Dennis and His Secret Gift

Abandonment is a time of trauma. Devastating repetitive losses. Personal disappointments. Upheavals in childhood. Chaos and abuse in family.

For Dennis, his abandonment trauma was an awakening. It helped him a lot to change the direction of his life. He knew he had much work to do. But at last, he knew what was truly important. It took losing his wife to another man and therapy to finally shatter his illusion of permanence and self-sufficiency.

Somewhere in the abyss he was sharing in our sessions, missing his wife, he was able to look up. He felt so astounded at how painful the abandonment and loss was. He realized how alone he was. He was in a critical period during which he must look to his own resources.

But something even deeper happened to Dennis. He discovered the secret gift of his abandonment and loss. It helped him find his way to “old wounds” from traumatic events he may not even remember. Finally, he can address his long unprocessed, unresolved feelings.

Abandonment and trauma may do accomplish more quickly what many psychotherapists strive for in years of therapy — bringing you to the seat of your “unconscious.” To your deepest parts, where lie your permanent recovery and wholeness.

Beyond the support of family, friends, and therapists, you spend most of your waking time with your own self. As your own separate self, you face this challenge alone. First you must be in touch with your secret fears and pains. Listen to what they’re telling you about your emotional needs.

The journey to the core of the self, preparing you for deep-level healing, is the secret gift of abandonment and trauma. It’s a crucial opportunity to shape your life from the inside out.

Receive the gift. You’ll forever be changed by it.

Addiction Unpacked

Addiction, in whatever form, is not an accident. It isn’t an unfathomable puzzle. It can be understood, unpacked.

Although it’s life-damaging for Timothy to have serial sexual engagements with strangers or regular masturbation at home, such “addiction” feels reasonable for him after his recent divorce. He is so lonely. Wounded emotionally. We can only empathize with the pain he went through.

Clearly, you can be susceptible to addictions if you lack the staples of living. You can be most readily addicted to your drug-of-choice when you lack belief in your personal value. When you lack social supports of family and friends. When you lack options for meaningful work or fun.

Nonetheless, despite the maladaptation to life through addictions, there is hope.

I’ve observed that if you’ve personal needs that are not met in a certain environment, you may become an addict to something or someone to satisfy those needs. However, you need to realize too that other people, even in the most deprived situations, don’t become addicts. Where lies the difference?

I knew of an alcoholic and womanizing patient who continued his addictions while undergoing psychotherapy. As he became drunk in his favorite bar one day, he saw his aging uncle whom he respected a lot passing by. His uncle was staring at him disapprovingly.

This patient’s uncle became his mirror of what he has become. And he didn’t like what he saw. He quitted his addictions because he appeared before the eyes of a person whose opinion he valued a lot. That means, he finally realized how much he couldn’t tolerate any more the disrespect he’s giving himself.

There lies the hope, the difference.

Clarify what you value. Keep your positive reasons for life change at the forefront. Knowing what’s truly important to you can tilt the balance permanently in that direction.

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.

Unchoosing Masks

Once, I met three brothers. Something seemed a little too regular or constant about each one.

The first brother is comic. Joke by joke, he uses laughter to wall himself off from others’ inattention or admiration. He plays the clown to avoid the burden of facing his dependency and lack of productivity.

The second brother is a cynic. He claims to know your agenda, motivation, or knowledge. Posturing himself as an expert with special knowhow, he discredits even others who offer authentic support.

And the last brother, a depressive. He is unable to think and feel well about himself. He feeds on idle time. He wallows in self pity in the tearful room where he isolates himself. The troubles he experiences inside himself are deep.

Comic. Cynic. Depressive. Three brothers, three masks.

Healthy self esteem is usually non-existent for those walled in by psychological masks. The comic, cynic, and depressive are often ones whose low self esteem prevent them from all they can be. The masks they wear keep them self-centered rather than take responsibility for providing their lives with meaning, product, and accomplishment.

Does these have to be with these three brothers?

Of course, not. All three of them can choose more than they are today. It happens when they learn to unchoose their masks.

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!

Knowledge is Never Enough

In my practice of therapy and counseling, I’ve always found one thing: knowledge is never enough.

At best, I helped my counselees see and know the psychodynamics of their emotional or mental disturbances.

But, I’ve always realized that their knowing is not the same as their capacity to change their thinking, their emoting, and their behaving.

Their knowing has always been inadequate to stop them from self-sabotaging.

One counselee I had recently gained insight. Her rage or uncontrollable anger is traceable to her unconscious hatred of her mother.

In her work and social relationships, she realized how she has been “transferring” that feeling into other females who have similar traits to her mother.

Surely, she understands how she got the ways they are — but not what to do. Not the ability to apply what she already knows.

Insight and expression of repressed feelings alone don’t work in my sessions. Something needs to be incorporated in order for a broken person to heal.

That sets me to do some tall thinking about psychotherapy. I went back to tools of therapy and started giving application assignments, among others.

Data alone is not enough for deep and lasting personal change. The truth is, most of us are very good at identifying what’s wrong with us and our experiences.

Yet that knowledge in and of itself rarely produces deep level personal healing and recovery.

In fact, without the appropriate steps and frames, insight may result in “re-traumatizing” a hurting person.

So, make sure you have insights plus the experiential aspects in your recovery journey.

Nicole

The famous psychologist, Dr. Carl Jung, once wrote that resistance makes us unfocused, restless, and apathetic, which in turn “begets meaninglessness.” When the Big R (resistance) has us, we cease to live or work at all. We avoid being responsible and finding any meaning in life.

Resistance is an escape. It’s a form of war against or running-away from what needs to be done. In psychotherapy, a patient who rejects recovery, too tired or lethargic, and unable to focus on any of life’s courses, is a resistant person.

A young woman, Nicole, was smart enough to hold a high-paying position in her company. Yet she wouldn’t go for it. She’s always heard giving her self and others varied reasons why she’s “incapable” of doing where she’s seen to have great potential. One day, to the shock of those around her, she resigned her job.

Nicole went back to her mother’s care. For years, she withdrew from applying for a new job and just stayed with her Mom. She felt helpless and hopeless. She avoided even the simplest tasks of self care. In the depths of her growing depression, she missed life’s opportunities.

I’ve been reading parts of author John Sanford’s book, “The Transformation of the Inner Man.” I discovered he describes a condition he called psychological “amniosis,” which seems to apply perfectly to Nicole’s state, her Big R.

Sanford writes that “amniosis” means an “inability to come out of the amniotic fluid and be born, or flight by regression to return to the safe hiding place of the womb … Amniotic people want to be taken care of. They want to find strong people – ones in whom they can nestle, upon whom they can be dependent…”

People with the Big R usually experience a damaged self esteem. And people with a damaged self esteem often avoid being powerful, responsible, and well-adjusted. Or, they become addicted to temporary sources of relief, such as drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling etc, that prove life-damaging in the long run.

It’s a good thing Nicole is becoming increasingly aware of her Big R in our sessions. She’s now being “reschooled” away from her earlier programming, inappropriate cultural or society values and biaes, and other influences that have damaged her own self, her own uniqueness, her own interior wisdom.