cant carry your cross
if youre carrying resentment.
Catholic Psychotherapy |
Spiritual Counsels |
Spiritual Healing |
Anger and Revenge |
Another Option |
Transformation Through Prayer |
Victimization and Child Abuse |
Giving the Pain to God (Acknowledge
the Pain; Relax; Be Transparent; Pray) |
Offer it Up! |
Its Really Hard Work
the process of spiritual healing, lets look first at what happens when
you are hurt in some way.
Most people react to hurt by
immediately trying to do something about it.
Physical injury often requires some
sort of physical treatment. Physical injury can also be treated, in part, with
mental imagery and prayer. A wound, for example, has to be cleaned and bandaged
and cared for with positive thoughts of its healing while asking God for the grace
and patience you need to endure the pain and to understand the symbolic meaning
of the pain.
Emotional pain, however, presents more
of a problem. Many people treat emotional pain by hiding it; that is, they do
something self-gratifying—such as drink alcohol, use drugs, masturbate, gamble,
watch TV or movies, eat sweets or fats, and so on—that numbs the pain but that
does nothing to heal it. Many people also use anger and revenge to respond to
hurt when the cause of the hurt can be identified as a thing or a person, as
opposed to natural phenomena.
We all feel hurt or irritated when
someone or something obstructs our needs or desires. The obstruction can be something
ordinary, such as a child being told that it cannot eat ice cream before dinner;
it can be something more serious, such as someone being late for a meeting; or it
can be something that can bring us to the boiling point, such as a rude driver who
gets in our way.
Unlike the feeling of irritation, though,
anger is not truly an emotion. For many persons, this statement is counter-intuitive
and confusing. Emotions serve to inform us about our spontaneous reaction to the
reality around us; we are not morally responsible for our emotions, and therefore
they are not sins. Yet in its true psychological sense anger refers to the desire
to hurt the cause of the hurt, and revenge refers to ways in which that hurt can be
accomplished, and so, unlike emotions, anger and revenge are both acts of will for
which we are morally culpable.
is not a feeling, it is possible to be angry even though you
do not feel anything. This is the problem with unconscious anger:
you dont feel the anger, so, even as it works its poison in you, you
believe it isnt even there.
Revenge, too, has its way of being
hidden from direct awareness. Although it can be enacted openly and actively
through hostility, cursing, sarcasm, sexuality
(pornography, promiscuity, adultery, etc.), or disobedience
to authority, it can also be enacted secretly and passively through passive-aggression
as well as through self-sabotagefor example, drug
or alcohol abuse, obesity,
masturbation, or the
inability to achieve goals.
But, just as with hiding the hurt,
revenge does not heal the hurt either. That’s because all hurt, at its core,
is simply a reminder of your essential human vulnerability
We are all vulnerable to injury and death, and we are all helpless to overpower
death. Even if you kill the person who hurts you, you still remain vulnerable to
another attack from someone else. With all revenge, then, you might temporarily
feel powerful, but that feeling is just an illusion.
No matter what you do, you remain vulnerable to attack from anyone, anywhere.
In contrast to all this
human illusionand follyyou have another option. That is, when you are hurt,
you dont have to fight back,
trying to hurt others as they have hurt you. If you trust in Gods
perfect justice to protect you, you can accept all
injury quietly, peacefully, and without grumbling or
protest. Despite your injuries, you can give patience,
understanding, compassion, forbearance,
to those who hurt you, all the while praying that
they will repent their wickedness.
Moreover, even if others continue to treat
you unfairly you can still achieve healing from your emotional and psychological wounds.
If you remember always that nobodynot even Godowes you anything, then you
will be able to grow in purity simply because you desire
healing, regardless of what others around you do.
So lets learn the process by which
this can be done.
Emotional healing starts with your
taking up relentless, persistent prayer to God (and to the saints and angels
for their intercession) that you will grow in holiness; then it will be
necessary to force yourself to maintain a calm trust in Gods
protection and guidance despite your fears of admitting your own helplessness
and despite your impatience with things not happening as quickly
as you want.
STOP PANIC AND RAGE
The part of your brain
that pushes you into panic and rage when you experience emotional hurt is a primitive
part of the brain that understands behavior, not language, and that has been conditioned
by past traumas to equate emotional distress with
physical danger. When your body feels the first distress of emotional hurt, your
brain interprets it as a danger and sends a signal to your body to pump out fight-or-flight
chemicals that cause physiological arousal.
Now, if you believe that
there is a danger, and that you have to fight against it, you only encourage your
brain to keep on pumping out more fight-or-flight chemicals, and eventually this process
escalates and you succumb to an impulse of revenge. Moreover, you can’t stop the uproar
just by telling yourself to stop it. As I said before, the part of your brain that
pushes you into panic and rage when you experience emotional hurt doesn’t understand
language. It only understands behavior—and this brings us to the real solution to the
The only way to stop the
emotional uproar is to act deliberately in a way that tells your brain that there
is no danger. So, instead of fast, shallow breathing take long, slow, deep breaths. Instead
of staring around in a frenzy, close your eyes. Instead of clenching your muscles, loosen
them. Instead of allowing racing thoughts, set yourself some simple cognitive task,
such as counting backwards from 100—or pray the Jesus Prayer as described below. These
behaviors are body signals that tell your brain you are not in danger, and subsequently
your brain will shut down the fight-or-flight chemicals, and you will experience a calm
To begin to heal your emotional wounds,
then, bow down before the Crucifix and, looking to divine
justice, surrender the pride of taking matters into
your own hands to avenge your hurts. In imitation of Him who accepted injury confidently,
quietly, peacefully, and, without grumbling or murmuring, say, Lord, I am wounded.
I hurt. I am helpless. I am broken. I am vulnerable. Nothing I can do by my own hands can
protect me. Help me, for without your mercy and protection, I
will perish. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. Help me to continue my work
in your service despite the fact that I feel [betrayed, abandoned,
unloved, insulted, falsely accused, etc.].
Never forget that your tears are
prayers. Although your suffering does not have any
redemptive valuethat is, it does not make things right between you
and God, nor does it make you special in Gods eyesyour ability
to suffer gracefully will lead to your spiritual growth. Let God, then, do what He
will to transform your suffering into courage and perseverance and trust.
AND CHILD ABUSE
especially those who have been abused emotionally, physically, or sexually
tend to recoil from the idea of suffering, primarily
because they unconsciously
equate suffering with punishmentthe
same unjust, unfair, and irrational punishment they received at the hands of their
abusers. It was this irrational punishment that caused their pain
to sink down into the terrifying depths of rage and
anger, to be hidden in the dark corners of the
unconscious, shrouded in victimization. Therefore, even as adults, there will
always be a child-like part of us who seeks some recognition of our pain and some
compensation for any hurt we suffer.
the resentment underlying this victimization can spawn either of two pernicious
attitudes to life: disobedience and false obedience.
disobedience, a person rebels openly against
authority, using tactics such as protest,
undermining of traditional beliefs, and
flouting of traditional moral values. Such
persons derive recognition from being seen as free thinkers, and
they derive compensation for their wounds from watching destruction come to others.
obedience a person gives the appearance of obedience but instead of acting
from love acts from spite: All right. So youre going to
treat me miserably? Well, Ill show you! Ill take everything you can dish out and
Ill take it without a murmur, even if it kills me. So there! Such persons derive
recognition from seeing themselves as victims, and they derive compensation for
their wounds from unconsciously making destruction come upon themselves. Hence the danger here
is that such persons tend to slip into the belief that if only they suffer enough then those
who have been unfairly rejecting them will eventually be moved to accept themand this
leads right into all the fruitless self-destruction of masochism.
The biggest problem with masochism is
that it clings to the false belief that personal suffering is somehow redemptive, and so it
ignores the true redemption worked out in Christs passion, death, and resurrection.
Christ accepted all suffering willingly, not as a
and, in carrying the cross, He bore for our sake the pain of all unfair, unjust,
and irrational punishment. He gave meaning to suffering. That is, He bore it all
openly and without anger for our redemption from
sin, and, in doing so, He showed us that real
love means the willingness to bear the emotional pain of others, suffering for them in
the hope of their salvation.
If only you would
pray for others and take up your suffering as Christ didnot as
self-punishment, but as a gift of forgiveness to othersthen you would
no longer need to hide your pain and you would no longer be
terrified of your own capacity for anger; then you
could listen honestly to your family and friends, to bear their anger without
flinching from it, and to help them heal their pain and take up their own
This is hard work because
unconscious defensive patterns of behavior
get started in early childhood as protective mechanisms.
To fall into these patterns of behavior does not mean that you are bad; such
behavior can be changed through intense scrutiny (along with
psychotherapy, if necessary) and a constant
reliance on Gods mercy.
Giving the Pain
Pray, therefore, that the healing
process will happen within you. But pray for it
Ask God that you will be
Ask God for the courage to see
the truth of your life, especially its ugly and embarrassing resentments
and temptations, especially those that lurk in
the darkness of your unconscious.
Ask God for the strength to not
flinch from the pain of seeing the truth about yourself.
Ask God that everything you do
will be directed to your purification from anger and hostility and resentment
Then, all it takes to give the
pain to God is to work through four successive phases of understanding whenever
you feel hurt.
Feel the hurt, rather than push
it out of awareness. Turn to Christ, and speaking to Him as you would speak
to another person, tell Him what happened, tell Him how you feel, and ask
Him for help.
If someone insults you, acknowledge
to yourself and to God
what that person did to you and admit that you feel belittled; if someone
cheats you, acknowledge to yourself and to God what that person did to you
and admit that you feel manipulated and vulnerable; if someone obstructs
you, acknowledge to yourself and to God what that person did to you and admit
that you feel helpless. And so on.
Admit your weakness, your
brokennessand ask God for His
strength to carry you through despite your feelings.
I willingly boast
of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I am
content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions
and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then
that I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9b-10
Mind you, this does not mean
disavowing human emotions; its a genuine
embracing of human emotional life in its full
realitywhich leads us to the next
When you feel injured, it will
be humanly natural to want to take matters into your own hands to get revenge.
So pay attention to your fantasies of revenge.
Some of them will spring up right in front of you, but others will be hidden
in the depths of your unconscious, and you will be tempted to believe they do
not even exist and that you are past all
resentments. So use psychological and spiritual scrutiny to recognize those
fantasies, but resist the temptation to act on
them. When someone hurts you, resist the temptation to respond with sarcasm or
arguments or hostility or cursingor self-blame
and self-punishment. Look to divine justice, not to bitter revenge.
And when things, rather
than other persons, obstruct yousuch as traffic lights that turn red
when youre in a hurry, or things that break when youre under
pressure to get a job doneaccept it quietly and
obediently as Gods wise intervention for your
Just say, All right. This
is teaching me something, and in due time I will understand. Right now I
dont know why this is happening, but since this is what You want, then
I will accept it. I trust in You in all things. But it hurts! So please give
me the strength and courage to get me through this.
What if it is
the devil tripping you up, rather than God intervening
for your instruction? How do you tell the difference? Well, you dont
have to know the difference. Just accept everything gracefully as a glorious
act of obedience to God. If the devil trips you up and discovers that his
efforts result in glorifying God, he will get tired of you very quickly and
leave you alone.
As you acknowledge and feel the
pain, let it pass through you into Christs hands, like sunlight through
Remember that whatever anyone does to you is done to Christ
When you are mocked, Christ is mocked; when you are cheated, Christ is cheated;
when you are abused, Christ is abused; when you are obstructed, Christ is obstructed.
Every sin inflicted on anyone is inflicted on Christ, and Christ alone has the power
to administer true justice for all injury. So put your wounds in His hands and
trust in His justice.
Healing is simply our return
to God in humility. There is no healing for our
brokenness except the broken bread of the Eucharist. There is no healing
except through Him who accepted all pain, quietly, peacefully, without grumbling
or murmuringfor our sake. There is no healing except in
But if you do
forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your
For the judgment
is merciless to one who has not shown
After acknowledging and feeling
the pain, resisting the temptations to revenge, and letting the pain pass
through you, then pray. To give the pain to God is to stop trying to take
matters into your own handsby hiding your pain, by dwelling on resentments,
by protest, or by plotting revengeand instead
to pray for those who hurt you and to pray that you will learn to approach
God in humility so as to accept the true and perfect healing He offers us.
So pray for your enlightenmentand pray for the repentance of those
who hurt you.
It is not always within
your power to control your feelings. You will recognize that you have
love if, after having experienced annoyance and
contradiction, you do not lose your peace, but pray for those who have made
you suffer and wish them well.
as told to Saint Faustina,
Pray also for those around you.
For example, if youre stuck in a long line at the post office because
of a rude clerk, pray for the clerk and pray for the persons in line
with you who have to suffer also. Good short prayers to be repeated over
and over would be
them, they do not know what they do.
Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.
Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me.
(The Jesus Prayer)
Holy God, Holy
Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on me.
(The Trisagion prayer)
O Blood and
Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us,
I trust in You.
(Saint Faustinas Diary, 187)
A good longer prayer would be
the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
These three wordsOffer
it up!have probably done as much damage to the Catholic faith
as they have done good. In its purest sense, the expression Offer it
up! means the same thing as giving the pain to God. But Offer
it up! has also become a cliché. Most Catholics recognize the words,
and many Catholics say the words, but more often than not all they really offer
up to God is a shell of colorful piety filled with
hidden resentment for being a victim.
Unless you offer up
your pain with genuine love it is meaningless, and
you cannot offer it up with genuine love unless you have acknowledged your
helplessness and weakness, recognized the resentments that lurk deep within your
unconscious, rejected the urges to revenge that
tempt you, made the conscious and humble decision to trust in Gods
justice, and then have prayed for purification.
So beware. Real spiritual healing
is more than a clichéits hard work.
Really Hard Work
Its important to realize
here that when you feel an insult, it can actually take several hours to
calm down. Even though you acknowledge the feelings and the thoughts and
tell God that you want to pray for the person and dont want to fall
into sin, you might still be assaulted with temptations to revenge for several
hours following the insult. It can become a huge battle, but every temptation
has to be met with the same technique: acknowledge the feelings and the
thoughts and tell God that you want to pray for the person and dont
want to fall into sin. Over and over and over.
One additional technique I have
found that helps in such a circumstance is to say the
Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy upon me!) over and over as a way to prevent yourself from thinking
any other thoughts. So when youre injured, make the initial acknowledgment;
refuse to do anything sinful, no matter how much the temptations intrude
into your mind; pray the Jesus prayer; continue to refuse to do anything
sinful, no matter how much the temptations continue to intrude into your
mind; and continue to pray the Jesus prayer; and keep doing it all for as
long as necessary. Eventually, the temptations will dissipate. Then give
thanks to God for helping you get through it. And give yourself credit for
In all things, God desires us to treat each other with the same love He has
for us. Therefore, wanting someone to be emotionally or physically hurt removes
you from Gods service and places you in the service of the devil.
Consequently, just the thought of hurting someone is a sinbut being
a venial sin (so long as it is an inner
desire, rather than an outward act) it can be absolved with
perfect contrition. An actual act of
revenge toward another person that results in real harm is a
mortal sin, and must be absolved formally
through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Unrepentant sin will condemn a soul at the
Last Judgment. Note that this condemnation is a truthful assessment of the
souls unholy behavior, not a desire on Gods part for
Many persons have to struggle with the suspicion that they may have been
sexually abused in the past, and many of them will never know for sure if
any abuse actually happened. The psychological/spiritual task here is for
them to acknowledge the emotional pain they feel now, to recognize the conflicts
that the pain causes (e.g., impulses to promiscuity, pornography, masturbation,
etc.), and to then work to overcome the urge to take revenge on the world
now because of what they have suffered in the past.
Note that worrying about whether any abuse actually happened
wont help you. Nor will trying to get the suspected person(s) to admit the
truth help you. The best thing to do is vow to yourself and to God that, regardless
of what others around you do, you will purge dishonesty
and lust from your life.
Christ was, and is, a victim in the ancient sense of the term,
which referred to an animal offered in sacrifice: as the Paschal Lamb, Christ
willingly offered Himself in sacrifice on the cross for our
salvation. Keep in mind, though, that in His
sacrifice, Christ neither lost anything nor was He cheated or duped. He did,
however, cheat death of its power over us, and, in that sense,
death itself was made a victim of His sacrifice.
The more clean the window, the less the glass will heat up from the light.
But no window can be perfectly clean. The more dirt on the window, the more
it will heat upthat is, the more unconscious anger there is hidden
in your heart, the more emotional anguish and turmoil you will feel because
of any injury. Conversely, the more psychological work you have done to clean
out your unconscious resentments, the more confidently and gracefully you
will bear the Cross.
Then He will say to those on His left, Depart from Me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry
and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, a stranger
and you gave Me no welcome, naked and you gave Me no clothing, ill and in
prison, and you did not care for Me. Then they will answer and say,
Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked
or ill or in prison, and not minister to Your needs? He will answer
them, Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least
ones, you did not do for Me (Matthew 25:41-45). Remember, too,
that, at the height of Sauls persecution of Christians, Christ asked
him, Why are you persecuting Me? (Acts 9:4).
from the Heart
Disasters and Trauma
in the Catholic mystic tradition
How to turn the
emotional wounds of daily life
into psychological growth.
about the spiritual depth of
The psychological and spiritual
battle against evil