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.

Enjoying Your Age

Life is short. Each one of us goes through its seasons. Childhood. Youth. Adulthood. Old age. And then, we passed on to the next season beyond earthly existence.

Through each season of life that passes by, we’re all called to develop accordingly. Based on age where we find ourselves in. Developmental tasks are a given. We fulfill them, we grow. We find wholeness and happiness.

As author Bo Sanchez says, “Every season requires a response. Don’t mix them up or you’ll have problems. During spring, you plant. During summer, you work. During autumn, you harvest. And during winter, you renew.”

I’m reminded of a 30-year-old single Mom with two young children, ages 3 and 5. Struggling financially to support her self and two kids, she applied for an OFW contract job in a Middle East country. She got the job.

In the days following, she experienced tremendous panic anxiety. Her present moments had been a mental pain for her as she imagined leaving her kids to work overseas. Sleepless and depressed, she sought outside help and comfort.

Shortly, it dawned on her what’s truly more important to her. She realized more and more that she will never get this season of her life back at home with her little kids. She cancelled her trip for overseas work and started a new business instead with close friends.

Most importantly, she’s able to prioritize mothering her kids she called “gifts and blessings.” At this season of her life, she felt much happiness with her little ones at home who want to snuggle and just simply spend time with her.

Enjoy the age where you’re in! Maximize the gifts and blessings of your season of life.

People Are Lessons

People are lessons.

When relationships fall apart, I often hear sayings such as “This too shall pass” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Familiar words of comfort or perspective. Especially in difficult times, from broken marriages or friendships to all sorts of breakup.

People come into your life. Some stay long or enduringly. Some stay short. But yes, all your relationships with people happen for a reason. It’s important to see the part people play in your life or self development, regardless of outcomes.

Recently, I was speaking to a mother with her teenager son. Her son was verbally “bullying” me during our time together. Ignoring. Criticizing. Discounting. Invalidating. In the course of the mother’s account, I got informed that her son was severely bullied before in school and had lately been kicked out of school for his bullying other students on campus.

Unfortunately, some missed learning the lessons from people who hurt them. In the case of the teenager son in my session, he duplicated the same mistake in his own life rather than catching the lessons he can learn from those who bullied him in the past. Life lessons such as on how to treat others, kindness, friendship, communication.

People are lessons.

To your spouse or fiancée who loves you, you learn the value of intimacy in finding joy and meaning in life.

To a friend who taught you to save and invest money, you’re taught what’s worth buying for and what’s worth letting go of.

To a parent who worked hard for your studies and future, you can thank for the lesson of sacrifice and devotion in caring for your child.

To a loved one who betrayed or broke your heart, you learn the lesson that pain is temporary and wholeness is everything.

To the stranger who flashed a smile at you or extended courtesy to you, you learn the lesson that not all people are harmful or damaging.

People are lessons.

Let’s learn from them well as we age forward.

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.

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?

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 Fantasy of Pornography

“What love? We just have sex,” Melanie cried during a session. Melanie, whose husband is heavily into pornography, experiences no tenderness in their marriage. Everything is done so fast. She just feels so used.

Pornography damages. Psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. It enslaves addicts in sexual activities and fantasies that destroy their personhood. Far from making a man or woman a better lover, pornography poisons relationships and sexual enjoyment.

Author Victor Cline, in his book “Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children,” wrote: “Pornography contains much scientifically inaccurate, false, and misleading information about human sexuality, especially female sexual nature and response.”

Recently, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner (who died recently) once compared himself to Jesus Christ. He said he was a “missionary” whose important achievement was “liberating people from sexual hang ups” through his worldwide pornography business.

If Hefner is right, wouldn’t the porn addicts find themselves happy, fulfilled, with a strong sense of psychological identity? If Playboy pornography aids great sex, wouldn’t you expect that married partners will have a good sense of love and real mutual pleasure in sex?

Brenda Mackillop, a former Playboy bunny, model, and prostitute, who worked with Hefner frequenting his mansion from 1973-1976, confided, “I lived the Playboy philosophy. I felt worthless and empty. Out of my despair, I attempted suicide on numerous occasions.”

Not too long ago, a patient was telling me that watching porn on the internet during bedtime puts him to sleep. He “fantasize” first before going to bed to put himself to sleep. The pornography he watches appears to alter his mood.

Psychotherapist Dr. Mark Laaser writes, “Fantasy can be addictive. It stimulates chemical reactions in the pleasure centers of the brain. The addict then uses these effects to escape other feelings, to change negative feelings to positive feelings, and even to reduce stress. Given the chemical changes it creates, sex fantasy addicts are, in reality, drug addicts.”

Evidently, pornography only produces psychopathology. It destroys self-worth, dignity, and mental health. It not only stimulates sexual coercion or predation, it encourages rape, promiscuity, and other forms of sexual addiction or sociopathy. Rather than enhancing love and great sex, pornography destroys marriages and relationships.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your entire body will be full of light; but if your eye is unsound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the very light in you is darkened, how dense is that darkness!” (Matthew 6: 22, 23)