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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

One question... not to challenge you... I am looking for understanding. You write that saints love in a real way meaning they give up all carnal things in the world, even identification about themselves, even anger at God which is a human emotion at times. Then, your psychology website consistently talks about acknowledging human feelings or emotions to heal fragmentation but on the other hand, you write that feelings of simple love, defenses, bribery, victim thinking, etc. are illusions opposed to real love. So what are saints giving up if everything in the world is an illusion and that our very humanness itself is to be denied as an illusion? It would seem harder (greater love) to acknowledge such gifts from God, such difficult choices as being fully human as God created us and loves us instead of denying their existence as though we are not human.

Outline of the Answer
• Psychological Defenses
• Becoming a Saint
• Dying to the Self

Actually, our very humanness itself is not to be denied as an illusion. Christ made that perfectly clear to us: 

Though He was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God
something to be grasped at.
Rather, He emptied
 [1] Himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of men.
He was known to be of human estate,
and it was thus that He humbled Himself,
obediently accepting even death,
death on a cross! 

—Philippians 2:6-8

So, given that the humanity of Jesus is both theologically and psychologically true, what do the saints give up when they give up “carnal things in the world” if they aren’t denying the humanity that Christ embraced for our redemption?

Psychological Defenses

Well, when the Saints—or any Christians—give up “carnal things in the world,” they are not denying their humanity; instead, they are giving up their  psychological defenses, because psychological defenses [2] are illusions. They are illusions because they are based in all the “carnal things in the world” that we use to cover over and hide our weakness and vulnerability—the truth about our humanity—rather than accept our cross and turn to God for protection.

The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan taught that “I” is an illusion. Illusions fill a person with repetitive assertions of what “I want” and what “I need” and what “I deserve” and what “I fear.” To overcome these illusions, individuals must turn their attention to what they can give to others—that is, to all the emotionally wounded individuals in this world—through personal sacrifice and prayer. This, after all, is what true love is all about, and illusions, in one way or another, do their psychological best to maintain the fear of love.


In the field of psychology and psychoanalysis, only one psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, clearly understood and articulated the unconscious aspects of our human brokenness. Psychoanalysis, though, can offer no healing from this wretched state of being; all psychoanalysis can do is encourage us to face our being through an honest awareness of its lack. Real healing for our brokenness comes only from Christ in the broken bread of the Eucharist, but as long as we keep defending our own unconscious attempts to protect ourselves from emotional pain, we will never be able to allow Christ to heal us.


Therefore, in turning to illusions to protect what “I” want, we turn away from true love. And when we turn away from true love we hide from God in sin. And when we hide from God, we aren’t fooling anyone but ourselves. 


Most of us have more psychological defenses than we have faith. Just try telling some of those “devout Catholics” that they are lacking in faith, and the anger, bitterness, and victimization that they spew back at you only prove the point that their faith is really lacking.


The saints are those who have simply decided to stop fooling themselves. They have repented the folly of defensive illusions and have embraced the true Faith. And embracing the true Faith they embrace their humanness fully, freed from slavery to sin, as God intended our humanness to be embraced: by pure, divine love.

Read an excerpt about spiritual blindness
by Saint Theophilus of Antioch, bishop

Becoming a Saint

So how do you become a saint? Is it even possible? Of course it’s possible—and everyone is called to it.


Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.


—Matthew 16:24-25


This is not a command for virgins to obey and brides to ignore, for widows and not for married women, for monks and not for married men, or for the clergy and not for the laity. No, the whole Church, the entire body, all the members in their distinct and varied functions, must follow Christ. . . . They must take up their cross by enduring in the world for Christ’s sake whatever pain the world brings.



—from a sermon by St. Augustine, bishop
 Office of Readings, Common of Holy Men

Therefore, if you really want to be a Christian, you must lose your life for Christ’s sake—you must “die” to yourself in baptism and remain faithful thereafter to your baptismal promises.

And most likely you were baptized as an infant and have long since forsaken those promises.

Now, then, it’s time to turn back to those promises before it’s too late.


Every sin you commit after your baptism will be accounted for, and you will pay for them all, either in Purgatory or in hell, depending on whether you repent or not. It’s all your choice.


Dying to the Self

You can begin this process psychologically by acknowledging your “human feelings or emotions”—all of them: the good, the bad, and the “ugly”. See them for what they are in their full reality. Look clearly at the childhood wounds you have suffered from family dysfunction: the lies, the game-playing, the manipulation, the hypocrisy.

Then see your psychological defenses—the defenses that protect you from honestly acknowledging the truth of your emotional pain—for what they are, in their full reality. Open your eyes and stop hiding from yourself: stop defiling your own body, and stop using other persons as objects for your own narcissistic fulfillment.

Then detach yourself from all the self-indulgent satisfactions of the social world that, until now, have pushed God out of your life, causing you, despite your baptism, to live just as any other “Gentile” in a world of modern “Gentile” impurity.


So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess. That is not how you learned Christ—assuming that you have heard of Him and were taught in Him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth. 


—Ephesians 4:17-24

This, then is what “dying to the self” and being “born again” is all about: putting away the old self, along with all its illusions, and putting on a new self in Christ. But beware—this is not a mere intellectual idea; it’s something you must do from the depths of your being. It means becoming an instrument of God’s will, dedicating your being and your talents completely to the salvation of others.

Read an excerpt about death to sin and life in the Spirit
by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, bishop

Furthermore, to remain pure, remain obedient to the teachings of the Church, even though the world—and other Catholics—will crucify you for your faith. Feel all the pain of the broken human world that will persecute you for your fidelity to the Truth, and then, without seeking revenge for your injuries, entrust the pain to God’s justice. Turn to God in all things; pray constantly for God’s mercy, and give mercy to others.

If you do all this you will be living a chaste and pure life of humility, freed from illusions, and capable of true love.

It’s all very simple, it’s all very real, it’s all very true to the human experience—and it all derives from divine love.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.

—Matthew 5:8


Who wrote this web page?


1. The Greek word translated here as “empty” is kenosis, a great mystery that illustrates the process of divine love seen not just in the Incarnation but also in the giving of the Holy Spirit. And, behind all of this, stands God’s emptying of Himself in His act of creation, a pure act of love.

2. Sadly, persons untrained in psychology have a tendency to scoff at the idea of unconscious defenses. “That’s ridiculous. My life isn’t controlled by defenses. I’m not secretly afraid of the world!” Therefore, such persons have three choices. They can enter psychotherapy and find out for themselves that what I say is true. Or they can submit to spiritual purgation, as described by Saint John of the Cross, and as I explain on this website, let the Holy Spirit show them what is true. Perhaps, like Saint Catherine of Genoa, they will find “many natural desires destroyed within me which had previous seemed to me very good and perfect; but when they were thus removed I saw that they had been depraved and faulty, and . . . which, being hidden from me, I had not supposed myself to possess” (Life and Doctrine, XXIV). And the third option? They can continue to believe that saintliness is a “denial of humanity,” and in the process they can essentially deny their capacity for holiness. In that case, they will have to stand on that terrible day before Christ the Judge and find out the hard way what’s true and what isn’t.


Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

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.

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