What are you living for?

People live for something. Or, someone.

Money. Cars. Spouse, kids. Mom, Dad. Friends. Business success. A job. Sports.

Fame. Sex. Food. Travels. A cause. Making a contribution. Fighting for a cause. Possessions, comfort.

The list is varied and endless. Depends. Every one is unique.

I had a millionaire client who loved buying lots of stuff. Her house was full of favorite things, like antiques, potteries, and furnitures.

That’s her passion. To collect those things. She even had framed photographs holding her favorite collections.

But these stuff she collects and spends a lot of money and time on, are they worth living for?

Many years ago, I was part of a Manila-based newspaper where I had a column.

I was a young man in search of true happiness through the writings I did.

One column I wrote was entitled “Impermanence.”

In that piece, I lamented about how all things are fleeting. I get this or get that because I thought it will make me happy.

Only to realize, something is always missing.

A measure of enjoyment, yes. But the happiness or satisfaction soon fades away.

Nothing this world offers fully satisfies. Even the good things.

C.S. Lewis writes, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself. There is no such thing.”

What are you living for? Is it worth it?

Manny’s lonely childhood

On the outside, Manny’s childhood was rich. He seemed to have everything. Wealthy parents. Status. Intelligence. Good looks. First-born. All he needs and wants, he gets.

But actually, most of his childhood was hell.

“Dad let Mom (a successful businesswoman) rule the house. She’s demanding and rock-hard authoritarian,” said Manny during session.

He added with a sigh, “My Dad, who’s a noted doctor, was aloof and unaffectionate. God, I was so lonely!”

Manny and his brother never had family times and fun with Mom and Dad. They almost wouldn’t talk during meals or travels all their years. They’re more like dorm mates.

“My parents just provided. I wish they had the humanity to hug me, touch me, talk to me, be loving. But no, they’re both cold, aristocratic, aloof and smart at anything,” he lamented.

When I asked further about his emotions, Manny felt he might as well have been a zombie.

After sharing about his feelings and thoughts on his childhood, Manny was left with no doubts how, where, and why he became a Zombie himself!

A zombie to his wife. A zombie to his children. A zombie among his acquaintances and work mates. A zombie towards all his relationships.

Manny’s healing started when he fully understood the nature and dynamic of how he was programmed to be a Zombie like his parents.

Something interesting happened in my sessions with Manny thereafter. At some point.

As he experienced emotionally (not merely informationally) how he adopted his parents’ ways, he smiled a lot.

He learned to understand himself better. He learned to understand his parents too without condemning them. He developed compassion for himself, his Mom and Dad.

Manny also learned there is no more emotional need to cling to his false Zombie exterior. It’s not really him any more than it is his parents’ as he saw where they came from.

Freeing at last.

The RAIN Tool

“We all have an omniscient narrator in our head who is harsh and negative commenting on our life. Having a voice constantly urging us to do better has some survival value – but it can make us miserable,” said New York-based psychologist John Gartner.

The other day, a talented young woman was sobbing during session.

She’s continually harassed by an inner judge which is critical, nit-picking, and devaluing her.

This thing inside her head was demanding. Full of unrealistic expectations. On the job 24/7.

She’s made to believe from the core that something is fundamentally wrong with her.

She’s been trying to control and fix what she felt is a basically flawed self.

It’s such an epidemic. This deep sense of personal deficiency. Getting stuck in the trance of unworthiness.

Mindfulness helps. It reduces the power the voice inside has over us.

Along the way in my sessions, I like doing Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N. process tool to guide individuals in their private practice of mindfulness.

R.A.I.N. trains the emotions and thoughts to be self-compassionate.

R.A.I.N. tool for mindfulness goes this way:

R = recognize what is going on

A = allow the experience to be there, just as it is

I = investigate with interest and care

N = nurture with self compassion

According to Dr. David Kessler, MD, author of “CAPTURE,” studies show that meditation and mindfulness gives schizophrenics the “ability to pay less attention to and give credence to the voices in their heads.”

“For those with anxiety or depression, meditation stops the cycle of obsessive rumination and self recrimination,” Dr. Kessler added.

When Kittens Become Cats

The poet Ogden Nash once wrote, “The trouble with a kitten is that eventually it becomes a cat.”

In many ways, we could say the same thing about our children.

When my daughter Angel was 3 up, she was cute, cuddly, soft and small.

Now that she’s older and bigger, I still love her just as much.

But she’s become so independent. And … isn’t quite as small or cuddly anymore!

I could say somewhat the same thing about her brother Paul and sister Christine, who are now young adults.

They’re former kittens, now developing cats!

As a father, time does keep slipping, slipping, slipping on me. And I’ve to admit that I’m not as young as I used to be.

A few days ago, I was in session with a Mom (along with her husband) who’s still calling her son “babe.”

Her son is almost 25, still dependent on her in all basic things.

It’s obvious that as we parent our children, we’re called to develop as adults as well.

This means, we need to be aware of appropriate developmental paths as time slips by.

My fathering my 3-year-old Angel, for instance, has to be far different from my fathering her in her teenage years.

I admit it’s tough for me to be a father of a teenager. And it is not easier for my daughter Angel.

At this point, she may literally be “not all there.”

Yet she needs my love and support to grow in certain areas, such as impulse control, judgment, and ability to face consequences.

This is “age-appropriate” parenting. For our kids’ mental health and overall wellness.

To do that, we parents need to be relatively functioning adults, while we’ve the opportunity.

For time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping …

A Science-Backed Stress Reliever

There is robust scientific evidence establishing a scientific link between spirituality and mental health.

For example, a scientific and medical review of 148 published studies in 2002 with over 98,000 subjects sought to determine a connection between spirituality and mental health.

Here’s the authors’/researchers’ overwhelming conclusion: the more spiritual a person is, the greater the positive effects on his or her mental health.

Also, another study was published in the Journal of Aging and Health in 2009, with 800 enrolled subjects and 8 years follow up.

The researchers found that being spiritual and having church attendance gave people a stronger sense of purpose and lesser tendencies to depression.

The American Journal of Psychiatry backed this up with a 10-year landmark study in 2012, claiming that spirituality has a protective effect – 76% less risk to develop genetic or familial depression.

Noted Harvard psychologist, Dr. Gordon Allport, based on numerous scientific evidences and studies such as these, asserted that spirituality or faith is indeed a psychological necessity for mankind.

From the mental health perspective, spirituality gives a struggling or traumatized individual with supportive life-giving guidelines. To find meaning and direction for his or her existence.

The faith of a person is a science-backed stress reliever.

It allows one to weather all storms while exploring the healing of his or her deepest internal wounds that affect perspective and functioning.

Truly, spirituality is the most natural thing there is.

It’s simply your own conscious awareness of your self to be more than physical or material … that you’ve a soul where your real essence lies.

The Medicine of Forgiveness

Forgiving people is healthy. Life-giving. Not only for your mental, emotional, or spiritual health. But also physical health.

Science shows that our physical bodies can be ravaged by negative emotions. Cancer and other deadly diseases as well as depression-levels are high among non-forgivers.

I know a 45-year-old man who’s full of bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness in his heart. Over the years, he poisons his body with negative emotions.

Today, his life is at risk. He’s set to undergo two dangerous coronary surgeries.

Forgiveness is healthy.

It’s a forgiver’s project, not the trespasser’s. Forgiveness is for you, not for the other person.

I often hear people mean, “I’ll forgive you if you change or ask forgiveness.” That’s not how true forgiveness works to heal.

Forgiveness is unconditional. It says, “I forgive the person who wronged me regardless of whether or not the person repents.”

This doesn’t mean you sanction or condone the abusive behavior done. True forgiveness recognizes the reality of wrong done.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Forgiveness is a separate construct from reconciliation.

People who truly forgive people heal. They set themselves free.

However, at the same time, they don’t assume that their forgiveness has necessarily influenced or made the other person repentant of the wrongs made.

In fact, many forgivers rightfully choose not to reconcile. They create significant boundaries between them and the unrepentant persons who hurt them.

Dr. Charles Zeiders, author and psychotherapist, writes:

“Human nature is fallen, and people are capable of sadism, abuse, and grotesque behaviors that will again hurt us … We forgive, but we do not pretend that the people we have forgiven have been touched … or that reconciliation is possible. Even though we forgive in this life, we might have to wait for the next life to enjoy full community with those who have harmed us.”

Is the treatment part of the problem?

In a community group session that I was conducting in QC many years ago, one of the teenage girls attending suddenly dropped to the floor. Trembling. Convulsing. Crying.

I observed she’s very conversational prior to this. I had not known then how she got to a strange point in front of others in the group.

Members of the group pulled her away and brought her home. I was with them. Talking to the teenager. Pacifying and listening to her.

In her home was her mother lying half-naked on the sofa. She just stared at us when we arrived. The father was nowhere to be found. And the other children in the house just appeared unfazed.

Here’s a sad story of a family afflicted with untreated mental disorders. The way it looked, the teenage girl and her family members have been suffering severely for so long.

Recently, the Bill of Mental Health or RA 11036 (National Mental Health Act) was passed into law by the Philippine government.

The new law is traditional, a medicalized bill. With such bill, the poor are now given access to mental health care, which is comprised of psychiatric consultation, drug treatment or even perhaps lobotomy.

In days when I was doing practicum and doing visits in the mental hospital, I witnessed horror. Patients slipped into catatonia or Jekyll-and-Hyde monsters after prolonged drug treatments.

I’m reminded of the popular movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975, starring Jack Nicholson. That’s the picture of psychiatric and mental health hospital care.

In the US, Dr. Peter Breggin, called the “Conscience of Psychiatry” and other mental health advocates warned of the dangers of psychiatric drug medication and treatment globally (https://breggin.com) (www.psychintegrity.org).

I wonder about that teenage girl and her family as well as multitudes of others in need of mental health treatment in the country.

Does RA 11036 carry the proper and right treatment for them? Or, the unamended law and its treatment will become part of the problem?