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?

Healing the Family

She doesn’t know why she’s been severely depressed and anxious much of the time. Lita rarely socialize or get out of the house.

Lita experiences constant social anxiety when with people. In her mind, she worries that other people are silently putting her down or making fun of her.

As a result, her family hurts. The father, mother, and siblings came to me with sobs of sadness and pain about Lita’s isolation from them and others.

In the sessions, Lita recounted her family experience since childhood. She felt caught in the middle of her parents’ constant quarrels.

All that time during fights, both her father and mother vied for her support. She felt guilty for everyone’s feelings, including those of her siblings.

Virginia Satir, noted family therapist and writer, believes that a critical first step to the healing process is full or 100% awareness.

In her book, “Helping Families to Change,” she asserts the following goal for hurting families:

” … to see freely and comment openly on what you see, to be able to hear freely and comment what you hear, and to be able to touch freely and be able to comment openly on that experience – these comprise the restorative task.”

So, to heal your self and your family, here’s one master key: Stop pretending!

Based on Satir’s formula, there are skills or habits that need to be developed for total or 100% focus and awareness to avoid pretending.

3 things.

• seeing, not just looking
• hearing, not just listening
• sensing your touch

That’s what happens in my sessions in the initial phase. Progressively focus on these essential tasks.

Becoming aware – coming to your senses – is the first step to set you and your family free!

Why People Overworry

A few nights ago, I was watching one of Dr. Chuck Swindoll’s public speeches on YouTube.

I liked the the question and theme of his talk: “What is the #1 struggle of people today?”

In my brain, I had several guesses before Dr. Swindoll announced it. Money? Sex? Power? Marriage? Family?

None of those.

Dr. Swindoll pointed to this: WORRY – our #1 struggle.

Agree. Whatever the life issue or breakdown, too much worrying is so common. A frequent resultant pattern in most people’s reactions.

The overworry then produces large doses of anxiety. Paralyzes productivity and problem solving. Causes unnecessary pain in relationships.

Psychologist Dr. Chad LeJeune explains how it works:

When you’re hiking along a cliff, for instance, she says your brain may tell you “I might fall” and you picture yourself falling. She says it’s a helpful thought because you realize you need to be careful in your walks.

However, “when your anxiety is high,” Dr. LeJeune continues, “you’ll experience that image not as ‘I might fall’ but as ‘I will fall’ ”

This shows that, with heightened anxiety, you’re less able to discriminate between the thought of “might happen” and reality.

I’m reminded of a patient, Edward, whom I once invited to the MRT city train station. It’s part of his anxiety panic “exposure therapy.”

Edward retreated. Ran away from the exercise. He had experience being mugged and held up in the MRT many years ago. In his mind, he said it will happen again.

Psychologically, it’s called “cognitive fusion.” A thought becomes fused with what it refers to. The fused thought is experienced as reality … outright an inevitability.

Rx to Suicide

It’s sad to note that hundreds of thousands of men and women around the world committed suicide. Men typically die of violence, such as through gunshot or self-strangulation. Women hang or cut themselves or overdose on pills.

What drives people to kill themselves?

I’m not aware of any well-studied psychological theory that explains the nature of suicide fantasy and the final action. But more often than not, i surmise it can be a combination of factors. Neurochemical vulnerability. Identity and self esteem issues. Desperation. Circumstance.

In addition to these factors I mentioned as possible precipitatants of suicide, society and culture seem to also play a role.

Psychology Today writer Abby Ellin writes, ” … we live in a culture where disorders of the mind are kept quiet. People are honest about struggles with cancer or diabetes. They talk openly about injuries. But depression is a dark secret.”

When Albert, 54, saw me, he’d been wanting to kill himself. His identity and self esteem was very tied into his social, public profile – his CEO status, his business, his family – and these things started to dissolve when he was faced with economic bankruptcy and loss of work.

He felt so depressed and down. Talking about his feelings to his wife or friends would most likely help Albert. Except, of course, he was not a person who wanted to appear vulnerable to any one in any way. Even in therapy, he struggled with this.

People who have thoughts of suicide suffer from hopelessness that their business or finances will rebound, that their mate will love them, or that someone will want them after a broken marriage or relationship.

Ultimately, therefore, hope is the medicine to this deadly dark secret.

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.

Walking Away From Addiction

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

I’m gladdened by one of my more advanced counselees, Victor, with his plan to abstain from his former “drugs of choice.” Many times, he’d 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 for a time rather than be tempted to advance his gaze.

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

Victor, who formerly 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, 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, to flee from them.

The best strategy or action plan may simply be to walk away.

Love People, Not Things

Every human being is designed to love and be loved. Things are designed to be used. A big reason why much in our relationships are in chaos is because we use people and things are ones loved by us.

I’ve once a married couple in therapy that lasted for about a year. Both of them came from very wealthy families. Their lives together is laced with separate businesses, bank accounts, and managed properties. They “profit” from each other’s ventures.

In my working with them in our sessions, I could not be sure if marriage is truly the best word to describe their relationship. You see, since marriage, they never “dated.” Sex stopped for decades. They lived their lives as if they’re co-dorm mates.

Until one day. The wife discovered her husband having affairs with multiple women. One of them was housed in one of their condominium properties. Their world crashed. And both of them declared they still “love” each other.

It’s a deep mess. The unfaithful husband apologized for his betrayal. He assured his wife that he was letting go of the other women. And he agreed to his wife’s requirement for them to go through personal and marital therapy.

Both of their lives had not been easy despite their families’ affluence. They told me repeatedly of tales of abandonment, the drugs, the alcohol, and the lonely nights that define their past. They speak of dysfunction  freely of their families of origin. It was as much a part of their story as what happened to them in their relationship.

In therapy, they developed emergent awareness and honesty. When they’d learned to be honest, they’d become aware that much of their relationship with each other is focused on “things.” They used each other to increase these “things.” And in the course of doing so, they missed each other’s persons.

Indeed, our pockets may be full. But our hearts are empty. Love people, not things. It’s the path to better living, your best self and relationships ever.