Never Growing Up

His name was Peter. Age 25. He talked a lot. In session, he liked to monologue. Joke away. But he’s not really saying much that matters. His feelings were often exaggerated, easily provoked, even silly.

When asked what he’d do now after having graduated from college, he paused a little. Then, he said he’d go back to college and take another bachelor’s degree.

Totally unrelated to the first one he took, he said in jest of his next college course, “I’d like to make a difference in the world by studying the oceans and underneath them!”

Then, he sipped his coffee and ate a lot of cake in front of him. At 5’8″ and almost 300 lbs., he professed his love for food.

My years of counseling teenagers, university students, young adults, middle-aged or senior men, and couples revealed to me a widespread psychological affliction in our society. It’s a syndrome in our society that’s causing a lot of problems in all walks of life.

Clinicians call it the “Peter Pan Syndrome.”

You remember the happy-go-lucky character of Disney’s Peter Pan, right? That’s where the psychological syndrome was named after.

Peter Pan symbolizes everlasting fun and youthfulness. He rejects all things Adult. He avoids growing up vehemently. He wants to remain a boy forever.

Unknown to many of my patients (including their parents, spouses, or friends who care for them) is a chilling reality. They are unwittingly following in the footsteps of Peter Pan.

We have a mental health problem of a man-child caught between the adult man he doesn’t want to become and the child or boy he could no longer be.

As Peter Pan himself said in the play, “No one is going to catch me, lady, and make me a man. I want always to be a little boy and to have fun.”

Forgive me for hyping a psychological claw to unearth this often hidden Disorder. Reversing the process of this syndrome is crucial to the stability of our families and society.

It’s never too late for an adult man to grow up and for his loved ones to offer aid to make that happen.

“I Was Wrong”

“I was wrong.”

Those words are one of the most difficult things to say for most people. Whoever we are. Whatever our situations or circumstances.

Perhaps this is the tragedy of fraternity student members of Aegis Juris at the University of Santo Tomas. These frat officers and members were caught in a major hazing scandal that led to the death of a neophyte.

Based on latest news, these young men, along with their “big brothers” and lawyers, have become so vehement in their defense. Despite obvious evidences, they insisted that the hazing did not take place or they were not involved if there was one.

The need to “cover up” the crime and wrongdoing so offended the senators who were hearing the case. This led to the imprisonment of its frat leader as well as the victim family’s call to disbar the lawyers assisting the cover up.

What was the main crime?

I think it’s not so much the initial mistake or wrongdoing done as it was their insistence on their own innocence. I believe this case is a poignant illustration of the disastrous results of being unable to say, “I was wrong.”

I’m reminded of one of my patients, Charle. One of the clearest indicators of his psychological and emotional illness is inability to admit and deal with self-destructive behaviors. He specializes in self-justifying and self-excusing.

When I asked the father, who used to abuse Charle physically and verbally since childhood, to join in family session, the request was turned down. He said his son was to be completely blamed for his condition.

Medically speaking, if a person has a wound, he has to admit the wound. Then, allow a doctor to open it up and remove all foreign articles so he can heal. Once the infected area is cleansed and treated, tissues can be new again via healing elements.

Such concept is at work as well in psychological, emotional, and spiritual healing. Shameful acts, wrong attitudes, dysfunctional behaviors need to be admitted as they are. Taking responsibility for them starts a person’s healing of his mind, emotions, and spirit.

Self-justification and mental health. Do you want to be right or well?

Angel’s Poem

I sat with my 14-year-old daughter, Angel, a few days ago when she spoke of a poem she did in school. Her poem’s title lighted my face up — “Happiness and Sadness Are Twins.” Isn’t that title something deep and interesting to ponder on?

It is good that sometimes we experience sadness. Such experience protects us from the illusion that life is all bed of roses. Under trying circumstances, when we feel sad, we are compelled to see reality as it really is rather than sugarcoat it with a pretense of happiness.

I was amazed the first time I heard one of my patients, Nick, referred to himself as a loser. He felt so sad and dejected. But as I questioned him, I realized he had developed this self-opinion from very few isolated failures. He got locked in self pity.

As Nick progressed in his therapy, he became aware how much of the narcotic effect of constant happiness and comfort in him came largely from being “overspoiled” in the family. He was not exposed enough to what life is really like. So even infrequent loss or failure spelled damage to him already.

Happiness and sadness is the stuff of life. They are twins in the sense that they go together in all lives. Glory and pain always come bound together Therefore, to see life as it really is, we will have to resist the notion that we ought always to win. Sadness can be a powerful lesson that there is meaning inspite of loss.

At times, our lives are visited by darkness. Failure. Disappointment. Loss. Breakup. Remember then that all is not sadness. There could be an overwhelming happiness waiting on our patience. All temporary sadness or loss can be sustained with meaning in anticipation of a coming happiness or victory.

I agree with my daughter’s poem. Happiness and sadness are twins!

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.

A Rising Epidemic Among Young People

The other day, I was at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines to serve as consulting psychotherapist to university students for their Mental Health Campus project. Everyone who came to my consulting room was going through serious depression. It’s an emotional illness to which many of our brightest students in the university have become subject to.

Just being depressed does not mean something is wrong with your IQ or intelligence. These UP students I talked to were scholars who are highly gifted intellectually. Perhaps the fact that each of them has to live with UP’s highest standard of academics and be subject to perpetual pressure in their studies is enough to depress them!

Depression is universal. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the state of being depressed … dejection, as of mind … a lowering of vitality of functional activity … an abnormal state of inactivity and unpleasant emotion.” To my knowledge, no one is exempted from this universal experience of human life, to a greater or lesser extent, including the youth.

In the Philippines, almost 50% of the total suicide cases recorded since 2010 are from the youth. The report based on a bill filed in the Philippine Senate showed that 30% of those who committed suicide are young adults aged 20 to 35 years old. The remaining 16% or more are teens aged 10 to 19 years old.

We need to protect our youth. They’re our hope of tomorrow. Happy are we who can face the weakness of depression among our young people, and diagnose its roots. That is half the battle. For once we fully understand the roots of their depression, all we have to do is help them remove those roots and get the right cure.

Let’s reason our youth way out of their depression!

As Dr. Aaron Beck, founder of Cognitive Therapy, put it: “If you could reason with depressives persistently enough – or, better yet, get them to reason that way with themselves – you may be able to free them from the stranglehold of their negative thinking – and from depression itself.”

The Art of Detachment

Carol set limits.. She told her husband, “I feel so devastated by your affair. You even used our car to bring her out and to our vacation house. Despite your promise to stop it, you still continue. I want you out of the house. If you agree to seek help, maybe we can talk.”

Carol sought relief. But that’s not the reason why she did that. She did it for her. While she wished her unfaithful husband would make a turnaround, it’s out of her hands. She separated from her husband’s problem and responsibility without separating from him. She still cared to offer him help.”

Detachment. At times, it’s an only way we can do to survive overwhelming pain, frustration, and disappointment of our “broken dreams.” Its often a first step in reclaiming our lives. It can be our best hope towards recovery and wholeness.

First-aid emotional detachment teaches us to endure the unendurable, the inexplicable, the paradoxical. Not just in our selves or our relationships, but also in the world in general. Managing the difficult task of detachment frees us to go even amid unanswered questions.

I’m reminded of Mommy Wilma who learned to practice a “script” with her daughter. Wilma heaved a deep sigh of relief, after telling her daughter “I separate from your problem which is your responsibility without separating from you!”

Detachment is a conscious choice. An expression of our own will to survive.

 

Discovering the Best Psychotherapy

Recently, I read of this article by a psychiatrist who was critical and disappointed of his own profession. He found from his research that as much as 70% of depressed people who consulted psychiatrists were so minimally or not helped at all.

Interestingly, he noted from his study that over 80% who consulted a minister gained significant relief. Such particularly disturbed the psychiatrist for his profession was into helping people and yet it’s not making a desired difference.

One middle-aged single woman’s depression and addictions drove her to psychotherapy. Her previous years of psychiatric drug use and hospital confinement were so ineffective that it made things worst for her. Lately, she became promiscuous and had sex with different men within just a month.

When she came to me, she was overwhelmingly depressed. She’s attempting suicide. She’s not only depressed but staggering under an overburden of guilt. In addition, she was pregnant. For the years of psychiatric treatment, she should buy drugs and pay other services to house her?

There must be a better way!

While we may not hesitate to go to a cardiologist or surgeon for our physical ailments, a “doctor of the mind” is something else. The meaning of the word “psychotherapy” comes from the original Greek roots “psuche” and “therapepuo” which means “mind/soul healing.”

God’s ways are not man’s ways (Isaiah 55:8,9). In the real healing of mind and soul, only God’s ways apply. Therefore, we should not be surprised when the theories of Freud, Skinner, Adler, Yalom, and others are diametrically opposed to God’s ways as stated in Scripture.

Humanistic psychologists or drug-based psychiatrists have no or little to offer by way of genuine psychotherapy. They’re committed to helping people with only the humanistic or physical tools/concepts available to them. Both humanism and science (man-centered) try to solve mankind’s problems independent of God.

What is the best psychotherapy? Jesus said, “Without Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) If you’re healing in the areas of mind, emotions, and soul, particularly those that spill over into life values, you’ll have to know God and His healing principles.