Psychology Backs the Power of Developing a Positive Worldview, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Overcoming the false beliefs underlying a negative worldview

You can’t directly change your worldview, but you can seek out new experiences that create the conditions for change. “Implicit Relational Trust” is a good place to start…

by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology

Positivity-vs-NegativityRecently I worked with a team that had a particularly insecure leader. As I observed him in action, and talked to co-workers, it quickly became apparent that he lacked self-awareness. When he spoke to his team, people cringed at his not-so-subtle attempts at self-promotion. He was constantly trying to prove his success to others. But he had no idea people were experiencing him this way. He micro-managed people, blew up at employees over seemingly minor things, and generally created conflict wherever he went.

This leader exhibited many of the beliefs of a negative or insecure worldview. These beliefs are important because the most ineffective, “self-focused” leaders habitually demonstrated these beliefs in a recent large-scale study and book called Return on Character by Fred Kiel.


This negative worldview includes 11 beliefs that are rooted in emotional insecurity. The key underlying beliefs of this worldview can be grouped into three categories: self, others, and goals.

False Views of Self

– It’s not important to understand what drives me.
– Personal meaning is derived from proving my success to others.

False Views of Others

– People are generally untrustworthy, so you should closely monitor them and not show kindness.
– Creating conflict helps you get at the truth of a situation.

False Views of Goals

– It’s better to focus on the short-term than the long-term.
– It’s better to avoid change unless I am in control of it.


Implicit Relational Knowledge

These beliefs are rooted in a lack of basic trust, lack of self-awareness, and lack of a positive sense of self-worth, which lead a person to constantly seek approval through achievements (an understandable coping strategy that doesn’t work in the long run). They are deep-seated beliefs that represent what psychologists call “implicit relational knowledge.” This is a form of experiential knowledge about how relationships work that is stored in a gut level form of memory called implicit memory.



The beliefs of a positive worldview are also deep-seated, but of a different order. The key beliefs of this worldview in the same three categories include the following:

Healthy View of Self

– Personal meaning is derived from growing and stretching my natural talents.

Healthy View of Others

– People are generally trustworthy.
– All people deserve the same respect, regardless of job status.
– Most people grow and change throughout their adult life (similar to what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset”).
– Everyone has core strengths that should be engaged.
– The best managers have good relationship skills.

Healthy View of Goals

– All businesses share a responsibility to contribute to the common good.
– Leaders generally desire to leave the world a better place.

Here is how Kiel summarizes:

“While many seem to associate a negative and pessimistic attitude regarding human nature, personal purpose, and organizational life with the savviness of success, that idea couldn’t be more wrong. The Virtuoso leaders in our study clearly illustrate that the most successful leaders focus on what’s right about the world around them.” (p. 72).

Negative or Positive? Which Worldview Do You Hold?

So, do you hold a positive or negative worldview? It’s probably not an either-or, but reflecting on the various beliefs in each worldview can help you determine where your strengths and growth areas are in terms of your core beliefs. And it turns out that your worldview, consisting of deep beliefs, shapes and drives your relationships and behavior, and ultimately your impact, whether through informal influence, or a formal leadership position.


Here are four ways to foster a positive leadership worldview.

  1. Become Aware of Your Filters and Develop New Lenses for Noticing the Positive.

The first thing you need to understand is that you don’t rationally choose these beliefs. As I mentioned above, they are implicit, meaning they develop and operate outside your conscious awareness. You can, however, proactively do things to change them and develop a more positive worldview. It starts with becoming aware that you have filters and then noticing them in action.

Notice that a lot of these beliefs Kiel uncovered are about people and how relationships work. Our relational filters are formed in early relationships with attachment figures and called “internal working models” in attachment theory.

Trust is the Key Relational Filter

The key relational filter here has to do with trust. If you find yourself habitually not trusting others at work in particular ways, it’s likely that important people in your life have not been trustworthy in these ways…

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Todd-Hall-LOGO-2014-may-e1400621894177Todd W. Hall, PhD is Professor of Psychology, Director of the Institute for Research on Psychology and Spirituality, and Editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, in the Los Angeles area. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Biola University, and a doctoral specialization in measurement and psychometrics from UCLA. Using his expertise in clinical psychology, spirituality, leadership, and organizational development, Dr. Hall helps leaders and organizations maximize their potential and effectiveness.

Lead With Connection; Free ebook by Dr. Todd Hall


Create Meaning in Your Work, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Core motivations are the things you are uniquely and naturally motivated to do. These are the things that energize you, and that give you a sense of meaning and fulfillment because they express something central to your identity.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology

imgresSome weeks are a blur. You go from one thing to the next. Last week was like that for me.

I’m sure you’ve been there. You work hard, and grind through the daily tasks. You’re productive. But something is missing inside. If you’re like me, lurking in the background is the question: “At the end of the day, week, month, and years, will it add up to something meaningful?”

Create Meaning in Your Work

We all want to do meaningful work—work that contributes to the well-being of others in a way that uniquely expresses and defines who we are.

The problem is we often expect meaningful work to be given to us—to come from outside ourselves. If only the boss would give me the right project. If only the right job would land in my lap. Even if you get a job or project that has a direct line of sight to meaningful outcomes, you can still approach it in a way that doesn’t create meaning.

In short, we often give away our responsibility to create meaning in our work.

Meaningful Leadership is a Work of Art

Meaningful work isn’t given to us. Meaningful work is a work of art. We create meaningful work day in and day out. Or, put differently, we infuse our work with meaning. It involves what you do and how you do it. If you take small steps each day toward creating meaning in your work, you will express and define who you are in the meaning you create.

If you have a formal leadership position, your job is to create meaning for your team and organization. Even if you don’t have a formal leadership position, you can still create meaning for your team through your contributions and the way you approach your work. There are two compelling reasons why you should do this.

  1. Meaning contributes to the well-being of your co-workers and your team as a whole, which is intrinsically valuable.
  1. Meaning has market value.

In their book, The Why of Work, Dave and Wendy Ulrich document the market value of meaningful work. Employees who find and create meaning in their work develop their competence more than those who don’t. They are more committed and productive. They stay longer and experience higher levels of job satisfaction. More engaged employees, in turn, leads to increased customer commitment.

Two Big Ideas to Help You Create Meaning at Work Today 

Here are two tips to help you create meaningful work starting today…

Continue reading

Todd-Hall-LOGO-2014-may-e1400621894177Todd W. Hall, PhD is Professor of Psychology, Director of the Institute for Research on Psychology and Spirituality, and Editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, in the Los Angeles area. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Biola University, and a doctoral specialization in measurement and psychometrics from UCLA. Using his expertise in clinical psychology, spirituality, leadership, and organizational development, Dr. Hall helps leaders and organizations maximize their potential and effectiveness.

Lead With Connection; Free ebook by Dr. Todd Hall


Gut-Level Knowledge: Micro-Worldviews, Attachment Theory and the Enneagram, by Gary David Stratton

Part of ongoing series:  Hollywood and Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Through the Stories We Live By

Our largely subconscious values and belief system grows out of our unique life story and profoundly influences our life strategy. Yet it is so deeply tied to our identity it can be extremely difficulty to detect, even in ourselves. Still, it is possible to at least catch a glimpse… if you know where to look.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Gut-Level Knowledge 2As Kevin and Jeannie discovered on their volcanic honeymoon from hell, the story shaping our life at the micro-worldview level is primarily shaped by our earliest life experiences. The values and beliefs of micro-worldview are normally not the intentional and rational creeds of a macro-worldview, such as, the deity of Christ, the tri-unity of God, the dignity and value of all human beings, etc. They are more the gut-level knowledge derived from our childhood and even our infancy.

Gut level knowledge is what psychologist Todd Hall calls Implicit Right Brain Knowledge. It is the nonlinear, nonverbal, and holistic emotional connections that reach back as far as the womb. They are realities so deeply programmed into our psyches that we just know that we know that we know they are true. (Even if, in fact, they are completely inaccurate.)

Gut level knowledge controls many of our actions and relationships because our right brain processes it automatically, immediately, and emotionally without our even having to think about it. It is not under the direct control of the intellectual value and belief system, which resides primarily in our more explicit and linear left brain.

For instance, if your mom affirmed you only for being pretty (versus being smart, talented, virtuous, or just for being you), you just know “in your gut” that your appearance is the source of your worth.  Slowly and subconsciously you develop a life strategy maximizing your outward appearance, even if you keep telling yourself that looks don’t matter.

If your childhood featured an untrustworthy father figure, you just know “in your gut” that people (or at least men) can’t be trusted. You automatically react with mistrust in most encounters with men and therefore subconsciously develop a set of rules and roles to prevent you from ever having to trust father figures… including the God you profess faith in.

These unspoken and subconscious values and beliefs grow out of the gut-level knowledge of our unique life story and profoundly influence our outlook and our strategy of life. Jeannie’s conscious mind told her that Kevin was trustworthy, however the gut-level knowledge produced by her story of hidden abuse kept triggering alarms that Kevin was a dangerous intruder. It ruined their honeymoon and nearly ruined their marriage.

What’s worse, Jeannie had no idea why she was responding so negatively to Kevin’s loving advances. That’s the problem with gut-level knowledge. It is so powerful and deeply intertwined with our identity (even when it is wrong) that it is extremely difficulty to detect. Still, detecting it is possible… if you know where to look.

Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory BoxesOne helpful tool for exploring how our behavior is impacted by the hidden personal stories in our micro-worldview is the psychological discipline of Attachment Theory. Attachment theory traces how our childhood connection to our parents impacts our adult patterns of connecting to others. If children feel safe and secure with their parents they normally build strong bonds with them.  And if they build strong bonds with their parents, odds are they are going to feel secure enough to build strong bonds with their friends, coworkers, and spouses as well.

If, on the other hand, something has short-circuited our bond with our parents (which is true of many if not most human beings), then we may struggle in our attachments to our friends, spouse, and children in similar ways: Anxious-Ambivalent, Dismissive-Avoidant, Fearful-Avoidant, Preoccupied-Codependent, Secure-Dependent, etc.

Anxious Avoidant Secure

According to attachment theory, children grow into “secure” Connectors only if they develop a healthy view of both themselves and their primary attachment figures. In essence, children need to come out of their childhood with at least two stories functioning in their micro-worldview: 1) “It is safe to for me to autonomous,” and, 2) “It is safe of me to depend upon others.” If you are overly dependent and/or overly independent your value and belief system will inevitably lead to a life strategy subconsciously designed to protect yourself from further harm in line with these powerful internal realities. (Click here to take a Relationship Attachment Style Test.)

Counselors Milan and Kay Yerkovich describe how “For fourteen years our marriage was stuck in the same old frustrating patterns. When we looked at our first lessons in love from our families, we immediately recognized the unseen forces governing how we loved.” Milan and Kay have since identified six types of relational patterns tied to the stories of our life:  Avoiders, Pleasers, Vacillators, Controllers, Victims, and Connectors.

Kevin's MicroworldviewFor instance, Avoiders like Kevin (above), grow up in families who rarely discussed personal problems or negative emotions. Their highest value becomes making others happy and situations peaceful. They therefore make unspoken rules for themselves to avoid conflict, get over things quickly, and never talk about their feelings (even and especially at the expense of honesty and problem solving.) Exploring which relational pattern dominates your life can be extremely helpful in discerning the various levels of your micro-worldview. (Click here to take the How We Love quiz and find out which style fits your worldview.)

Attachment to God

Psychologist Todd Hall takes attachment theory one-step deeper by using it to study the association between human attachment patterns and our attachment to God.  He has identified various types of spiritual attachments functioning in the lives of professing Christians:  Secure and Engaged, Distant yet Engaged, Anxious and Disengaged, Insecure and Disengaged, etc. (See, Five Spirituality Types and College Students.)

For instance, people who are Anxious and Disengaged in their God attachment are highly insecure in their connection to God and therefore moderately low in their spiritual engagement. According to Hall, these people need help “developing what attachment theory calls a secure base; that is, a deep, gut-level sense that God is consistently responsive to their emotional and relational needs.

Other people grow up in families where they felt love and affection from their parents, but their sense of safety and security was somehow compromised due to factors beyond parental control, such as a childhood illness, an injury, a car accident, a house fire, civil unrest, non-parental abuse, parental unemployment, or military deployment, etc.

Such children grow up knowing “in their gut” that the rug can be pulled out from under them at any moment. If the child becomes convinced that that this reality is their fault (and most children normally do), they may develop a micro-worldview value and belief system wherein they have a positive view of God, but a negative view of themselves.

Jeannie's WorldviewThey become preoccupied by their fear that there is something wrong with them that caused God to reject them or they wouldn’t have had to endure this tragedy. And of course, they do everything within their power to develop a life strategy to prevent God from ever rejecting them again. They have a taste for intimacy with God due to their intimacy with their parent(s), but they are convinced that they need to “perform well” or something horrible may happen to them again.

This is the world Jeannie dwells in. Even though her mind has repressed the abuse to protect her soul (for now), she “knows” something is wrong with the world and that it is her fault.  She strives to maintain a life of the “perfect” Christian, seeking God for intimacy all the while fearing that she will do something to cause her world to fall apart again. (To explore further, take The Spiritual Transformation Inventory.) 

The Enneagram

One final tool that often proves helpful in exploring our micro-worldview is known as the Enneagram.  Derived from the Greek words ννέα (‘nine’) and γράμμα (‘written’ or ‘drawn’), the Enneagram catalogs nine basic personality types interrelated to each other by a drawing (See figure below).  Spiritual directors such as Richard Rohr and Don Richard Riso use the Enneagram to marry modern Freudian conceptions of the Ego with the ancient Christian tradition of categorizing types of sin in order to better combat temptation (e.g. “The Logismoi” of Evagrius Ponticus, “The Seven Deadly Sins” of Gregory the Great, etc.) As such, it can greatly help people discover their core false beliefs and strategies.    

Enneagram ChartEach enneagram “type” is marked by a root fear, which gives rise to a primary desire (Value), which in turn makes each type particularly susceptible to certain temptations (Strategies).

For instance, Type 2—Helpers, like Kevin, fear being unloved, and therefore build their value and belief system around being loved at all costs. Their great temptation is to develop a life strategy that either denies their own needs and/or manipulates others to give them the love they feel they’re missing.

Jeannie is a Type 3—Achiever.  Achievers fear worthlessness above all else. They therefore build a value and belief system centered on “success” (however their family, peer group, teachers, coaches, and/or supervisors measure success). Their temptation is build a life strategy of driving themselves to always “be the best” in their chosen fields of achievement, and/or studiously avoiding situations where they might fail. For Jeannie, her Type 3–Achiever pattern focused achieving her idealized checklist for being a perfect Christian and a perfect wife.

Enneagram teachers disagree on the role of Story in the personality types. Some see our personality types as set at birth, so that a Three-Achiever will always end up living a Three-Achiever story. According to this view, the only question is how family/environmental factors determine which areas she will strive to achieve in: violin, cheerleading, football, business, politics, ministry, character, etc.

Other experts assert that our personality Type is often determined by family/environmental factors more in line with the predictions of attachment theory rather than hard-wired at birth. According this view, someone becomes a Three-Achiever when their family gives them more affirmation for their successes than affection for their personhood.

It is easy to see both factors at work in Kevin and Jeannie’s micro-worldviews. Since there is no proven way to extricate these two approaches, it is probably helpful to consider both factors when exploring your own micro-worldview. Plus, to make things even more interesting (and personalized), most people have both a primary and a secondary Enneagram personality type–known as a wing–so there is a lot of room for exploration. (Click here to take a free Enneagram Test.)[1]

The Healing Journey

Dionisio and Paula Pulido survey their once tranquil backyard.
Dionisio and Paula Pulido survey their once tranquil backyard.

Here’s the good news. The Pulidos survived their backyard volcano. Their near-death experience made them mini-celebrities in the scientific community and they lived to a ripe old age far from Parícutin. (Although Dionisio never did put in that fire pit Paula always wanted.)

Even more encouragingly, Kevin and Jeannie survived their honeymoon. In fact, their horrific experience was painful enough to get them to seek the kind of help most couples don’t realize they need until they’ve been married for years. Over time they were able to discern their hidden micro-worldviews, name their backyard volcano, and find healing.

Ten years later they are happily (if not perfectly) married and more madly (and honestly) in love than the day they said their vows. They live with their two children as far from the south of France (and all nude beaches) as they can possibly can.

How is such healing possible?  Well, that will take another series of posts to come.

Next: Why I am Giving Up Prayer for Lent, by Margaret Feinberg

[1] See also, and, or pay for a more reliable full length test at

Think Differently About Time, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

4 Ways to Create a Kairos Life in 2015

When significant events happen in you life, think about them in terms of kairos. How can you make the most of the opportunity? What can you do, learn, see, or experience with respect to this event?

by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology

spiral-clockI don’t know about you, but I’m often thinking about “the next thing” instead of focusing on “the present thing.” Even though the time is now to do the present thing, I want to do something else, be somewhere else, or feel something else.

I’ve been working on a big writing project for a long time. Now is the time to read, think, ponder, and write notes about the subject. But I’m tired of doing this. Or, maybe I don’t trust that I’ll be able to pull it together into something coherent and meaningful. I want it to be the time to write the last, triumphant sentence.

A friend’s illness just took a turn for the worse. The time is now to feel it and process all the implications, but I don’t want to think about it, or feel it. I want it to be time for something else. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

We so often don’t accept the time given for a particular project, to-do, task, experience, or activity. And it’s all related to how we think about time. It’s hard to express this idea in English because it’s so foreign to our way of thinking and being in the world. A time “given” for something? A time “set aside” for something? A time when it just “seems right” to do something? Sort of… but none of these phrases quite capture the notion, and they’re all a bit clunky.

Kairos vs. Chronos

The Greeks have a better word for this idea: kairos. Whereas chronos refers to an amount of time, kairos refers to the right, or opportune time for something. In the New Testament, kairos refers to the appointed time in God’s purposes.


Whatever we call it, we often resist it and maybe don’t even see it. We want to get on to the next victory, or get away from the present pain. We’re so often blind to kairos—at least to the more unpleasant or painful experiences whose time has come. This causes us to miss out on the richness of the present experiences life has brought our way.

There is a time for…

As I find myself firmly—even if disconcertedly—ensconced in middle age, I’ve been realizing this more and more: every year, every month, every week—even everyday at times—there is a time for the many and varied activities and experiences in our lives.

A time to read; a time to write.

A time to be with people; a time to be alone.

A time to laugh; a time to cry.

A time to withdraw; a time to reach out.

A time to back down; a time to stand up.

A time to hold on; a time to let go.

A time to rejoice; a time to mourn.

A time to push back; a time to build up.

A time to criticize; a time to encourage.

A time to be distant; a time to get close.

A time to play it safe; a time to take risks.

A time to celebrate; a time to long for.

A time to make plans; a time to throw out plans.

A time to start things; a time to end things.

A time to say yes; a time to say no.

A time to express emotions; a time to constrain emotions.

A time to strive for what could be; a time to accept what is.

A time to be overwhelmed; a time to be empowered.

A time to practice; a time to perform.

A time to stay; a time to leave.

A time to embrace complexity; a time to simplify.

A time to learn; a time to teach.

A time to connect with like-minded friends;

A time to reach out to those who are different.

A time to look back; a time to look ahead.

Kairos Moments: 4 Practices

These are just a few kairos moments that resonate with my experience. I’m sure there are many more. They are not all pleasant, but they all have a place in leading a fulfilled life…

Continue reading


Todd-Hall-LOGO-2014-may-e1400621894177Todd W. Hall, PhD is Professor of Psychology, Director of the Institute for Research on Psychology and Spirituality, and Editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, in the Los Angeles area. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Biola University, and a doctoral specialization in measurement and psychometrics from UCLA. Using his expertise in clinical psychology, spirituality, leadership, and organizational development, Dr. Hall helps leaders and organizations maximize their potential and effectiveness.



Three Practices to Repair Relational Ruptures, by Todd W. Hall, PhD.

Continuing series on leadership, relationships, and spirituality from leading attachment theory expert.

In all my relationships—but especially with the people I lead—my job is to go first in doing everything I can to repair the rupture.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology

betrayalRecently, I was reminded that relationships are dynamic—always changing, unfolding, developing.

Along with the changes, ruptures and conflict in relationships are inevitable. They happen all the time. It’s part of what it means to be human.

It also means you can’t bank on the trust that was built in the past. Trust is built and re-built one interaction at a time.

I re-learned that the hard way recently. I was responsible to be there to support someone I mentor. I unintentionally blew Frank* off. Sure, it was unintentional, but it still had a negative impact. After it happened, Frank called me on it. I was a little bit surprised—another sign of how out of tune I was with the negative impact I had caused.

My first internal reaction was defensiveness. I wished like crazy that I could just rely on the past status of the relationship being positive and intact. But it doesn’t work that way. I wasn’t there in the way I should have been, and it caused pain. There was a rupture and it hurt Frank’s performance. He wasn’t able to focus on his job because he was preoccupied with the rupture.







How to Repair a Relational Rupture

In all my relationships—but especially with the people I lead—my job is to go first in doing everything I can to repair the rupture.

Your job as a leader is to go first as well.

It’s not your employees’ responsibility to repair a rupture, even if they caused it. It’s yours. Even if it’s a colleague, go first and help create the trust you want in your team.

It’s hard to go first. It’s one of the most difficult things that come with the territory of leadership and relationships in general.

Here are 3 practices that will help you repair relational ruptures… 

Continue Reading

* The name and some circumstances have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Dr. Todd Hall writes on psychology, relationships, and leadership and is currently offering a free 5-week ecourse on becoming a Connected Leader at

The Volcano in Your Backyard: The Micro-Worldview of a Honeymoon from Hell

Part 6 in series Finding God in Hollywood: Soul-Nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World

No one plans on a volcanic eruption in their own backyard, but it isn’t as uncommon as one might think. Not when there are so many unseen forces at work in the depths of our worldview.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

Volcán de Parícutin at the height of its eruption.
Volcán de Parícutin at the height of its eruption.

It was a perfect winter’s day in central Mexico. The skies were clear and the temperatures cool. As Dionisio and Paula Pulido labored side-by-side in their cornfield, they could never have imagined the horror about to erupt between them.

When Dionisio first heard the unusual rumblings, he glanced at the sunny skies and reassured his wife, “It must be thunder from a distant storm.” When they felt the first tremors, they laughed again and joked, “Who’s afraid of a little earthquake?”

It was a strategy that nearly cost them their lives.

Little did they know that deep beneath the unsuspecting couple a massive magma dome was slowly pushing a conduit of molten rock directly towards their farm. Only when the tremors became nearly constant and strong enough to cause nearby trees to sway did Dionisio and Paula suddenly realize something was seriously amiss. Transfixed by the movement of the trees, they looked up just in time to see the ground in front of them suddenly swell 10 feet in the air and crack open like an egg. Smoke and volcanic ash poured out of the crack with a hiss and the foul smell of sulfur. Dionisio and Paula ran for the local village Parícutin for help.

By the time they returned with their friends the next day the build up of ash and lava had created a giant cinder cone.  Scientists rushed from around the world to witness the birth of the massive Volcán de Parícutin. In less than a year, the Pulido’s once tranquil cornfield towered 1,500 feet over the Mexican countryside burying two towns in a massive lava flow nearly ten miles in diameter.

Volcanic Honeymoon

It was a perfect summer day in Saint Tropez . The azure waters beckoned Kevin and Jeannie[1] on the first morning of their Mediterranean honeymoon. Jeannie had always dreamed of spending the first week of her marriage on the French Riviera and the travel site made their romantic hotel look almost too-good-to-be-true. So it came as quite a shock when they quickly realized that the travel site had failed to mention that their hotel faced one of the most famous nude beaches in the world.

Saint Tropez Beach: The perfect destination spot for a worldview volcano.
Saint Tropez: The perfect destination spot for a worldview volcanic eruption.

Kevin immediately suggested they find another location, but Jeannie was determined to live out her fantasy honeymoon. A little too determined, Kevin thought. Like rumblings of distant thunder out of clear blue sky, both lovers felt the unusual tremors in their relationship, but nothing could have prepared them for the volcano about to erupt between them.

Kevin’s own life story had prepared him for this very moment… or so he thought.  He had grown up in a family that rarely spoke of negative emotions (even when it was obvious someone was hurting.) He had learned the value of striving to make a hurting person happy without directly engaging their pain. Kevin reassured himself, “She’s just uncomfortable with her own body.” So for the rest of the day, while they kept their clothes on (thank you!), Kevin carefully kept his eyes on Jeannie and never missed an opportunity to tell her how beautiful she was.

It was a strategy that nearly cost them their marriage.

Rather than making things better, Kevin's 'Avoider' Strategy only contributed to the eruption that followed.
Rather than making things better, Kevin’s ‘Avoider’ Strategy only contributed to the eruption that followed.

Little did they know that deep beneath their relationship, the hidden story of Jeannie’s abuse at the hands of a neighbor (long repressed by Jeannie) had created a massive magma dome of pain that was slowly pushing a conduit of molten mistrust toward the unsuspecting couple. Without realizing it, Kevin had hit upon the exact strategy of flattery and professed affection Jeannie’s neighbor had used to lure her into abuse. As the day wore on, Jeannie strove to stifle a rising sense of inexplicable panic as she bristled at Kevin’s every affirming word and stiffened at his every touch.

It was only a matter of time before the eruption broke the surface. That night the lovemaking that had been so simple and easy the evening before suddenly felt like an unspeakable horror to Jeannie. When Kevin initiated a tender embrace, Jeannie’s soul cracked wide open as a decade of hissing ash and lava came pouring out.

Panicked and confused, Jeannie turned to her own pet strategy for surviving childhood. She had learned the value of being the perfect “good girl” in order to maintain order in her chaotic inner life.  So she willed her way through the rest of the evening like the perfect Christian wife striving to cover up her lack of emotional participation.

Jeannie's life strategy of maintaining 'perfection' now included her personal checklist for being the perfect Christian wife.
Jeannie’s life strategy of maintaining ‘perfection’ now included her personal checklist for being the perfect Christian wife.

Her strategy was nearly as damaging as Kevin’s.  While he was incapable of addressing it, her dissociation was obvious to him. Fearing she was pulling away, Kevin began redoubling the very strategy that was driving Jeannie away until all hope of physical or emotional intimacy was lost.

By the end of their week in “paradise,” the build up of ash and lava had created a cinder cone over 1500 feet high between them. Within a year, Kevin and Jeannie’s once tranquil relationship was buried in a massive lava flow of pain and rejection neither ever saw coming.

How could they? It erupted from much too deep in their worldview for either of them to detect.


While we inherit much of our worldview from the macro-worldview of our parents, family, church and society there is more to us than the cultural patterns we’ve assimilated. Our highly individualized personality traits and life experiences foster a unique micro-worldview that often causes us to interpret events and make decisions very differently than anyone around us.

Worldview Volcano

Even children who grow up in the same household often end up with radically different worldviews due to the differences in their birth order, family system, and personal experiences outside the home.  Like the layers of a volcano, the Story of our life events, family system, and key relationships (Level 1) often lead to a highly personalized Value and Belief System (Level 2), which in turn gives rise to unique personal Strategies, Rules and Roles (Level 3) that erupt in our lives in our Behaviors and Actions (Level 1).  (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview.) [2]

In Kevin and Jeannie’s case, their Christian macro-worldview was no match for the more powerful and personal micro-worldviews formed in their childhood experiences. While both of their parents had strong marriages, and their church’s premarital classes and mentoring had taught them the Christian macro-worldview for building a healthy marriage, there were altogether different stories shaping their marriage.

Intellectually, Jeannie knew Kevin was not an abuser. In fact, she didn’t even consciously remember the abuse. Yet, emotionally, she knew something was wrong. Intellectually, Kevin knew that Jeannie wasn’t reacting to him. Emotionally, he couldn’t help feeling rejected.

Of course, this only increased Jeannie’s sense of self-hatred.  She had built her life around being a “perfect Christian.” Now, she couldn’t even be a decent wife. And of course, Kevin had to ‘fix’ everything not by asking, “What’s wrong?”, but by desperately attempting to alter Jeannie’s emotions. The story, values and belief system, and strategies of their personal micro-worldview was short-circuiting their every attempt to live out the Christian marriage macro-worldview they professed. And Kevin and Jeannie are not alone.

While their eruption may be more extreme than others, it is a reality faced by nearly everyone on earth.

Here’s why?

Next: Gut-Level Knowledge: Micro-worldviews, Attachment Theory and the Enneagram

[1] Not their real names.

[2] What I am calling the ‘Story’ level of worldview here, is what philosopher James K. A. Smith refers to as the ‘pre-worldview’ level of ‘social Imaginary.’  “The social imaginary’ is an affective, noncognitive understanding of the world. It is described as an imaginary (rather than a theory) because it is fueled by the stuff of the imagination rather than the intellect: it is made up of, and embedded in, stories, narratives, myths, and icons. These visions capture our hearts and imaginations by “lining” our imagination, as it were— providing us with frameworks of “meaning” by which we make sense of our world and our calling in it. An irreducible understanding of the world resides in our intuitive, precognitive grasp of these stories. Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Publishing Group, 2009), p. 68.


Christian College Students are Secure but Unpracticed Spiritually

Part 2 of series The Spiritual Lives of Christian College Students. The second of five reflections on the spirituality of students attending Christian colleges based upon Todd’s national research project, including Spiritual Transformation Inventory data from over 5,000 students attending CCCU and ABHE colleges and universities.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Our study of over 3,000 students from nearly 40 Christian colleges across the United States and Canada indicates that:

Christian college students feel a secure relational connection to God, experience a strong sense of meaning and are developing a Christian perspective on life, and yet they are low on practicing spiritual disciplines.

On the one hand, this sense of secure connection to God, meaning and Christian perspective is noteworthy good news. Despite the instability and struggles of this stage, the breakdown of the family and increasing rates of emotional problems among children and college students, students attending Christian colleges have a secure connection with God, which is the foundation for spiritual development.

On the other hand, the data tells us that students at Christian colleges are generally not practicing their faith in a substantial way. Why might this be? It may be partly due to busyness, which was the most frequently reported struggle. It may also be that students feel that spiritual input is built into their environment so they don’t need to be intentional about it — as one student, who I’ll call Jim, described to me in an interview.

“Even when you have a bad day, you are going to Bible classes, you’re going to chapel, you’re all around your Christian friends and your days look so similar,” he said. “It just seems like it’s easier to kind of coast internally, spiritually, and in my heart. Whereas being at home or being out of the environment, I have to get into the Word for the strength of the Word and that is why I have to go and be with the Lord every morning.”

In general, I think we need a better understanding of how to (1) help students be intentional about their spiritual growth and (2) continue the process of owning their faith. This characteristic may also relate to the second reflection: students’ developmental stage and how that impacts spiritual transformation over time. To the extent that students are focused on trying on new identities in love, work and faith, spiritual practices may go by the wayside.

Next: College Seniors Report Lower Spiritual Vitality than Freshman

Leading in a Dysfunctional System #5: Seek Extra Support Outside of Work, by @drtoddwhall

Part 5 in series: Leading in a Dysfunctional System.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

This is the fifth entry in this series on leading in a dysfunctional system. When working in a dysfunctional system like the one described here, it is critical to invest in other areas outside of work to sustain you. The two practices discussed below are simple, but difficult to do consistently when you feel constantly drained by a dysfunctional system. You must be intentional about them.

1. Spend extra time with close friends and family. I can’t overstate how important relationships are for sustaining you while working in a toxic system. Your secure relationships will provide three things you desperately need when working in a dysfunctional system: feeling known, feeling accepted, and wisdom.

Social support is one of the strongest predictors of just about every good outcome you can think of. People who have secure and meaningful relationships, on average, experience better physical health and a higher degree of emotional well being. This will help sustain you during stressful times working in a dysfunctional system.

Part of this is feeling known by others in your life. The opposite of feeling known is feeling unseen and alone. If you feel alone in what you are going through at work, it will take its toll all the more. Aloneness adds an exponential burden to the already painful emotions of a dysfunctional system.

You also need friends who accept you for who you are, and support you. Feeling accepted only comes in the context of feeling known. If you don’t feel known, the “acceptance” feels superficial. You need friends you can vent your frustrations to, and not have to worry about being judged, or having the information go anywhere. These are the friends who will listen first and be with you in the midst of the trials of working in a crazy system. But you have to seek them out.

Third, close relationships outside the dysfunctional system can provide you wisdom on how to handle the challenges you face.

Others whose state of mind has not been affected by your work’s dysfunctional system can often see a path forward much more easily than you can when you’re lost in the craziness.

2. Spend time on your hobbies. Do things you’re interested in that have nothing to do with work. This will not only help rejuvenate you, it will stimulate creative solutions at work. New experiences force the brain to shift out of autopilot and make connections between seemingly unrelated things. As you focus on other things your brain is working on problems in the background. You may have an “ah-ha” experience of a solution seemingly coming out of nowhere. If nothing else, this will help you gain perspective on what is truly important in life, and where you find your identity–the topic of the next entry.

Stay tuned for practical strategy #6: Reflect on where you find your identity.

Reflection: What relationships and hobbies rejuvenate you? How can you (re)engage these in your life?

Staying Above the Fray: Leading in a Dysfunctional System, Part 2: by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Part 2 in series Leading in a Dysfunctional System.

It’s natural in a dysfunctional system to respond to negative emotions with anger and frustration. This leads to a counter-productive focus on the negatives. Insecure leaders often don’t see the horizon of possible solutions because they are too caught up in the negative emotion of the system. It takes a conscious effort, but secure leaders absorb the negative emotion in the system, metabolize it, and respond positively instead of responding in kind. They avoid getting into the negative fray, and instead focus on positive solutions for the good of the organization. Emotional security is the foundation for this broader focus on the good of the organization.

Neuroscience has taught us that we catch each other’s emotion. It’s like a Wi-Fi connection for emotions. It happens mostly through the nonverbal channels of communication that are processed very rapidly and outside of our conscious awareness by the right brain and the subcortex, or the lower part of the brain. So if there is negative emotion in the system, you’re going to catch it automatically. How, then, do you absorb it and not just spew it back into the system? Here are four practices that can help.

First, develop the habit of regularly tuning into your emotions. When you notice you have some sort of bad gut level feeling, try to name it-do you feel sad, angry, overwhelmed, helpless, irked, betrayed, bitter, shocked, confused, etc.? To be an effective leader in any sphere, you have to discipline yourself to regularly create space to tune into your emotional state. This is especially difficult for Type-A, driven personalities. But you have to do it nonetheless. If you can’t do it on your own, find someone who can help you do this.

Second, try to name the sources of the negative emotions. Spend some time reflecting on where the bad feelings come from. Don’t worry about trying to solve anything at this point. The goal is to take an accepting and compassionate stance toward yourself. You’re just trying to describe your feelings with an attitude that says, “whatever you are feeling is understandable and OK.” There are reasons for your emotions. Some of the reasons will be due to the current situation, and some of the reasons will inevitably be due to your connection filters (see the first entry in this series on connection strategies). The very act of naming the negative emotions and source events begins to transform them.

What you are doing here is integrating two ways of knowing: gut level knowledge and head knowledge. When you translate gut level knowledge into words, it transforms the gut level knowledge.

Third, talk to someone outside the system who will listen and not try to fix the problem. Often times it helps to solidify this translation process by talking through your feelings and experiences with someone you trust. They can help you see things you can’t see, and validate your experiences. Even if they see where your filters are operating, if they point this out to you in a compassionate way, this can be tremendously helpful. It can sting, to be sure, but if you can handle the sting, you will learn things about yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise.

Fourth, don’t respond until you no longer feel anxiously compelled to respond. What do I mean by “anxiously compelled?” Well, there’s a negative sense of being compelled and a positive sense, and they feel different internally. You may be compelled by love, or gratitude or generativity to help someone, or to move the dysfunctional system toward health. But you also may feel compelled to respond out of anger, frustration, bitterness, anxiety, and the list could go on. If you feel compelled to act based on negative emotions, don’t do it. Put it on the shelf and don’t respond for awhile. If you don’t have the space internally to respond in a positive manner, then you have to create the space externally first.

Give yourself enough time and space until your negative emotions decrease and then start to focus on positive solutions. How can you model the health you want to create in the system by the way you respond? And it’s important to remember it’s not just the content of your response that matters; it’s also the emotional tone with which you respond. In fact, your emotional tone is more important, because that is what others in the system will catch.

Stay tuned for practical strategy #3: Move toward your strengths and create value.

Reflection: What are ways that work for you to create space to tune in to your emotions?

Leading in a Dysfunctional System, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Understanding your own underlying connection strategies can make or break survival in a dysfunctional working environment

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

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Recently, I met with a manager I’ve been working with who is working in a very dysfunctional system. Two executives are in a political battle for the area in which she works and she is caught in the middle of the conflict. Several of her colleagues are rude, disrespectful, and explosive. Her direct reports are becoming disillusioned by projects stalling out due to the political turf wars. Work feels like a land mine; she never knows when something will blow up and so, naturally, she is constantly on guard. This is decreasing her effectiveness and leaving her feeling bitter and burned out.

Chances are you have experienced working in some capacity in a dysfunctional system. After all, every system is dysfunctional to some extent. I have worked in systems like this and have worked with many leaders trying to survive chaotic systems. Leading in a system like this can start to eat away at your soul.

While there are many things outside of our control, there are six practical strategies (among others) you can focus on to make a positive impact and prevent burnout. In this blog, I’ll discuss the first practical strategy. In the next five entries in this series, I’ll discuss the other five strategies.

Practical Strategy #1: Understand your own connection strategies. There are three common strategies most of us use to manage our sense of connection with others. These strategies stem from how we connected with important authority figures in our lives. These experiences become “connection filters” that influence our gut level perceptions of relational experiences, particularly with authority figures such as leaders, and groups. The challenging thing is that this filtering process happens outside our conscious awareness in real time. There is a substantial body of research suggesting that our connection filters operate with groups and leaders with whom we work. Understanding your typical connection strategies can help you navigate a dysfunctional system. The three most common connection strategies are:

– a secure strategy promotes: 1) a balance between connection and autonomy–or the ability to inhabit your true self, 2) perspective, and 3) flexibility in responding.

– an anxious strategy promotes fear and anxiety that groups and leaders will not be consistently available for connection. When this is operating, you expect and look for leaders and groups you work with to do a bait and switch. So you are always on guard, and this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy to some extent.

– a distant strategy promotes a lack of awareness of your own and others’ emotions. When this is operating, leaders feel like they’re the only reliable people on the planet, and so they dismiss others in numerous ways. When people on your team feel dismissed, they will shut down to what you have to offer, and true dialogue comes to a screeching halt.

Which strategy kicks in for you when the system gets particularly crazy? (Keep in mind that you may use different strategies with different people). If it’s one of the insecure ones (anxious or distant), here are two practices you can do to help:

1. Reflect on what experiences contribute to your strategy, and spend some time trying to separate your filters (based on your past experiences) from the system’s dysfunction.

2. Then look for ways you can change the cycle of your perceptions by taking some risks. If you’re anxious, try to give others and yourself more space and seek out support outside of work to help you manage your anxiety. If you’re distant, try to tune into your own and others’ emotions, and focus on hearing others’ perspectives before responding.

Reflect: What is your primary connection strategy and how do you see it operating in dysfunctional systems?

Next Post in series: Staying Above the Fray: Leading in a Dysfunctional System, Part 2: by Todd W. Hall, PhD