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.

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.

The Leisure Delusion

Fun, fun, fun. Travels, cruises, tours. Surfing, beaches. Shopping, sumptuous dinners.

The quest for a “good time” lies at the bottom of lots of people’s pursuit of pleasure. To escape work or the rat race. Even as a motivation for retirement.

After 40 years working in a bank, Mario and Marsha shared how much they craved retirement now. Now that their kids are all grownup, they felt free.

They looked forward to the leisure and “inheritance” of retirement pay. They said they’d spend their money and time in their hands traveling, and simply “doing nothing.” That brief future together was what they’d like to be, especially in the present moment.

Then it hit them! In our session, Marsha was telling her husband, “I could not understand what’s happening. We hurried to retire and relax, do what we planned. Why am I bored? Is something wrong with me?”

I’m reminded of the mother of a young son as he impatiently waited for Christmas to come. He cried, “I wish it were Christmas!” His mother, with her gentle wisdom, told his son, “With such wish, you will wish your life away!”

The whole problem with leisure or “good time” delusion is that it is deceptive. It puts your days in separate boxes. It presumes that a day is going to be more enjoyable and far different. It chops off segments of life as worthless because they’re not your “wished day.”

As a result of that, you find yourself kept from seeing or treasuring your present moment. You get bored. Weary of the pattern of your days. The leisure blinds you to the importance of the work you gave to earn it and the need to create new meanings in life as a whole.

Of course, we can enjoy the “good time.” Have our days off. We can treasure it. But it’s not meant to be the “goal of life.” Creativity is key. We find excitement and energy when we know we’re creating. Creating meaning in our days – not leisure – makes life!

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!

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?

Mastering Sex

It’s part of God’s natural gift to human nature. Within the context of marriage, sex is good. It’s designed as an integral part of true love and commitment of two people in life union.

Yet, sex can turn bad.

Damaged. Polluted. Distorted or abused. In our society today, lots of channels feed bad sex. And bad sex creates psychopathology and other unwanted consequences.

Recently, Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein, an award-winning movie producer, was exposed of his sex addiction. Tens of movie celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, Gwendolyn Paltrow, Ashley Judd, among many, came out into the open to report his raping or sexually harassing them in the past. It has become a full blown scandal that ended Harvey’s respected status and career in Hollywood.

I’m reminded of Bong, a patient who consulted me about his out-of-control sex drive. He engaged in sex with his live-in girlfriend. He also had sex with strangers or pay prostitutes for it. Bong said in session, “Sex to me is like food. It’s a basic need. I can’t understand why I feel bad about it.” His girlfriend found out and broke up with him.

What makes a person a slave to sex appetite instead of its master? There could be a variety of reasons. There’s space here for me to mention 3 possible reasons: bondage to world’s view, bondage to self, and bondage to ungodly mentality.

Bondage to world’s view. The world does not know about true love. Love is unprotected by widespread loose sex, pornography, sexual perversion, prostitution etc we see in our media and culture. To master good sex is to cut free from this bondage and live differently away from damaging worldly influences.

Bondage to self. The wounded self deprived of real love in the past or present can be vulnerable to addiction to unquenchable, out-of-control sex appetite. Mastering good, healthy sex demands healing of this primal psychological wound that caused severe narcissism. To be cut free from inappropriate pleasing of self and self-seeking attitudes.

Bondage to ungodly mentality. Sexual immorality is bondage to unspiritual, materialistic, robot mentality. One who feasts on pictures, films, and thoughts that feed moral weakness is a robot, not a master of sex, much less of himself.

At times, as a psychotherapist and human myself, I too am challenged to master the lure of bad sex. Professionally and personally. That always involves constant renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). Free from the imprisonment of imagination so the self can be free to make good, healthy choices.

The Art of Detachment

Carol set limits.. She told her husband, “I feel so devastated by your affair. You even used our car to bring her out and to our vacation house. Despite your promise to stop it, you still continue. I want you out of the house. If you agree to seek help, maybe we can talk.”

Carol sought relief. But that’s not the reason why she did that. She did it for her. While she wished her unfaithful husband would make a turnaround, it’s out of her hands. She separated from her husband’s problem and responsibility without separating from him. She still cared to offer him help.”

Detachment. At times, it’s an only way we can do to survive overwhelming pain, frustration, and disappointment of our “broken dreams.” Its often a first step in reclaiming our lives. It can be our best hope towards recovery and wholeness.

First-aid emotional detachment teaches us to endure the unendurable, the inexplicable, the paradoxical. Not just in our selves or our relationships, but also in the world in general. Managing the difficult task of detachment frees us to go even amid unanswered questions.

I’m reminded of Mommy Wilma who learned to practice a “script” with her daughter. Wilma heaved a deep sigh of relief, after telling her daughter “I separate from your problem which is your responsibility without separating from you!”

Detachment is a conscious choice. An expression of our own will to survive.