Chinaberry Wars

Rotten chinaberries were plentiful where I grew up. My aunt had a chinaberry tree in her yard. Fragrant purple flowers would drape from the tree each spring. So would clusters of chinaberries. Ornaments, as they’re called, from a tree that had made its way to the United States in the late 1800s from India and China. The soaptree. The berries can be mashed and mixed with water to create a laundry soap for clothing.


Eventually, the berries would release from the tree and scatter about the yard. After days of heat, rain and humid temperatures, the berries rot. As kids, we’d pick the berries from the yard and throw them in a pail for later use. Girls against the boys. Ammunition. Organic pellets.

Walnuts-in-bag-300x168Walnuts made good ammunition, too, but chinaberries were surprisingly effective. They’d give a walnut a run for its money any day. Walnuts were harder to come by. They didn’t have as far of a reach, were less dependable and wobbly when thrown at your target. Chinaberries would sting. They’d leave a welt. The rotted ones also had the added bonus of stink. The stink factor alone made for extraordinary psychological warfare preceding any physical contact with the skin.

We’d tricked our young minds into thinking that a fun way to pass a summertime morning was to climb on top of my uncle’s storage shed and throw chinaberries at the boys.

Survival skills

home.jpgI wanted to get along with everyone. Seemed like a waste of time and energy to fight when we could just play and have fun. We could have been sipping sugar-laden Kool-Aid or swimming somewhere. Listening to music, riding bikes or exploring some forbidden territory near the creek. But instead, it was often full-on violent chinaberry wars.

When someone is throwing chinaberries at you, you have three choices: retreat from enemy forces, attack and throw back or surrender and be pummeled with berries. There’s really no good option. The best option is for no one to be throwing chinaberries in the first place.

Stop the crazy cycleBicycle

Couples come into therapy throwing chinaberries at one another and then wonder why their spouses are retreating, attacking or have given up! Most couples have good intentions. They’re looking for energy, joy, spontaneity, passion and companionship. Some desire a higher level of intimacy on an emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual level. At the very least, some couples are just trying to survive and get what they think they need. When we don’t get what we want from someone else, we may get confused or angry and attack.

You will never criticize your way to closeness.

Throwing chinaberries at your spouse leaves everyone with emotional welt marks. The psychological stink of shame, blame and behaving like a victim create unproductive arguments and acting out.

Instead of throwing berries, you might ask yourself what it is you’re really trying to accomplish. If what you’re after is validation, love, closeness, passion and connectedness, you’re not going to get it by attacking your spouse or by shutting down and hiding from emotions, either.

heaart-300x213.jpgTake the focus (blaming/being a victim) off of your spouse and spend some time with yourself. What’s your part in it? Could it be that what you “want” from your partner is something you’ve been afraid to give yourself? When is the first time you felt this “want” missing from your life? Chances are, if you dig deep, you’ve felt this way long before meeting your partner.

Inspire your spouse to connect instead of attacking your spouse for not connecting. Learning constructive and healthy ways of experiencing and expressing your emotions will help with this. It’s difficult to understand another’s point of view if you don’t understand how you developed your own.

As an adult, another person can’t create your emotions and behaviors.

Set the bucket of chinaberries aside

Stop blaming. Stop chasing. Stop avoiding. Stop retreating. If this sounds foreign, understanding your own internal emotional world can lead you to becoming an insightful and emotionally safe person instead of an emotionally reactive person.

What do you want to create for yourself?

Focused Energy & Affairs

Purple flower growing on crack street, soft focus, blank textIt’s tough being an adult. We all spend our lifetimes trying to become one, no matter what age. In couples’ therapy, people show up for a variety of reasons. In the early stages of therapy, couples tend to focus their energy on the other person’s faults. One or both people have to be woken from this dream of, “If only my spouse would__________, then we wouldn’t be here.”

Criticism, resentment and victim stories ruin relationships. The more energy one focuses on someone else’s faults, the more distance gets created, resulting in more criticism, resentment…and more unwanted distance.

Whatever we put our time and attention into will flourish. Whatever we neglect, avoid, ignore or criticize, will, at best, remain the same, but most often, withers and dies. Most couples in therapy for affair recovery discover that when they focus their attention and energy on their spouse, their relationship not only turns around, but often, flourishes. Two relationships cannot be maintained if one of those relationships is meant to be a committed one. Splitting energy between a triangle of three people leaves everyone hurting and deprived.

All of us have to tackle tough issues if we want to experience mature, deeply satisfying relationships. Focusing energy, whether consciously or not, among superficial habits won’t get you there. Having guts will. It takes guts to face problems. Sure, anyone can numb out or have an affair, avoid, and pretend; but it takes guts to face a situation that isn’t working and have a mature conversation about it.

Couples who can’t find the courage to resolve their issues, (which began long before they even met), may decide to divorce and remarry, while continuing to feel like they were victimized in the previous marriage. The sad reality is that most find themselves in a very similar situation only with a new partner. (An exception here is if one person has been working hard in therapy but has an unworkable partner).

Some important questions to ask yourself:

What would you like to experience in your relationship?

What have you been doing to create those experiences?

Where do you focus most of your energy?



alfred-schrock-780651-unsplashThis is the time of year where gratitude gets a lot of attention. It’s nice to have a holiday that’s based in acknowledging all that we’ve received. As Thanksgiving comes and goes and life happens, it may be difficult to maintain that mindset of gratitude. I’ve been reading a book titled, The Upward Spiral, by Alex Korb. Korb does a great job of explaining neuroscience and depression including some very practical things we can all do to increase our happiness and well-being,

I hope some of this information will help inspire you to have a mindset of gratitude throughout the year.

Before I talk about some of the benefits of being grateful, you might have wondered what to do if you have a hard time getting into a space where you can begin a gratitude practice. Research has shown that identifying your emotions that are causing you to feel down will help. In other words, give your emotions a name. Feeling frustrated or sad or anxious? Say it. When you’re overwhelmed with ill feelings, simply stating what it is you’re feeling will keep the emotion from lingering around…sort of like family members during a holiday visit at the Griswolds. : )

In other words, the negative feelings get processed faster when you name them. The amygdala in your brain, where emotional reactivity occurs, will be less likely to get hijacked if you name your emotions. An amygdala hijack during the holidays will not be pretty. If this sounds too simple or stupid, research shows that while suppressing emotions may give the appearance that all is good on the outside, your limbic system is as aroused and sometimes more aroused than if you hadn’t suppressed the emotion. Your limbic system controls your basic emotions like fear, anger, pleasure. Suppressing emotions will potentially make you more reactive. This doesn’t mean that you need to be reactive, yell or scream to express your emotions. It simply means that you just name the emotion you’re feeling without getting reactive and this will help process what you’re feeling so that your brain doesn’t get hijacked. and you can get back to the thinking part of your brain.

Getting back to developing a gratitude practice…pro-church-media-441073-unsplash

What happens inside your brain when you’re grateful? A really interesting fact—when you’re scanning your brain for things that you’re thankful for, then you’re automatically targeting or putting a spotlight on the positive things in your life. When you do this, your serotonin increases. How cool is that? A natural way to increase your serotonin levels without a pill or spending any money. Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that is linked to feeling good and living longer.

If you’re truly stuck, because you’ve experienced some extra tough times or setbacks and you can’t come up with anything to be grateful doesn’t matter. Just the act of scanning your brain for things to be grateful for still increases serotonin even if you can’t think of one single thing to be grateful for. It’s the act of searching that increases serotonin.

Another interesting thing about being grateful on a regular basis is that over time, your brain will change in such a way that being grateful will take less effort.

If you want to develop a gratitude practice, you might start by writing down three things you’re grateful for every morning when you wake up or every evening before you go to sleep. Or you can make it a habit when arrive at work each day to think of three things you appreciate about your life.

If you want to get the ball rolling and you want to increase your feel good chemicals, you’re welcome to list some things you’re grateful for in the comments here. I’ll leave the name of the reference I used for the majority of the information discussed here below this post.


Book referenced: The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb