I love working with people who are introverted, people pleasers or very conscientious, because a lot of their work is the same work I had to do for myself. Also, it is much easier to teach a selfless person how to love better, than it is to get a selfish person to care about others.

One of the big lessons I had to learn as I became an adult and that I see many people struggle with, is to realize that:

Loving people does not always mean making them happy.

I think the impulsive need to try to make people happy comes from childhood. As a child, you have very simple, black and white thinking. If you upset someone, you are told you did something wrong and you need to go fix it. If you make someone happy, you are told you are a good little boy or girl. Perhaps this is even more ingrained in homes where an upset adult may become abusive, so the best way to protect yourself is do whatever you can to make them happy.

Either way, it results in a powerful emotional impulse to make everyone happy so that you feel safe, loved and good about yourself. Those are some of our most crucial needs in life.

But as you get older, more and more situations arise that require increasingly complicated value judgments.

If your friend is stumbling around drunk and asks you for their car keys, do you give them the keys to make them happy and protect your friendship, or do you risk upsetting them and possibly losing the friendship to keep them safe?

I use that example because most everyone sees the clear loving choice is to keep the keys even if they get mad. But what about when the stakes are a bit more grey?

Do you tell your boyfriend that you are not comfortable with his actions and risk having him reject you?

If you feel really guilty for something that has happened to your child, do you let them get away with bad behavior?

If your girlfriend had a horrible childhood and is deeply depressed, do you stay in a relationship you do not want in order to love and protect them?

Some of those questions are more difficult than others, but it is really hard to figure out the ethical choice, or even the most healthy thing for the other person, if you measure the rightness of your actions based solely on whether people like them or not. It takes more a mature morality to discern that love is focused on the the well-being of another person, which is not always the same as their happiness.

Someone once told me that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather the opposite of love is fear. I’ll probably go more into detail on this another day, but this knowledge helps greatly in decision making. When you are struggling to figure out the right thing to do for someone you care about, ask yourself:

Am I doing this out of love, or out of fear?

When I realized that most of my dilemmas were an internal struggle where I worried about upsetting people or how they might think of me or that they might leave me, I realized that most of those concerns were based on fear, and fear is the opposite of love. When I removed fear from the equation, usually the right, loving choice became fairly obvious.

So, if you want to be the strong, confident, loving person you want to be, you need to remember, “Loving people does not always mean making them happy,” and ask yourself, “Am I doing this out of love, or out of fear?

First off, let me say that I have effectively worked with clients who describe themselves as Atheist, Agnostic, New Age, Muslim, Jew, Wiccan or even Satanist without ever having any apparent conflicts or negative feedback due to my spiritual beliefs. Along the same lines, I have had many clients from the LGBT community who have achieved their counseling goals with me and never encountered a problem.

That being said, I am a lifelong Christian. Nothing has had a bigger impact on my personality than my ever deepening understanding of God’s word and the life to which he has called me. My beliefs have taught me humility, because I fall short of His standard. Recognizing my own need for forgiveness and my humanity has taught me to give that same level of grace, understanding and patience to others. My faith has taught me hope and a value for everyone, even though we do not deserve it. I take to heart the call to be non-judgmental and loving to everyone I meet. I know we are all a work in progress and we should help each other along without worry of how far along we may think we may be compared to another.

I am a fan of the quote by Corrie Ten Boom, “God has no grandchildren,” which is to say, despite being raised Christian, I have had those long dark nights where I truly considered the reality of my beliefs and come out on the other side more secure in them. This allows me to be present and non-confrontational with others because I do not feel the compulsion to convince other people of my beliefs in order to reassure myself.

With my Christian clients, the shared beliefs are often an amazing source of empowerment that I try to incorporate on a person to person basis. For some people, a single Bible verse will be far more convincing than a dozen psychological research studies. And I have seen people use their beliefs to find amazing strength to continue fighting when most would give up. Regardless of specific religion, I encourage anyone to use their particular faith to inspire them to make changes. But I do so carefully, as I know some people may not be active or may not feel good enough about their spirituality, even if they do profess a certain faith.

The real question many may be asking is, “Do you push your beliefs on others?” Some people may even think that I should feel obligated to share the good news that has had such a life changing impact for me. Honestly, I reconsider this position often. Especially for those young men that lack a healthy father figure when I have experienced a trans-formative relationship with a Heavenly Father. But, I always find that I come back to keeping my faith to myself in session, unless a client specifically works toward spiritual things.

Firstly, counselors are ethically prohibited from using our position to coerce our clients. I suppose that I consider being a counselor to be a noble responsibility that I have been entrusted with by the State of Oklahoma and an arrangement entered into with my clients. As such, I think the most pressing deciding factor is that I feel as if I have promised that I will not abuse my position to change people to be what I think they should be.

Secondly, my style of counseling is all about respecting people and working toward their goals, not my own. If someone brings up concerns that they feel their spiritual life is lacking, then I am more than happy to help them work toward that, whatever it may be, but it won’t be my suggestion. I am also very comfortable being present with differing opinions or even admitting the extent of what I do not know.

Lastly, I suppose I justify my decision, after much prayer and Bible Study, that it is up to God to call people to him. Some people are called to evangelism. Some may argue that all Christians are. But I believe I am called to be a counselor. I love people by helping them work on their desires. I want to see people get healthier. I want to respect them without needing to add a caveat that I do not approve of some such behavior. In the end, I figure that if I can help a person solve all their apparent problems, it may just reveal a God shaped hole in their heart.