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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I could write a long list of things I need to change. Every sin that I cling to and every temptation that I face knows I am an easy target. I am amazed that I am not an alcoholic or a drug addict. I can’t control myself. The list would be never-ending, I think. There are a lot of reasons for me to hate myself. And I am trying to fix me. I just can’t seem to do it. And I don’t know why. I do know it makes me sad and disappointed (it is a stronger word than that, but I don’t know the word for it) in myself.

 
This lack of success at personal change actually derives from deep unconscious conflicts,[1] originating in your childhood, that prevent individuals from taking responsibility for their lives, despite their consciously wanting to change things they don’t like.

It all starts when parents fail to raise children in an atmosphere of devout holiness, and fail to teach them to love and to fear God and to trust always in His guidance and protection. Lacking clear guidance—and often suffering outright abuse—the children become conflicted about Faith itself. They might accept “faith” intellectually, but it means nothing to them in any practical sense. Instead of learning to sacrifice themselves for Christ, children inadvertently learn, through parental game-playing and manipulation, to seize whatever satisfaction they can get from the world.

And so, claiming to value peace and love, your parents actually sought out pride, self-advancement, and aggression. In the midst of this hypocrisy, then, and in your failure to learn to trust in an unseen God, you essentially learned to believe only in what you can see. Instead of taking God seriously, you end up taking God for granted.

Here’s an example to help explain what I mean. 

Have you ever noticed some people in church who are so overweight that they cannot kneel? If you ask them, they will tell you that kneeling hurts their back. But why do they have back pain? Isn’t it from overeating and failing to exercise? [2] Now, I’m not going to argue with anyone about who is really disabled and who is just using feelings of vicitmization to get sympathy or be treated as “special.” The point is this: Take one of these people crying “victim” [3] and put a gun to her head and say, “Get down on your knees and give me all your money or I will kill you!” She will be on her knees in an instant, begging you to let her live. To save her life, she will forget her pain and kneel. She will give up all the money she has with her, and all her jewelry, to save her life.

And what does Christ tell us about this? “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one” (Luke 12:4-5).

In case you’re not clear about this, who is “the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna”? Well, it’s God himself, who, as our creator, has power over our bodies and our souls.

Yet we will kneel before a gunman, but before God—our creator and judge—we refuse to kneel or genuflect, saying it’s too inconvenient, too painful, or just not necessary.

Why should this be? Well, it can be summed up in one word: belief.

We can easily believe that a man with a gun can kill anyone. But many of us don’t really believe that God cares about our every thought and action. Many of us don’t really believe that the theological concept of sin is relevant today or that our sins separate us from God’s love. Many of us don’t really believe that hell, the antithesis of love, exists. Many of us don’t really believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist as evidence of His love for us—or if we do believe it, we believe it only intellectually. And so many of us don’t really believe that our salvation depends on giving up everything contrary to love in order to serve God in total purity and humility. 

Many of us don’t really believe any of this because we are too preoccupied with “believing in” [4] the world around us, chasing after every illusory self-satisfying pleasure it shows us in the promise of numbing the emotional pain of childhood victimization. We refuse to deny ourselves because the world seems too real, too much of a good thing, too close at hand, too accessible, too comforting in our loneliness.

But Christianity is something else entirely. Christ does not numb our pain—He heals it, if only we believe in Him. He quenches our thirst for real life if only we turn away from the water of the world—water that has to be drawn again and again—and seek the living water that quenches our thirst forever.

  

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. There is here a particular reference to ourselves; we hold in our hearts one we have not seen in the flesh. We are included in these words, but only if we follow up our faith with good works. The true believer practices what he believes. But of those who pay only lip service to faith, Paul has this to say: They profess to know God, but they deny him in their works. Therefore James says: Faith without works is dead.

  

— From a homily on the Gospels
by Saint Gregory the Great, pope,
Office of Readings,
July 3: Thomas, Apostle

If only you would believe.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). And what did Christ say just before that? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have believed (John 20:29). 

And so, in the end, there’s only one thing left to say. You cannot fix yourself. Numbing your emotional pain heals nothing and only keeps you enslaved to unconscious feelings of victimization. Only Christ can fix you, if you really believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God—and if you are willing to do everything it takes [5] to kneel before Him in awe and love.

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes

1.  A conflict refers to the psychological fact that one part of your mind wants healing and health and another part of your mind resists healing. This resistance usually derives from two things. First, because you have been so mistreated by others, in the depths of your unconscious you secretly believe that you are worthless and don’t deserve anything good. Second, because you are so angry at others for having mistreated you, you experience a certain unconscious satisfaction in maintaining feelings of victimization so that you can “throw your pain back into their faces” in protest. Thus, to be psychologically and spiritually healed you must recognize and resolve your conflicts about healing itself.

2.  I have learned through both clinical practice and research that back pain can be reduced profoundly by changing negative thinking, practicing relaxation, and following an exercise and weight loss program. Those persons who reject (or “drop out” of) this treatment essentially reject the belief that their own behavior can affect pain perception—and so they remain “victims” of circumstance, trapped in fear, separated from the healing that Christ could bring them if only they would believe in Him more than they “believe in” their stomachs. So the choice is simple: use body fat to defend your identity as a victimized child, or trust completely in Christ, understanding that in exchange for your service to Him, He will defend you from all that can threaten you.

3.  In the ancient sense of the word, victim means an animal offered in sacrifice. These sacrificial animals, however, did not offer themselves—they were taken from the flocks—and so, through the ages, the term victim became unconsciously associated with the idea of someone who (a) loses something against his will or (b) is cheated or duped by another. Consequently, in modern secular society at least, the meaning of a holy victim has been lost to us, and our use of the term victim carries with it all the unconscious resentment we feel for being cheated, duped, or unfairly treated. In essence, according to today’s language, a victim is someone who has been victimized.
     And so, when we call someone a victim today we imply that the person suffered unwillingly and unfairly; moreover, according to modern sensibilities, we unconsciously assume that this injustice deserves some compensation. If the compensation does not come freely, we demand it. We sue. We protest. We even kill.
     This very attitude, this bitterness and resentment for having been treated unfairly, is the poison that prevents emotional wounds from healing.
     In contrast, those who give the pain to God free themselves from unconscious resentment and blame; in letting their suffering joyfully flow through them in imitation of Christ as the true holy victim, they choose not to feel victimized. No matter what happens to them, they never lose the mystical peace of healing through divine love.

4.  The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan said, “To believe in? What does it mean? If not to believe in beings in so far as they are able to say something.” So, when we believe in Jesus, we choose to listen to Him as the Word of God, knowing very well that He has something to say to us. Therefore, to believe in Him, we believe Him—that’s called love. In contrast, when we believe in the world, we make of it an idol that (we suppose) can “speak” to us. And God knows how much we listen to the world’s entertainment rather than listen to Him in prayer.

  

See Jacques Lacan, “Seminar of 21 January 1975.” In Mitchell, J. & Rose, J. (Eds.), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne (New York: W. W. Norton [paperback], 1985), p. 169.
 

5.  Such as living in chastity, praying constantly, reading the Bible and Catechism, studying the writings of the saints, stopping smoking, giving up the need to be entertained by the world—and losing weight! In short, everything recommended in the Counsels 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.