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|Posted on March 26, 2018 at 12:22 PM||comments (32)|
The Question. Often while sitting in the psychological counselor’s chair a very common question emerges:
“Why does God allow these bad things to happen?"
There are many similar takes on this question such as:
“Why does this happen to such an innocent child?”
“If we have such a good God, then why is there so much suffering in this world?”
“If God was on the Cross for so many hours, then why has my relative been afflicted with this or that ailment for so many years?”
The Dilemma: These questions always stop me in my tracks and I even find myself getting tongue tied in trying to come up with a compact soothing succinct answer. After all, in my work, I want to help bring comfort to people’s lives and to teach them how to face challenges and trials.
But ultimately suffering is a sacred mystery of God ---much like the Eucharist and the concept of the Holy Trinity. No matter how we slice it, we cannot wrap our minds around it. Much of the challenge stems from the realization that suffering is a fact of our existence. We all suffer in some form or fashion. People suffer in a variety of ways: physically, psychologically, spiritually, socially, and culturally. We all have a Cross or even Crosses to bear whether we want to accept the situation or not. Truthfully, none of us are left unscathed. And ultimately, we can benefit from our trials. But how?
I have heard it said that suffering is actually the twin sister of love. Just like sorrow and joy can be twins. It is with great joy I discovered St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris” which was released to the faithful on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1984. From that great work three words resonant: “Suffering unleashes love.”
“Suffering Unleashes Love.” The Crosses in our lives are those occasions for love to blossom, by interior acts of love, exterior acts, and cultural acts. We have a choice. We cannot choose our type of suffering or calamity, but we do have control over how we are going to react to it. Out of an act of our own free will, we can decide to become bitter, lash out at God, refuse to go to Church, blame others, call everyone hypocrites, and curse the day we were born. Or we can choose to cooperate with the Grace of God. Through prayer and discernment, we can look for the good that can stem from a situation and look for the expressions of kindness and love from others that inevitably abound. Psalm 27 states: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” Look for the little acts of love such as the get-well card, the kind word, the sharing of resources, the bouquet of flowers in a hospital room, the new and old relationships that are forged. Don’t see anything good happening? Sure, we can also see the negative fruits. But look hard enough and there are inevitable acts of love abounding.
Jesus Chose His Cross. If still nothing good seems to emerge, one can become that beacon of love oneself, just as Jesus Christ himself did. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).” Unlike us, Jesus suffered voluntarily and innocently to unleash love in a profound sacred mysterious way. He chose to suffer when he didn’t have to do it.
Most of us are not taught the value of suffering. An old Catholic cliché is to “offer it up” and we can choose to become prayer warriors at the foot of the Cross, sharing in the Passion of Jesus Christ. We can take every smidgen of difficulty in our life and transform it into something that has redemptive value for ourselves and others.
The Way Over it is Through It. In psychology, a common phrase that I often repeat to my clients is: “The way over it is through it.” This is extremely true for anxiety, fears, trauma, and grief. Avoidance only intensifies the suffering. For example, being able to stay with the feelings of a panic attack actually helps one to get over it, as counterintuitive as this may sound.
So, stop wasting that good suffering that inevitably emerges in life. One doesn’t have to look far. One doesn't even need to create it (none of us likes to be around those that create their own sufferings!). It is all around us naturally.
Go forth and unleash some love!
|Posted on March 16, 2018 at 1:29 PM||comments (0)|
Make your bedroom a comfortable place. Blankets, bed covers, and mattress should be cozy and inviting. Get extra pillows. Keep it clean and tidy and introduce pleasant smells such as a drop of lavender oil on the sheets and bring in pleasant sounds from nature or white noise.
Do not bring electronics to bed. Turn off the phone, IPad, computer, and even the TV. A modern problem that interferes with a good night’s sleep is binge watching videos and programs in bed. The act of just looking at a lighted screen has the effect of making a person more awake. If waking in the middle of the night, do not reach for a screen. Not having a TV in the bedroom is a good idea for a person struggling with insomnia. If one must watch TV or videos late at night, do so outside of the bedroom on a hard chair or floor with no cozy blankets. Remember, make the bed the most comfortable place in the world.
Watch what you eat or drink before bed. Do not drink products with caffeine after 4 pm. Avoid alcohol. That glass of wine or shot of vodka might appear to aid in falling asleep but can actually cause a person to be more awake and agitated after a couple of hours. It also can interfere with the quality of sleep, cause aspiration, and lead to nightmares. Do not eat a big or spicy meal late at night; but on the flip side, avoid going to bed hungry.
Get physical exercise during the day. A regular program of exercise, even a walk later in the day can help make your body more tired for sleeping and can also help process anxieties and stressors. Do not take daytime naps, no matter how tired during the day if nighttime insomnia is a problem. A nap can interfere with the normal sleep cycle.
Have a regular bedtime routine that trains your body to sleep. Have a soothing drink like herbal tea or milk. Take a warm bath, wash the face, and brush teeth. Go to bed at the same time each night and plan on waking the same time every morning. This helps regulate the body’s normal sleep wake cycle. Say bedtime prayers.
Sweet dreams! When in bed think of nice things that happened during the day and/or make a mental note of what there is to be grateful. Avoid if possible, discussing stressful topics and having arguments with others right before bedtime. Save difficult discussions for daytime only. Resist the urge to toss, turn, and thrash about the bed if possible unless in physical pain. Moving only serves to make a person more awake.
Win-Win! A Catholic version of counting sheep for insomnia is to pray the rosary. The result is a win-win situation: Either one gets some good z’s before the first decade or many long prayers for intentions get completed. Some find listening to a soft recording of the rosary can help as well. A prayer to one’s Guardian Angel can aid in putting one’s mind at ease and help one to feel safe.
Patron Saints of Sleep? St. Joseph is a great saint for those who are plagued with dreams (good and bad). Also St. Dymphna is the patron of mental health.
|Posted on August 23, 2015 at 3:48 PM||comments (0)|
My husband, my daughter, and I embarked upon the journey of a lifetime early this summer from June 13 through June 23, 2015. In celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary, we set out to walk the last leg of the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The route began in Tui, Spain with its destination ending in Santiago de Compostela, traditionally the location of the crypt and remains of St. James, the Apostle. This segment of the Camino is approximately 100 kilometers.
The history of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela dates back well over 1000 years with Christians making this pilgrimage since the Middle Ages. Today pilgrims can walk, bike, or take to the path on horseback with a variety of objectives in mind, particularly spiritual. A minimum of 100 kilometers by is required to obtain a “compostela” or certificate in Santiago. Proof is obtained by having a credencial stamped along the way.
My reasons for undertaking this journey were largely spiritual but also for enjoyment and celebration of my marriage. Some of my own personal insights gained along “The Way” include:
The key to accomplishing anything is perseverance. It is not about being the best, the fastest, the smartest, the nicest looking, or even good enough; the key to success is simply not giving up. The fastest person doesn't always finish the race. A slow and steady pace is particularly relevant for the long haul. One can quickly lose steam along the first few kilometers and deplete reserves needed to last the entire 100 kilometers. Drinking up all of the water and eating all of the granola at the first leg doesn’t get one very far. I have often heard of individuals in counseling say to me that it took them “a long time” to accomplish something. I am always quick to add, “But you did it!”
So if it takes several years to get a bachelor's degree or even a doctorate; so if it takes a long time to get a promotion at the job; so if it takes forever to clean through your living space; so if it seems like it is takes forever to find a soul mate. Whatever the situation might be-- don't give up--persevere. I always say, if at first you don’t succeed: Pray, cry, and try again!
Don’t fret falling down but more importantly learn to get back up and carry on. Don't get discouraged at the prospect of a fall, but be encouraged at being able to get back up again. I didn't actually fall on the Camino but the fear of falling definitely slowed me down. There were many slick surfaces, rocks to climb, and paths to maneuver. Life in itself has its series of slippery slopes that need to be conquered. The classic mark of a procrastinator is the fear of failure. These types often do not even get past the starting line. But the fall isn’t the problem nor the worst part of it. Remaining face down in the mud is. The challenge with most addictions is being able to stay the course even after a relapse. A cupcake binge should not get one permanently derailed from a diet. Get back up, shake the dust off, and then proceed the course. And if it happens to be an issue of a sinful nature, Catholic Christians have recourse to starting anew through participation in the Sacrament of Confession. The old saying goes that Christians are definitely not perfect, but they are forgiven. Isaiah 40:31: They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall walk and not be weary. They shall run and not faint.
It’s just as hard going downhill. The hills on the Camino were definitely challenging. Some went on for a couple of miles or so. Climbing a hill can be extremely exhausting especially when the temptation to turn back presents itself. But just as in life, there is no turning back. One thing I quickly discovered is that no matter how tough it was going up, going downhill was not any easier. It is a joy to arrive at the mountaintop. But all roads do not end at the summit. What goes up must inevitably come down. I quickly discovered that a different set of leg and knee muscles were required to make the descent. Life has its peaks and valleys. We are presented with unique challenges in each scenario. Perhaps there are many uphill battles. But it’s never all uphill. And we don’t necessary gain momentum going downhill. Some of the worse crashes occur at the foot of a mountain. Lives can sometimes snowball when we don’t know how and when to put on the brakes. I remember in my days traveling in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee there would be sand banks along the side of the road for runaway tractor trailers. The descent must be made at a slow and steady pace.
It’s not only all about me. One principle taught in running a business as well as learned in walking the Camino is that any group is only as fast and efficient as its slowest member. In our little walking trio-- the holdup would be me. My 52-year-old pace served as a ball and chain for my 17-year-old and even my husband. However later on in the journey another’s upset stomach or someone else’s toe blisters became concerns and affected our progress in other ways. One has to learn to be concerned with the disabilities and shortcomings of each other on the same journey. If one of the members of the group only has the capability to walk 10 kilometers a day, then the maximum for that group is only 10 kilometers a day. Productivity becomes a team effort. If one wins, we all win. If one is incapacitated, we all become incapacitated. It’s in everyone’s best interest to look out for each other.
Be open to the kindness and advice of others. One encounters a lot of strangers along the Camino that become friends along the way. Fortunately these days it is much safer than back in the Middle Ages where pilgrims were often attacked, robbed, and left for dead (thus necessitating the building of the Reyes Catolicos centuries ago in Santiago which began as a hospice to help those who had been injured). Over the course of several days we encountered many familiar peregrines. It’s important to be willing to accept help from others, to be willing to ask for directions, and to be willing to give assistance. But there is one caveat: Be careful about asking directions from a cross-eyed person in a foreign country who doesn’t speak your native tongue. We were trying to locate the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua when in Portugal and almost became lost trying to find the patron saint of lost things! Something got mixed up and lost in the translation and we found ourselves going in the opposite direction. So the lesson here is to exercise prudence in discerning good advice. On the other hand, when we were in need of a taxi on another afternoon and asked a restaurateur to call one for us, he volunteered to take us himself and he even tripped on the pavement on the way to his vehicle. Upon completion of the journey he refused to accept any form of payment. We were very grateful for his generosity.
We heard all sorts of advice about preparing and going on the Camino. My advice: it is all relevant and helpful. Just like in life those who have gone before have something to say to us to help along the journey. It is prudent and wise to take their insights into consideration.
Small things matter. For instance see how long one can walk with a tiny rock in a shoe. Paying attention to detail is very important along the journey: the weight of one’s daypack is can make a significant difference. Someone I know on the journey decided to bring three books along the daily walk. After a day of lugging all of that extra weight, that same person decided that only one book would suffice.
Be prepared but also be willing to embrace the unexpected. Getting lost once in a while is part of the journey. The best laid plans can run amuck. Fortunately most of our journey was under sunny skies and the paths were well marked. But we did have to contend with a heat wave that hit throughout that part of Spain and dealt with temperatures that approached near 100 degrees F. We carried extra rain ponchos in our packs but never had to use them along the Camino. Most of our meals and lodging were planned ahead of time but we did have occasions when it was difficult to find a place to have a bite for lunch and dinner was often past 9 pm when we were used to eating at 5 or 6 pm at home. I have often heard that the most successful people in life are those who are willing to roll and adapt to the curves and changes in life.
Don’t expect to lose in 7 days what accumulated over 7 years. One hope in walking 100 km was that I would lose a lot of weight. But the Camino is like in life. A temporary change in one’s physical activity might cause a temporary weight change but permanent results don’t occur unless there are permanent changes. This can apply to whatever changes one wants to make in life. We have to be committed for the long haul.
Have a goal. Figure out what motivates you. Having a goal and dividing it up into smaller accomplishable tasks is helpful. We would walk so far in the morning and then have a pre-determined amount of distance to go in the afternoon. Often as the morning dragged into the day, I looked forward to stopping along the way to have a cappuccino or charcuterie at a certain milestone. Taking small breaks along the journey is important. We often would pop into Churches to cool down, admire the architecture of the buildings along the way, take in a breathtaking view, or engage in a water break under a shady old bridge.
But finally don’t forget that the process of the journey is just as important as the destination. For some reason the Camino brought back memories of my pregnancies. I carried two healthy children to term. Although each pregnancy was not easy and was full of challenges, I enjoyed each moment of the process. Thanks be to God, at the end of those two pregnancies I experienced the full joy of giving birth to my beautiful children. But at the same time I experienced some nostalgia at the remembrance of the precious time of carrying them in my womb. I felt the same way about the Camino. With my Compostela in hand, I was excited to have reached the final destination but simultaneously was a little bummed that the journey had come to a conclusion. There were so many sites, experiences, and friends that were encountered along the way. I actually wouldn’t mind going on another Camino!
The Good Walk. There is a manner in which Pilgrims greet each other along the Camino: “Buen Camino!” Which in Galacian translates as” have a good walk” or can even take on deeper meaning in signifying, “follow the right path.” Fortunately it was a very good Camino indeed! Much can be said about discerning the good path and following God's will in our lives!
|Posted on January 14, 2015 at 5:51 PM||comments (136)|
The Best Laid Plans…
We’ve all experienced it. We make plans and nothing seems to go the way that we anticipated. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” is an often repeated quote from the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Wiktionary states that it is an “expression used to signify the futility of making detailed plans when the outcome is uncertain.” The truth of the matter is that nothing is certain. Sacred Scripture states that the “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” (John 3:8, NIV). With all of this in mind some might conclude: “Why even get out of bed?”
I often encounter clients who are hesitant about undertaking new endeavors for fear of failure and/or rejection. There are those who recoil at the idea of being a trailblazer. I have heard many a young person who are not willing to take on college courses because “no one in their family has ever done it before” and that they lack having anyone to “encourage them to do so.” I have had clients who are anxious about entering into relationships. Some even excessively labor over not only the decision to marry but to date or even ask someone to an event. There are also those who are textbook perfectionists. They don’t want to make a mistake. They conclude, “If I can’t do it perfectly then I don’t want to do it at all.” Some refuse to take on any type of risk. But unfortunately, doing nothing is also a decision and has its own inherent risks and shortcomings.
The Joy of the Process
The misfortune is what is being overlooked about the process and what can be gained from it. The journey can actually be just as important as the outcome. The insights, things learned, and the experiences along the way help us to grow and to develop in ways that we not have otherwise. Many insights can be gained on that first day of entering into a college class. Even in relationships that turn sour one can learn a lot about oneself and others. We can create memories. Roadblocks in our paths can cause us to look around and to even sometimes take time to smell the roses. Some things can also draw us closer and into a deeper relationship with God.
On Being Overwhelmed
Sometimes people get overwhelmed from the prospects of opportunities. They have difficulty envisioning a plan from start to finish. They can’t see the trees for the forest or the forest for the trees. However, it is important to remember that many baby steps can make up one giant step. Often it is all about one step at a time and perseverance.
Often the first step, point A, is the hardest. Anyone who has ever tried to write a paper or a book can tell you that the first sentences are the most difficult. Fortunately, unless we are stone masons, most of the time, the first step isn’t “written in stone”. Changes can be made. The paragraphs can be revised. We can even start over.
When God intervenes
“Man proposes, God disposes” is a quote from Thomas A Kempis in his classic Christian work, The Imitation of Christ. When going from Point A to B, a very vital part of the journey is to allow God to be involved by seeking out His will. I was once telling my sister that “God can draw a straight path through our squiggly lines” when my 6-year-old niece interrupted and said, “No Aunt Nat, actually He draws a Cross.” I have been pondering this thought. From the mouth of a babe she is correct. If “Man proposes, God disposes” then often the proposal comes in the form of a Cross. Sometimes we find ourselves taking many right turns along the straight and narrow path. Rather than ranting and raving about the wrench in our craftily designed plans, we can choose to accept the obstacles as opportunities to grow in ways that we would not have otherwise. The Cross in our roadblock is something that can actually make us much stronger and even more humble. In the overall analysis, the squiggly lines that we create with our mistakes actually can take on characteristics more beautiful than just a straight plain sketch.
Most importantly it is not that we fall down, but that we learn to find the grace to get back up. It is not such a terrible thing that we make a mistake. In spite of the circumstances, we have to be willing get back up, to get out of bed, go to confession, back to the Sacraments, or do whatever needed to keep on going in whatever direction God has pointed. It is also important to realize that we are never completely alone-- that God can have our back and direct our way. Even though at times we may think that in going from A to B we are “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.”
|Posted on July 20, 2014 at 3:49 PM||comments (0)|
“I Want to Forgive But I Still Have Pain.”
This phrase frequently comes up during in the course of counseling. Many have injuries from past and even current relationships that continue to cause pain thus hindering advancement to fuller productive lives. The desire to move on is present but former feelings of being hurt, mistreated, ignored, and/or neglected keep cropping up causing re-injury. The desire to eliminate these sensations and memories is strong but for some reason there is an inability to move on. Efforts to “stuff it down” and “forget about it” just don’t seem to work. Exasperated, they conclude that they are unforgiving simply based on the remaining sensation of pain and recurring memories. The feelings can snowball by adding layer upon layer of frustration, guilt, and anger.
Emotions are the GPS system given to us by God.
One big misconception is that all emotions are bad. But truthfully emotions are a type of natural GPS (Global Positioning System) given by God to help figure out where we are, where we have been, and what is going forward in our lives. It can be viewed as a warning device when we are getting off course. Emotions are meant to flow and not to be blocked. According to Karla McLaren, the author of The Language of Emotions, every experienced emotion contains a message and we must learn how to read the message. Mistakes are made when instead of properly “reading a message” we decide to ignore it or impulsively overreact to it. No one likes the feeling of being angry, hurt, sad, anxious, guilty, etc. But in reality we must learn to be mindful of what we are experiencing and be able to take away from it useful information to help us have fuller lives and better relationships.
Common emotions that appear to block our ability to forgive
A common emotion associated with an inability to forgive is that of fear. Another one is anger. In some ways these two go hand in hand. Fear is the most primal of emotions and is a trigger for the need for protection. Fears can be real or unfounded due to habit. Anger is a response to the threats that cause fear. According to McLaren, the message of anger is basically one of protection and contains two main questions that we must ask ourselves: (1) What must be protected? And (2) What must be restored? Anger is the result of some type of event/stimulus that threatens one’s sense of self, standpoint, or voice. Another common emotion is that of guilt. The message associated with guilt is the feeling that we ourselves might have violated someone or compromised a code of ethics. Shame is very similar in that one feels lessened by being untrue to the community with which they identify or to their own personal set of core values.
To act or not to act
Validating one’s emotions is important, but on the other hand, interpreting the message in our emotions doesn’t give a license to blow one’s stack or fly into a rage. We must understand a couple of important points. First, even if an emotion exists, our interpretation of what it means might not always be correct. There is a time and place for “righteous anger” and some persons/relationships in our lives might even be dangerous or pathological to continue. Even Jesus became angry at the money changers in the Temple. However, prudence and discernment must be used so that we are not flowing with unbridled destructive passions and become like a volcano ready to blow. Fear is one emotion that can very often become out of control and manifest as chronic anxiety as a result of habit. Fortunately the brain has plasticity and can unlearn such patterns. Secondly, being able to set clear boundaries and to restore one’s sense of self without offending the dignity of ourselves, another, or others are better indications of success, particularly when dealing with forgiveness. Without realizing it, more injury can be caused to ourselves and others by improperly reacting to an emotion. It is important in the cycle of forgiveness to not perpetuate re-injury with others and particularly within ourselves.
How to check the reliability of the message in our emotions
The basic principle behind cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that our perception and belief of an event effects how we will feel and behave. Checking in with ourselves is essential. Looking for cognitive distortions and exaggerations are important. Asking further questions such as “Have I really been violated?” ; “Am I blowing this out of proportion?”: “Have I really violated someone or some code of ethics?”; “What have I really lost?”; and “What is the worst thing that can happen?” are examples. Challenging our own perceptions can sometimes be quite revealing if we do it with complete honesty.
Remember that past emotional wounds leave scars just like physical injuries.
A cut or a broken bone can leave a scar, so it is with emotions. I still have a scar on my knee from when I was 6 years old when learning how to ride a bike with training wheels on it. I also have a mark on my finger from a cut from a can of tomatoes after making stew when I was in my early 20s. These cuts no longer cause me pain but the memory of the event is still there and I can see the scars. If they had not healed properly in the first place, they could have potentially caused me much more difficulties down the road. If anyone has ever broken a bone, they can tell us that the place of breakage is prone to arthritis in later years. But on the other hand, some physicians will tell you that sometimes the place of healing of a broken bone can become much stronger because of the abundance of scar tissue.
Forgiveness is an act of the will.
Sometimes when we have made the effort to forgive, the recurring emotions are remnants of earlier wounds that have not had a chance to heal or require longer time. Forgiveness is an act of the will that occurs most often way before the feelings subside. The emotions are the baggage that still can drag behind. In most cases it takes patience and grace from God for the pain to go away long after the commitment to forgive has been made. It is important to remember that it is always possible to forgive in spite of how grave and difficult the situation. This is possible only because of the example that Jesus gives us. If we attempt with the best of our human intentions, our feelings inevitably get in the way.
Forgiving with the Heart of God
The key to forgiving is actually with God’s heart. A look at the Gospels shows that Jesus put a lot of emphasis on forgiveness. In fact, often when healing a person physically many times Jesus also said, “Your sins are forgiven”. The whole point of His dying on the Cross was to atone for sin. He who was not sin became sin. It is important to leave the door open when considering forgiveness. That means the door to our heart. If we approach the situation with a closed heart, we might miss out on someone’s attempt to reconcile with us. Also when dealing with persons, often it is a matter of swallowing our pride and taking the first step to repair a relationship. This is like being a sacrificial lamb. If efforts are met with rejection, don’t feel defeated but rather pray for the oppressor then go in peace knowing that you have given it your best shot. Don’t be surprised if by praying you find your heart softening. That is a healing by-product of prayer.
Remembering without the pain
Persons challenged with post-traumatic syndrome can testify that recurring memories and flashbacks are frequent obstacles in trying to heal from a past hurt. Fortunately there are some psychotherapeutic techniques that work well in eliminating the emotional charge from bad memories. One can learn to remember without feeling the hurt. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a method that is very helpful in assisting clients to properly reprocess emotions that have become stuck in parts of the brain. There is also help in various mindfulness techniques through meditation and prayer. Prayer not only helps a person to solicit help from God but also teaches discipline in ways to quiet the soul and helps one to achieve greater control over unbridled emotions.
One final note is that in order to be able to receive and give forgiveness one must be able to forgive oneself. Just about everyone has difficulty with self-compassion. Even the narcissist has a wounded inner sense of self. True humility is not being a doormat but acknowledging one’s self worth in relationship to God. It is realizing that one is created in His image and likeness and as such is loved by God unconditionally. True self-compassion is different from self-esteem. Self-esteem has worldly overtones of competitiveness in that one has to do things better than others in order to have value. Self-compassion is different in that it acknowledges that everyone has shortcomings and imperfections but they still have worth. Forgiving oneself allows one “to get over it” by realizing that it is normal to sometimes make mistakes.
|Posted on June 21, 2014 at 1:30 PM||comments (0)|
What does a Carmelite nun who lived during the late 1800s in France have to do with overcoming the obsession thoughts and/or compulsions that are symptomatic of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? St. Therese (1873-1897), whose writings composed the beautiful autobiography “The Story of a Soul”, died of tuberculosis as a young adult, yet her message endures to this day. She was declared a Doctor of the Catholic Church in 1997 because of her simple yet profound approach to the spiritual life. Her concepts can even be utilized by those who struggle with the neurobiological effects of OCD with amazingly successful results according to a book by Dr. Ian Osborn a Christian Psychiatrist.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
OCD is a disorder of the brain and behavior that causes severe anxiety and interferes with a person’s ability to carry out the activities of daily life. It can be described as the mind getting stuck on a thought or image that replays over and over like a broken record. The brain is biologically tricked into thinking that it is experiencing danger. “OCD has become the 10 leading cause of disability in the developed countries”(Reichenberg, DSM-5 Essentials, 2014). The DSM-5 (the professional guide used by mental health professionals) defines OCD as being significant for “the presence of obsessions, compulsions or both.”
Obsessions are (1) “recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or impulses that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress. (2) The individual attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action (i.e., by performing a compulsion).”
Compulsions are defined by (1) “repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. (2) The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or distress, or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent, or are clearly excessive.”
Of additional note: “The obsessions or compulsions are time-consuming (e.g., take more than 1 hour per day) or cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” The symptoms are not attributable to the use of a substance, medical condition, or another mental disorder.
Traditional Forms of Treatment for OCD
Traditional forms of treatment for OCD include cognitive-behavior therapy in addition to medications such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Jeffrey Schwartz in his book Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive Compulsive Behavior (1996) suggests a 4-step approach to cognitive therapy for OCD which has been effective for some clients. The steps include: (1) Relabeling by recognizing that the thoughts and behaviors are the result of OCD and not from realistic worries. (2) Reattributing it to being caused from a biochemical imbalance in the brain. (3) Refocusing by doing a meaningful activity other than trying to stop the obsession, and finally (4) Revaluing the need to perform the obsession which in itself causes it to weaken.
Therapy of Trust
According to psychiatrist, Ian Osborn in his book, Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (2008), “in therapy of trust the emphasis is shifted. It is not the rationality of an obsessional fear that is questioned, but rather who should take responsibility for it (p. 161).” The responsibility is shifted to God. His three-step method for Christian OCD sufferers includes:
1. Recognize obsessions when they strike. According to Osborn: “Obsessional thoughts are
intrusive, repetitive, completely unwanted, and recognized (at least in a moment of quiet reflection) as being inappropriate to be thinking. They possess a unique quality that psychiatrists refer to as “ego-alien”: It is as if they come from outside one’s normal sense of self.” These thoughts pose themselves as having an unrealistic feel of urgency.
2. Transfer responsibility to God. Obsborn further states: “…Individuals suffer from obsessions
because of an excessive sense of responsibility for harm to self or others. The tormenting thoughts can be put to rest when the responsibility for harm is transferred to another person.” In this therapy responsibility is transferred to God.
3. Prove your trust; resist compulsions. According to Osborn: “OCD sufferers need to make a concerted effort to lessen their performance, because they consume time, cause embarrassment, injure health, and in the long run cause obsessions to become even stronger. For religious individuals, there is yet another reason to limit compulsions: to prove their trust in God…Devout individuals with OCD must work to resist compulsions. In doing so they demonstrate or prove, both to God and to themselves, how much they trust Him and love Him.” OCD can actually be viewed as an opportunity for spiritual growth. This is where the Little Way of St. Therese comes in. As we can see that trying to “trust God” is potentially wrought with its own set of scrupulosities.
What is “The Little Way” of St. Therese of Lisieux?
According to the Society of the Little Flower, the Little Way by St. Therese was based on the two ideas that (1)God shows love by mercy and forgiveness; and (2) one cannot be perfect in following the Lord in this life. Her understanding of being a disciple of Christ stems from seeking holiness in the ordinary and everyday life. Her “Way” is one of complete trust and surrender to God like that of a little child. It is complete abandonment to God believing that no matter what happens, God is in control. In the Therapy of Trust for OCD, the sufferer transfers the responsibility to God. According to Obsorn who has been challenged with OCD in his own life, this shift has been a tremendous source of healing.
Self-empowered vs. God-empowered
A lot of focus in traditional secular therapy is on self-empowerment. The fact that one transfers responsibility outside of oneself can be a source of criticism from some in the psychological arena. Therapists generally try to make clients more and not less self-reliant. According to Osborn personality responsibility plays a huge role in perpetuating one’s obsessional thoughts and compulsions. However, employing the tactic of transferring responsibility to God makes sense in the context of religious faith.
|Posted on May 2, 2014 at 9:33 AM||comments (0)|
Do you face an impossible situation that appears to be hopeless?
Do you have feelings of desperation, depression, and even thoughts of giving up?
Situations crop up in many people's lives that appear to have no relief in sight. However you are not alone, there is a saint in the Catholic Church that endured multiple lost causes. Although her experiences occurred hundreds of years ago, her methods of overcoming are still applicable for us today. And they are quite simple with help from God.
The month of May observes May 22 as the observance of the Feast Day of St. Rita of Cascia, otherwise known as a saint for impossible causes and desperate cases. She lived from 1381 to 1457. She endured many things that otherwise seem quite impossible to most of us.
1. Domestic violence
At twelve years old, St. Rita endured an arranged marriage to a wealthy and violent man named Mancini. Her young adulthood was characterized with physical and emotional trauma. He had frequent anger outbursts and she was mistreated and abused for nearly 20 years. Mancini was described as a corrupt person and was despised by the community. He made a lot of enemies. For these reasons abused women traditionally sought out the intercession of St. Rita.
2. Unfaithful spouse
St. Rita dealt with years of infidelities from her husband. However she counteracted this with patience, love, humility, and kindness. After much prayer, fasting, and frequenting the Sacraments, St. Rita experienced a changed husband. Mancini repented of his ways and asked for her forgiveness. Her home then became a haven for peace, but unfortunately this lasted for only a short time.
3. Loss of spouse
Due to his violent past, Mancini’s life was cut short when he was stabbed to death by enemies.This occurred right after his conversion. St. Rita became a widow at a young age with two children.
4. Loss of children
Her two young sons became enraged with the murder of their father and vowed to carry out revenge once they became young men. St. Rita discouraged this for fear that they would lose their souls. She prayed to God for an end to the violence. Both her sons ended up contracting disease and died in a state of grace before they were able to carry out their Vendetta against their father’s slayers.
5. Thwarting of life goals
St. Rita wanted to enter a convent during her youth, but her parents discouraged it and had arranged her marriage at a young age. Once she was widowed, she applied to the convent but was rejected. The nuns at the monastery were afraid to be associated with her due to the scandal caused by the murder of her husband. She persisted in her application and eventually they let her stay. It is claimed that she was miraculously aided by Saints John the Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino to enter the locked and bolted convent at night. She ended up living out her life by the Augustinian Rule in Cascia, Italy.
6. A wound that would not heal
She contracted an open wound on her forehead that festered and produced a stench which made it difficult for others to be near her. She likened this to a thorn that had inflicted the head of Christ. It is reported that after her death the sore emitted a smell comparable to roses. This is why prayer cards and images of St. Rita are often depicted with a wound in the middle of her forehead. She is also shown with a rose which represents her ability to intercede on behalf of lost causes.
During her early years at the convent, a superior wanted to test St. Rita’s obedience and required that she plant an apparently dead piece of wood. St. Rita was ordered to water and tend to this stick on a regular basis. Eventually the twig grew into a grape vine which bore fruit. The centuries old plant is reported to still be on the grounds of the convent today. Its leaves are crushed into a powder and given to the sick around the world. It is an example of her help to lost causes.
8. Bee stings
St. Rita is also associated with bees.The day after her baptism, white bees swarmed around her face while she was in her baby crib. These insects went into her mouth without causing her any harm. Some believe that these bees foreshadowed her beatification by Pope Urban VIII whose family coat of arms featured the bee.
9. Physical decay
The body of St. Rita is noted to remain incorrupt.This means that her flesh is still intact after centuries even though her body wasn’t properly entombed nor preserved. When her crypt was first opened for her beatification after 150 years, her skin was still its natural color. A church in Cascia, built in her honor in 1945, became a basilica in 1955. Her body, which is only slightly discolored, can still be viewed by pilgrims in a glass case at the basilica. Some say that her eyes have opened and closed on their own and that her body shifts from time to time.
Her bizarre circumstances still make her a saint for modern day
It must be emphasized that it is never advocated that a person stay in a violent and dangerous situation. However we can look to the example of St. Rita to find clues into how to cope with a difficult situation. Her life is a testimony to the power of prayer, fasting, and frequenting the Sacraments when seeking help with situations that appear to be unbearable. Throughout all of her challenges she remained diligent, humble, and faithful. She was deeply trusting in God. She endured some issues that were cultural specific, such as being forced into marriage at a young age, however her challenges are not quite unlike what some people have to deal with today.
Prayer to St. Rita
Dear Rita, model Wife and Widow, you yourself suffered in a long illness showing patience out of love for God. Teach us to pray as you did. Many invoke you for help, full of confidence in your intercession. Deign to come now to our aid for the relief and cure of [name of sufferer]. To God, all
things are possible; may this healing give glory to the Lord.
|Posted on February 14, 2014 at 11:21 AM||comments (0)|
Another date crossed out on the calendar as I approach another year of my journey. Over a half of a century is definitely in my rear view mirror. I do know that in many ways my “inside self” still feels like that young somewhat carefree girl that once played on the fields of Western New York. It is only when I look in the mirror that I am reminded by my “outside self” that I have been travelling for quite a while.
What have you learned?
When my spouse was a young boy his mother would always have devotions before school with her children. My husband likes to tell the story of how she would often read Sacred Scripture and pray with them before the sun rose. He stated that unfortunately sometimes it was a struggle and often he would fall asleep. At the conclusion of each devotion however she would give them a quiz by asking, “What did you learn?” He recalls that in his drowsiness he could always rely on one quick answer, “Love one another.” This was because at an early age he quickly realized that no matter what was said or read, it always somewhere and somehow contained the message, “Love one another” and in the context of “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).” Smart kid!
So likewise, even today as I encounter being “Over the Hill,” the message of “Love One Another” is still relevant and echoes with “my inside self.” Have I not thought of this before? Have I not visited this before? Yes, but I can honestly say, that with each encounter perhaps I go to a level deeper and even sometimes it is necessary for me to relearn it at a more superficial level what the simple yet profound words of Jesus “Love one another” actually means. It is true that while in this life and on this earth, one cannot fully comprehend the depth and absorb the magnitude of “Love one Another.” Especially since God, Himself is Love.
Needing to learn the same old thing over and over again
I know that there have been times and it will inevitably happen that I will not be as charitable as I should be.This is why the journey continues. I am still learning what it means to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).”
This year I continue to learn even more about God’s power of love through forgiveness and pray for others to learn more as well. I have encountered a quote that has been attributed to various sources (which includes everyone from saints to Confucius to Nelson Mandela) that states “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” The fact that this resounds with persons from so many diverse backgrounds, speaks to me about the vastness of God’s love and forgiveness and the human condition. Life is not so much about making mistakes but in being able to learn and grow from them.
In my work as a Licensed Professional Counselor I encounter so many persons plagued with issues pertaining to guilt, low self-esteem, scrupulosity, and the obsession of perfectionism. Don’t get me wrong, we are to strive to be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), but when we make a mistake, God loves us just as we are. How I pray for this message to be screamed into so many souls.
February 15 is the Feast Day of St. Claude de la Columbiere
What makes this saint particularly interesting is that he was the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary, the founder of the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I have had the opportunity to visit Paray-le-Monial , the town in France from where these two great Saints came. This is particularly relevant to my above point. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is precisely the message that no matter how much we have messed up in our lives, the love of Jesus can overcome. This devotion of old is for all people of our time who are afflicted by so many challenges of life.
Falling down is about being humble.
It is not that God trips us up. But life on this earth plagued with original sin will inevitably bring times where we fall down. And humility is not about being a doormat. It is about knowing who we are in relationship to God: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).” This often means being willing to forgive others that might disappoint us. Just like God is waiting and willing to love and forgive each one of us in spite of our shortcomings.
One last note, the older I get the more I believe that the aging process is our last opportunity to become more humble! What can make a person more humble than losing one’s school girl figure, increasingly aching joints, and obtaining a forgetful brain? It is all the more opportunity to join these sufferings to those of Jesus on the Cross. So as I age and reach for another ibuprofen, hopefully I will learn to become humble once and for all.
|Posted on January 25, 2014 at 5:58 PM||comments (0)|
Encountering a decision whether big or small can often bring about a great amount of anxiety. At times indecision can destroy inner peace and can even have a major crippling effect on one’s spiritual welfare as well as psychological progress. Procrastination is often caused by inability to make a decision for fear of failure. Perfectionists are known to be diagnostically the worst procrastinators simply because of the fear of making a mistake. These persons are experts at catastrophizing and often imagine the worst case scenarios. On the other hand, there are others who might be very impulsive and do things without a thought or a prayer beforehand. Such persons could even be viewed as being ruled by their passions.
Making a decision can truly be difficult.
Must it be done alone? Does our soul sing the ballad of “I did it my way” or is there a deep desire to do things according to the will of God? Do we want to completely abandon ourselves to God’s will? Or do we want His help only when it is convenient? Or are we so clever, modern, and wise that we can handle things just fine without any help whatsoever from the Divine? In the first step of making a decision, we might need to decide once and for all if we sincerely do want to follow God’s will. Some of us might do this unconsciously.
But most of us at some level truly do want God’s will for our lives but are afraid of what that might entail, especially if we believe it means giving up something or losing control. Giving into God’s direction for our life requires humility. Humility is not about being a doormat, but rather is about being aware of our place in relationship to God. In fact it is a very uplifting and liberating position to be humble. This involves the realization that we are created in the image and likeness of God and are uniquely and unconditionally loved by Him. In this respect He wills the utmost best for us. It is acknowledging that God is all good, all powerful, and all knowing. Let’s just get this straight: God doesn't cause the tragedies but rather He is here to help us get through them.
So then, once set on following God’s will how does one go about determining what it is?
First get in contact with God. How can we hear and receive from Him when we are truly out of touch? Obviously spending time in prayer is important. There are different types and approaches to prayer. The most effective prayer is the one that comes from a sincere and pure heart. Prayer can be done in one’s own home, in a car, or even in a closet. But it can also be done in a Church. If one wants to truly pray where Jesus is physically present, find a Catholic Church that offers adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. This is where a consecrated Host is placed in a monstrance on an altar. One can also pray to God present in the Tabernacle in the Catholic Church.
Participate in the Sacraments of the Church. This involves going to Mass and receiving the graces from the Sacraments such as Holy Communion. Also if one has not been to Confession in a while and is aware of any mortal sins, it is a good idea to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. These are great sources of strength for the journey and aid in the discernment process. This also frees the soul from any junk that might be obstructing the working of God’s grace.
Listen to God working in your heart and life. In addition to speaking to God, a person must also learn to listen, and to be open to God’s voice. Most of us wish for God to flash before us a billboard with the all the answers. But most likely the answers come in more subtle ways. Sometimes the message is sent through others and in the circumstances in our lives. A person must be in touch with their intuition and any tugs of the heart. This is especially true in determining one’s vocation. However, there is a danger in following one’s unbridled passions.
One must apply virtue when making a decision. St. Thomas of Aquinas defines virtue as the habit of doing good and that it is the “golden mean” between excess and defect. “The virtuous act is one that is neither excessive nor deficient. So for example courage is neither foolhardy nor cowardly, and temperance is neither total abstinence nor gluttony. Humility is neither arrogance nor subservience. Perseverance is neither obstinacy nor capitulation. One might understand this ‘golden mean’ as balancing our desires with reason ” (Bennett, A & L. The Emotions that God Gave You. 2011, pg 83). Discernment must be done with prudence and measured against God’s 10 Commandments.
Make sure the decision does not violate any of the 10 Commandments. A good way to determine if a decision is part of God’s will is to measure it against the 10 Commandments. For example if someone is contemplating having an abortion, putting it up against the 10 Commandments will inevitably reveal that such would not be according to God’s will because He would not have us violate His own laws. Also consulting with the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great source of help.
Ask for help and respect those in authority. Seek out spiritual direction and/or counseling. God can often speak His message through others, especially those who have been given authority or put in a role of guidance over us. Asking for the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary by praying a rosary and looking to the examples in the lives of the Saints can also help. The lives of the Saints provide excellent templates in how to live holy lives and how to make decisions according to the will of God. St. Faustina once said, “When I do not know what to do, I question love, for love is the best counselor!” St. Augustine is known to have said, “Love and do whatever you want.”
What do I do if I am still clueless?
It is not uncommon that we do all of the right things in trying to seek out God’s will and we are still in the dark. For whatever reason we cannot seem to see God’s message clearly or God is simply silent. Rather than losing our internal peace, there is a solution according to Fr. Jacque Philippe:
“But it may happen that the Lord does not respond to us. And this is completely normal. Sometimes, He simply leaves us free and sometimes, for reasons of His own, He does not manifest Himself. It is good to know this, because it often happens that people for fear of making a mistake, of not doing the will of God, seek at any price to have an answer. They increase their reflections, their prayers, they open the Bible ten times looking for a text in order to obtain a desired enlightenment. And all this is troubling and disquieting more than anything else. When the Lord leaves us thus in incertitude, we must quietly accept it…In effect, this capacity to decide in incertitude, in doing that which seems to us best…there is an attitude of confidence and abandonment: ‘Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will. I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further… I am deciding such and such a thing because , all things carefully considered, it seems to me the best thing to do. And I leave everything in Your hands. I know that , even if I have made a mistake, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions. And if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error” (Searching for an Maintaining Peace, pp 72, 74).
Most of us know that sometimes the best laid plans can initially lead to some terrible disasters. But It is good to know that no matter what happens God can make something good out of even out of our worst case scenarios.
|Posted on January 16, 2014 at 11:36 AM||comments (0)|
In the dead of winter
This time of year always makes me think about the season. How can I ignore it? In Chicago the air is usually bitter cold. I’m not talking about it being a little bit chilly. It’s downright frigid with temperatures preferring to hover in the subzero range. At times it is difficult to appreciate the present moment, when I find myself counting the number of months left until spring. Navigating the highways can be quite a challenge. Every trip out whether on foot or in a vehicle means risk to one’s body and property. As I get older, I am getting less steady on my feet, walking like an old penguin and having to wear a coat that could double as a down sleeping bag.
Winter is a part of everyone’s life journey. We all experience it. Accept it or not, winter will inevitably come to us. Each journey has its own peaks and valleys. Some might say that winter is definitely a valley experience dominated with darkness. But others view it as being on the mountain top, especially if one takes pleasure in skiing. Some comment on the whiteness of the season and the extra use of light. Others might only see the gray concrete highways and barren trees.
Most of us agree that winter does bring storms which can alter our plans. We are usually glued to the weather forecast in this season, soon to discover that a better job of prediction is done by sticking a head out the window as opposed to sapping the knowledge out of a sophisticated modern meteorologist. In spite of our best efforts, some storms still take us by surprise.
Life events that take us by surprise
Events in life that can take people by surprise always bring with them some sort of stress. Events such as a sudden job loss or change in employment status; a serious illness; the death of a loved one; an unexpected move or need to relocate; a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, or fire; the ending of a relationship; an assault such in a burglary or rape; and accidents. In contrast to the bad, good events in life can also lead to stress: a new job; birth of a child; children leaving the home for college; or meeting someone new.
Some events happen very slowly
In contrast to the sudden storms of life, there are also events that creep up on us. These are the things that don’t happen overnight. No one ever wakes up in the morning to find oneself in a new life stage. (Although anyone who has ever had a teenager can swear that they grow inches overnight). Events that happen very slowly include puberty, reaching adulthood, vocational discernment, midlife crisis, menopause, empty-nesting, retirement, and spiritual growth. In fact, in the spiritual life, I have heard it often said that one never stands still. One is either going forward or backward. And in terms of psychological growth, most of us tend to jump all over the place. What characterizes slow transitions is that they usually involve moving from something old and very familiar to something new and unfamiliar.
We have a limited perspective
The problem we all have with changes and seasons in our life is that we never quite know what is coming up next or where we are standing, hence our desire for a good weather channel or forecasting app. We don’t have a bird’s eye view of the map of our life’s journey. We struggle to find a reference point at any one moment. We never know if we are on the mountain top or indeed in the valley. The old saying goes, “hindsight is always 20/20.” But talk to any older person and they will mention “the good old days.” But often at closer inspection, those “good old days” had lots of challenges and were often in fact downright awful.
Then what is the best compass?
The best compass is God. And through God, learning to live in the present moment. Research any philosopher, psychiatrist, or spiritual writing and you will find that they all say the healthiest perspective is that one which focuses on living in the present moment. So in the midst of our current snow storms there are treasures to be had. No need to even set out searching for the gifts of the present moment; such gifts are already in our hands. It is just a matter of having the ability to see them. No one is without exception.
I hear someone say, “I am different. My problems are worse than anyone else. There are no blessings seen here.” What such a person fails to realize is that even in our struggles and darkness moments there are the opportunities for growth and sanctity. Christians can also appreciate the redemptive value in suffering.
A psalm about the journey and how God is our compass:
Lord, You have probed me, You know me:
You know when I sit and stand;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
With all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, You know it all.
Behind and before You encircle me
And rest Your hand upon me.
Probe me, God, know my heart;
Try me, know my concerns.
See if my path is crooked,
Then lead me in the ancient paths. (Psalms 139:1-5;23-24).
We all go the ancient path.
In spite of what believing that we are modern people, we all travel the ancient path that others have gone before us. We only hope to travel it with the grace of the Saints and not get ourselves off course or do it crooked. We all will encounter challenges, stressors, and anxieties. These are inevitable parts of life. We all will encounter a storm in the dead of winter. Some of us might even encounter more especially if our journeys take us to the Northern Tundra as opposed to sunny Florida. But whatever our life maps, we have an Eternal Guide to help us arrive where we need to go.