Doing Psychological First Aid

Do you know Red Cross? Most likely. It’s known globally to come by first administering physical First Aid to the wounded and traumatized on the spot.

Psychological First Aid resembles Red Cross Physical First Aid. Both is for emergency and prevention. Both teach on-the-spot procedures to avoid much suffering, even death.

When a person got bitten by a snake, for instance, instant Aid must be provided. It’s impossible to contact a doctor right away.

To prevent unnecessary emotional trauma leading to suicide, loved ones or friends need to know how to do basic psychological First Aid on the spot.

Then, you bring the person to a doctor or hospital for proper treatment.

The need for widespread training in on-the-scene Psychological (or emotional) First Aid is plainly evident all around us.

We see children being sexually, physically, or verbally abused by toxic parents.

We see marriages and families breaking up.

We see old people lonely, unwanted, sick, homeless.

We see the unemployed suffering severe anxiety and insecurity.

We see people in shock in disaster or war-torn areas.

We see the mentally ill in and out of institutions.

We see students or teenagers becoming disillusioned, self critical, contemplating suicide.

We see people or media “fooling our minds” every day, by misguiding, deceiving, tormenting, scaring, pampering, teasing.

The need is simply overwhelming.

Yet something can be done. During every emotional crisis or traumatic event. On the spot.

Know and learn about it … before things get too late.

A Secret to Living Well

“Gemeinschaftsgefuh.”

That’s German. Like me, you may have a hard time saying or pronouncing it. The word means “community feeling.”

According to noted psychoanalyst Dr. Alfred Adler, that feeling is one of the marks of a well-lived life. It signifies the value of social interest in giving meaning and purpose to one’s life.

Such may be in the form of varied kinds. Such as: grandparenting, volunteering, philanthropy, ministering, health coaching, devoting one’s resources to some social or political cause.

Psychological studies showed that people who are engaged in some form of helping others are far more healthy and satisfied with their lives.

Yesterday, in the mall, a man greeted and tapped me on the back. He was a former patient, who’s with his smiling wife. For a year, they underwent personal and marital therapy with me.

It’s 5 years ago. Today, they’re living a healed, more balanced and happy life as a couple. Gone were their dark days of experiencing infidelity, bankruptcy, and abuses in their marriage.

The man said, “Doc, let’s have a selfie photo together!” I obliged, of course.

“We owe a lot to you. Count me and my wife in as one of those who went through a successful therapy and life change with you!”, he joyfully remarked.

“Gemeinschaftsgefuh.”

That’s the feeling I felt about what happened to this couple. And each and every time I’m able to have an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives. Simply priceless!

Most days, I begin with writing tasks, followed by seeing patients in my sessions.

I would then hold court in one of the many coffee shops or hotels around – sharing stories, jokes, Scriptures, deep talks about topics such as life’s meaning.

In all of those, my social interest is ever-present. A desire to contribute in whatever way I can to help others – psychologically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and even physically as well.

Life is beyond self. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and have lived well.”

You Are Who You Create Your Self to Be

Self.

Psychology refers to the human self in varied ways. Personality. Identity. Psyche or soul. Deep core.

Since we all age, does the passing of time affect who or what you are? Will you be the same self/person 5 years from now? 10 years? 20 years?

Depends.

Several days ago, I was in a “graduation.” A patient, Anthony, finished our long-term therapy program. And all his family members gathered together for a joyous celebration.

One of Anthony’s close cousins remarked publicly, “He changed. He is not the same person I know. Something happened to him.”

Anthony’s body still has some similarity and continuity with what it was before. But he developed a new, different set of beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral manifestations.

He was seen not to be the same self/person he used to be. For Anthony, therapy facilitated a life change.

When I took my old car before to the mechanic for repairs, he made some replacements. Some parts of my car were changed that made it look new and run better.

Whether via therapy, some other kind of healing experiences, or a negative traumatic event (e.g. stress, depression, abuse), you may not be the same person you used to be.

Either for good or bad. For better or worst.

It’s a matter of what parts of the self are chosen to change. It’s nature, degree, and dynamics. Depending on how much the parts, connections, and interactions produce the different changes.

You alone can make that choice. The self/person you want to be.

As Stephen Richards writes, “You are essentially who you create your self to be, and all that occurs in your life is a result of your own making.”

Courage Heals

Courage was a big thing for Mother Teresa. She said, “To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.”

It’s essential to the meaningful attainments she made in her life –serving as a missionary against “injustice among the poor” in India.

Wounded souls. That’s how we may describe the inner state of individuals after suffering injustices in their personal lives and relationships.

Standing up to these personal injustices and wounds requires courage. Overcoming fear in order to heal. In order to be able to do what gives life.

For years, Maria, a 16-year-old high school girl, received abusive, name-calling text messages. She was pushed around at school. She avoided places in her school in fear for her safety.

Finally, she broke down. She could no longer bring herself to continue attending classes. Her grades dropped. She suffered from panic anxiety attacks, lack of sleep, and stress headaches.

Her mother brought her to me. She lamented, “My daughter has become emotionally crippled. It takes all my energy to get her out of the car and ‘go over there.’ ”

To get well, Maria needs a healthy dose of courage. Against injustices and its perpetrators.

It’s not for her own good that she allows her self to be humiliated and shamed in school. To do so only harms her psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“Be men of courage; be strong,” the Bible says (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Courage matters.

It helps us correct injustices and wrongs. It gives us power over risk and its associated fears. It leads us to be better persons, spouses, parents, children, friends and citizens.

Bullies and Victims

Hollywood actor, Tom Cruise, battled the effects of childhood bullying. For many years he struggled with anxiety panic at home and at school.

Cruise says of his father, Thomas C. Mapother III:

“He was a bully and a coward … the kind of a person who, if something goes wrong, they kick you. It was a great lesson in my life – how he’d lull you in, make you feel safe, and then, bang! … Big bully comes up, pushes you. Your heart’s pounding, you sweat, and you feel like you’re going to vomit …”

Bullies have a strong urge to dominate. They lack empathy. Untroubled by anxiety or guilt over the suffering they inflict on others. They blame others for their offenses.

Males are more prone to physically bully. Females bully by picking on appearances, social status, and relationships.

Generally, bullies attack – through damaging, manipulating, or controlling relationships and situations.

How about the victim?

Some victims of bullies are “blind.” They refuse to defend themselves. Offer healthy boundaries. They allow themselves to be bound by the bully to isolation, humiliation, and despair.

A case in point is Martha, one of my clients who is repeatedly abused verbally and physically by her husband. For years, she displays pain, which fueled further attacks from her bullying spouse.

It impresses me how much Martha readily acquiesce too quickly to her husband’s demands. She’d just cry and cower. She’s so submissive before she’s picked on and bullied.

Dealing with bullies is not avoiding conflict. Running away, pretending bullying or abuse is not happening, hiding it, or being afraid to talk about it is actually destructive.

Facing bullies is taking responsibility to speak up to them. You walk tall so they don’t perceive you as weak or easily manipulated.

You set and state limits on bullies. Healthy boundaries so they know your thresholds. You don’t volunteer to be a victim.

You remove yourself from a relationship in which a bully tries to control or own you. You don’t allow bullies to undermine your sanity … or that of your children, loved ones.

Face bullies. Protect yourself. Seek support. Be brave.

Maria

At the time I started to see her, Maria had been in therapy for few months. She saw me for she felt stuck from a previous therapist. She reported that her therapy was not moving anywhere.

When Maria was born, her father and mother looked to her for the fulfillment of their damaged dreams. They pushed her to activities they felt incapable of doing.

Growing up, Maria felt that her parents owned her by the way they spoke to and treated her. When she refused what they wanted her to do, they’d call her demeaning names.

Under such circumstances, Maria developed a shame-prone “core identity.” She felt bad because of disastrous consequences of asserting her individuality, own thoughts and feelings.

Toxic parents are shaming. They treat children as possessions. Not persons, but extensions of themselves.

When children develop their separate and unique identity, they’re seen as a threat by their shaming parents to their personal needs.

The result is, children are not moulded to feel valued as a person. In the shaming process of being treated as a possession rather than a person, wrong behavior and self are the same.

This is the reason why unhealed people who are shame-based end up spreading the shaming process in relationship with others.

Without therapy or intervention, the cycle perpetuates itself all the time. Affirming the mental template of badness – a possession rather than a person.

Conquering Vice

Yesterday, TV host Amy Perez of ABS CBN’s daily morning show Sakto, asked me, “Paano ba matitigil ang bisyo ng tao (alak, babae, sigarilyo etc) ngayong bagong taon?”

I responded in part, “Yung mga bisyo na meron ang tao ay sintomas lang, di pa sya yung sakit.”

The underlying, hidden roots that fuel vices are essentially psychological and spiritual. That’s where lies the key to new life … true, lasting change.

Isn’t this one truth we often miss amid inevitable challenges we face in life?

In my own life, I’ve traveled through several deserts. Family and marital trauma. Financial challenges. Abandonment and betrayal.

Each time, I got broken. Torn apart. My heart was such a wilderness.

Needless to say, I could easily had become an alcoholic, a womanizer, or some sort of addict. Like what multitudes of wounded people have become or done.

Yet something left me sane and resilient those desert times. Unaddicted. Not grasping “false medicine.” Devoid of life-damaging vices.

So what prods me on? What sustains me, through weeks and months and years of searing pain, in my own deserts?

It’s what’s underneath my deepest part and being: the pearl of great price. It’s the Star of Bethlehem.

To develop our best selves, we have two guides: internal and external.

Internal, of course, refers to renewal of the mind. Cleansing of the soul. At times, a need for appropriate therapy. And Scripture is the best, ultimate guide that lays the task for us very well.

External refers to how we fashion our life outside ourselves. Family relationships. Work. Choice of friends. Recreational activity.

Are your internal and external flowing well interdependently to lead you to a healthy lifestyle?

And so, as you start this new year, be ready to travel even through the desert (or deserts) of life.

Choose to live free of vices or “bisyo” with your best self – your body, mind, and soul – following the Star.