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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I was taught that anger is a bad thing. I’ve had an abusive childhood but it is hard to feel any anger about it because I feel guilty and afraid about offending God or blaming my parents.

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• Physiological Arousal
• Definition of Anger
• Experiencing Anger in the Healing Process
• Unconscious Anger
• The Healing Process
• Summary

 
Anger is always a reaction to some sort of hurt or insult. But when you look at this reaction more closely, you will see that anger does not have to be the only reaction to hurt.

 
Physiological Arousal

The most immediate and primary response to hurt or insult is a physiological arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. Your heart rate jumps. Your blood pressure surges. These things, however, are just immediate self-defensive reactions that prepare us to take some sort of action to respond to the threat.

 
Definition of Anger

Now, to be technically precise here, anger does not refer to the feeling of physiological arousal itself; anger is a particular response to that arousal that is grounded in hostility and hatred. In essence, anger is a wish to hurt someone because someone has hurt you. Anger does not even have to be experienced as the strong emotion of rage; it can just as well be a thought or a wish to hurt someone. In this sense, then, anger is a “bad” thing because it is an offense against love, for love is a matter of willing the good of others, not a matter of wishing them harm.

 
Experiencing Anger in the Healing Process

When you are told to acknowledge your anger within the context of psychotherapy or spiritual healing, however, you are not being told to do something that is morally wrong. Nor are you being encouraged to “get angry,” such as by yelling, cursing, throwing things, breaking things, or hitting someone. Instead, you are being told to recognize something that is already within you, so that you can stop deceiving yourself about your own reality.

So let’s see what that “something” might be.

 
Unconscious Anger

The trials of childhood, whether as severe as outright child abuse or less severe as mistreatment in dysfunctional families, provoke feelings of hurt and insult in the child, and almost inevitably that hurt leads to hate and a desire for revenge. In fact, even many ordinary, non-abusive frustrations of childhood will provoke feelings of hurt and secret fantasies of revenge. But because children are not usually taught to express hostile thoughts and feelings by speaking about them—and because they aren’t taught the psychological meaning of anger, and because they aren’t taught the real meaning of mercy and forgiveness and reparation—children quickly learn, through fear and guilt, to hide their true feelings from their parents.

The ultimate psychological problem, however, is that these unexpressed thoughts and feelings—the “bad” anger—get pushed into the unconscious where they continue to grow in darkness, like mold on the walls. It may be hidden from conscious sight, and it may be hidden from public view. But it can’t be hidden from God.

That is, unconscious anger, no matter how much you try to deny it, will continue to stain all your interpersonal relationships. With this anger festering inside of you, it becomes almost impossible to give true love to anyone, including God, even in Confession. Right now, when difficult things happen to you, you fall kersplash! right into the swamp of childhood anger.

 
The Healing Process

The whole point of spiritual healing is to learn that there are very specific environmental triggers for your thoughts and feelings. In the healing process, you first learn to recognize the triggers of anger; then you learn to recognize the emotional “bridge” that goes back to childhood wounds; then you learn to do something constructive about the triggers, rather than succumb to hostility.

 
The Triggers of Anger

Learn to look for the actual events (notice the plural) that have been bothering you recently. Take each one separately. What are all the feelings about that event? Frustration? Helplessness? Abandonment? Betrayal? Fear? (It won’t be just anger, because anger is the final, hostile reaction to all the other feelings.)

When you have these feelings all separated out, then you will have an idea of what is really happening to you, apart from the anger.

 
The Emotional Bridge

Next, follow each example of hurt back into its roots in the past to all those times and circumstances when you felt the same way. Carefully scrutinize your childhood and examine your memories of painful events to discover what you were really feeling then.

Remember, your impulsive reactions to present injuries are the unconscious expression of the original emotions and fantasies you experienced, but suppressed, in childhood. 

  

After scrutinizing their childhood, some persons will say that they feel sad or lonely but do not feel any anger at their parents. In these cases, the anger can be recognized not through the emotion of rage but through specific behaviors of hate.[1] 

Hatred for authority can be expressed through criminal activity; political protest and terrorism; marijuana use, pornography [2]; abortion; shoplifting; speeding; being late for appointments; living in clutter or filth; etc.

Hatred for the self can be expressed through the self-sabotage of one’s potential such as by chronic procrastination; the inability to support oneself by working; overdependence on others; substance abuse; obesity; codependence (such as marrying an alcoholic); emotional disability; etc.

But whether the end result be hatred for authority or hatred for yourself, the underlying cause is anger at your parents, because of their failures in love.

  

The Remedy

Having understood the previous two steps, now deal with each event separately, according to the thoughts and emotions specific to that event. Do something constructive and creative about each problem individually. Choose something different from our pagan culture’s Satanic Rule: “Do to others what they do to you.” Choose something based in true Christian values:

  

Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing. . . .

  

— 1 Peter 3:8-9a

Remember, it’s your choice. You can do something charitable, or you can get angry about everything and stew in it. Up till now you have been stewing in it, because everything in your life is all caught up in a big snarl of childhood hurt, and that’s why everything seems so oppressive and foul underneath the surface of a nice, devout demeanor.

 
Summary

So, if you go through this healing process, you will learn to free your hidden anger from its dark, silent prison. Having thus set it free, and having thus cleansed yourself of its stains, you will also be free of something else. You will be free of feeling victimized and free of secretly blaming your parents, because as long as you keep your anger hidden, you remain emotionally disabled, and as long as you remain emotionally disabled, you are throwing your disability in your parents’ faces to accuse them of their faults.

Once you acknowledge the core of your anger, and understand it, and stop unconsciously wishing harm on your parents, you can forgive your parents. Then you will be healed, and then you can turn to God with true love in your heart.

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. The spiritually negative emotion of hate does not necessarily mean a passionate loathing; it can just as well be a quiet, secret desire for harm to come upon someone or something. Hate can be a subtle thing, therefore, and it often is experienced more unconsciously than consciously. Consequently, it will often be very easy to deny that you feel any hatred for anyone at all.
     Note also that hatred and anger are theologically synonymous. Christ Himself taught the crowds, “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). And Saint John the Evangelist reflected this sentiment when he said, in one of his letters, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). The theological implication of these texts, therefore, is that any desire for harm to come to another person—whether through active loathing or through passive resentment—is, in its spiritual essence, an evil desire to remove the fullness of life (with its possibility of love and forgiveness) from that person.

2. Pornography, in its own way, derives from the urge to defile another person. On the surface, it may seem that pornography is simply about erotic pleasure. But when the human body is made into a biological toy, it is stripped of all human dignity, and this defilement is an act of hatred and aggression. The hostility may be unconscious or it may be openly violent, but, either way, it has its basis in resentment. And to whom is the resentment directed? Well, as in all things psychological, the resentment goes back to the parents. Deep down, under all the apparent excitement, and despite the attraction to what is seen, lurks the dark urge to hurt and insult—to “get back at”—what is behind the scene: a mother who devoured, rejected, or abandoned, rather than nurtured, or a father who failed to teach, guide, and protect.

 

Related pages:

Scruples

Sending yourself to hell to prove that someone has hurt you

Unconscious anger

Blind to your own anger

What is “anger without sin”?

 

 
BOOKS

 
Anger & Forgiveness


Anger and ForvivenessA book that provides much needed clarity about two topics often misunderstood in contemporary culture.
 
Most of us carry more anger in our hearts than we are capable of admitting even to ourselves, and as a result we often feel stuck in a lack of spiritual progress. This book, written in a clear, non-theological language, explains the deep psychology of anger and forgiveness and shows how to turn the emotional wounds of daily life into spiritual growth.
 
More Information

 

 

Falling Families, Fallen Children


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 don’t see living faith. They don’t see protection from evil. They don’t see genuine, fruitful devotion. They don’t 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 credibility—and 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. Let’s bring them back.
 
More Information

 

Healing
Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition


A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips in book form with a comprehensive index.
 
Psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
 
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate.
 
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

More information

 

 


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