No matter where you go, you will be hurt.
Yet no matter where you go, there you are with God.
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; Be Transparent and Forgive; Pray) |
“Offer it Up!” |
When Love is Thwarted |
It’s Really Hard Work |
A Step-by-step Example
the process of spiritual healing, let’s look first at what occurs 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.
Anger is like junk food.
You know it’s bad for you, yet because it tastes so good you keep eating it anyway.
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 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
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 don’t feel the anger, so, even as it works its poison in you, you
believe it isn’t 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-sabotage—for 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.
Ira enim viri justitiam
Dei non operátur.
(For the anger of man worketh not the justice of God.)
— James 1:20
In contrast to all this
have another option. That is, when you are hurt, you don’t have to fight back,
trying to get justice by hurting others as they have hurt you. If you trust in God’s
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 nobody—not even
you anything now, then
you will be able to grow in purity simply because you desire
healing, regardless of what others around you do.
So let’s 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 God’s
protection and guidance despite your fears of admitting your own helplessness
and despite your impatience with things not occurring 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 have been [betrayed, abandoned,
unloved, insulted, falsely accused, etc.].”
Never forget that your tears are
prayers. Although your suffering does not have any
redemptive value—that is, it does not “make things right” between you
and God, nor does it make you “special” in God’s eyes—your 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.
especially those who have been abused emotionally, physically, or
tend to recoil from the idea of suffering, primarily
because they unconsciously
equate suffering with punishment—the
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, there can always be a resentful
part of us that seeks some recognition of our pain and some compensation for any
hurt we suffer.
resentment underlying this victimization—that is, the resentment for unfair and
unjust punishment—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 you’re going to
treat me miserably? Well, I’ll show you! I’ll take everything you can dish out and
I’ll 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 them—and 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 in the eyes
of others and that it will help you earn their acceptance; thus it ignores the true redemption
worked out in Christ’s 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 did—not as
self-punishment, but as a gift of forgiveness to others—then 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 God’s mercy.
Giving the Pain
Pray, therefore, that the healing
process will occur 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 occurred, 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
brokenness—and 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; it’s a genuine
embracing of human emotional life in its full
reality—which 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 cursing—or self-blame
and self-punishment. Look to divine justice, not to bitter revenge.
And when things, rather
than other persons, obstruct you—such as traffic lights that turn red
when you’re in a hurry, or things that break when you’re under
pressure to get a job done—accept it quietly and
obediently as God’s wise intervention for your
Just say, “All right. This
is teaching me something, and in due time I will understand. Right now I
don’t know why this is occurring, but since You are allowing it, 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 don’t
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.
Transparent and Forgive
As you acknowledge and feel the
pain, let it pass through you into Christ’s 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. And this “giving the justice to God”
is the essence of forgiveness.
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 murmuring—for our sake. There is no healing except in
is simply an ethical decision, rather than a mystical experience flowing from
love for God, then it is like salt that has lost its flavor.
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 hands—by hiding your pain, by dwelling on resentments,
by protest, or by plotting revenge—and 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 enlightenment—and 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 you’re 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 on 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 Faustina’s Diary, 187)
A good longer prayer would be
the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
These three words—“Offer
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 and suffering 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 God’s justice, and then have prayed for
When offer up your pain and suffering
with genuine love, you are offering up to God your holy service in the great
spiritual battle against evil. That is, when you encounter suffering, instead of
griping, complaining, and cussing—and thereby bringing spiritual darkness into the
world for demons to feed on—you are gracefully saying, “OK, God, although it hurts,
I accept this,” and so, in your willing service to God in the battle against darkness
and evil, you bring spiritual light into the world.
So beware. Real spiritual healing
is more than a cliché—it’s hard work.
When Love is
Once you understand what love
really is and commit yourself to living it, and you encounter others, even
family members, who defy love, you will have several choices, but only one
of them is healthy.
You could try to protect yourself
from rejection or abandonment by being especially careful of what you say or do
lest you offend someone. You might even convince yourself that this course of
action demonstrates love. But it doesn’t; all it demonstrates is
fear. It demonstrates your fear that if you don’t take
responsibility for the feelings of others, you will get hurt—and so it also
demonstrates your fear of trusting that God will accept and protect you when
others reject you. So don’t deceive yourself; acting out of fear is not an act
Or you could confront those persons
and tell them how you want them to act. Or you could ridicule them. Or
you could even kill them. But such behavior would be acting out of hatred, not
As for the healthy alternative,
you could go about witnessing your faith and speaking
the truth in all things, regardless of how others might react. If others treat
you harmfully, you can speak the truth about their lack of
if they apologize, there is nothing more you need to do. If they get defensive and
angry and treat you with disrespect, then you can say, “Listen, I’m not going to take
this sort of treatment from you. If you are disrespectful to me again, I will get up
and leave.” Then, the next time someone is disrespectful, say, “Look, I warned you once.
I’m not going to take this mistreatment.” Then leave. But always pray for the repentance
of the offender and give the pain to God so that you don’t get
stuck in resentment.
Depending on the type of people with whom
you are dealing, you may have to keep repeating your warnings and leavings over and over.
That, though, however tiring, would be love. It would not only demonstrate a loving concern
and mercy for the offenders, but also it would demonstrate healthy
self-love and self-respect.
But it may happen that the offenders completely
reject you. They could do this directly by telling you to never come back, or they could do
this indirectly by saying, “I don’t care what you have to
say!”  In
either of those cases, accept the fact that the relationship is over (at least until the others
repent). Then you will be alone, yes, but you will be in the hands of God. It may feel scary,
but pray and trust in God, and do not be afraid.
Really Hard Work
Emotional healing is more than a cliché—it’s
hard work. Even though you might know intellectually what spiritually healthy behavior
is, in the heat of the moment you can easily fall into emotional desperation, and it can
actually take several hours to calm down. Even though you acknowledge the feelings and the
thoughts that arise in you, and even though you don’t want to fall into sin, even for
several hours—or days or weeks or longer—following the insult you might still be assaulted
with temptations to get revenge. It can become a huge spiritual battle, but every temptation
has to be met in the same way: acknowledge the feelings and the thoughts and tell God
that you are helpless; affirm that hatred is wrong and trust in God’s justice; and pray to
God for guidance in what you can do about the situation. Fight all battles with
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!” Say it over and over as a way to
prevent yourself from thinking any other thoughts. So when you’re injured, follow this
course of action: make the initial acknowledgment of the pain; pray the Jesus Prayer;
because of your love for God, leave justice to God and refuse to do anything sinful, no
matter how much the temptations intrude into your mind; pray the Jesus Prayer; ask
God to guide you through your difficult circumstances, no matter how much the temptations
continue to intrude into your mind; and continue to pray the Jesus Prayer. Eventually,
the temptations will dissipate. Then give thanks to God for helping you get through it, and
give yourself credit for persevering!
A Step-by-step Example
1. Acknowledge the pain.
“This isn’t fair. He promised to meet with me and help me, and now he says he’s too
busy. I feel so frustrated and helpless.”
2. Identify the infraction.
“He lied to me.”
3. Relinquish your desire for revenge.
“He will have to answer to God for his sin. Justice belongs to God, not to me.”
4. Pray to God for guidance.
“God, I’m so alone. I was promised help and I was betrayed. What do I do now? Help me
to recognize the options I have, and give me the courage to carry them out.”
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 God’s service and places you in the service of the devil.
Consequently, just the thought of hurting someone is a sin—but 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
soul’s unholy behavior, not a desire on God’s part for
Bruxism—that is, teeth grinding during sleep—has its
psychological origin in unconscious anger. As the anger and resentment for past
injuries stews deep in your mind, the frustrations of unfulfilled revenge churn
away at night during your sleep, and you unconsciously “chew” on the resentments
much as a cow chewing on its cud. A mouth guard is usually the only medical precaution
for bruxism, but the cure for bruxism is to face the truth of your emotional pain and
bring it to healing so that you can make the psychological/spiritual decision to
surrender revenge—that is, your desire for justice by your own hands—and to trust in
God’s justice. Furthermore, to help renounce your desire for revenge, and to help
relieve bruxism, endeavor to fall asleep at night by saying, repeatedly, “Into Your
hands O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
Actually, revenge is more than folly, it’s insanity. Punishing yourself with the
intent of hurting someone else is so ludicrous that there is no meaning to it—and
that’s insanity. All revenge renounces love and ends up hell, and hell is the place
of total insanity.
From the depths of His love, God gives us everything we need. His love never
misses the point; it never falls short. Therefore, it’s impossible to say
that anything is lacking in God’s love, and so it’s futile to believe
that He owes us anything.
Parents owe their children love, protection, and guidance. If parents fail in this
obligation, it will cripple their children. But if children demand love from their
parents when the parents are unwilling or unable to give it, the children will
cripple themselves with resentment. Only if the grown children are willing to pay
the price for their own healing can they be freed from resentment and anger at
Many persons struggle with the suspicion that they may have been sexually
abused in childhood, and many of them will never know for sure if any abuse
actually occurred. Their psychological and spiritual healing, however, does
not depend on the impossible task of “digging up the truth” but of learning
to be psychologically honest about any emotional pain they feel in the present:
to acknowledge that pain, to recognize the temptations that the pain causes
(for example, impulses to promiscuity, pornography, masturbation, etc.), and
then work to overcome the urge to take revenge on the world now because of
anything that may, or may not, have occurred in the past.
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 up—that 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 Saul’s persecution of Christians, Christ asked
him, “Why are you persecuting Me?”
I don’t recommend that you try this with strangers, however. In situations where you
don’t know the offender, it is usually best to keep quiet and pray
When you attempt to speak up about an offense caused by another person, and that
person says to you, “I don’t care what you have to say,” that person is telling you
that he or she doesn’t love you; when love is dead, the relationship is dead—at
least, until the offender repents and apologizes. In this case, all you can do is
keep your distance and pray for the other person to repent.
Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
This book by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. explains how 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.
Giving the Pain to God:
The Path to Emotional Healing and Forgiveness
This is a small book based on a chapter in my book Healing,
a chapter largely taken from this webpage. This book, however, contains additional information that
has not been previously published and that is not on this webpage.