Shame on You

I’m So Ashamed.

Shame, guilt, embarrasment.  Emotions that are as universally experienced as they are universally unwelcome.

Elizabeth Duffy has a great post on shame on her blog.  Personal, poignant, and thought-provoking.   But I thought I would chime in to offer some additional insights from Pope John Paul II.

In Love and Responsibility, then Karol Woytyla, wrote a great deal about shame.  He argued that shame is a protective emotion that warns us that we are being treated as an object, not a person.  I think Elizabeth’s example of discovering her friend’s dad’s Playboy magazines is particularly apt.  Looking through the magazines, she saw plenty of examples of people treated as objects, and she felt a sense of shame.  God has hardwired us to expect to be loved as persons and not used as things.  Shame is the feeling that warns us that we are in proximity of a situations where people–and possibly even I–might be used.

Shame is a protective emotion like fear (which warns us about physical harm) and guilt (that warns us about harm to our integrity) or even embarrassment (which warns us of potential threats to our social well-being).

Like any emotion, protective emotions like shame, fear, and embarrassment can be healthy or unhealthy.  They are healthy if they help us identify a threat, take corrective steps,  and move on.   They are unhealthy if, instead of protecting us, they paralyze us and stop us from doing things that would be good for us to do.  Fear becomes anxiety when it stops us from taking healthy risks.  Guilt becomes scrupulosity when it stops us from receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Embarrassment become social anxiety when it stops us from engaging with others.

We shouldn’t be afraid or resentful of these protective emotions, but we should be careful to use them as they are intended.  They aren’t supposed to paralyze us.  They should move us to solutions that resolve the problems to which they bring our attention.  And if these protective emotions are more suffocating than helpful, we should seek help, because that is not how we were created to be.

 For more information on overcoming unhealthy manifestations of shame, guilt, and anxiety, check out God Help Me, This Stress is Driving Me Crazy! 

Coming Tues on More2Life Radio: Decisions…Decisions….

Today on More2Life Radio, we’ll look at why it’s so hard to make decisions. Sometimes it’s hard knowing what we want, much less what God wants.   And it’s especially hard to know you’re doing the right thing when others disagree.  We’ll explore how we get in our own way and principles we can use to determine the best choice in any situation.

Call in from Noon-1pm Eastern (11am C) at 877-573-7825  with your questions about situations that leave you wondering what to do.

More2Life  TUES Q of the D:  When is it hardest for you to feel confident about a decision? (For example; When others disagree?  When choosing between two good things?  Or two bad things? etc.)

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast (also at

Anger vs. Wrath: What’s the Difference?

Anger is a common enough emotion.  Everyone gets angry from time to time, and anger, when used prudently as a normal part of the human experience, can be understood as the gift from God that allows us to recognize and respond when we feel we have witnessed–or been the victim of–an injustice.  If our anger motivates us to seek solutions, address injustices in a productive way, and heal the damage that has been done to a relationship, then that anger can be both righteous and healthy.  Righteous anger doesn’t see anger as an end itself.  Righteous anger stirs us out of complacency and urges us to right wrongs and seek the justice that St Augustine said was necessary for true peace to exist.


But sometimes, anger can get out of control and turn destructive.  We can use our anger as a justification for lashing out at others, or we can become addicted to our anger and use it as an excuse to withdraw from the people around us.  When this happens, anger turns in on itself.  It does not motivate us to seek answers or right wrongs.  It simply burns everything and everyone it touches.  First our own sense of right and wrong is impaired and we find ourselves lashing out, blaming, and abusing those around us.  Later, if left unchecked, the flames of our anger will ignite our relationships and reduce them to ashes.  The catechism tells us that this kind of anger, sometimes called wrath or fury, is actually a deadly sin because it causes us to desire and even work for vengeance instead of love.   As Matt 5:22 says, “Everyone who remains angry with his brother is in danger of judgment.”


What to Do?

If you have a problem with anger, try these tips…


Catch your early warning signs.

Stopping anger early is key to being effective.  Everyone has signs that let them know that they are approaching the point of no return.  The time to take a break and calm down comes long before you start yelling at the person you are angry with.  As long as the conversation is focused on working with the other person to find solutions, you are on solid ground, but the moment you start thinking of the other person as the problem, or experiencing other physiological signs of stress (rolling your eyes, “tsk-ing” and huffing and puffing, feeling the urge to pace, making disgusted sounds as the other is talking, fidgeting) it is time to take a break.  All of these signs indicate that you are beginning to flood with the stress chemicals that will cause you to abandon logic and lose your cool.  Once you notice yourself doing any of these actions, you probably have about 1-2 minutes to get yourself under control before you get to the point where you either become abusive or you shut down and withdraw.   Catching yourself early prevents you from adopting either of these ineffective and potentially hurtful options.


Begin with an end in mind

If you’re angry, before you open your mouth, take some time to pray and reflect on the following.   “What is the problem?”  and “What are the one or two practical ideas I have about solving this problem.”   Righteous anger is always ordered toward solving problems, not pouring gasoline on them.  You can’t help but make a bad  situation worse if you begin talking before you have your own ideas about what the endpoint should be.  If you don’t know how to solve the problem, then begin the discussion by admitting that and then present your ideas about where you would like to turn to get the information you need to address the problem (e.g, a particular book, prayer, your pastor, a counselor).


Take a break

This is common enough advice, but most people don’t take breaks early enough to be effective.   Most people wait until they are screaming at each other (or want to) before they “break.”  This usually means “not talking to each other for the rest of the day and then ignoring the problem that started the whole mess.”  This is not a break.


Counselors recommend taking a break much earlier, at the point when you begin to think of the other person as the problem and not your partner for solving the problem.  At this point, it is useful to excuse yourself to use the restroom or get a drink from the kitchen (and for bonus points, offer to get them something while your out of the room).  While you are in the other room, try to remind yourself that it is your job to find ways work together with the person with whom you are struggling.  Remind yourself of the purpose of the discussion and what concrete resolutions you want to achieve.  Then return to the discussion and reset the focus on solutions.  For instance, you could say something like, “I know we’re frustrated right now.  Help me understand what you would like to be different as a result of this conversation.” Or, “Here’s what I’d like to do about this problem.  What do you think?”


Check your thoughts.

At the point that you start wondering if the person you are angry with is crazy, totally irresponsible, stupid, or out to get you, take a break, you’re too hot to be rational.  Remember, the only way to solve a problem, even with a child, is to find a way to work with the other person to solve it.  If you are convinced that the person you must work with to solve the problem is an idiot, you will never be able to partner with him or her effectively.


Stop seeing yourself as a victim

Wrathful anger tends to be rooted in a sense of powerlessness.  When we have not done our homework and tried to come up with our own solutions to a problem before we begin talking about those problems with someone else one of two things happens.  Either we can only talk about our frustration with the problem which makes us feel hopeless, or we may feel pressured to accept the other persons solutions-whether we like these solutions or not—because we haven’t brought anything to the table and, as a result, we feel resentful.  In either case, the result is a feeling of powerlessness which causes us to lash out at the other person in an underhanded attempt to get them to take control over a situation we have not taken the time to figure out how to get control over.


People who deal effectively with anger refuse to see themselves as victims either of others or fate.  They see themselves as responders to the challenges of life.  As St Paul puts it, they know that with Christ they can be “more than conquerors.”


Get Help.

If you find that your anger is too strong to employ any of the preceding tips at all, or employ them effectively.  If the people in your life tell you that your anger scares them (whether or not you think it should).  If your anger ever causes you to become physical in any way with the person at whom you are angry.  Get help.  All of these signs indicate that your anger is stronger than your ability to control it.  Competent, faithful counseling can help you learn to express yourself and meet your needs in a manner that does not alienate the very people you need to work with to create solutions.

For more ways to get your anger under control, check out God Help Me, This Stress is Driving Me Crazy! 

Coming Mon on More2Life Radio: Simple Gifts.

The Theology of the Body reminds us that we can only “find ourselves” by making a sincere gift of ourselves.

Today on M2L Radio, we’re looking at the simple ways you try to make a sincere gift of yourself to others and the ways others have made a gift of themselves to you.  We’ll also talk about those times when people struggle to receive the gifts you want to give them.

Call in with your stories of the joys and challenges of giving and receiving the gift of self, Noon-1pm Eastern at 877-573-7825.

ALSO, Don’t forget to answer our M2L Q of the D:   (two-fer.  Answer one or both)   1) Give an example of a simple way you have tried to make a gift of yourself to the people in your life OR a way someone has made a gift of themselves to you.  2)  Share a time when someone struggled to receive, or even rejected, the gift (i.e., of love, care, or faith) you tried to give them.

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch archives of the program by downloading the M2L Podcast (also at

Congrats to “Corpus Christi” and “Crown of Creation”: New Mens’ & Womens’ TOB Households at Franciscan University

This weekend I was proud to attend the induction ceremony for Corpus Christi and Crown of Creation households, respectively the new mens’ and womens’ households at Franciscan University dedicated to studying and living Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body at Franciscan University.  They are the first of their kind.  I am honored to have been asked to serve as the advisor to Corpus Christi, the men’s TOB household.  I will be assisting in their  TOB formation, but they have many great ideas for developing their understanding and appreciation for this important work.  Damon Owens, the Executive Director of the TOB Institute was in attendance as Corpus Christi’s guest to encourage this new initiative. 

In what I believe is a testament to the movement of the Holy Spirit, the two households began somewhat independently of each other, but both are dedicated to living out the vision of love and the human person as laid out in Blessed John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body.  In particular, the men’s household is dedicated to seeking out opportunities for joyful, self-donative service, living an ethos of authentic love & chastity, and discovering their dignity as men of God.   They have made commitments to communal and independent prayer, and an ongoing process of studying and applying JPII’s TOB.  In particular, in honor of the fact that TOB began as a series of Wed addresses by Pope John Paul II, each Wed, the men of Corpus Christi have committed to reading aloud and studying the addresses together.  I will be leading other opportunities for the men to dive more deeply into JPII’s work as well.  In fact, this August, the co-coordinators of Corpus Christi will be attending Christopher West’s week long TOB immersion course at the TOB Institute.


The induction ceremony represents the end of an arduous, year-long process of household formation in which the student-founders were required to identify the structure of their household, and develop their covenant, commitments, and charisms.  The household system is the primary way Franciscan sees to the spiritual formation of its students, provides social and front-line spiritual support, and invites students to own their faith.  There are 48 households currently on campus, each of which is dedicated to a particular type of spirituality and charism–similar, in ways, to a secular order of religious (e.g., secular Franciscans, secular Dominicans, etc) but without the requirement of a lifelong commitment (although often resulting in lifelong relationships).

I’m pleased to help support these young men–and to also welcome the young women of Crown of Creation–who have recognized the life-changing power of TOB and are dedicating the next several years of there college experience to unpacking and spreading the profound spiritual/intellectual legacy of Blessed John Paul the Great.  I ask that you support them with you prayers.  They are truly an inspiring example of their generation and a hint at what God has planned for the next generation of the Church.

Jealousy Consult

Elizabeth Duffy asked me to offer some input on this post in which she addresses a reader’s question about a struggle with jealousy.  I think she’s done a terrific job covering most of the bases.  Anyone who followed her advice would definitely on a good path to leaving jealousy behind.  I only have two additional thoughts.

The first is that when a person is jealous, they have a tendency to look for–and consistently find whether there is reason to or not–external reasons for their jealousy; the beautiful co-worker,  a spouse coming home a little later from work than expected, etc.   The temptation in this situation is to keep needling one’s spouse about every perceived offense no matter how small and/or to constantly look around for proof of the affair one is desperately afraid is happenning just out of sight.

The problem with this approach is that it misses the fact that whether or not there is an affair, the relationship itself is not as intimate, connected, and secure as it should be.  Rather than worrying about the possibility of infidelity, it would be much better to invest the energy into discussing what habits would need to be in place to make the relationship feel more secure than it does.  I’m certain this is what Elizabeth was getting at when she talked about making your spouse your friend, but I wanted to pull out his dimension of that process of friendship-making.  Too many people worry about losing their relationship instead of investing the same amount of energy into making it a relationship that is so strong it can’t be lost.

The second point is less obvious.  In the rare instance when the marriage really is solid, there is no infidelity, and one’s spouse really isn’t engaging in any inappropriate behavior but one still feels painfully jealous, usually the problem has to do with an insecure attachment style in childhood.  Insecure attachment results when my parents respond just enough to my emotional needs  for me to not feel abandoned (and maybe to even feel adequately cared for at least physically), but not enough to ever feel emotionally secure.   That attachment style tends to result in a person who always feels off balance in relationships but is never quite sure why and feels guilty about it to boot.   If a person is raised in that environment, their brain is always on high-alert, constantly worrying about what they might have done–what they might yet do– to drive the people they care about away.  These are the folks who go from “0 to abandoned in 60 secs”  for the slightest reason.  For people in this situation, counseling can be a very helpful means of sorting through the past hurt and finding ways to leave it back behind instead of carrying it into the present relationships.


Beverly and Jim are newly engaged.  Even though they are very much in love, they have big concerns.    As Jim explains it,  “Neither of us had the best models for marriage.  My dad was an alcoholic and Beverly’s parents are divorced.  How can we know what it takes to stay together?”

Their question got me thinking.  Is it possible to boil down the keys to a successful marriage into some basic rules of thumb?  Unfortunately, marriage isn’t quite that simple, but there are some do’s and don’t that are universally good ideas when it comes to living in love for a lifetime.  Here are some off the top of my head.  What are some of your do’s and don’ts?


 1.  Pray

St. Paul reminds us that husbands and wives are to, “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Everything a couple does must be about helping each other become the people God created them to be in this life and helping each other get ready for the next life.   Pray together every day.  When you have a disagreement, discuss it, then submit both of your wills to God’s will in prayer.  Then get more information, discuss, pray, and repeat until you achieve a successful resolution to the problem.  In the end, it doesn’t matter what you or your spouse wants, the only thing that matters is that you and your spouse are committed to helping each other more clearly discern what God wants.


2.  Prioritize your marriage.

You are the most important influence in your spouse’s life second only to his or her free will and the saving power of Jesus Christ.  As I mentioned above, your job is to help each other become who God wants you to be and to get to heaven.  There is no other work more important, and no other relationship that can compete.  You did not promise at the altar to place your mom, your dad, your, boss, your neighbor, or your Great Aunt Brunhilda first in your life, but you did promise God to place your spouse first.  You must be prepared to give your mate not only symbolic first place “in your heart,” but also first place in your schedule, your allotment energy, and your commitment of time.  If you are not doing this, then your life is disordered, your priorities are flawed, and your marriage will pay the price.  Guaranteed.  The promise to “forsake all others” does not merely apply to sexual partners, it applies to every relationship that seeks to compete with the primacy of the marriage.


3.  It’s About the Little Things.

Married couples don’t just say, “I do” to each other on their wedding day.   In fact, every day, husbands and wives have a million opportunities to say, “I do” or “I don’t” to each other and their marriage.   It really is the little things that make all the difference over time.  When you do thoughtful things without being asked, keep promises, respond positively to requests (especially requests that pull you out of your comfort zone), you say, “I do.”  When you neglect each other (even benignly), “forget” to do things you said you would, or respond grudgingly (or not at all) to requests you say, “I don’t.”   The best way to keep a marriage growing strong is being careful to make sure your “I do” pile far exceeds the “I don’ts.”  In fact, some research suggests that it can take up to 5 “I do’s” to make up for one “I don’t”  because we tend to give more weight to negative experiences. Throughout the day, ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do to make my spouse’s life easier or more pleasant right now.”


4.  Take time to talk.

Husbands and wives must have at least 30 minutes a day where they can talk openly, not just about what went on today and what they have to do tomorrow, but also about what is on their hearts, where their lives together are going, and what specific support they need from—or are trying to give to—each other in order to fulfill the prime directive of marriage; helping each other become who God created them to be and get ready for heaven.  (Now, where did I hear that before?)


5.  Learn new skills.

If you needed surgery, would you pick the doctor who hadn’t picked up a medical journal or been to a continuing education class in twenty years, or would you prefer the doctor who has kept current with the latest techniques and treatments?  Of course you would pick the doctor who has kept current.

But is the work of marriage any less important or challenging than the work of a doctor? (I’ve counseled many a doctor who said that marriage was harder.)   Regularly read books on Christian marriage together and discuss what does and does not apply to you (and why).  Take a marriage encounter weekend.  Once a year, go on a mini retreat together where you spend a day or a weekend thanking God for the blessings of the past year and asking for guidance in the next.  Stay current with the skills necessary for caring for each other’s heart and soul.  You’ll be glad you did


 1.  Don’t Pick on each other.

Avoid all forms of name calling and unnecessary criticism.  These things wear out your welcome in a person’s life.    When you must complain about something, make sure you do it in a charitable manner.  Learn how to express your concerns in love.  For specific tips on how to do this, check out my book,  For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

 2.  Don’t Have Emotional Affairs.

Do you share information with someone before you tell your spouse?  When something good or bad happens to you, do you think of sharing that with someone other than your spouse?  Is there someone in your life that you feel understands you better than your mate.  You may be committing emotional infidelity, and if this certain someone is of the opposite sex, then the problem is twice as bad.

If your mate isn’t your best friend, then recognize it for what it is; a marital problem.  Then get professional help to fix the problem.  Seeking a confidante in someone else, especially someone of the opposite sex, is asking for trouble.


3.  Don’t Marry a Script.

Too many couples don’t marry each other.  They marry a script.  Instead of taking the time to learn how to meet the needs of the unique person God gave us, we tell ourselves that we are being a good spouse if we do all the things our friends do for their spouse, or  all the things that our mom did for our dad, or vice-versa.   It doesn’t matter if our mate is miserable in the marriage.  As long as we are following our script, we are doing our job.  When our spouse complains, we shrug and say,   “I’m doing everything right.  It must be your problem.”

A good spouse learns the heart of the person to whom he or she is married and generously works to respond to those unique needs, even when doing so means leaving behind his or her comfort zone.  Assuming that our mate doesn’t ask us to do something that is morally offensive or personally demeaning, we are obliged to meet the request, generously and cheerfully.  If you don’t, then contrary to what you might wish to think, you are a lousy spouse.   Start doing better today or suffer the consequences tomorrow.

 4.  Don’t play marital chicken.

Spouses love to  play a game I call “marital chicken.”   Like the game played in the 1950’s where reckless teens drove toward each other at high speeds, waiting for the “chicken” to veer out of the way, couples bluff each other in their own high stakes game when they say, “I would be more communicative/romantic/sexual/ playful/responsible/etc.  if you would be more communicative/romantic/sexual/playful/ responsible/etc.  But I know you, you’ll never change.”

When we play this game, we get to avoid doing our job while getting to feel self-righteous at the same time, but we’re just fooling ourselves.  When we die and go to heaven (hopefully) and God says, “Why weren’t you the generous person I needed you to be to your spouse?”  Do you really think it’s going to cut the mustard to say, “Well, Lord, I would have been generous, if only my spouse…”

These simple do’s and don’ts might not be all it takes to have a great marriage, but if you follow them, I can guarantee that you’ll have one of the best marriages on the block.  You’ll be well on your way to living a marriage that will make the angels smile and the neighbors sick with jealousy.


WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MARRIAGE DO’S and DON’Ts?  Share in the comments…


COMING THURS:  THE JUGGLING ACT–Marriage and kids.  They’re supposed to go great together.  So why is it so hard to hold it all together?  Today on More2Life, we’ll offer ideas for making BOTH your marriage and family life everything you wish it could be.
Call in with your questions  and comments from Noon-1pm E (11-Noon C) at 877-573-7825. Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast (also at

Help, Dr. Greg! My Husband and I are Growing Apart

Dear Dr. Greg,

My husband and I have been married 15 years.  We have four children ages 13, 10, 7, and 3.  We’ve always been a close couple, but lately, we seem to be drifting apart.  His work is demanding more time and between school and activities, the children are taking more and more time.  Both my husband and I are exhausted a lot of the time, and we sometimes go the whole week without talking beyond telling each other what happened and saying “good night.”  I used to be fairly judgmental about those couples who got divorced because they had “grown apart” but now I feel like we’re becoming one of them.  What can we do?

Every marriage travels through various stages as the years go by, and each stage has its challenges as well as its lessons that can strengthen the relationship.  Your marriage is in the stage I refer to as “the Creative Phase.”  This is the point where careers are well-underway and families are growing both in size and/or in the amount of time and effort it takes to keep them running smoothly.  The benefit of these years is that it is often a time filled with excitement and challenges that can keep life interesting and fresh.  The challenge is that the couple can become so outwardly focused on activity and other commitments that they forget to take care of each other and the marriage.

The good news is that this is a normal stage of marital evolution and that a savvy couple like yourselves who is aware of the challenge can identify the problems and make important changes before things become really complicated.  Here are a few tips that can set you right.

Rituals and Routines

Research has shown that those couples and families who make a commitment to protecting the rituals and routines of marriage and family life weather the years of the Creative Phase better than those who do not.  Make sure that you and your husband are intentionally scheduling time in your day for prayer and that you are having meals together several times during the week (daily if at all possible). Even if you can’t go out, schedule time where you and your spouse will get some time alone to do things you enjoy. These should be activities that are apart from your sexual relationship. If you have a hard time getting these things to happen, make sure you sit down with your spouse and your planners and write down these activities and the times when you will meet.  Treat these times as you would any other important appointment.  If something else comes up that threatens these marriage and family appointments, find some way to say “no” to those outside commitments.  The future of your relationship depends upon your ability to be faithful to putting your marriage first today.


As couples become busier, the second thing that gets crowded out (beyond rituals and routines) is thoughtfulness.  Couples become so focused on taking care of business that they take an “every man for himself” attitude toward taking care of each other.   The more a couple does this, the more a marriage becomes two disjointed people living under the same roof.

One way to combat this is to generate a lovelist.  This is where both the husband and wife write down a list of those things that make them personally feel loved on a gut level.  These are the kind of things that make you feel like saying, “Oh!  That was really thoughtful!  Thanks you!” The things you write down shouldn’t take a lot of time, effort, or money, but they should require some degree of thought. For instance, you might list items such as, “I feel loved when you find me to give me a kiss and say you love me before you leave the house.”  Or, “I feel loved when the garbage is already at the curb when I get home.”  Or, “I feel loved when we sit together on the couch instead of across the room.”  Or, “I fell loved when you call from work (or at work) to say you were thinking about me/praying for me.”

The list will be harder to make than you think—I suggest identifying at least 25 things.  But once the list is completed, exchange them and hold yourselves accountable for doing at least 2-3 items for each other each day.  At first you will feel like being thoughtful to each other is “just one more thing to do in a busy day”  which will just highlight how much you’ve let your relationship slide on your list of priorities, but stick with it.  You’ll find that in the weeks you and your mate stay on top of your lovelists, you will feel much more connected, and there will be much less conflict or tension between you.

 Know when to Seek Help.

Of course, if these techniques aren’t working for you, or you are having a difficult time employing them, make sure to seek faithful, professional marriage counseling. Though not counseling,  Retrouvaille is also a very effective program to help couples get started down the road to recovery.   Research shows most couples wait 4-6 years before seeking professional Intervening early can prevent you from growing so far apart that you lose any sense of what you are doing there.  Being serious about never growing apart means taking steps early enough in the game to be effective.  If you can’t make it work on your own, seek competent, faithful help from someone who can help get your marriage back on its feet again.

For more information on Catholic Tele-Counseling through the Pastoral Solutions Institute at 740-266-6461 or online at