Author Archive for: Cheri Armstrong – Page 2

Clownfish and Bullies

Once upon a time in an idyllic setting far, far away, my husband and I had the privilege to sail with friends in Belize (rhymes with puh-leeze, NOT valise). We were reveling in the beauty of the perfectly pure aquamarine water around the boat, swaying gently on the anchor just off a gorgeous little treasure of a cay (pronounced key–it’s a small island).

Off Golf Cay

Off Golf Cay

My husband suddenly began to feel confined by the parameters of the 45’ boat we were relaxing on. Donning trunks, he dove in and snorkeled around, only to return to the boat and proclaim that he had found a skull on the bottom with coral and plants growing out of the eye sockets just a few feet off the cay. He wanted me to see it, so—willing woman that I am—I jumped in and followed him to the spot. We snorkeled, I saw the skull, and we returned to the boat. Our fabulous sailing trip ended too soon.

A couple of days later, we had the beginnings of a biology lesson. We learned all about ‘jellyfish bloom’ and the effects of coming in contact with microscopic jellyfish larvae—which is actually so tiny that it cannot be seen in the water. The larvae attach to your skin where they are then in position to discharge their toxic darts. Jellyfish vary widely, and in our case, we were blissfully unaware—until we began to have small painful, itchy red bumps erupting through the surface of our skin. We have chosen  to never have that happen to us again if we can help it!

Solutions range from staying out of unknown waters to a patented product called Safe Sea. As we learned that the developers of the Safe Sea product had taken a lesson from the clownfish, which never gets stung because it exudes a slippery substance that coats their skin and prevents the jellyfish from attaching.

Image credit: cbpix / 123RF Stock Photo

Image credit: cbpix / 123RF Stock Photo

Now for the *bullies part. What if we could protect ourselves with a self-made thought process called Safe Passage that screened any incoming verbal abuse?

When an insecure bully starts in on you, just let it run off, like water off a duck’s back. Don’t let that abusive person in your world get into your head and tell you who you are! Whenever someone is pouring on the verbal abuse, they might as well wear a sign around their neck that says, ‘I’m feeling small and scared. Let me stomp on you to make me feel big and strong.’

In response, you can do some self-talk like this: ‘Watch out bully! I have a brain and I know how to use it!’

When someone is in bully mode, their view of you is not correct. It is our own fears that maybe they are right—we really are a [insert bad word] that causes us to cave and want to slink away.

Separate yourself from the bully in whatever way is best in the situation, but remember that you are a human just as much as s/he is, and that automatically qualifies you to hold your own opinion. You are ‘As good as the best, but no better than the rest.’

Wishing you Safe Passages!

Resource –

*Disclaimer: This post addresses garden-variety verbal abuse in our everyday lives. It is not meant to be the only response to a violent abuser.

Beyond Half Full. . .

I have a client who knocked my socks off last week with a story.

She was at this conference and the keynote speaker hefted a half glass of water at arms’ length for all to see. Everyone expected to hear the old question about our viewpoint on life—is the glass half full, or is it half empty? But the presenter didn’t go there. . .

Instead she asked, ‘How heavy is this glass of water?’

Image credit: captainzz / 123RF Stock Photo

Image credit: captainzz / 123RF Stock Photo

As attendees shouted out answers, she held up her hand to stop them. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she continued. ‘What matters is how long you hold it.’

If you hold the glass for 5 minutes, the weight doesn’t matter at all.

If you hold the glass for 5 hours, you will feel numb and become stiff and achy.

If you hold it for 5 days, you will likely pass out and crash on the floor.

This water illustration captures perfectly the way we interact with our environment when under stress. Our systems were designed to absorb some stress without ill effects. However, in our ‘push-it-to-the-max’ society, we need to be aware that we are often stressed beyond our body’s capabilities. AND if we don’t sit up and take notice, it may kill us.  Literally.

So what’s a body to do?

Rewind to a graduate course I took in my master’s program. Our instructor told us that if we didn’t remember anything else—we should remember this. (It worked, see?)

‘After a stressful day,’ she exhorted, ‘you will be carrying around a cocktail of toxic chemicals dumped into your body by the stresses you’ve just experienced. The best thing you can do,’ she said, ‘is to go for a brisk run for just 5—that’s FIVE—minutes. That’s all. The burst of energy you get by running gives those chemicals somewhere to go and neutralizes their debilitating residue.’

Furthermore, she upped the ante even more by telling us that these potentially lethal stress hormones—unneutralized by the short burst of invigorating exercise—just hang in there and do their dastardly work against our major organs. The same major organs, mind you, that will ‘knock on the door’ one day to hand us one of the 10 deadly diseases that take us out the back door in a pine box.

Lesson learned–I still remember what she said. She got me. And I’m glad.


Hot Seat!

I attended a seminar sometime back and recently came across my notes in buried in a book I happened to open. What jumped out at me now—several years later—is what the now-unknown speaker said about groups that people attend for the purpose of improving their lives. This can apply from therapy groups to church groups to anything else in the ball park.

The presenter’s train of thoughts went like this:

We must do more than just tell people how to do the right thing and then hold them accountable. We must collaborate, come alongside, support and encourage each other through our growth processes.

This long-ago presenter finished with a powerful commentary. When groups don’t know how to relate to each other, they don’t know how to encourage, sustain, show acceptance of the other’s process, they tend to emphasize accountability!

Hot Seat!

When we don’t know how to relate with the positive and meaningful interactions that actually promote interpersonal growth, we retreat into ourselves and become critical, taking potshots at those around us because we subconsciously believe it will make US feel better! So we put them in the hot seat. Can you see the divide-and-conquer thing going on here?

Since change happens by working together, and being honest with ourselves and others–let’s challenge ourselves!

Next time I feel critical, I can remind myself that it is acceptance, collaboration, and encouragement that make the difference. I can choose—again and again—to relate to those around me through this framework. When I can’t let something go, I am putting that person in the hot seat for the purpose of making myself seem a little better. Next time you find yourself in the critical mode, stop and ask yourself, “Do I really want to tromp on people just to toot my own horn and hold forth at the top of the heap? Really?”

Accountability starts at our own back doors—and yes—our shoulders are wide enough to do this. It’s time for us to look in the mirror!

I can choose, practice, and learn to think this way—and so can you!

The Princess on the Glass Mountain

A number of years ago my therapist friend, Dr. Jimmye, asked the members of a group she was conducting to do a re-write of a fairy tale. Group members were to write themselves into the story and then change the ending to whatever would underwrite their hopes and dreams. Dr. Jimmye wrote about the story of the princess on the glass mountain.

The original tells the story of a beautiful princess with a highly-protective father. Daddy, who took great pride in the beauty of his little-girl-becoming-woman, perched her atop a glass mountain. Knowing that the glass was very smooth and slick, daddy intended to discourage would-be suitors. Alas, this precluded Miss Princess from partaking of the full joys of life.

Princess on Glass Peak

When Dr. Jimmye re-wrote the story, she played the Magical Princess, who felt that her level of education may have put her at arms-length, preventing her from meeting the man of her dreams. In her re-write, her Prince Charming flew in his aeroplane from the peaks of his Glass Mountain Range, landing neatly beside her before swooping her into his arms and carrying her off to his castle where they would Live Happily Ever After.

Dr. Jimmye has a delightful imagination. But now for the rest of the story. . .

About a month after Dr. Jimmye had put herself into this magical tale, she got a phone call from a man she had dated years earlier. They had both gone on to marry someone else, but he had never forgotten her. This Man was calling from Denver, smack dab in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. He had three questions for her.

  1. Are you married?
  2. Are you engaged?
  3. Are you dating anyone?

When she gave him her three ‘No’ answers, he said, “I’ll be right there.”

He hung up the phone, jumped in his aeroplane and, carrying her in his heart, he soon landed in Spokane, rented a car, and forthwith appeared on her doorstep. He took her to the nicest restaurant in town (which at that time happened to be out of town, at Patit Creek in Dayton), wooed her, asked for her hand, and moved into her heart.

. . . the takeaways?

  1. Don’t be afraid to dream!
  2. Accept life on its own terms!
  3. Live in gratitude!


Further Reading

I recall–from classes I have taken along the way–the section at the end of the syllabus noted, “For Further Reading…”

When I have been particularly taken by an idea or a method of relating to others, to family, to the world around me, or to my Creator, I will sometimes ‘research the research’ and at times find a virtual treasure trove of titles that send me off in other slightly different directions.

One of the best things I know is to curl up with a great book in some conducive setting, and enter another world. . .

Hammock Girl Reading

So here are a few books I have known and loved. . .

1.  His Needs, Her Needs – Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, by Willard F. Harley, Jr.; Revell

2. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver; Three Rivers Press

3. Pre-Parenting – Nurturing Your Child from Conception, by Thomas R. Verny and Pamela Weintraub; Simon & Schuster

4. Parenting from the Inside Out – How a Deeper Self-Understanding can Help You Raise Children who Thrive, by Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell; Tarcher /Penguin

5. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, by Daniel G. Amen; Three Rivers Press

6. Belonging, by Nancy and Ron Rockey with Kay Kuzma; Sycamore Tree

7. Forgiveness – Breaking the Chain of Hate, by Michael Henderson; Arnica Publishing

8. Bold Love, by Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman,III; Navpress

9. Unbreakable Bonds, by Cheryl Meier and Paul Meier; Baker Books

10. Connecting, by Larry Crabb; W Publishing Group / Thomas Nelson, Inc.

So jump right in, readers! Curl up in a sunny nook with a cup of tea and fall in love with a new fave book. May one of these titles bless you as well. Bon voyage!


Trauma, trauma, kiss a llama!

Have you ever listened to children’s nursery rhymes and wondered where they came from? Well. . . I was thinking the other day about this poor traumatized llama, and I found myself wondering—what qualifies as trauma? So off I went to where I learned that trauma is ‘an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.’


Generally, we think of trauma as an extreme injury or a shocking event, in spite of the fact that we all have many small snippets of psychological injury or pain woven throughout our lives.

So what’s the bottom line?

The most sustained impact of traumas—large or small—is the fact that these painful experiences leave behind a residue of beliefs—about ourselves, others, the world, God. Often these beliefs are pretty profound—they sink in deep—and very often they skew our view of ourselves, our world, each other.

So how does this work?

If you are a toddler and you are watching as mama hits daddy (or the reverse), you begin to believe the world is not safe and this can establish a strong fear base for dealing with the world around you. This can in turn hog-tie you—keep you from taking common everyday risks that allow you to move ahead in your life.

Can you do anything about this now as an adult?

Yes! The first step is to recognize that you may have blocks that are holding you back from engaging with the world in ways you’d like to. From that point, you would probably do best to see a good therapist. Together you can process confining beliefs and learn to see the world through a new pair of glasses that can help you see your way to more joy.

Investment or Folly?

When I was a little girl, I remember my mother tsk-tsking over some of the “fancy” boats some of our friends had. She would shake her head and talk about the waste of money.

As my bro, sis, and I grew up, my mother wondered sometimes why we hadn’t adopted her party line. I know she spent some relatively intense time over the years bemoaning the fact that we were more wayward than she thought we ought to be; she had taught us—why didn’t we listen? Where had she gone wrong?

Fast-forward to the present–many, many years later!

We were enjoying breakfast with friends this last weekend, and as we chatted, my friend Diane was bringing me up to date about her kids, grandkids, in-laws, out-laws, and many nieces and nephews. Now Diane knows how to do family! She has lots of family, having both her adoptive family and her  biological relatives.


Diane and husband Obie made an investment in a houseboat 21 years ago. They keep it at a marina on the end of a lake not too far from the city. During the summer season—and even the spring and the fall—every weekend finds them on the boat. It’s what they do.

As we talked about family, she commented that her nieces had just called to see about spending a weekend on their houseboat this summer. And the next-door-neighbors, who were friends of their children while they were growing up, had called. During their conversation, they had shyly asked if they might spend a week with Diane and Obie on the boat.

Making breakie

Diane and Obie generously share space with many family members and friends. I remember her leaning on us to come up sometime and spend a weekend with them. We made it happen. They shared the main cabin with us and pitched a camp tent on the roof for their master bedroom. We also now share delightful memories of long paddle-boat trips, short sail-boat jaunts, good books, and smoked salmon & wild blackberry omelettes.

Sail away!

Diane and Obie spent good times with their kids–and their kids’ friends—as they were growing up. They still do. Today their young adults are doing well, and Diane and Obie are very proud of them. These “kids” still look forward to time spent away with family at the lake.

When Diane and Obie made the investment in their boat over two decades ago, I wonder if they consciously thought of the time they would spend sharing fun and laughter—the stuff which enables parents to pass on their values to their kids. I don’t know! But heck—even the neighbor kids caught some of the family warmth—and it is still providing a rudder for them as they navigate the course of their lives!

Bravo to people like Diane and Obie who have shamelessly celebrated family fun! And to their kids—and their neighbor kids—who learned a lot about how to live as they shared the warmth of family. Maybe—just maybe—it has something to do with their strong family bonds today.

What if I Don’t Know my Goals for Therapy?

Think you might need a counselor, but aren’t sure what your goals are? Generally this is no big pro-blem-o.

Puzzled Man

When you make an appointment with me, and you show up for the first time, I like to do a preliminary assessment. Although I want to know what brought you to see me and what your goals are for counseling, I find that most clients welcome the chance to begin to interact with a new person without having to come up with all the lines. For you, this helps to break the ice a bit; for me, asking a few questions gives me an overall bird’s-eye-view of your life. This helps me to see a balanced view of what is going on for you, and I am not so apt to miss some glaring problem that you might be so used to that you forget to mention it.

If you know you need to take a look at your life and you need some help processing, but you’re having trouble coming up with your ‘goals’ for counseling, not to worry!

By the time we have finished the general assessment, I have a fair picture of some of the areas that are likely troubling you. Sometimes also, I can see areas of concern that you may not be consciously aware of. After all, if you already have all the answers, why would you go looking for someone to help you process the things that are troubling you? If you need to talk about what goals you want to pursue, that’s ok. We can work on them together. Just remember—you have the last word!

Life Lessons Learned

Boy studies

wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

Benjamin Solomon “Ben” Carson, Sr. is the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Early last month he was the featured speaker at the White House prayer breakfast.

Rather than political rivalry, or partisan politics, what I took away from his speech were some of the lessons Dr. Carson reported learning from his mother as he grew up in poverty in the slums of Detroit.

Despite having only a 3rd-grade education, tackled her sons’ education single-handedly, challenging her boys to learn more and be more. Young Ben, who reports having had a nasty temper and poor grades, grabbed hold of this task and ran with it. No one can argue but that he made very, very good on mom’s challenge.

These are the lessons young Ben learned from mom as a young boy:

1. About being PC – “Do your own thinking. Feel free to speak up about it, but always speak with respect for the other person or side.” As an adult, he muses, “We need diversity of thought and we need to use our brains, but we must always do this respectfully!”

2. On being a victim – Ben’s mom asks, “Son! Do you have a brain? Do you? It doesn’t matter what Johnny or Susie said or did. You can figure out a solution! You are not a victim! Get out there and take responsibility!”

These two bits of advice from Mom Carson set well with me. Think about them for a moment and see what you think!

Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

When you and your love are pulling in different directions, you may find yourself wondering how you got there. Whose fault is it anyway?

It may not surprise you that in spite of all the androgynous press, men’s and women’s brains are wired very differently. And before you groan, stop and think about it—these differences are delightful, and something to be celebrated! Do you really want to be married to someone exactly like you? I’m betting your answer is a resounding “No!”


So what’s the difference in this brain wiring I’m talking about?

One of the differences in brain wiring is what psychologists call ‘the locus of control.’

Men tend to have an external locus of control, whereas women tend to have an internal locus of control. So what does this mean practically speaking?

When something goes wrong, men tend to look outside themselves to find out what the problem is. In a relationship, that can look like, “I don’t feel so hot, so it must be your fault!”  When something goes wrong, women tend to look inside themselves and ask, “What did I do wrong?”

Whoaaa you say–that sounds pretty harsh! Sexist! Blatantly unfair! But wait…

Am I letting women off the hook? Not at all. For women, it feels more like, “Help! I’m out of control. If it is my fault, then I can do something about this! If it is not my fault, then that leaves me helpless, and I can’t stand that!!”

So why do people want to be in control anyway?

It’s because we learned at a very young age that life can hurt! And our subconscious brain tells us that if we can keep things under our control, then we will never be in this bad space again. We can protect ourselves and those we care about by being in control at all times.

Except that doesn’t work very well.

Men and women also tend to have different styles of wanting to be in control. Men may more frequently use their brawn to threaten their spouse if they don’t “do what I say.” Women may try to “strong-arm” their man verbally, spewing out a torrent of demeaning verbal trash. Neither style is nice. And neither style works for very long.

So . . . next time you find yourselves pulling in different directions, and wondering whose fault it is—take a look in the mirror! Check out your default thought patterns. If the shoe fits, figure out how you can take this little insight and make it work for you in your relationships!

What’s the bottom line—for you? For your spouse?

Giving each other the benefit of the doubt is one of the sweetest gifts you can give your partner. After all, no one of us is perfect! And ‘humble’ is a whole lot more attractive than ‘arrogant’ right?

Sending you blessings for you and your love!