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern located in Orlando and Winter Park Florida working as a counselor in a private practice setting at The LifeWorks Group.

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Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is a mental health condition that involves a person who believes they are special and are entitled to violate the rights of others. They typically have a long term pattern lacking boundaries resulting in manipulation and exploitation of family, friends, co-workers and complete strangers alike. This disorder is commonly misunderstood to be the same as social phobia or social anxiety which is a fear of being around other people or out in public places.  APD is not the same as social phobia/anxiety. APD is about a person who thinks highly of themselves and is deserving of special recognition from others to the point of even being criminal about it.

Like most other personality disorders, they believe they do not have a problem but it is others who have the problem. They very seldom if ever exhibit empathy or compassion for others unless it is to achieve an end result such as getting money or favorable treatment. This is the manipulation. They may come across as charming in an almost narcissistic way engaging with others until they get what they want and then they go back to being themselves. When they don’t get their way they often scheme to find a way to exploit what they want out of others for personal profit and pleasure. Once they have what they want they go right back into a disrespectful and disregarding way of being.

The DSM-IV-TR, the clinical reference used by mental health clinicians for diagnosing clients, list other traits (this is not an exhaustive list) as being deceitful, repeated lying, conning others, impulsivity, irritability, aggressiveness, physical fights or assaults, reckless disregard and safety of others , failure to plan ahead in life, lack of remorse and rationalizing the pain they have inflicted on others. Rationalizing the pain inflicted on others is a defense mechanism utilized to cast blame because of somebody else, and not themselves, that caused them to behave this way. For someone to be diagnosed with this disorder they must be at least 18 years old, have had this pattern since they were 15 years of age and there is evidence of Conduct Disorder occurring before the 15 years of age marker.

A person, who has APD, or any personality disorder, can go for psychotherapy and healing can occur. The prognosis for treatment of APD is long term and often requires years of committed therapy in order to get favorable results. Because this disorder is a core identity issue the person must relearn their identity and how to overcome early life imprinting that signals to them about who they have leaned to be as a person. Strong defense mechanisms are often in place surrounding this core and require a skilled therapist to reach the inner core to address the wound that is found there. There is no single marker that points to how personality disorders develop whether it is environmental, family system or genetic. It appears that some combination of all of them contribute to the equation.


DSM-IV-TR (American Psychological Association),

National Library of Medicine

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WorriedHow much a person worries is subjective and varies from person to person as to what defines too much worry. Persistent and long term worry about life events can be disabling and frustrating not only to the worrier but also to those around them. Worry is often the result of getting stuck in a negative thought pattern. Common side effects of negative thinking lead to anxiety, stress and depression. All of these patterns taken to a level deeper are often based on fear whether imagined or real.

Worry has a common companion in the form of anxiety. Anxiety is a normal reaction to a perceived fear and when it is put into the right context it is useful for survival by activating our fight or flight response. Being confronted by an angry animal or a dangerous person activates the response to run away or fight and defend. However, when fear based worry leads to anxiety out of context it can lead to unnecessary negative feelings. The cost of long term worry adversely affects many areas of life that are critical for good health and overall life satisfaction. Common areas that typically suffer are job satisfaction and performance, sleep loss, impulse control issues and long term depression.

There are a few techniques a person can use if suffering from unhealthy worry and anxiety. First is to challenge the thoughts that are associated with the worry. Thoughts can be challenged through self examination by asking for the evidence that supports the thinking. If there is evidence that validates the worry then the associated anxiety is valid. An example of this might be financial problems after long term unemployment. However, if evidence is absent then what may be happening is cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions can hamper or paint a skewed picture of reality by creating a scenario in the thought process that has nothing to support its validity.

While there are many different types of cognitive distortions, some common cognitive distortions often associated with worry are catastrophizing, prediction and compare and despair. Catastrophizing is imaging the worst is going to happen in a given situation. Prediction is much like catastrophizing by making predictions about what is going to happen in the future with a negative outlook. Compare and despair is looking at a situation and comparing it to another situation and then comparing ourselves negatively toward the outcome and then getting upset about it.

Chronic worry can be disabling however it can be avoided if managed appropriately. Look for balance in thinking processes and challenge the validity of the thoughts. Hold the thoughts captive until an objective examination of those thoughts has been completed. When the perspective on a situation in life is changed it can help resolve feelings of excess worry and anxiety.

Philippians 4:6-7 The Message (MSG) 6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

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There is a type of addiction that exists that is commonly, and affectionately, referred to as a “shop-a-holic.” While it may sound like a term of endearment on the surface there are some people who strongly identify with it and have serious problems struggling to stop spending money. So what is behind this behavior, is it the love of money, does it feel good to spend money?

The real culprit behind spending money just like any other addiction is it makes the person feel good. When we medicate something painful in life it makes us feel better and reinforcing the desire to indulge in the activity. So what is the big deal about going out and spending money?” Spending money is okay, but just like drinking a little wine every once in a while doesn’t impair most people there are some who can’t touch the stuff as it will lead them down a path of destruction. But when spending money is put into the context of what constitutes addiction then it becomes a problem.

Addiction is the compulsive habit of turning to a substance or behavior that leads to dysfunction in multiple areas of a person’s life mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Often the underlying question is how come this is happening? The answer is typically that the compulsion is being used as a coping mechanism for some undesirable feeling such as sadness or unresolved anger. The rush of spending money sends a chemical to the brain that involves feeling good resulting in the perception of happiness. It feels good at the time but when the activity is over so is the elation. The reality of sadness and undesired feelings creep back in and the person returns to the thing that makes them feel good.

This turns into a vicious cycle of addiction where a person is avoiding their unresolved pain and instead learns to live in a world that makes them feel good. This forms a kind of love bond with the behavior and become attached to it. The only problem with the method is like any addiction it takes more and more to get the same result. The reason it takes more and more is the coping mechanism is faulty, it’s not true healing. The checking account runs low, savings accounts disappear, retirement funds get cashed out, second loans on the home and then foreclosure, lost relationships and marriages, cars get repossessed and the list goes on. It is not usually until a person who has an addiction issue hits rock bottom that they finally admit they have a problem and reach out for help. They have no more resources left to mask the problem. They have exhausted their friends and family and they have a debt they cannot repay.

So what does a person who has a spending addiction do? First is to know that any addiction is a symptom of an underlying issue. Seek professional help to help identify the root cause of the problem. One of the main issues regarding behavioral addictions is low self esteem and depression. When mood is lifted it is because it was lifted from a low place into one of elation. Developing healthy coping mechanisms that do not lead to destruction is a good place to start. This involves doing things that are enjoyable and require little if any funding to pursue. Taking walks in the park, visiting with friends or going and helping the less fortunate as a volunteer can be great places to start. To help with undesired feelings journaling thoughts through hand written expression, art, woodworking or other methods that involve the use of hands can be great for providing distractions to return to old addiction coping mechanisms. These therapeutic tools are also useful to relieve everyday stress, anxiety and depression which are common relapse triggers.


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Controlling Behavior in Relationships

Controlling Behavior in Relationships

Being in a relationship with someone who is healthy creates good feelings of wanting to move forward with that person. In the process of relationship maturity there are certain characteristics to look out for that will help identify how things will play out in the long run. Sometimes unhealthy behavior can begin to raise little red flags in the mind that maybe something is not quite right. This is usually indicated by feelings of reluctance to spend time with the other person leading to avoidance issues. Wanting to isolate or getting away from the other person can be an indication of wanting to sort out thoughts and feelings about the relationship.

When sorting out these thoughts and feelings there are certain behaviors that signal there may be something to further evaluate. Whether married, engaged, dating or single; here are a few suggestions for self evaluation in a relationship.

  1. I can express my emotions, thoughts and feelings freely without judgment or criticism. Nurturing a relationship built on safety and trust goes a long way. Someone who is always criticizing or being judgmental about thoughts and feelings discourages growth and maturity and eventually other areas of the relationship, for example intimacy may begin to suffer. Healthy people respect each other, not criticize, even if they agree to disagree on certain subjects.
  2. Watch how the other person treats their close family members such as their parents and siblings. Are they being treated with respect or are they being negative and sarcastic? Often how these people are being treated can be a clue as to how people in a relationship will eventually be treated as well. When a relationship is new it can be exciting and most people want to present their best. As time goes on the real person begins to emerge and expose their true character. Conduct an early check by watching how they treat family.
  3. Be on the lookout for controlling behavior. Areas that are frequently used to control others are by getting aggressive regarding money, sex, anger and time spent with others. With money it is usually an issue by criticizing how you are spending money, making frequent suggestions on how to get more and then using manipulation to get it from you. In the case of marriage, money is controlled by restricting access to it and using intensive questioning about how it will be used. With sex, it is often withheld or the opposite occurs by being abusive and forceful when it is non-consensual. Anger is used to control the behavior response from others and is very highly prevalent with addictive behavior. Using anger to control is all about the controlling person which implies that “if you don’t do what I want then you will have to deal with me being unpleasant.” Finally, time with others, if a person questions or gets upset that time is being spent with others often presents an issue with jealousy. Jealousy can be an inroad leading to more complicated issues later in the relationship.

While this is not a comprehensive list of things to look out for in a relationship it can be a starting point or way to evaluate a few areas that may be of concern. Relationships can be complicated and involve many moving parts that go into the overall equation. Healthy relationships involve feeling comfortable with safety and trust with the other person. Safety and trust are foundational and allow for other areas of the relationship to grow such as maturity and intimacy. This is a kind of intimacy that goes beyond sex in the form of a deep knowing of the other person. Intimacy and maturity are lifelong endeavors in any relationship and really never stop growing. It takes time to get to really know someone.

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