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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

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Questions and Answers
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I recently read your article in which you described Obedience out of Spite and how it can present in those in religious life (or those discerning religious life). I grew up the youngest in a small Catholic family. I am 24 and living at home, and it has taken me all these years to realise that my mother is verbally and emotionally abusive. She can be highly critical, controlling, and cruel towards us (with name calling, sarcasm, fault finding, etc.). My father works away for weeks at a time. I know that I have emotional wounds from this. I often struggle with anger, resentment, and lack of forgiveness towards my mother (which I am bringing to Confession). I have spent a couple of years discerning religious life with a spiritual director but I am afraid I am too sinful and damaged to be a religious. My mother often says things such as, “You can't even survive in this house, how would you make a good nun?”
 
Do you have any advice for someone in my position—especially how to become a truly good religious (God willing), despite the emotional wounds?

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Outline of the Answer
• The Love-Hate Conflict
• Psychological and Behavioral Consequences
• Healing from Psychological and Spiritual Chaos
• The Danger of Sabotage by Worldly Pleasures
• Summary

 
This is a good question that applies not only to someone considering religious life but also to any Catholic traumatized by emotional wounds from an abusive mother.

Any child growing up with an abusive mother such as you describe will be emotionally torn with two conflicting psychological forces. First, because the child naturally wants the nurturing love that any good mother should give to a child, the child will wish for, and hope for, the mother’s love, despite any abuse inflicted on the child by the mother. But, at the same time, the child, suffering from the hurt of continuing abuse, will hate the mother for the unfair pain and suffering she inflicts on the child.

Furthermore, the role of a father will be a factor in how the child copes with the mother’s abuse. If the father is emotionally strong and courageous and can stand up to the mother, and if he can be a source of encouragement to the child and protect the child’s sense of self-worth, then the child can survive the mother’s abuse without being paralyzed by it. But if the father is emotionally uninvolved with the child, or if he is absent because of work or divorce, then the child will flounder in life with no sense of guidance or protection. This can result in the child being angry with the father and being afflicted with the “nothings” of a failed father. And ultimately, because the father is the first image of God for any child, the child will hate and blame God for (seemingly) abandoning the child to an empty, miserable life.

As a result of the love-hate conflict about an abusive mother and the misery of a failed father, there can be many dysfunctional psychological and behavioral consequences. You may have experienced some of them.

 
Psychological and Behavioral Consequences

Here are some of the common consequences of wanting a mother’s love from an abusive mother.

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Trying to make her love you. “If only I give her this, or do that for her, or never disagree with her, then maybe she will love me.”

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Stifling your success to show her how much she has hurt you. “Maybe if she sees how pathetic I am she will have pity on me and start to love me.”

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Stifling your success to show her that you really do deserve failure and that she was right about you being so bad all along. “Maybe if she sees that I agree with her that I am really a bad and deplorable child then she will like me and start to love me.”

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Trying to get pleasure from other sources. Sex, food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, competitive sports, entertainment, and gambling all offer sensations of pleasure. You can throw yourself into any or all or them in an attempt to fill your emotional emptiness. But it’s all impossible because no carnal pleasures can fill the emptiness left by a cruel mother. Thus, even as you believe that you are enjoying “motherly love,” you will secretly hate yourself for being an empty lost soul.

Here are some of the common consequences of hate and anger.

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Rumination about injuries that you cannot erase from your memory.

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A constant focusing on fantasies of revenge.

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A constant focusing on the hated abuser that disturbs your sleep, causes frightening dreams, and leaves you with a dark and weary aversion to getting up in the morning.

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Self-hatred for being a “failure”.

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An angry disposition that can erupt at any moment for even a slight opposition to your will.

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Using sensual pleasure hide the hate, making it seem that you are enjoying yourself when really you hate yourself. It’s much like painting over rust to make it look bright and shiny.

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Blaming God for causing you to suffer.

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Believing that God hates you.

For many individuals, these dysfunctional psychological and behavioral consequences of an abusive mother and a failed father tend to be accepted as inevitable by saying, “That’s just the way I am.” Other individuals tend to excuse the consequences by saying, “Everyone does it.” Nevertheless, whether the consequences are accepted as inevitable or casually excused, the underlying emotional trauma from childhood will persist in the unconscious where it will cripple a person’s psychological and spiritual growth.

  

“You’re lazy.” “You’re bad.” “You’re just a piece of garbage.” “You will never amount to anything.” “I should have killed you before you were born.” These sorts of cruel words from a mother will terrify a child. And then, throughout his or her life, any perception of any cruel words from anyone will trigger feelings of helplessness and terror; the belief “I’m doomed” will be overwhelming; anger will erupt; and flight into dysfunctional defenses will seem to be the only option to cope with the pain and fear.

  

 
Healing from Psychological and Spiritual Chaos

Real healing from this psychological and spiritual chaos can occur with proper psychological treatment. In the course of the healing work, the traumatic emotional hurt is admitted and contained with language. But it must be faced without anger. Although all the injury inflicted on you requires justice, only God can administer real and perfect justice. All of your hate and anger are imperfect attempts to achieve justice with your own hands, and, being imperfect, they are bound to fail and leave you psychologically and spiritually crippled. But if you leave the justice to God, you will be relinquishing your anger and hatred—and this is the meaning of forgiveness.

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Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or ignoring your injuries. “Oh, she didn’t really mean it. Forget it.” Well, no, regardless of the reason for the injury, it really hurt you, and you have to deal with the emotional consequences of it. Ignoring the injury only sends it deep into your unconscious where it will stew in hidden anger.

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Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for the ones who injured you. “Oh, my parents did good things for me. I’m the one at fault.” Well, no, if your parents really were as good as you believe they were, then you wouldn’t be the emotional mess you are now.

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Forgiveness does not mean condemning your mother or father to hell. God, in His perfect justice can determine what is in a person’s heart, and if true repentance is there, then God will have mercy. Nevertheless, whatever occurs in God’s justice is none of your business. Your business is the salvation of your soul.

This psychological work can be done in formal psychological treatment, or it can be done through prayer and spiritual guidance. Sadly, though, many spiritual guides (including priests in Confession) lack an understanding of psychology and the functioning of the unconscious, and so they can miss the point of the real work that needs to be accomplished.

 
The Danger of Sabotage by Worldly Pleasures

Regardless of how the psychological treatment occurs, keep in mind that any success and growth you achieve is vulnerable to being sabotaged by worldly pleasures. Just as you seem to be making progress, you will hear an internal voice saying, “It’s too hard. I want comfort.” This danger is greatest at the beginning of the work, but it will persist throughout anyone’s life, lay or religious, as an ongoing battle. For protection, then, follow these suggestions.

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Learn to love God not to avoid hell but simply and purely to love God. Pray, with all your mind and heart and soul and strength, for God to teach you how to love Him.

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Do your healing work for love, not out of fear. Keep in your mind this truth: Sin is bad not because it will send you to hell but because it will push you away from God.

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Remember that no matter how much you sin, God does not hate you. He disapproves of your sin, but he does not hate you. He wants you to get to heaven to be with Him.

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Accept the fact that your mother will not say, “Sorry.” Accept the fact that you will have to get on in life without your mother’s love. Then accept the fact that all is not really lost. To experience the love of a caring mother, turn in prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Seek her out as the remedy for the motherly love that was missing in your childhood.

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Pray not out of duty but for spiritual protection. In its psychological sense, duty has nothing to do with love. When you act out of duty you are trying either to gain someone’s approval or to avoid losing someone’s approval. Love, in contrast, has no ulterior goal; the purpose of love is love. Love for God is the only protection against evil.

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You most need constant contemplative prayer that will keep you close to God at all times. And you need short, simple prayers for help, such as “God, I’m so alone,” or “God, show me what to do.” Vocal prayers such as the Rosary have their own purpose, but they are intellectual work that does little to facilitate psychological healing. Healing from emotional trauma requires intimate prayer of the heart so that, in intimate closeness with God, you can actually and personally believe that God loves you.

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Recognize your false beliefs and negative thoughts and renounce them as soon as they arise. Note that this is a lifelong task, and part of the battle against evil, for everyone, lay and religious.

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Renounce all of your defensive practices as illusions. In order to be healed from the trauma of abuse, you must realize that you have been worshiping your defenses as idols. Gluttony, tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption, marijuana, pornography, and masturbation—all give the appearance of being friends and sources of comfort, but by worshiping them you fail to worship God, and that failure leads you right into psychological and spiritual doom. Thus it will be important to renounce those defenses as openings to evil—so give up any hope of ever going back to them again.

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You need a wise ego state to be a good parent to the wounded child ego states. This wise ego state can explain things to the child states and encourage them to seek healthy behavior. And it can teach self-discipline to them.

 
Summary

To summarize, to be a truly good Catholic is, first of all, to be a someone who has overcome childhood emotional wounds and who can love God from the heart. A truly good Catholic fights constantly in the great spiritual battle against evil. Finally, a truly good Catholic has a mission and profession to love God always and everywhere at any cost.

 

Related Pages

Finding love when love was missing in childhood
Depression because of a narcissistic mother
Distancing from a narcissistic mother

 

Who wrote this web page?

 

Giving the Pain To God
The Path to Emotional Healing and Forgiveness

book
by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

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bookIn contrast to all the human illusion—and folly—of anger and revenge, you have another option. That is, when you are hurt, you don’t have to fight back, trying to hurt others as they have hurt you. If you trust in God’s perfect justice to protect you, then you can accept all injury quietly, peacefully, and without grumbling or protest. Despite your injuries, you can give patience, understanding, compassion, forbearance, mercy, and forgiveness to those who hurt you, all the while praying that they will repent their behavior. Moreover, even if others continue to treat you unfairly, you can still achieve healing from your emotional and psychological wounds and grow in purity simply because you desire healing regardless of what others around you do.

More information

 

 

Fear
A Catholic Explanation of a Universal Problem

book
by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

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bookFear. One small word, and yet so much hangs on it.
 
Fear keeps alcoholics drinking, addicts addicted, and wretched sinners stuck in sin like quicksand. In fearing the darkness of the human psyche you never get to feel the true joy of real light. Because, after all, the light of truth illuminates the dark and shows the darkness for what it is. So there you are, in full irony: in your fear of the dark, you end up fearing love itself.
 
Still, despite the fear, there is hope. The shards of broken love can be repaired.

More Information

 

 

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