Eps 219: Guest, Aundi Kolber: Strong Like Water

Aundi Kolber

Trauma therapist Aundi Kolber is my guest. With her book Strong Like Water, Kolber builds from her critically-acclaimed and much-beloved first book called Try Softer. Her work has been healing and life-giving to many including myself.

(Book links are Amazon affiliate links)

(The Substack and Patreon links below have extras—including the latest work from Puerto Rico!)

(preview for free)
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ESP 23 The hidden “family rules” that have shaped you (and still impact your life)

familyfightDid this ever happen to you? You think the way your family (of origin) does something is normal, and then, suddenly, you find out it isn’t?

Usually, this happens when you form close relationships outside your family of origin. Fireworks can ensue!

How your family dealt with conflicts, problems, shame, secrets, and tragedies shaped you and learning relational and loyalty dynamics from the previous generations in your family can bring relational repair, health, and hope.


That’s what today’s show is about. I’m glad you can listen, today.


Today’s guest is graduate school professor and marriage and family therapist in private clinical practice, Janet Stauffer, Ph.D.



Dean of Students, Evangelical Seminary

Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy

In addition to her work at the seminary and her clinical practice, Janet is vice president of the Board of Directors at Philhaven Behavioral Healthcare facility. She has led retreats, presented at professional conferences, and published articles in a number of journals. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and approved supervisor and clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. She also holds membership in the Christian Association for Psychological Studies. Her research interests include genuine meeting through dialogical engagement, loyalty dynamics between and across the generations of the family, and the intersection of faith and therapy.





Each person is born with an inherent longing to connect.


Early childhood experiences shape who we are and how we relate to others.

Our ancestors deliver ways of being to us across generations:


What can be done if the early years weren’t filled with dysfunction and problems?


How relationship can alter the wiring and re-patterning of the brain.


Jim Coen, UVA – The Hand holding experiment.


In close relationships, we end up feeling–not only are you here with me–but somehow you are me. Somehow we are here together.


Before we can help others, we have to be open to ourselves and our own healing. Our wounds can remain as vulnerabilities and our greatest resource.


“I because who I am through my relationships with other people, so that more of me gets called forth as I respond to others in my world around me.”


The still face experiment:


“Foo-Poo” (FOO = Family of Origin) influences our current relationships.


The interconnectedness and “loyalty dynamics” between and across the generations and how during all our interactions we are holding something that has been passed down across generations and in the larger cultural dynamics.


Example from life (Janet, her husband and the Ford Fiesta). Naming the truth in our interactions and being curious about what we hold from generations before us.


Janet explored what anger was like for her mother and grandmother and discovered not just a family secret and the shame that was carried on, but also a a family norm relating to how pain is dealt with.


Family secrets and ways of interacting waiting like land mines that can sabotage our other relationships.


We can also end up carrying or holding visibly or invisibly things that our spouse (or other close relationships) hold as well.


There are options for growth and healing if we can be open, aware, curious and can find courage to turn and face [the other] and remember where our weakness are and admit them.


The power of naming what is happening for us emotionally.


“Honoring my personal truth, personal awareness, my being, and made a claim for myself has a profound impact in my own knowing.”


“Every one of us experiences terror at the thought of finding the courage to turn and face the other in a painful situation at some point in our life.”


A defend or fight mode should be superseded by the prevailing message “You and I are on the team team ultimately. We have a reason to connect and I long for you. But it’s been hard between and here’s something of how it’s been for me… and I want to know what it’s like for you.”


Yet, we cannot think what we say will always help because we cannot guarantee the other person’s response. So there is vulnerability in saying the truth.


Being calm, curious and compassionate even in the face of wounds and vulnerability.


Emotionally self-regulating and contending with emotional triggers.


(In marriage or close relationships) Learning self and other in a whole new way…in a kind of sacred space to grow through the most tender places that we hold.


Telling the other what would help in what feels like an unsafe place emotionally.


Learning to soothe one another.


On core lies we can believe about ourselves.


Honoring when emotional safety is just as important as physical safety.


What to do when it’s not safe to have important conversations.


Martin Buber-We live with an armor around us and bands around our heart and being closed off and unaware and unaddressed.


Asking questions of ourselves to create more awareness and realizing our thoughts and memories are not us.


We limit our imagination about the capacity each of us holds to respond the other, the world around us and ourself.


We can test our assumptions and plant seeds that bring new possibilities for ourself and others.


When we can’t yet name or isolate our feelings.


Giving permission and a soft demand to know what is going on with someone else and helping them find their voice.


The biblical tradition of the garden where God says “Where art thou?” a story about hiding. God’s longing for humankind.


King David in the psalms is modeling openness and receptivity…asking “What is in my heart?” “Who am I?” “What do I hold?”


Being open and still safe. Giving yourself warm, regard, and leaving the self-judgment out.

“Judgment limits the knowing.”


Being present to and growing in recognition of “here’s what I hold” or “here’s what freezes me” etc and asking “how can I be more free?” and then exploring new pathways and practices that go somewhere.


On the spiritual practices and things can people do to move forward.


These ways of understanding what it is to connect, grow and be human are universal and offer hope to those with varied religious tradition and no religious affiliation too.


The spiritual and the Other when it is not defined as “God”.


“God doesn’t limit God’s self to the church or the synagogue or the mosque and we can never fully describe God because God cannot be contained and is always more than what I can fathom or grasp”


Asking, “How do I understand the call before me and how do I invite others and find the place where they are experiencing call and longing and where is this work happening within them. What is being invited forth?”


How we can pass down the best of our generational dynamics and loyalties to our children.


On the invisible family rule of perfectionism and how it made Janet think she could be the perfect parent and how that idea was shattered.


How she approached her son after that point to understand what he was experiencing and being surprised by his reply.


We can never get it all right, but we can be willing to go to our child and ask them about their experience.


Inviting others to know themselves in whatever capacity to do that they can and hold what they say with care and honor.


Enacting moments and accumulating themes and transactions and happenings and asking “Is their a burden they carry or an injury of disregard or diminishment that was not theirs to carry?” which deserve address and caring and honor.


On having a commit to “I will be there for you, and I will be here for me, and I invite you to be here for me,” is a profound act that helps us for the long run.


Despite our efforts, outcomes are not guaranteed and each person has an opportunity to respond uniquely.

RESOURCES for further discovery:

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Sin and Riptide?

escape riptide daigramI love this handy-dandy safety chart on riptide. As you swim inland a rip current will prevent you from coming to shore. It will pull you under and drag you out to sea. Even in shallow water a strong swimmer can drown in rip current, so get wise to the wicked water and read it!

In the start of a new series leading up to Easter, my pastor (Jeff Byerly) began on Sunday talking about Recovery. Using themes from the 12 step program (and the Celebrate Recovery organization) he mentioned that even though we don’t all suffer the torments of pronounced addictions, the path to healing remains the same. This is one of the benefits of a support group like Celebrate Recovery. It functions like a life guarding outpost when the rip current is subtly strong.

Whether we tend to get into co-dependent relationships, spend time looking at pornography, succumb to retail therapy (shopping), fixate on eating too little (or feel the compulsion to eat too much) our compulsions and hang ups read like a similar story, a human story. A normal story.

The most piercing portion of the talk came when Jeff referenced some thoughts from C.S. Lewis…here I’m paraphrasing from Jeff’s paraphrase…but it goes something like…

–Bad people really don’t know that much about their badness— (maybe some of you Lewis fans can point me to the exact reference)

In sinning (which is the normal but deadly stuff of life), we go along with things as they come. We don’t distinguish much as we do mostly what we please. It’s only when we resist, try to consistently do what is right and good and when we try to go against the opposing and fierce force within and without that we run into a kind of riptide trying to pulling us under and kill us. Goodness then is a right mirror showing what still needs work in us. It reflects an ugly picture we don’t care to look at.

Paul really fleshes this out in Romans….What a great devotional read this makes. (Go on and click here for that)

So, it is in doing right where we come against the reflecting pool that shows us how bad are really are. Simply because we have terrible failures. We hit a snag. The contrast our need of rescue. Without the challenge of doing what we know is right, we never really assess the weight and scope of our sinful ways. But, my, how unpopular this concept is. Off-putting and out of vague. Time for a few reassuring pats on the back… But try to be unwaveringly good for a while, and we see how true it is.

And how you’ve ever noticed how self-satisfied people are? It’s probably because they aren’t making much of an effort at consistently doing what is right. They haven’t been humbled by failure. They’ve rarely seen felt this opposing monster for themselves because the room is too dark.

Maybe you’ve felt the same way too at times, “Well, I’m not so bad. I’m certain not as bad as most people.” Trust me, the day will not pass before this thought is likely to cross my mind as well.


It’s that kind of subtle self-dellusion that can thwart our willingness to be a part of the ongoing sanctification of  the Holy Spirit. He works us over and makes us over. It’s that mauling process, if you will, that does the hard work. So, Jesus said, “Only the sick need a doctor.” He was of course talking to sick people at the time, only they didn’t think of themselves that way. There’s nothing more hopeless than that.

If we ever went a whole week noticing and noting all the strays from what we know is right and good and set about to only do right…WATCH OUT. The proof of our weaknesses, problems, and short-comings will pop up like an angry bee sting.


Fatigued then, in a fight to do what’s right, sometimes we realize it is in he surrender to our powerlessness that we find rescue. It’s counter-intuitive as much as swimming out to sea is when you’re almost drowning. But it works. This is part of the powerful of observing a season of Lent.

The great relief from sin and that sort of deadly riptide comes from repentance and forgiveness. This theme is never more potent than when we celebrate on Resurrection Sunday. More on this sort of thing in posts to come. Please click for updates (right sidebar)


Have you felt this kind of riptide?

(You can leave me a voice message with your thoughts, if you’d like. Click the voicemail tab on the right)

rip current image found here: www.palmbeachpost.com

In the boat, in the storm…

Tsunami whirlpool, Japan

I saw this shocking photo of a boat being pulled into a whirlpool off the coast of Japan. Like a giant bathtub drain, the water is swirling downward into a crevasse in the ocean, and sucking in life with it. You can see a boat to the left of the whirlpool’s center. It looks a bit like a toy boat. Amazing. Awing. Terrifying. (Click the photo for enlargement).

I’ve been thinking about storms lately, as many have been, and I was drawn in by the visual of Jesus in the storm. It’s the story where he’s sleeping through one, and probably narcolepsy wasn’t a factor. But I must admit, sometimes people who sleep this soundly annoy me.

On a personal level, in my devotional practices, I was struck to sense the invitation of God to not stand in the boat, but to sit, and be still next to him. He does not calm every storm, but if I let him, he can calm me. Either way, standing up in the boat won’t help. The waves look bigger and more deadly from there. Sometimes we have to ride out the storms, and remember to not waste energy futilely by combating them.

Are you in a storm right now?
Please share some of your thoughts, today.

7 fake TSA -related headlines

This topic makes for easy jokes. Of course, the disgust of the general public has made some fake headlines appear quite authentic.
(Two have emerged as most popular. First is the one about the Denver TSA worker and the girl’s basketball team; and the other is about “Perry Cummings,” from San Francisco.)

SNOPES reveals the truth about these two most commonly-mistaken-for-true, TSA related headlines here.
Come up with one of your own related-headlines in the comment section, and see if you can last through reading these 7.

Let’s just say, it seems we have crisis on our hands.

1. Phrase heard most often by TSA workers, “Sir, that’s not a gun.”

2. Joe Biden admits thinking TSA stood for “Touch Someone’s Assets”
(Actual definition of acronym here)

3. Vegas Sex Worker sues TSA worker for not paying her standard fee-for-service

4. TSA worker offers boys candy before pat down, because “he’s a new friend”

5. TSA workers agree to mutual fondling with travelers

6. Advocate magazine names TSA work “Best New Job of 2010”

7. Texas Prison Work Release Program trains convicts to work as TSA agents. “Oh, yeah, man. This is my dream job!” says inmate.

8. [this one is for your to write]