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.

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.”

Adultery

Are you a cheating husband or wife?

If you are and you want to heal yourself and your marriage/relationship, here’s a sneak preview of some therapy steps generally prescribed by clinicians and therapists:

* Abstinence 100% from all contacts and communications with the OP (other person) or adultery partner;

* Take responsibility for your behaviors and misbehaviors;

* Show sincere evidences of remorse and repentance, relationally and spiritually;

* Realize that there is never an excuse for adultery;

* Be sensitive and patient when your spouse/partners suffers from triggers out of the infidelity wound;

* Check your anger and resentment at the door;

* Acknowledge the depth of the pain and wounding that your affair brought to the marriage and family;

* Admit mistake committed and avoid all excuses and rationalizations to deflect attention to the adultery;

* Stop blaming your spouse/partner for your affair;

* Repent of and stop recruiting the children to be “partners in crime” in the adultery;

* Be truthful from here on – no secrets any more;

* Get your personal healing of emotional wounds with a professional therapist;

* Get marital healing with your spouse/partner only through increased structure of professional psychotherapy and counseling sessions, especially in the beginning stages;

* Stop being defensive;

* Be trustworthy;

* Renew your mind and stop thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else;

* Figure out the “roots” of your unfaithfulness to your spouse/partner;

* Check what your spouse/partner needs on a regular basis;

* Expand your circle of support – safe friends, therapist, community etc.;

* Educate your self about affairs and infidelity treatment;

* Listen – really listen;

* Seek help from God as your best source of strength, healing, and life recovery.

Adultery is treason to marriage, family, and society. In the Philippines and in some places, adultery is a legal crime punishable by imprisonment. In the time of the Old Testament of the Jews, adulterers were stoned to death.

For those who persist in adultery or cheating, the costs are so high — psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Marriage and children are casualties. Mental illness or addictions can develop. For true Christians, the Bible says that God may choose to discipline them or take them away from earthly life. Indeed, cheaters can choose what they want to do but they cannot choose their consequences.

Adultery or cheating is not an unforgivable crime or sin. It can be healed. With the right heart and actions, one can be whole again – and even the best person one can be in this life and beyond.

Beyond Gambling Addiction

Multiple times I’ve come across patients who’ve become addicted to winnings in casino gambling. At first, when they’re allowed to “win,” they felt high and proud like rock stars. They thought well of themselves and were cheerfully congratulated by smiling admirers. They giggled, kissed, and hopped up and down!

Then as time went by, the unbridled ecstasy turned progressively into increasing losses. Debts began to pile up. And one’s urges got out of control. As one patient Daniel told me in one of our sessions, “So what? I want my money back! I live for the next chip, borrow again and again — striking more to get my money back and cancel my losses.”

The whole problem with the money delusion is that it is deceptive. The lust or greed of the heart lies at the root of this lucky-sweepstakes syndrome. We crave instant gratification. Instant inheritance! The love of money and leisure can blind us to the importance of work we give to earn it. Specially in the materialistic world where we all are, we can become those who live only for the paycheck.

From this mindset, the money delusion falsely assumes that we are our happiest self when we think and feel no need to be productive to get the money we want. Or, if we’re able to earn it, we don’t experience lasting satisfaction and contentment. For years money and leisure promises us joy and leaves us disconsolate. Because its fleeting, the self never arrives at its true core and best meaning.

As writer W.E. Sangster once put it, “You seem to have more of everything than anybody else. You have more cars, more televisions, more refrigerators, more of everything. In fact, I’ve noticed that you also have more books on how to be happy than anybody else.” The history of men and women shows that money itself will not produce lasting feelings of self esteem and happiness.

In the process of getting older or when death looms nearer, this money delusion may begin to show its weaknesses to us. With chances of cancer, a heart attack, or costly hospitalization before us, despair over fleeting satisfactions begins to set in. The foolishness of both the money delusion and the leisure delusion gets clearer.

Rather than speed up incoming cash and self indulgences, one asks one’s self then, “Since my final years are short, how can I use my final years to produce what’s lasting and meaningful?” Here, the doctrine stops being purely material. Such self exploration can pave the way for us to understand what life’s purpose truly is.

The Prostitute Within

“Inner prostitute.” Has it ever crossed your mind that such a thing exists inside you?

Understanding first what a “prostitute is, helps. A “prostitute,” in its typical meaning, is one who sells sex and physical body in order to get money or some type of favor. It’s a very first thing most people think when they hear the word “prostitute.” The word “whore” also comes to mind.

Well, forget the sex in the definition. Think internal, non-physical. So, when I mention “inner prostitute,” I therefore mean psychological. Even more so, spiritual. The “inner prostitute” inside each of us to some degree, is metaphorically one that “sells” a part of our selves in order to get something. This type of selling is actually “whoring” one’s integrity and self-respect, pushed by the winds of self-interest, vice or indulgence.

Maria, married to a millionaire businessman, was sure that she’s doing something against her values. Her husband has been used to bringing women in their bedroom whenever he comes home. Despite her protests, she continues to allow him to do so. According to her, she gives her consent and stays in the toxic marriage for financial security rather than courageously face the unknown. Sacrificing her self-respect for comfort, she “sells out” to her husband’s abuse rather than being true to her self.

The “inner prostitute,” as you can see, is primarily attached to issues of survival and security. It thrives on deep fears. Often, those who persistently struggle with their “inner prostitute” experienced extreme physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, deprivation, and battering during childhood or earlier years of development. In order to fill the gaps, a person giving in to his/her “inner prostitute” becomes willing to whore away his/her integrity, self-respect, and values to feel provided for, guarded, and protected.

The result? Psychopathology. Personal and relationship breakdowns. A lack of purpose and happiness. Instability in various areas of life. Identity prostituted to others, which may include things such as time, affection, heart, soul, creativity, friendship, or intellect. Telling untruths or lies to one’s self and others to have power, a sense of “security.”

Indeed, the heart is deceitful above all things. In it dwells the “inner prostitute.” Have you come to know it yourself?

Life Like Vapor

In my practice, hurt people seeking therapy and recovery – no matter how young or old – always seem to express unending pain and regret. There is damage in the way they spent their time in the past. They don’t feel happy or fulfilled in their today. And they can’t move on into a brighter future.

British writer William Maugham, at age 64, wrote his autobiography entitled “Summing Up.” When asked why sum up his life at 64 when he was still in the best of health, Maugham quips, “An occasional glance at the obituary columns suggests that the 60s can be very unhealthy.” That’s a clear reality of life. But Maugham survived for another 27 years and died at age 91.

In contrast, in the news headlines once, I was somewhat shocked by what happened to 25-year-old Kristell. She was snatched from her home and brutally murdered by five young men. No one in her circle – from her family members to friends and office mates in the corporation where she had a thriving career – can expect or anticipate that Kristell’s young and promising life would end like this.

Whether age 16 or age 96, it’s therapeutic to always review our earthly journey. Because life is as fleeting as vapor, it is healthy that we make the most of our limited days. Have we been developing into the kind of persons that can honor God and men with our words, deeds, thoughts, feelings? Are we making the most of opportunities presented before us?

How much time do you have left? You are never sure. Life’s end comes at any age. You can’t change the way you spent your time in the past or avoid losses and mistakes that are already done. But from this moment on, you can resolutely choose to be better the remaining time of your life. You have the present moment – make the best of it!

“Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.” (Psalm 39:5)

Repairing Intimacy

“My husband and I are so close,” claimed Catherine during one of our sessions. Yet during my conversations with her husband, he said that the two of them have constant conflict. He is ever uncomfortable regarding her always adjusting her self to “take care of” him, like providing a service. He resents her over-dependency on him for approval and self-acceptance. She’s unable to be in a relationship with him in another way. She lives in his personal space.

Closeness and intimacy are not the same. Spouses, family members, or friends who have excessive, unhealthy closeness stop “seeing” each other. In the case of Catherine, she could not know and experience her husband’s disconnection from her. How could she have missed that when she feels “so close” to him? In short, she claims “closeness” when upon examination, this “closeness” does not offer health to her or her husband.

Patrick Malone, author of “The Art Of Intimacy,” explains: “Closeness is what you feel and experience with another in the shared space. If the other is immensely more important, yours is not a healthy closeness, and you have a problem.” This is to say that there needs to be a balance in how much each gives in a relationship. One who gives too much is out of balance. Unhealthy closeness causes one to be psychologically and emotionally neurotic when with the other.

In repairing intimacy, therefore, two people don’t merge as “one self.” Rather two separate selves choose to relate to and nourish each other. Intimacy enriches the relationship. It honors and cultivates individuality. Its accepting of differences, not enmeshed. It’s mutual rather than patronizing. People learn about and grow themselves when intimate in ways that mere closeness cannot.

Intimacy is an essential aspect of true love. True love depends on the balanced interaction between “being close” and “being intimate” in our relationships.