Tag Archives: Emotions

Self

Self awareness is good. I must pay attention to my body, my thoughts and my soul. I must know myself and know how I may be affecting myself and those around me for better or for worse.

Self care is good. My body, my mind and my soul are gifts given to me. I must take good care of these gifts and not neglect them or abuse them.

Self control is good. I am responsible for managing my emotions and for choosing my thoughts and my actions. No one else can do this for me.

Self-centeredness is not good. I am not the center of all things; God is. My life must revolve around God. God is love. Love includes self, but love is not centered on self. Love must ultimately be centered on others.

A Therapist’s Question

The question that is famously associated with therapists is, “How does that make you feel?”  There is a time and a place for that question (or a variant of it), but answering it is certainly not all there is to therapy.  There are many questions to be asked and processed.  One question that seems to probe the heart of the matter quite often is, “What are you afraid of?” or “What are you afraid will happen then?”

So many people are driven by fear.  I don’t mean the healthy kind of fear that causes one to avoid genuine danger, but a nagging sense of emptiness or discontentment (I am not necessarily discussing anxiety disorders here).  It is a fear described by Tillich as a fear of “non-being,” although few people draw that conclusion as they move through their fearful lives.  People generally attempt to ease the fear by means of acquiring material goods, pleasures, or by investing in relationships.  Since people, pleasures and things are imperfect and finite, they will eventually disappoint, deteriorate or disappear.  Therefore, the fear remains below the surface.  It is Thoreau’s life of “quiet desperation.”

I have seen many couples, for example, that found in each other what they initially perceived to be the antidote to their fear of non-being.  Yet, they failed to resolve that fear in each other.  They discovered that it is not possible for one person to be “everything” despite what the lyrics of romantic songs may suggest.  They have somehow failed to “complete” each other and now they sit before me, their therapist, wondering what is wrong with their relationship.  Generally, each partner wants me to change the other partner into someone that will ease their underlying fears and make them feel whole.

One of the most repeated phrases in Scripture is, “Fear not,” or, “Do not be afraid.”  Having created us, God understands us to the core.  God also knows that our fear of non-being cannot be entirely eased by people, pleasures or things.  Only God can fill that void.  We are designed that way.  Hence, people of all places and times have turned to some form of religious expression.  As St. Augustine said, “We are restless until we rest in You, oh Lord.”  The admonition to “fear not” is a constant reminder to be adequately unattached to people, places and things, and to place our ultimate “OK-ness” in God alone.  Having placed our trust in God, we become free to fearlessly enjoy God’s gifts without desperately clinging to them as our source of being.  Relationships, pleasures, places and things take on new meaning.

The beauty of Christianity is not that it is one religion of many that seeks after God to resolve the fear of non-being.  The beauty is that through Christianity, God seeks after us.  God, knowing our fear, has revealed Himself to us as the antidote for fear.  We do not need to scratch and claw our way to the peace of God.  God has come down to us, embraced us, and told us to rest in Him.  Jesus shows us that we can live lives of faith, not fear.  There is more to our existence than this short life.  Through Christ we can live abundant lives instead of quietly desperate lives.

And The Truth Will…Make You Feel Good?

There is, as far as I can tell, no “great commission” to spread the New Age message.  There was no single founder of the New Age movement that said, “Go into all the world making New Age disciples of all nations.”  Thus, it seems ironic to me that there are so many people willing to “spread the New Age word” by posting messages on social media and the bumpers of their cars.  The Disciples of Christ spread the Gospel not simply to voice their beliefs, express their opinions or make people feel good, but because Jesus commanded them to do so.  They also mostly died in the process.

We now live in a world of relativism where “truth” is subject to the individual’s whim.  People no longer want to seek the truth, find it and die for it.  Rather, people want to believe whatever feels best to them and call it truth.  Then they seek validation of that truth from others who also feel good about it.  One can post a New Age quote or sentiment on Facebook, for example, and the more “likes” it receives the more “true” it must be.  This is truth based on feelings and popular concenses, not divine revelation.

There are elements of truth sprinkled throughout different religions and philosophies.  One of the beautiful things about Catholicism is its ability to assimilate these truths and include them within the deposit of divine revelation.  Hence, Catholicism is not one belief pitted against all other beliefs, but an inclusive Faith that recognizes truth, filters it and places it in its proper order.

Ultimately, truth is not a feeling or a philosophy but the person, Jesus Christ.  The world has largely “domesticated” Jesus and turned Him into just another feel-good, New Age, religious guru who taught some nice stuff.  But, that is not the radical, subversive, divine Jesus that was killed for all the trouble He stirred up.  That is not the Jesus that the Apostles died following.  They knew Him best.  They knew the Truth.  Truth doesn’t always “feel” good.  There is suffering involved at some point.  People want Jesus, but not His cross.

Before you post some “spiritual truth” on social media, you might ask yourself, “Am I willing to die for what I’m about to post?”  Is it really the Way the Truth and the Life?  Or, is it just a way to make me feel good?

The Little Rear View Mirror

I heard an analogy today that left an impression on me.  It launched a train of thought with many tracks.  “Your car has a big windshield, but a small rear view mirror.  That’s because you’re supposed to spend most of your time looking forward, and just a little time looking back.”  Maybe I’ve heard that before, but this time it stuck.  There are lots of ways to apply that analogy, but I’ll just focus on a few that came to mind.

Some people have lives that are wrecked because they spend too much time living in the past.  Maybe they enjoyed their past so much that they feel cheated or apathetic about the present or the future.  Perhaps they were deeply hurt in the past and their inability to forgive prevents them from enjoying life now.  Then there are people who live in the past because it is their familiar comfort zone.  They are afraid to grow.  Looking out the windshield is too scary, too intimidating.

Some Christians read the Bible and study Church teachings without really allowing what has been revealed in the past to impact their present and their future in a meaningful way.  It’s a bit like devouring books on carpentry without ever intending to build anything.  They like the reading and the studying, but the real-life application escapes them.  They are looking in the rear view mirror at revelation and doctrine, but failing to see how it applies to the road they are on.  They know all about Jesus, but they are not following him.  They are not seeing life and people through the eyes of Christ.

Some people use the rear view mirror primarily as a vanity mirror.  They are more focused on self than on the road or others around them.  When they finally do look out the windshield, it is out of concern for their own safety rather than everyone’s safety.  They care more about self than others, even others in the car with them.

When the rear view mirror becomes larger than the windshield, watch out.  Certainly there are times to embrace the memories of the past and reminisce with joy and gratitude.  There are times to examine the past for the purpose of healing and growth.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the past or learning from the past.  That’s why we write things down and take photos and videos.  In order to really live abundantly, however, we can’t live in the past.  Nor can we live in the future.  We must have our eyes forward and our hands on the wheels of our vehicles.  Christ is in the pace car.  Follow him.  Where he will lead you is better than anything you’ll see in your rear view mirror.

Can You Give And Accept An Apology?

One thing that often comes up when counseling couples is the issue of apologies.  I often ask spouses, “Do you apologize to each other,” or  “What is it like for you to apologize?”  A follow-up question is, “Are you able to accept apologies?”

A sincere apology requires humility because pride must be swallowed.  Some people have such an aversion to being wrong that it obstructs their empathy towards others.  They assume a defensive stance as they think only of self.  It’s hard to embrace someone through a suit of armor or a castle wall.  Apologies require vulnerability.  The armor must come off.  Knights wear armor for fear of swords and arrows.  When the armor comes off, vulnerability increases and so does the fear.  Apologizing can be difficult because one must drop the defenses.

Some folks apologize incessantly.  This is usually a sign of an insecure, passive type of person and/or an abusive relationship, not a healthy relationship.  There’s no reason for a genuine apology unless there has been a genuine offense.

Accepting an apology is another matter.  It’s even harder to drop the defenses and apologize to someone who can’t accept an apology graciously.  Some people use the apologies of others as opportunities to “twist the knife,” as in, “Darn right you shouldn’t have done that, you big jerk!”  A sincere apology is a gift.  The proper response to a sincere apology is, “Thank you, I accept your apology.”  The acceptance should then be followed up with genuine forgiveness.  One who holds a grudge, pouts or gives “the silent treatment” has not really accepted the apology.

I saw a quote once that said, “Marriage is an adventure in forgiveness.”  Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times.  Jesus told him, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22)  Of course, the point is not to forgive a person 490 times and then quit.  The point is to always be forgiving.  Forgiveness is not necessarily a onetime event.  Often we have to say, “Oh yeah, I forgave them for that yesterday, so I need to stick with it.”  Similarly, marriage is a choice we make every day, not just on our wedding day.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust.  If someone whacks me with a stick when I walk past, I can forgive that person.  That doesn’t mean I have to trust that person to cease the stick-whacking.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  If the person displays sincere remorse and proper behavior over time, however, trust may be reestablished.  One forgives in order to avoid carrying around a cancerous grudge, not in order to “let the person off the hook” of responsibility.  I can forgive someone for stealing my car, but the car still needs to be returned and/or jail time must be served.  This, by the way, relates to the Catholic understanding of penance, indulgences, Purgatory and the temporal punishment for sin that remains even after we have been forgiven of our sins.  Of course, Christ forgives our sins.  We are still responsible to make amends wherever we can.  That’s the fruit of true repentance.  Scripture tells us to avoid the altar until we have made amends.

So, if a marriage is rocky, each spouse can benefit from asking, “What am I not forgiving my spouse for?” and “What am I not apologizing for?”  Making amends is a sign of true friendship, spiritual humility and a happy marriage.

Part 6: Grant Me The Grace To Desire It

The last section of The Litany of Humility takes the desires from the first section and shows that it is not enough to be delivered from them.  Once we are delivered from a self centered desire we could easily slip into a state of self satisfaction and miss the point.  We are delivered for a reason beyond seeking our own comfort.  We are delivered for service to others.

A true servant places a priority on the needs of those being served.  We all have experienced good and bad service at a restaurant or some other establishment.  Some servers put their hearts into it and leave their customers feeling well cared for.  Other servers just go through the motions to get a paycheck.  They really don’t care about customers.  Christians are called to service to God and to others.  Are we placing God and others in a place of priority?  Or, are we placing priority on making sure we are comfortable?  Godly humility seeks to be delivered from certain desires and fears in order that we may set self aside and prioritize others.

For example, “Lord Jesus, deliver me from the desire to be esteemed and the fear of being forgotten so that others may be esteemed more than I.”  All three parts go together.  The humility is a prerequisite for Christian service.  None of this can be accomplished apart from God’s empowering grace.  Therefore, the litany includes, “Grant me the grace to desire it.”  We won’t even want to seek humility without the prompting of God’s grace.  We must pray for the desire to even begin to seek true humility because it isn’t natural.  True humility is spiritual.

Part 4: The Desire To Be Preferred, Consulted and Approved

Pick me!  Pick me!  Don’t pick them!  Don’t pick them!  The desire of being preferred means that others must be passed over to make room for me, and I’m happy about it.  It is the competitive streak of the sore loser.  It manifests itself in poor sportsmanship and arrogance.  It is quite possible, however, for an accomplished athlete to be competitively successful while simultaneously exhibiting humility.  Pride and arrogance must not be confused with confidence.

There have been times in my life when being picked last to be on a team was disappointing and humiliating.  But it was the wrong kind of humility I was experiencing.  I was experiencing a self-defilement of sorts, feeling sorry for myself and placing my worth in the hands of other people rather than in God’s hands.  In other words, being picked last hurt my pride, and I thought I needed that pride to be worth something.  Additionally, focusing on my wounded pride caused my performance in the game to suffer.  It was a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.  But even if I wasn’t at all skilled in that game it had nothing to do with my worth in God’s eyes.

The desire to be consulted is another challenge.  I’m a therapist.  I’m supposed to want people to come to me for consultation.  I’m supposed to be good at what I do and take pride in my work.  So, why get rid of my desire to be consulted?  I think it has more to do with wanting to be a know-it-all.  No one knows everything.  Even consultants need to consult with others for information and continuing education.  I may have lots of answers, but only God has all the answers.  An unhealthy desire to be consulted makes it hard to say, “I don’t know.”  The person who knows it all has nothing to learn, and that can be very dangerous.

The desire to be approved is another attempt at stroking the ego.  Like the other pitfalls in the prayer, approval can be just another way of focusing on self at the expense of others.  There have been occasions when people approved of me just to be manipulative.  “Buttering people up” is a great way to influence them.  Be wary of people’s approval.  Sometimes they just want something from you.  The desire for approval can backfire very quickly.  It can also become addictive.  Know that you are loved by God regardless of other people’s approval.  There will always be people that disapprove of you.  God may disapprove of some of our actions, but God never disapproves of us.  God is our biggest cheerleader.

From the desire to be preferred, consulted or approved, deliver me, Jesus!

Part 3: The Desire To Be Extolled, Honored or Praised

In other words, deliver me from the desire for lots of attention, even posthumously.  In the movie Troy, Achilles (Brad Pitt) wants nothing more than for his name to be remembered for eternity.  He is the ultimate fighter.  He fears no one and nothing…except being forgotten.  Prior to facing an opponent twice his size, Achilles is told by a young boy, “I wouldn’t want to fight him!”  Achilles says to the boy, “That is why no one will remember your name.”  Theologians call it the fear of non-being.

We desire recognition because it validates our very existence.  What good are we unless someone else believes we are good for something?  We often feel we need an audience to offer some applause for who we are.  Such validation can become addictive.  It can also replace an awareness that our true goodness resides in having been created by God, not in our accomplishments.

Accomplishments are good, of course.  They are only possible because of the gifts and talents God provides.  Humility is not about pretending we have no gifts.  We’re allowed to recognize and appreciate the talents and gifts God gives us.  We can use them in constructive, loving ways.  That’s gratitude.  However, if the praise we receive becomes the primary motivation for using our gifts and talents, we are off track.  We have constructed a golden calf with which to replace God as our soul reason for being.  Rather than trusting in God, we have given in to the fear of non-being.  This robs us of true joy and replaces it with fleeting emotions.

From the desire of being extolled, honored or praised, deliver me, Jesus.

Part 1: The Desire Of Being Esteemed

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus.

There is nothing wrong with being esteemed by others.  We all enjoy that feeling and validation.  The prayer is for deliverance of the desire to seek out such esteem as a validation of one’s worth and identity.  Even the desire for self esteem can become a pursuit that distracts one from trusting in God.  We live in a society that clamors for esteem, particularly self esteem.  We risk making idols of ourselves.

In one episode of “The Simpsons” Bart says grace before the family meal.  His prayer is, “Thanks for nothing God, because we earned it all ourselves.”  The allure of celebrity is another example of esteem gone haywire.  People practically worship celebrities, and the desire to be a celebrity is a common one.  The show “American Idol” is popular.  A show called, “American Humility” would likely not do so well.

It is not the esteem of others or self that gives us our worth and value.  It is God.  Every success, every breath and every heartbeat is possible only because of God.  If others esteem us, we can hope it is because we have exhibited qualities that in some way point to the beauty of God, and in that we can rejoice.  But we must not desire esteem for its own sake.  We must do our best with our gifts and talents so that others can see God, not so that we can be esteemed by others or even by ourselves.  Humility is not easy, but it is a source of true joy.  We need God’s grace.  We can’t do it under our own power.

Dealing With Anger: Water or Gasoline?

The issue of anger comes up frequently in my practice.  Whether it is a low grade irritability, prolonged resentment or full blown rage, it shows up in many relationships.  In dealing with anger it may be helpful to make a distinction between two different kinds of anger, good and bad.

Good anger is sometimes called “righteous indignation.”  Essentially, it is anger that is directed at an injustice.  It is a constructive anger because it seeks the good of another.  It can be used to improve the lives of people.  Suppose you saw a starving child and the sight angered you.  You know in your heart that children should be cared for and nurtured, not starved.  Your anger would be directed at the injustice.  Hopefully, you would be motivated to assist starving children in some way.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving is another example of good anger being used as a positive force.

Bad anger is basically a temper tantrum.  The self is usually the focus of bad anger.  This type of anger is not constructive.  It tends to promote the destruction of relationships, people and property.  People of all ages have temper tantrums of varying degrees.

Anger is often thought of as an emotion that “just happens.”  What is often overlooked is that anger is largely a choice we make.  It is really a secondary reaction to a primary emotion such as frustration, embarrassment, guilt, disappointment, etc.  When people do not deal with the primary emotion effectively, anger is the next recourse.

The primary emotions of anger can be placed into two main categories: feelings of being emotionally hurt and feelings of being put in danger.  The “fight or flight” reflex kicks in and people respond either by wanting to distance themselves (flight) or by wanting to lash out physically or verbally (fight).  However, once the anger begins to show up, we then have to make a choice.  This is when we decide either to pour water or gasoline on the flames.  Many folks don’t realize they have a choice at this point.  They just let the feeling take them for a ride rather than managing the feeling.  They claim they were “made angry” rather than admitting they chose their own reactions.

Road rage is an example of unmanaged emotions.  Being cut off by another driver may trigger feelings of being emotionally hurt (“How rude!  Can’t he see I’m in this lane?”).  It may frighten you and trigger fears that you are in danger (“I could have wrecked the car!”).  In any case, those primary feelings may lead to the next step of anger.  Then you make a choice: take a few deep breaths and let it roll off your back (water), or tailgate the other driver to get back at him (gasoline).

In relationships the same principle applies.  We need to take ownership of our own emotions and manage them.  Otherwise, we end up blaming others for our bad behavior while relinquishing our own power of self-control.

Watch this video and notice which person has control of his own anger and which person lets his anger take him for a ride.