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.

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.

What Addicts Can Do

How do you abstain from something that’s destroying your life?

I’m gladdened by one of my more advanced counselees, Victor. He wanted to succeed with his plan to abstain from his former “drugs of choice.”

Here’s what he’s always doing: just walk away.

For example, whenever he is tempted to look at a woman with lust, he bounces his eyes. And then, just walk away.

Days when he’d meet with former friends who used to force him to go to nightclubs. These friends would “order” lots of alcoholic beers plus women.

Victor, who struggled with booze and women in the past, resolved that he is better off without them.

So, after drinking coffee or juice, when the heat is on, he’d simply stand up and say his goodbye.

And leave the gathering of his old friends for another day and place.

When your life has been damaged by addiction, you rightfully desire to have a new life.

Yet temptation will still often knock at your door.

Sometimes, it comes from your own internal fleshly desires. Other times, it comes from people you encounter or situations you find yourself in.

The way out is to remove yourself from the object or situation of temptation. Flee from them.

The best strategy or action plan is, simply walk away.

Healing Your Parent Wounds

What do you do when your neglectful or abusive parent becomes ill and seeks your sympathy to get to the end of his or her life?

For a lot of people, the duty of honoring parents can be a perplexing dilemma. Such is especially so, when their parents have given them no or few reasons to honor them. Parents who were toxic and distant when their children were young tend to incur resentment rather than kindness.

Several months ago, I experienced this common dilemma. My 80+ year old father became finally sick and called for me after many decades of absence, neglect, and physical abuse during my youth. I never had a real conversation with him, a time spent eating out or walking in the mall, or directly receiving money from him. It’s fine that he asked for me now that he’s sick. But where was he when I needed him then?

Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s best-loved presidents, had an abusive, brutish father. His father, Thomas, hated his books and controlled his life by sending him out to work as a kind of slave to others. Even as an adult, Lincoln did provide finances to his father to bail him out of trouble despite disconnection and abuse in their relationship.

Eventually, Lincoln confessed that he was unable to stand his father any more. During his father’s terminal illness, Lincoln ignored messages from him. He wrote a note not to his father but his stepbrother to explain his absence: “Say to him that if we could meet now, it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant.” Lincoln didn’t attend his father’s funeral.

Warren Buffet, the world’s no. 2 richest man in the world, once shared his life with his mother. He remained distantly dutiful to his mother, who had subjected her children to endless verbal attacks. Buffet was 66 when his mother died at 92. His tears at her death were not because he was sad or because he missed her.  He said in his biography: “It was because of the waste.”

In my years of psychotherapy practice, the issue of “parent wounds” is an extremely recurring shadow evident in my sessions. Unbeknownst to these adult children, much of their psychological sufferings and dysfunctional behaviors are traceable to their lingering unprocessed pain from this kind of wounding. So, even to the end of their parents’ lives, they simply can’t imagine how else to be with or see them.

We are all children of our parents. Still, the ability to see our parents as children too can easily elude us. In my own life as well as in others, I’ve witnessed and experienced firsthand the shortcomings in parents which became damaging to us as a child and when we’d become parents ourselves. Like nothing else, such glimpses across generations can aid us to comprehend those who parented us.

Ultimately, with this cross-generational insight, we can view more clearly how we’ve been hurt and shaped. And finally, the hope of closure and healing from our “parent wounds” becomes a reality. Such facilitates making the prospect of our own personal change and fully seeing our parents’ humanness less frightening.

Looking At The Bright Side

One of my recent sessions was filled with joy. A couple, who used to experience bitterness, rage, and anger towards each other learned to smile a lot at each other. With that, they discovered how much they’re capable to feeling kind and compassionate to each other, struggling though they may be. A cheerful smile became medicine to their marriage.

Smiles have a therapeutic effect on our brain chemistry, according to experts. Researchers have found out that “when we smile, it releases brain chemicals called ‘endorphins’ which have an actual physiological relaxing effect.” They say that smiles not only diffuse crisis or tense situations in relationships. They also diffuse tension within our selves.

Have you ever witnessed people using foul language, with rising tempers or careless behaviors towards each other? They usually have stern, frowning faces. Some are used to brawling and slander. They threaten or damage relationships and themselves. Their emotions as well as the way they react to situations are out of control. And they seldom smile. Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with unsmiling, joyless faces.

So, the next time you felt so angry with someone or because of an argument, remember how it affects your health and well being. Look instead at the bright side of things. Tap that part of you inside that feels lighter and cheery. Smile. It can do wonders.

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.

Are You Ready To Heal?

What psychotherapy/counseling does is simple, cost-effective, and time-saving in the long term. It works. The principles of “whole person” recovery are based on sound principles of healing for mind, body, and soul.

I’ve witnessed marvelous instances of recovery of broken individuals, couples, and families over the years. Each of them is a testimony that change and healing is possible if and when one humbly and honestly embrace reality and commit to recovery work.

At the same time, I’ve also seen countless situations where people are not ready to recover. They insist on over-rationalizing, blame-shifting, excuse-making, projecting their faults, or simply denying their reality. These are often nothing more than subtle evasion tactics.

How do you know you’re ready for recovery? Here are your “diagnostic” questions:

1. How worse will it have to happen before you’re ready to recover?
2. At what point you’d admit that you’ve become out of control?
3. How much are you prepared to lose in pursuit of your addiction or dysfunctional choices?
4. How much pain are you willing to endure for the sake of your problem?
5. Would your life be better with or without your addiction, thoughts, or behaviors?
6. When will enough be enough? After 5 years of misery? After you lose your marriage, your family, your money?
7. What would you be willing to do to get free?