Finding Your Right Work

Work is life. It consumes so much time from our limited supply of days. In just a few short decades, the time and energy we spent working adds up to be life itself.

Livelihood is a natural expression of our working life. A source of income. Using our talents and capacities. Doing what we do best.

“I’m looking for something more than money out of my work; I expect deep fulfillment and a little fun too,” said an executive of a major American corporation.

Right livelihood – whether via a job, profession, business, or any talent – is as important as mental health and wholeness. Just as the right foods are for our physical bodies.

Buddha described “right livelihood” as work “consciously chosen, done with full awareness and care, and leading to enlightenment.”

Surely, I’d not recommend orange robes and vows of poverty for us like Buddha. But I can see the practical psychology of his point.

You (and all of us) need to choose the right livelihood. Your right work. For the only one life you have.

But most people today are “aliens.” They’re alienated from both their natural talents and potentials. Their proper place and function. Their purpose for life.

Most people merely work for the money. Eight-to-five penance for daily bread! As a result, many get bored, frustrated, constrained or dulled in their days. Some get serious mentally illness.

I met a young woman who drifted into a boring, but high-paying accounting job. After much inner struggle, she left her secure niche to study psychology.

She’s getting straight A’s in her studies. But having a hard time paying bills. A life state she didn’t experience before.

Yet she was sure that she had found the right road for her life. Her right career. Her right livelihood. That allowed her to excel and gave her the power to be resourceful.

Nothing stopped her from becoming a psychologist. So after years of hardship, she completed her graduate studies. She used her former contacts to start practice.

Now a successful, highly paid psychotherapist, she said, “My choice and hardships were so challenging. But I feel at home in this work. For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing joy and fulfillment.”

Christina

Christina, one of my patients, recalls how her mother would leave her working and sleeping with the maids. Away from the rest of her siblings in the house.

“The more I tried to please my mother, the more she’d put me down. All throughout my childhood, I wondered about this: I felt like an ‘insect’ rather than my mother’s child,” laments Christina.

Christina is a 50-year-old adult now. A wife and mother of 3 grown up boys. But she still feels like an “insect.”

Although she looks naturally pretty, she rarely appreciates what people say about her. Mostly she hardly looks people in the eyes.

Somehow, Christina figures that she is that way always. Her life today is safe and comfortable, but it’s barren and emotional destitute.

The “inner child” contains memories, images, and feelings of your childhood. Both conscious and unconscious. What is consciously remembered and what’s repressed or forgotten.

When a child is abused, traumatized, or deprived, the “inner child” splits from consciousness when being abused. But it carries repressed anger, rage, hurt and fear.

As you grew into adulthood, the repression from childhood and “splits” from consciousness remain. Even now, as an adult, you still have inside you the child you once were – your wounded inner child.

Healing the wounded inner child involves telling the story in therapy. Why is telling the story important?

Dr. Charles Whitfield eloquently explains,

“We begin to see the connections between what we are doing and what happened to us when we were little. As we share our story, we begin to break free of being a victim or a martyr, of the repetition compulsion.”

You can fly, but that cocoon has to go.

“You can fly, but that cocoon has to go,” says a message printed on a poster. The poster shows a picture of a beautiful butterfly.

Many of the individuals I’ve worked with actually need to hear that message. It’s true for all of us going through woundedness.

So we could learn to fly again.

Roberto, whose would-be bride had a two-month affair with a womanizing politician, was stuck. Despite massive remorse and changes in his fiancée, he kept blaming her for his immobilization.

As a result, Roberto found himself severely depressed each day. Obsessing over what can’t be undone. Self-medicating thru alcohol and paid sex.

At work, he’d cry buckets of tears that kept him from moving ahead. His psychological and emotional state was like an “immobile cocoon.”

Trauma or loss can be compared to two things. It can be a “war zone” and a “safety cocoon” all at the same time.

When you choose to battle beyond trauma or loss, you’ll be able to see the big picture. You’ll be able to experience the thrill of developing new wings towards new adventures.

When you hug your cocoon to yourself, you can only view life on the surface. It somewhat feels safe staying in the cocoon. But you’re not flying.

Are you firmly stuck in your trauma/loss cocoon? Or, have you gently and progressively been trying to develop new wings?

I’ve met people who are trying to fly while they hang on to their cocoon. It doesn’t work. That cocoon has to go before you can freely fly!

Of course, when you’re newly traumatized or abused, you need a safety cocoon for awhile. But you don’t want to hide there the rest of your life.

You make better progress when flying. Not stuck in the cocoon, walking or crawling.

Is there a beautiful butterfly stuck in your cocoon today? Until when will you wait to spread its wings and fly into new adventures?

Labels Don’t Define You

Diagnostic labels are typical. You enter a hospital, consult a doctor, and take lab tests. Then, you’re given a Label of your condition.

In psychological care or mental health, labels abound. They emanate mostly from DSM. It’s a doctor’s guide on mental health disorders used by MHP (mental health practitioners) around the world.

Yesterday, I was reading a psychological report on Marino, a teenage client. It’s issued by a registered drug-based professional mental health agency based in Manila.

In the report I found lots of familiar DSM labels. Depression. Agoraphobia. Social anxiety. Depersonalization Disorder. Schizophrenia.

As usual, aside from the labels, the agency required the client to take brain drugs. When the drugs manifested serious side effects on the teen client, his mother chose to stop it.

When the mother reported about it to the agency, she was simply told to comply. Without drugs, they said, no psychotherapy will be allowed for his son.

Labels and the pharmaceutical industry usually go together in psychiatry. Describing who you are as “depressive” or “BPD” or “schizoid” is an attitude often encouraged by the big pharma.

In my initial session with Marino, I’d noticed how much the “labels” given him have already affected his sense of himself. Mostly in our talks, he spoke of who he is as the “labels,” the sickness.

Sadly, in my observation, Marino has come to see himself as inherently dysfunctional. A major part of it was the result of the way he was labeled and boxed in.

Framing one’s identity around some drug-based label is dangerous. It harms one’s overall health. Worse, it can destroy even the core of one’s self identity.

You are more than any diagnostic “label.” You are a person, not an object. The label is just a temporary state or external behavior. It does not exclusively define you.

Transcending “labels” means looking at life beyond them. Labels can be useful in a way. But they can also shape your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Be careful then. Discern differences. Labels stick, but they can also be unwrapped. You and any label are two different things.

Most importantly, you can be stronger than the “label.”

Finding Your Truth

I don’t know what has happened. Or, where it has come from.

Last night’s group session, I had the truth in my mind. Yet I failed to express it. Something held me back.

It’s my personal blinder. A mistake. A negation of my personal sense of truth about my self.

As human as my struggling patients, it’s senseless to pretend perfection.

Therapy is self truth. It’s a process of seeking the truth about your self.

In the midst of the busyness of life and our world, we need to find a focus to make it happen.

It’s good, of course, to focus on healing our blinders or mistakes. You look into your self as you are with your faults – objectively.

But this is not enough.

You also need to focus on your assets. Your positives. Your gifts.

You must develop and cherish these assets. And work with them.

It’s also essential to look into your past. If you can do this deep enough, you see your mistakes again. And be in a position to learn from and avoid them.

I do not mean you obsess over your past mistakes and untruths, leading you to blame your self.

The real purpose of seeing your past is to live today with clear truths about your self.

Finally, plan for today’s possibilities. That will impact your future.

The primary excitement of knowing the truth about your self is becoming mature. Whole. Healthy.

Take stock of your self. Seek real truths about your self.

Look behind you, before you, and within you.

Remember that your self and life belongs to you. Especially, your truths.

Keep discovering.

Managing Your Death Anxiety

This week, we have All Souls Day again. Culture reminds us once more the reality of death in our human existence. It also directs us to remember those that passed on – family members, friends, and others who profoundly influenced our lives.

As a young boy in grade school, I first attended funeral when my paternal grandmother died. I don’t remember anyone, including my parents, spelling out death to me in a frightening or philosophical way. I recall just playing around during the funeral, seemingly unaffected.

Then one day, while passing by my grandmother’s house that lay alongside a Main Street, I suddenly cried. My grief over my grandmother’s death broke out of mental/emotional denial or unawareness. I’m thankful that my personal distress had awakened me to something I needed to see.

In our society, it’s a common sight for people to talk about those who died and not feel anxious by the thought that death will happen to us as well. We recover from grief. And then, we move on with our everyday lives not minding the need to prepare for such inevitable existential reality.

But, at some point in our lives, all of us will be faced by this reality of certain physical death. It may be in deep, powerful ways that it affects the way we think, feel, and behave towards a lot of things. It’s a time of faith. A time of being compelled to ponder our own mortality.

Death anxiety. William James, American philosopher, eloquently referred to fear of death as “the worm at the core of human existence.” Psychologists tell us that we are often unaware of the effects of death anxiety to our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

When left inadequately managed, death anxiety can magnify our fears, obsessions, social anxieties, and other psychological imbalances. It can amplify our disdain of people who neglect us or don’t share our values.

In my exposure Therapy session with Roger, we tried to cure his recurring panic anxiety attacks. His common triggers were traffic while inside his chauffeured car, train stations, and foot bridges. When we first started scheduling our sessions in those normal places, he completely went haywire in protest and rage.

It’s interesting that a common theme flowing through Roger’s thread of thoughts and safety behaviors while looking at those normal places is fear of and anticipation of his own death. I can’t help thinking then if his recurring panic anxiety attacks, accompanied by high temper, are a reflection of his own desperate attempts to manage death anxiety.

Having reached an age when I too am inescapably visited by thoughts of mortality, I wrote this reflection with great soul-searching. Am I living with true purpose given the limitedness of time remaining? If I die tonight or sometime, can I be sure where I’m going? What legacy am I making to leave the world a better place?

Mastering Sex

It’s part of God’s natural gift to human nature. Within the context of marriage, sex is good. It’s designed as an integral part of true love and commitment of two people in life union.

Yet, sex can turn bad.

Damaged. Polluted. Distorted or abused. In our society today, lots of channels feed bad sex. And bad sex creates psychopathology and other unwanted consequences.

Recently, Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein, an award-winning movie producer, was exposed of his sex addiction. Tens of movie celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, Gwendolyn Paltrow, Ashley Judd, among many, came out into the open to report his raping or sexually harassing them in the past. It has become a full blown scandal that ended Harvey’s respected status and career in Hollywood.

I’m reminded of Bong, a patient who consulted me about his out-of-control sex drive. He engaged in sex with his live-in girlfriend. He also had sex with strangers or pay prostitutes for it. Bong said in session, “Sex to me is like food. It’s a basic need. I can’t understand why I feel bad about it.” His girlfriend found out and broke up with him.

What makes a person a slave to sex appetite instead of its master? There could be a variety of reasons. There’s space here for me to mention 3 possible reasons: bondage to world’s view, bondage to self, and bondage to ungodly mentality.

Bondage to world’s view. The world does not know about true love. Love is unprotected by widespread loose sex, pornography, sexual perversion, prostitution etc we see in our media and culture. To master good sex is to cut free from this bondage and live differently away from damaging worldly influences.

Bondage to self. The wounded self deprived of real love in the past or present can be vulnerable to addiction to unquenchable, out-of-control sex appetite. Mastering good, healthy sex demands healing of this primal psychological wound that caused severe narcissism. To be cut free from inappropriate pleasing of self and self-seeking attitudes.

Bondage to ungodly mentality. Sexual immorality is bondage to unspiritual, materialistic, robot mentality. One who feasts on pictures, films, and thoughts that feed moral weakness is a robot, not a master of sex, much less of himself.

At times, as a psychotherapist and human myself, I too am challenged to master the lure of bad sex. Professionally and personally. That always involves constant renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). Free from the imprisonment of imagination so the self can be free to make good, healthy choices.