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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I’m a convert and since my Confirmation 8 years ago I’ve gone back and forth between strictly following Church teaching and barely going to Mass.
 
I recently started seeing a therapist three times per week and have been making progress. I’m trying hard and I do want to heal more than anything. I’m finally coming to terms with the severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect I suffered during my childhood. My parents, the abusers, were fanatical born again Christians and much of the abuse I suffered, although not all, was in the name of their religion. They were also drug and alcohol abusers. Because of all this, I have a hard time believing in God, or at least a loving one. When I can believe in God, I can only feel fear and resentment. This makes me sad because I want to have God in my life. I just feel He wants to punish me.
 
One of the things I’m struggling with, as far as the Church is concerned, is birth control and family size. Sometimes, I want to be a good Catholic, even though I don’t really feel it, it’s more of an intellectual decision. Other times I don’t want religion at all or find New Age type thinking appealing. My husband (also Catholic) and I have three children all under age 6 and I feel that given the psychological issues I’m trying to deal with I can’t handle more. Sometimes, because of the anxiety I suffer and the mixed up emotions I experience, I can barely handle my life as it is. I always wanted a big family (I felt so alone as a child) and had I not begun this process of psychotherapy I probably just would’ve had more children for the wrong reasons (mainly fear of being alone). Now I’m starting to see that I need to work on myself first. But at the same time I feel guilty for not being open to life. Also, we use the withdrawal method, as opposed to NFP, to prevent pregnancy, and I feel much guilt for this also.
 
My real question is: I’m very, very interested in psychology. I want to heal and eventually I want to help others heal. I want to be a therapist. I was studying to be a therapist in college, but I couldn’t face my own problems so I changed my major to math. I’ve been a stay at home mom since my first son was born, but I want to go back to school (not immediately, but in the next couple of years) and slowly (one class a semester) work on my Masters so I can eventually become a therapist. But this would most likely mean no more kids. This causes a lot of fear for me that I’m letting God down (the same God I can barely believe exists). I feel like I’m being selfish by wanting to go back to school. I know I get my rigid religious beliefs from my parents, but I’m so confused.
 
I know my question seems vague. I guess what I’m asking is, is it okay for me to stop at three children and pursue a career?

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• Childhood Abuse Begets More Abuse
• God’s Providence Marred by Sin
• Rescue from Sin
• Raising Children by Example
• Repairing the Damage

 
Your question about children and career seems vague because the matter of your faith, which underlies this question, is vague. And your faith is vague because your parents’ faith is even more vague.

Even though your parents claimed to be “born again,” it’s clear from their behavior that they had no clue as to what Christianity really is. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and drug and alcohol abuse are all grave sins; they are evil, and being aspects of the demonic, they are all fundamentally opposed to Christianity.

 
Childhood Abuse Begets More Abuse

Parents who abuse their children are themselves suffering from profound emotional pain, but, rather than seek to face up to and heal that pain, they express their frustration at having been psychologically damaged—most likely when they were children, by their own parents—by lashing out in anger to hurt and damage the world around them. Children are convenient targets of this frustration because they are helpless and pose no threat in return.

It’s important for you, therefore, to understand that when your parents abused you, they weren’t trying to help you become a better person; they were simply taking out their frustration on a convenient target, inflicting hurt on you for their own personal satisfaction.

This irrational abuse therefore, has nothing to do with your being punished by God.

 
God’s Providence Marred by Sin

Now, it often happens that bad things happen to innocent people, but God never does anything to hurt us. God does everything for our good, to lead us to holiness. Every trial that we experience can lead us to spiritual purification and growth if only we bear the trial with patient endurance and trust in God. And this gets us to what Christianity is all about.

God created us through love, so that we might be able to share in His love. He gave us free will so that we would be capable of love. But with the capacity to love comes also the capacity to reject love, and this capacity to reject love—that is, to hate—is called sin.

Therefore, all of us, just like your parents, naturally respond to being hurt by wanting to inflict injury in return. This natural tendency to make ourselves feel good at the expense of others—and sometimes, even at the expense of ourselves, through self-destructive behavior—is sin.

 
Rescue from Sin

We have no way to pull ourselves out of our natural tendency to sin. But God, in His love for us, sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to redeem us from our slavery to sin. Through His Incarnation as a man, He took our sins into His own Sacred Heart and, without any hate, showed us how to love Him as He loved us, even as we hated Him.

Christianity calls us away from sin. It calls us to repent our capacity to hate others and to repent our capacity to hate ourselves. It calls us to invite Christ into our hearts so that we can love Him and love ourselves and love others, as He loves us. It calls us, through our very being, as it is transformed in Christ, to call others to repent their sins so that they, too, can be transformed in Christ.

Notice, here, that your parents did none of this. There was nothing of love in their actions. They didn’t love you; instead, they poured out their hatred for themselves and for their parents onto you.

So be careful, therefore, not to think that your parents’ behavior was representative of the Church. 

If you wish to belong to the true Church, then, recognize that your parents’ behavior was sinful. Understand this from the depth of your heart, and accept it without hate.

You might wonder, though, why God allowed the abuse to happen to you. Well, maybe God was waiting for someone in the family—that is, you—to get the courage to say, “I’m sick of this intergenerational abuse! I will be the one to put an end to it. I won’t pass it on to my children.”

Then call upon God’s grace to give meaning to your suffering and forgive your parents for what they did to you; that is, purge from your heart any desire to see them get “paid back” for what they did to you,[1] and resolve to make love the emotional basis of your life—and from there on pass on love, rather than abuse, to those around you. If your parents are still alive, pray and make sacrifices that they might repent their sins and surrender their hearts to Christ in loving service to Him.

OK. So far, so good.

Now let’s turn our attention to your children.

 
Raising Children by Example

You know, from your own parents’ behavior, how not to raise children.

In the real Church, there is only one reason to have a child: to bring a new soul into the world so that it can love God through a life of Christian purity. Such a life requires sincere reverence for all the fruits of the Holy Spirit—Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Longanimity (forbearance), Goodness, Benignity (kindness), Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continence, and Chastity—and all the Sacraments of the Church. And the only way for the child to acquire this reverence is to learn it by example from the parents. Therefore, to be responsible to your children, you, of necessity, must live a holy life. 

In regard to chastity in a holy life, we can say, in general:

If you are not bound by the vows of Holy Matrimony, refrain from all sexual activity.

If you don’t want to have children, don’t get married.

If you are bound by the vows of Holy Matrimony, all sexual activity must be open to procreation.

If you are bound by the vows of Holy Matrimony and absolutely [2] don’t want any more children, refrain from all sexual activity.

 
Repairing the Damage

So what do you do if you already have children, and you haven’t lived a holy life, and your children themselves aren’t living holy lives?

Well, in such a case, your career, as it were, is to bring your children to conversion and into the Church. Dedicate yourself, like Saint Monica and Saint Rita, to the full-time task of living a holy life yourself, of being a humble, sincere example to your children of total love for and trust in God, and of praying constantly and making sacrifices for your children’s repentance and conversion.

When you have fulfilled your role as a mother, and all your children love God through lives of Christian purity, then you might think of a secular career for yourself.

But, in your case, it would be a disaster, both for yourself and for your clients, if you became a psychotherapist without having first overcome your illusions about sexuality. Without knowing what love really is, you cannot teach your clients to love—and you will be held responsible by Christ for leading them astray, because not teaching others to love is a defilement of love. Moreover, you have the same obligation of love to your children and to teach them love, for the sake of their souls, because leading a new soul to love God is the sole reason for bringing a child into the world.

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes

1. This is not as easy as it might sound. There are a multitude of unconscious ways to keep alive your resentments: argumentativeness, competitiveness, disobedience, protest, offenses to chastity, immodest clothing, smoking, eating disorders, illicit drugs, alcohol abuse, tattoos, body piercing and disfigurement, shoplifting, gambling, risky thrill seeking, time-wasting video games, occupational failure, and on and on. All of these self-defeating behaviors make a mockery of love and have in common one unconscious intent: to throw your failure back into your parent’s faces as evidence of their failure to live a life of genuine love and mercy.

2. Surprises can always happen. Therefore, if you aren’t prepared for an “accident,” then don’t engage in sexual activity.

 

Continue the thread of this question with another question
and its response

 

For more detailed information about Catholic marital issues, see the
Matrimony section of the Questions and Answers part
of this website

 


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