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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I have been a Christian (now Catholic) for about 15 years and have experienced a lot of emotional healing compared to where I was before, which was a deeply unhappy almost-alcoholic with a history of disastrous relationships. Today I am a lot better after many years of prayer and seeking God, but I still carry substantial emotional pain and I am hoping for a breakthrough.
      My family was not Christian and was very dysfunctional, which had been passed down the generations. My parents were narcissistic, emotionally abusive and neglectful and sometimes physically abusive. They had few friends or family so I had little support from adults and so was very isolated and unhappy as a child. I left home with no ability to discern my own emotions, other than intense rage/pain when it surfaced, or to have closeness with people, and I had successive brief romantic relationships that were incredibly painful when they ended. I find attachment theory helpful to understand my issues—I am both very anxious to have an attachment and am avoidant of attachment: a “fearful avoidant”, which is a pretty miserable place to be.
      Through much painful work I have dug down and exposed intense hatred, anger, rage and wishes for revenge towards my parents. I have tried to express this in writing and in prayer and I think it has lessened, but it is still there. My feelings of intense pain at abandonment and rejection come up whenever I am in a romantic relationship.
      I know I have deep and intense longings for love—for attention, for positive regard, for time, for physical affection, that have existed since I was a child. This can make me needy and tearful in a relationship and ultimately selfish—God has been showing me the difference between this and real love. And yet I still have that need, and it often overrides my behaviour and good intentions, as it is powerful and overwhelming.
      Sometimes I connect with God’s love and it is a blessed relief. Yet somehow it doesn’t stop me getting into relationships with very avoidant or narcissistic men who are neglectful and abusive. In the last one, it was obvious that he was not capable of being kind, caring or supportive, he even warned me of this, but I was so attracted to him that I went on regardless, and unsurprisingly it has ended with a lot of pain. I am very tired of being lonely and really want to heal further.

Outline of the Answer
• Something Missing
• The Problem with Romantic Relationships
• As a Child Sees Things
• The Fullness of Healing

 
Gou have done good work in trying to face the emotional wounds inflicted by your parents. Yet, like many people, you have encountered the fact that something is still missing in the healing work. Nevertheless, even though it has been missing, your description of things has pointed to it; that is, because the problem has “existed since I was a child,” the solution to the problem requires thinking like a child rather than as an adult. Thus what has been missing in your healing journey so far is your ability to see things as a child sees them, rather than make constant attempts as an adult to solve the problem with adult methods.

 
The Problem with Romantic Relationships

Consider, then, that romantic relationships are really just an adult method to try to acquire the experience of being given the attention, positive regard, time, and physical affection that you as a child needed from your parents. Furthermore, because your parents were abusive, you unconsciously have been seeking relationships with which you are familiar: abusive relationships. Following the path to which we are accustomed is a common human tendency; in some cases it can work well, but in cases requiring a change of behavior it can be a stifling impediment that leads to disaster.

 
As a Child Sees Things

Therefore, at this point let’s look at things as a child sees them. A child will see only the aching need for something, the fear of not having it, and the desperation to get it. In this desperation the child will not consider danger because the child cannot comprehend danger. Essentially the child will run—often recklessly—to whomever or whatever holds out the promise of attention, positive regard, time, and physical affection. This is why a child will get into a car with a complete stranger who offers candy. The (seeming) promise of a “friend” will override all prudence. If you can understand this tendency of a child to run to a “friend,” then you can understand your adult behavior. You run to men, especially abusive men, because a child part of you sees only the hope of a “friend.” It’s the child part of you, not your adult reasoning, that gets you into trouble. When led by the child’s desperation, you would likely jump into bed with the devil himself if he smiled at you.

So let’s say that again: When led by the child’s desperation, you would likely jump into bed with the devil himself if he smiled at you.

  
The Fullness of Healing

Consequently, for the fullness of your healing it will be necessary to consider what has been missing so far: your ability to consider the child’s fear and desperation while also providing parental guidance to that child. It may sound odd, but for you to heal from the wounds afflicted on you by your parents it will be necessary for you to learn how to be a parent to your own inner child.[1] When the child gets fearful and desperate, you can say to the child, “I understand how much you want a friend. I understand that you are afraid, and  this person who seems to be a friend is really dangerous for us, so I won’t allow us to get involved with him. Instead, I will show you where there is real friendship: in God’s love.”

So, rather than your trying to connect with God’s love as an adult, listen to the child, allow the child to cry, and then show the child how to pray with you. Be a parent to her. Teach her and show her how to connect with God’s love just as a good parent would teach an actual child.

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. This term “inner child,” though often a cliché in modern psychology, is technically called an ego state. See my webpage about Personality and Its Disorders for an explanation of this term.

 


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