Do You Know Your “Double?”

Once I met Pablo. He was a confessed married “sex addict.” According to him, not a day goes by that he wouldn’t masturbate, watch porn, or have casual sex with different women.

He had a strange ritual. A lot of times, he’d quarrel with his wife first before his planned sexual bingeing. After his anticipated rejection, he’d habitually walk out to look for sex partners.

In the sessions, Pablo admitted he felt so powerless and shamed. The addiction he didn’t want for himself he could not stop doing. Until he contracted HIV. Until his family deserted him.

Unknown to many, Pablo was an honor student and varsity athlete in the university. Prior to his life-damaging personal fallout, people looked up to him as a model student and adult citizen.

Till someone took over Pablo and his self.

Robert Louis Stevenson, in his classic “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” can provide us a psychological clue or piece of insight. He wrote of Dr. Jekyll’s “double” self:

” … whereas in the beginning the difficulty had been to throw off the body of Jekyll, it had of late gradually but decidedly transferred itself to the other side … I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse self.”

This is one way of understanding what happened to Pablo or why. Mostly, he retreated into himself as if in a trance-like state … and did things outside his awareness.

He had a “double,” a “shadow,” a dark side he never fully knew about.

As sex therapist/author Dr. Patrick Carnes put it, the description of the Dr. Jekyll-Mr.Hyde-like transfer portray “the loss of one personality as it is overcome by a second personality — the addictive personality.”

In intervention and therapy, the addict takes the journey of recovering the true, original, best self.

When Mind Makes the Body Sick

Health can be a puzzle. I’ve just heard the news of a young actress who’s a gym buff pronounced fit by medical doctors and yet dropped dead a few weeks ago. In addition, I’ve known of an aged man who’s a heavy alcoholic all his life and yet seem to remain well.

Bad health affected Alan’s life. When he entered our therapy session, he complained of not able to sleep enough for years, unexplainable aches and pains in his body, and lack of energy at work. When he had himself checked in the hospital, the doctors gave him a clean bill of physical health.

Even with nutrition and disciplined exercise, Alan found himself still feeling physically sick. Probing deeper in his psychotherapy, he discovered a truth: his lifelong emotional problems were the ones producing his physical illness or deterioration.

He had the worst mental health between ages 13 when he was abandoned by his parents to 53 when he went through a painful marital divorce. Because of this, even if science and medicine can cure every disease of his body, he still could not be well.

Health is not just physical. It can actually be more non-physical. Our best medical and psychological knowledge indicates that wellness or wholeness is far more than not being physically ill.

As Dr. Bruce Larson put it, “Our bodies are barometers of our inner, nontangible experiences, thoughts, fears, angers, resentments, hopes, joys. It is safe to say that 90% of most physical ailments have a real emotional, spiritual connection.”

Mental health plays a powerful influence on what happens to our bodies. When we are better at loving, having more satisfying personal relations, good emotional copers, and close to God, the odds are we’ll have minimal illness. We avoid premature aging or health deterioration.

The fact is, we have more control or autonomy than we think in this whole matter. Let’s all learn and practice to be and do those things that make for real, whole-person health.

Patricia and her “Other” Work

You may have people close to you, such as family or spouse, who exerts a powerful influence upon your life. They want a good relationship with you as much as you want one with them. Their opinions, however, may be sabotaging or not be in your best interest.

Patricia, for example, is an independent career woman. She loves to work and can live alone away from her husband. Despite her busyness though, she balances it with enough time and care for the needs of her husband and only daughter.

Yet, Patricia shared during a session that she couldn’t understand her husband’s treatment of her. Even out of nowhere, tactless remarks, jokes, criticisms, or silences will come from him. Times when she finds herself reacting to his behavior with depression, self-blame, or anger.

In my work with Patricia, she becomes more aware how her man’s disapproval or negativity can cause her to sabotage her self. When she gets too near to her success in her work, she tries to play it down since that’s the time she notices her husband becoming aloof or critical.

Knowing how to detect signs of a “co-saboteur” in your life is essential to your self growth and mental health. In that way, when the warning signals come, you can be prepared for what hits you! You can know how to understand and deal with them.

In the case of Patricia, it’s possible that her man may be unconsciously sabotaging his wife’s progress because of feelings of insecurity. He could mean well for he just wants more of Patricia’s attention, and broadening of her life and passionate interests to include him.

Often, a “co-saboteur” is not aware that he is sabotaging or being destructive towards one he cares about. He is not doing it on purpose. He simply needs help to see how he is impulsively responding to deeply buried feelings about himself.

Patricia meanwhile should never “self-sabotage” and diminish accomplishments in order to keep her husband from being jealous, critical, or withdrawn. Instead of avoiding/circling around it, she can choose to directly process it with her husband.

She could respond to her husband with something like, “I feel hurt when you’re not telling me how great I am with my achievements. I’d like you tell me that instead of acting on your irritation or anger. I love you, and nothing will change between us because I’m expanding.”

With that, the precious parts of the marriage will thus be salvaged especially when her husband responds positively. And Patricia will have eliminated him as a “co-saboteur!”

Remember the nature of the Saboteur and the work needed. As author Mat Hudson put it, “How has your Saboteur become so powerful? It’s because your unconscious mind is like a wall that’s been built up brick by brick, minute by minute, month by month, year after year, for decades.”

Manny’s Psychotherapy

A few months ago, I was in a meeting and dinner with Manny Pacquaio. It’s in his Forbes Park home in Makati. There were some actors, from showbiz. Emerging from traffic, he arrived into the room where we were. Apologizing. He appeared hungering to come and see us.

A few seconds after, he sat quietly on the floor, smiling at his guests. With closed eyes moments later, he sang and listened to Scriptures and prayed. The rest of his guests and large entourage of assistants/handlers sensed the deep change in this man. A humble and gracious guy – this man Manny!

If you knew Manny before, he was an “addict.” Women. Gambling. Alcohol. Drugs. Money. Fame. You name it, according to him, he tried all sorts of “addictive agent” to find satisfaction. In the doctors’ DSM manual of mental disorders, addiction is a type of mental disorder or psychopathology. Unknowingly, that’s what Manny suffered from.

With tons of money, he could get or buy anything. Yet, looking back as Manny shared, all of these “profits from the world” left him feeling stranded. He remained chronically dissatisfied despite everything he owned. His sadness and emptiness filled him with dread as his own surface deteriorated. Satiation, or running out of wants, is indeed a living death.

As a psychotherapist, I move within the limitations of human language. Crises and traumas are my allies. They hasten the process of discovery more than all the reasoning and analysis I can muster. My richest sessions occur when my patients are feeling empty and suffering a lot. This void always precedes significant change.

What happened to Manny Pacquaio? How did he heal from his broken, addicted past? What made him able to avoid the tragedy of “unlived life” still inside him?

Out of his emptiness and dissatisfaction, Manny would recollect, he derived readiness for the arrival of his new self when the Word was shared to him. One biblical psychotherapy verse can describe what happened to him: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Manny’s heart and mind was changed. He got the “secret” of true, lasting psychotherapy.

When You Envy

Envy has the power to damage your self. If you’re unable to check or manage it, it may consume your whole being.

Author Rolf Dobelli, in his book “The Art of Thinking,” tells of a Russian tale: “A farmer finds a magic lamp. He rubs it, and out of thin air, a genie appears, promising to grant him one wish. Finally, he says: ‘My neighbor has a cow and I have none. I hope that his drops dead.”

Sounds absurd? But, this tale of Dobelli still reeks of common reality among humankind. Yours may not be extreme. But whether you like it or not, there’s a part of our self – whether conscious or unconscious – that tends to be envious of other people’s success or blessings.

Tomas wished he wasn’t that way. As he told me about his expanding wife’s foreign business trips while he remained stuck in his job, he felt kind of sad. It would be wonderful for him to enjoy his wife’s success without having to experience feelings of envy about it.

The trouble with such envy is, it can create a chain of unhealthy, irrational thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You find your self distant from your wife. You try to sabotage her plans. And perhaps, puncture her clothes or steal her passport!

So, how do you manage and control your envy when you experience it?

In my own self growth, I’ve learned how “grateful for what I’ve got” helps check my human tendency to envy. Count your blessings is a familiar refrain. I start and end my day with thanksgiving prayer.

Then I think about how vast the ocean is, instead of looking only at a little corner. That enlarges my vision, helps me see the bigger picture. It energizes me to create one opportunity after another. Actively inventing my future stops the envy.

Psychotherapy Without Drugs

When I reviewed the studies on psychiatric drugs and treatments most commonly used for mental health patients, I found very little or no evidence of effectiveness. The “disease model” of psychiatry and mainstream medicine does not work. In fact, numerous patients even got worse and a number of human rights legal cases have even been filed against brain drugs over the decades.

Why are people so readily satisfied with the short cuts and simplifications of the medical disease model of mental health? It seduces us to our wish for a quick fix and instant gratification that does not require us to struggle with life issues — as if changing our lives are as simple as popping a pill or abstaining from an addicting substance or activity. It gives the appearance of magic.

In addition, although insights from psychotherapy can be useful tools, I see a need to go beyond them too. You will surely need to work on your addiction or psychological disorder specifically. But what I believe the most crucial work is lies in what you need to think, feel, and do in regard to the direction of your overall life, of which addiction or a mental health problem is just one expression.

To heal beyond the drug-based or disease model concentrates on strengthening the “life skills” a person needs to replace an addiction or emotional dysfunction with deeper satisfactions and better ways of coping. These include personal, marital, and family therapy; emotional and social skills training; job skills; spiritual life savers; and stress management. Then, there is what I call a “community reinforcement approach” or involvement in therapeutic groups where people’s lives are addressed as a whole as well as their addictions.

The ultimate goal is “whole life” natural recovery and transformation — which disease-oriented treatment says is impossible. There is no reason why you are unable to shed the “addict identity,” for instance, and altogether put your self permanently on a new, healthy plane of existence. It is within reach. If you believe it, and act on that belief.