Crying Without Shame

Dina seemed incapable of receiving compliments. In our “chit chat” during session, after I’d affirmed her accomplishments and good looks, she started avoiding eye contact by staring at the floor or holding her self tightly.

As the session progressed, Dina got more defensive. She’d suspect rather quickly that I thought negatively of her, even with a simple greeting or smile.

Perhaps she may had felt, if only I’d tell her the truth, it would confirm how bad she really feels about her self.

As I had time to think about our session, I surmised that I had come too close to Dina … too close to uncovering what’s shame-prone inside her.

Her emotional demeanor was that of unexpected, untimely exposure. And then, fear or expectations of more exposure.

According to psychologists Drs. James Harper and Margaret Hoopes, shame is related primarily to a feeling of inferiority in individuals, families, and groups.

In contrast to guilt (evaluation of behavior), shame is an emotion in response to negative evaluation of one’s self or being.

Drs. Harper and Hooper further commented,

“Everyone has experienced shame. Yet there is a vast difference between a person having a shameful experience and a person having a shame-prone identity. In fact, some degree of shameful experience is unavoidable and even helpful when people relate to each other, but shame-proneness is always devastating.”

Dina’s shame had a source from which she has to heal. She based her identity on an accumulation of the shame of rejection and abuse she had experienced from her Mom since early childhood.

She had internalized her Mom’s attitudes of her as “bad me.”

As an adult and mother herself, Dina projected her “bad me” on everyone that had contact with her. This includes her husband and four children.

In my work with her, even with seemingly benign questions, this “bad me” always got in the way of her seeing and healing her injured self.

Part of Dina’s healing from her shame is accepting the wounded child within her. As she takes steps to free this part of her, other pieces would surface.

Such new living with wholeness also involves knowing and embracing Someone much greater/better than her self … and her Mom.

If truth is told, under these conditions, you can experience a “healing cry without the shame.”

In Search of “Real” Life Using Travel

A few years ago, I travelled around the exotic places of Thailand. It’s one of my “travel without money” adventures, once again. My Australian host treated me to a nice hotel and sumptuous meals.

For a few weeks, I was hanging out in the beaches and Buddhist temples. Simply curious. Savoring fresh air and seawaters. Knowing the culture and their religion.

I received special gifts of insight about me, fellow humanity, and life in general, along the way.

One afternoon, in a cafe, I met an aged American “secret agent.” He was with a young Thai girlfriend, possibly 4 decades his junior.

In our conversations, both intimated that they’re running away from something with their travels together. Not just around Thailand, but also around different Asian countries.

The elderly American, away from the pain of his divorce and estranged children. And the young Thai woman, an escape from poverty and a broken, abusive family.

People seem to be running away from something in their travels.

Yes, travel can be like that – but it’s also running towards something. A search for a run towards something “real.”

While watching a little boat passed by Hua Hin, I felt myself in both ways. Escaping from and running towards something.

I’ve been running away from the “worldly” idea of what life is. Imperfect though I am, I avoid that nonlife.

And I run towards a life with a higher purpose, authenticity, and connection. A life above the sun.

Reflecting, I realize how much society boxes me in. With illusions, diversions, false news. It simply cannot fathom that “normal” is outside its norm. I travel away from the abnormal to what’s normal.

People who found “real” life in their travels break the mold. They just don’t travel. They discover, see, and experience life as it really is.

Be free to travel towards the world and true living. Your whole life is yours to travel. It’s short. And you get to travel it only once.

What’s True Love?

What is true love?

Everyone talks about it. We want to see and experience it.

You look for it. You long for it. You hope and wish to find that one fellow human being who will truly love you, and whom you’ll truly love in return.

You think that if you find him or her, you’ve found true love to make you happy. True love, most of us tend to believe, lies from outside of us.

I’m used to hearing individuals or couples saying, “I can’t live without you.” So when one loses the other, he or she also loses his or her self.

Even if you get true love from outside of you, it will only be for awhile. It won’t last long. True love doesn’t work that way.

You and your loved one are two separate individuals. You can love another person without losing your self.

True love then is essentially located from within your self. Not outside of it.

As Ravi Shankar put it, “Seek not outside your self, for all your pain comes simply from a futile search for what you want, insisting where it must be found.”

Finding true love then is not about finding your completeness in another person. You don’t need another human being to complete you.

In reality, you’re already complete and whole as you love and accept your self. If you don’t have true love for your self, you can’t realistically expect someone to give it to you.

You only need someone in your life when you desire to share with another your wholeness. Bless the other with true love already residing within your heart.

So a next question is, if true love is found within you, how do you know it’s there, to attract true love from another person?

The Soul of Adulthood

This is a key psychological truth: struggle is good.

When you don’t have to struggle, you don’t heal and grow up. It’s the “soul” of maturity and adulthood.

Many times in therapy, individuals demand quick fixes amid the high drama of their lives. They avoid the pain of struggle. Those who become successful in this only prolongs their misery.

Rowena is spoiled, smothered, and coddled as a child. Her Mom does every basic chore for her, removing all comfort roadblocks from her path.

Now at 30, Rowena refuses to leave home. Her Mom likes doing things for her. Since home is an only place where she “runs the show,” she failed to learn the value of struggle.

Rowena is unable to leave home. She wants to continue studying in a university and receive allowances from Mom. She doesn’t want a job. She can’t.

In my own sessions with Rowena, she said that life feels cruel and depressing to her. She felt trapped in a fantasy world and emotional prison she could not understand.

Joining Rowena in therapy is her Mom. Over time, she realized the part she played, allowing Rowena to bargain, manipulate her, and pretty much run the show.

Mom just kept playing the game of “no struggle” for her child all these years. But now, she’s healing her self. She begins to address her own childhood shortage rather than continue projecting it to Rowena.

I’m reminded of one psychologist who said, “Struggle is easier when you’re not unconsciously controlled by the ghosts of your own past.”

Struggle is good. Without optimal doses of it, there is no growth and life. No reason to exist. No sense of accomplishment.

Welcome struggle!

Instead of running away from it, you embrace it. Through struggle, you grow up to be healthy and balanced.

Conquering Vice

Yesterday, TV host Amy Perez of ABS CBN’s daily morning show Sakto, asked me, “Paano ba matitigil ang bisyo ng tao (alak, babae, sigarilyo etc) ngayong bagong taon?”

I responded in part, “Yung mga bisyo na meron ang tao ay sintomas lang, di pa sya yung sakit.”

The underlying, hidden roots that fuel vices are essentially psychological and spiritual. That’s where lies the key to new life … true, lasting change.

Isn’t this one truth we often miss amid inevitable challenges we face in life?

In my own life, I’ve traveled through several deserts. Family and marital trauma. Financial challenges. Abandonment and betrayal.

Each time, I got broken. Torn apart. My heart was such a wilderness.

Needless to say, I could easily had become an alcoholic, a womanizer, or some sort of addict. Like what multitudes of wounded people have become or done.

Yet something left me sane and resilient those desert times. Unaddicted. Not grasping “false medicine.” Devoid of life-damaging vices.

So what prods me on? What sustains me, through weeks and months and years of searing pain, in my own deserts?

It’s what’s underneath my deepest part and being: the pearl of great price. It’s the Star of Bethlehem.

To develop our best selves, we have two guides: internal and external.

Internal, of course, refers to renewal of the mind. Cleansing of the soul. At times, a need for appropriate therapy. And Scripture is the best, ultimate guide that lays the task for us very well.

External refers to how we fashion our life outside ourselves. Family relationships. Work. Choice of friends. Recreational activity.

Are your internal and external flowing well interdependently to lead you to a healthy lifestyle?

And so, as you start this new year, be ready to travel even through the desert (or deserts) of life.

Choose to live free of vices or “bisyo” with your best self – your body, mind, and soul – following the Star.

Working for Family Change

Martha’s story is a story of her family.

Martha paints a picture of her husband as a narcissistic, raging individual. His insecurity and emotional disconnectedness are disguised as playfulness. His work is ever-present both at home, office, and everywhere.

Martha sees her self as overprotective of her teenage son, and condescending towards her husband. She suffers in silence at the childish antics and outbursts of her husband. Time and again, friends around Martha see her “martyrdom.”

The stress in Martha’s household is palpable. Early mornings, both her husband and 18-year-old would have troubles for her. Her husband is used to throw tantrums over things, such as breakfast or pieces of clothing before he goes to work.

Martha’s teenage son, on the other hand, is equally crude and petty. At times, her son would warn, that unless mommy Martha gets his college uniform ready or increases his allowance, he won’t go to school any more.

Each time, Martha gives in to her husband’s and son’s tantrums, believing that if she isn’t successful, she faces personal rejection.

Martha grows weary and depressed each day. She knows she needs to do remedial, corrective action or she breaks down. If Martha is determined to help her self, her husband and son, she has to initiate deep-level self-examination to start healing.

Let me give a few tough questions for Martha. You may join reflecting with her. If Martha will have the courage to face these tough questions and personal limitations, she can be half way to personal recovery and family change.

It’s time for Martha to evaluate her overprotectiveness and patronizing attitudes towards her husband and son.

Do you engage in self-pity?

Are you afraid of your emotions?

Do you accurately know what you feel?

Do you pretend to feel what you don’t really feel, while hiding your real feelings?

Do you avoid confronting your husband about his selfishness, chauvinism, and childishness because you’re afraid to stand alone?

Do you mask your frustrations by feeling sorry for your son who acts like his father?

Do you lack courage and self confidence that cause you to back away from appropriate discipline and responsible boundaries?

Do You Know Your “Double?”

Once I met Pablo. He was a confessed married “sex addict.” According to him, not a day goes by that he wouldn’t masturbate, watch porn, or have casual sex with different women.

He had a strange ritual. A lot of times, he’d quarrel with his wife first before his planned sexual bingeing. After his anticipated rejection, he’d habitually walk out to look for sex partners.

In the sessions, Pablo admitted he felt so powerless and shamed. The addiction he didn’t want for himself he could not stop doing. Until he contracted HIV. Until his family deserted him.

Unknown to many, Pablo was an honor student and varsity athlete in the university. Prior to his life-damaging personal fallout, people looked up to him as a model student and adult citizen.

Till someone took over Pablo and his self.

Robert Louis Stevenson, in his classic “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” can provide us a psychological clue or piece of insight. He wrote of Dr. Jekyll’s “double” self:

” … whereas in the beginning the difficulty had been to throw off the body of Jekyll, it had of late gradually but decidedly transferred itself to the other side … I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse self.”

This is one way of understanding what happened to Pablo or why. Mostly, he retreated into himself as if in a trance-like state … and did things outside his awareness.

He had a “double,” a “shadow,” a dark side he never fully knew about.

As sex therapist/author Dr. Patrick Carnes put it, the description of the Dr. Jekyll-Mr.Hyde-like transfer portray “the loss of one personality as it is overcome by a second personality — the addictive personality.”

In intervention and therapy, the addict takes the journey of recovering the true, original, best self.