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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Helping Children Heal

 

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The Mistake of Invalidation | The Proper Way

 
CONSIDER, for a moment, the way a dysfunctional father treats his family. Instead of being a good father—sympathetic, loving toward others, compassionate, humble, and always returning a blessing for insult (see 1 Peter 3:8)—he will, overtly or subtly, wear down his wife and children with criticism and faultfinding. He will play “mind games” with them, denying their feelings even as he smiles at them.

In his selfishness, he denies his children’s reality. That denial will wound the children deeply. But, because the children can’t just go find another father, and because they lack the psychological capacity to understand the games that are being played with their minds, the pain will be driven down into their unconscious, forcing them to defend themselves internally and intellectually. They will teach themselves to suppress their true feelings. They will view the world with cynicism. And the residue of that defensiveness will continue even into adulthood to affect all of their interpersonal relationships.

This continuing dynamic will be seen especially in the way these adults now treat their own children.

Maybe you are one of these adults.

Instead of validating the reality of your children’s pain, you will tend to deny it. When a child is hurting, you will tend to say, “Oh, it’s not that bad. Stop whining.”

What does this do to the children? Well, they know very well the reality of their pain. And they know very well that you’re denying it. So they lose trust in you. And then they will unconsciously develop ways to keep testing you with their behavior, trying to “get you” to finally acknowledge their reality. And the more you see them as a nuisance, the more they see you as a failure.

So what’s the proper way to help children heal from pain?

 
The Proper Way

FIRST, validate the child’s reality.


 

For physical wounds, say something like this: “Yes, it hurts, doesn’t it? And, oh, look at that blood! What nice, strong red blood! You’re doing a very good job of bleeding!”

  

For emotional wounds, be upfront and never try to protect children by hiding the truth—be assured, they already have a good idea of what’s going on anyway. All they need from you is the truth so that they don’t have to concoct their own imaginary explanations to fit the situation. You might say, for example, “Yes, it’s scary, isn’t it? Grandma is in hospital because the doctors think she has cancer. Right now, we don’t know any more than that. There will be medical tests in the next couple of days.”

 
SECOND, teach them to trust in God and teach them that all things—even pain—will pass.


 

For physical wounds, say something like this: “Now, it won’t hurt forever. The bleeding will stop when it’s ready to stop. So let’s say a prayer to God for your healing, and then we will go and do what needs to be done to clean up the wound.”

  

For emotional wounds, don’t lie and say that everything will be OK. Instead, admit that you really don’t know what might happen next and teach the children to pray and trust in God. “Yes, Grandma could die. So let’s pray that she will be OK. But whatever happens, we must trust in God that He will protect us and help us.”

What a gift to a child! Reality and faith!

How many of us never received these gifts? And what a wounded mess our world is because of it.

 

When seeking out my help in the face of some sort of family crisis, parents often admit to me that they have hidden the truth from their children. Then they quickly add, “I was trying to protect them.”

Well, you cannot protect children by hiding anything from them. You can protect them only by teaching them to trust in God’s protection.

 


 
Recommended Reading
 
A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites (including this webpage) is now available at your fingertips in book form.

 

Falling Families, Fallen Children by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. Do our children see a mother and a father both living in contemplative love for God with a constant awareness of His presence and engaged in an all-out battle with the evil of the world? More often than not our children donít see living faith. They donít see protection from evil. They donít see genuine, fruitful devotion. They donít see genuine love for God. Instead, they see our external acts of devotion as meaningless because they see all the other things we do that contradict the true faith. Thus we lose credibilityóand when parents lose credibility, children become cynical and angry and turn to the social world around them for identity and acceptance. They are children who have more concern for social approval than for loving God. They are fallen children. Letís bring them back.

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Where Catholic therapy (Catholic psychotherapy) is explained according to Catholic psychology in the tradition of the Catholic mystics.