Feeling God’s Presence in Pain

When we’re faced with many challenges, it can be difficult to understand the presence of God amidst the struggle. Where is God? Why would He let this happen? These are common questions that we have when dealing with difficult times. But are these questions the best way to find God in the presence of pain?

God created us for total union with him. Evil—the absences of good—attempts to separate us from God. The Christian response to evil is to refuse to give in to the darkness and pain of the moment and reach back to God who is already reaching out to us in that moment of pain. As Christians, we are privileged to know that evil is not the end of the story. God gives us the power to receive his light in the darkness and to spread that light to others who are suffering as well.

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Are you looking for healing? Struggling to find God in the hurt?

Check out:
Broken Gods—Hope, Healing, and The Seven Longings of The Human Heart

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Let’s look at three effective ways to find God’s light in the midst of darkness:

Show God the Wound–When we go to the doctor, we have to show the doctor the wound in order for him to treat and heal it.  God wants to give us his healing grace when we are hurting, but he can only do that if we are honest about how we are hurting.  Too often, we want our prayers to be pretty.  We don’t want to show God that we are anguished, angry, bitter, or resentful, especially if we are anguished, angry, bitter, and resentful toward him! But God wants us to be honest with him. He is big enough to handle whatever we need to tell him and strong enough to take us beating on his chest. Don’t ever be afraid to show the Divine Physician where you are hurting. Let him treat the wound no matter how ugly it might seem to you. Your honesty opens the door to his grace.

“Why” Is the Wrong Question–Evil is a mystery. We can’t ever understand why something happened, and even if we could, it wouldn’t make the pain go away. When you are hurting, don’t ask “why.”  Instead ask, “What does God want me to make of this?  How can I respond to this situation in a way that will enable me to open my heart to God’s light and share his light with others?” Suffering is only redemptive if we respond to it in grace, but if we do that, God will create something awesome out of even the awful. Just look at the cross and the resurrection!  When Satan tries to nail you–and those you love–to the cross. Ask God for the grace to rise up in the darkness and be his light in the world.

Be Patient–When we are hurting, the hardest thing to do is wait on the Lord. But it can help to know that being patient doesn’t just mean sitting around passively in our pain. Patience is the virtue that allows us to see how God’s grace and our good efforts are taking shape. Like a repairman who steps back from the job to see if what he has done is working and what he still might need to do next, patience involves an ongoing conversation with God that allows us to commit ourselves to the process of healing and rebuilding while resisting the urge to exhaust ourselves pushing buttons and turning knobs to no effect just so we can feel like we are “doing something.”  Patience allows us to be avoid becoming powerlessly passive or hopelessly hysterical in the face of pain, and instead, enables us to be powerfully proactive.

If you would like greater support in overcoming challenging visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

New Research Describes The Negative Effects That Men Who Frequently Watch Porn Experience

Researchers recently presented their findings of a new study at the European Association of Urology Congress. The results revealed that 23 percent of men under the age of 35 who reported watching porn frequently also tended to encounter erectile dysfunction during sex.

“There’s no doubt that porn conditions the way we view sex,” stated study author Gunter De Win. He continued saying, “We found that there was a highly significant relationship between time spent watching porn and increasing difficulty with erectile function with a partner, as indicated by the erectile function and sexual health scores.”

The outcome of this study have led De Win to believe that the increasingly explicit nature of online pornography may leave some men underwhelmed by sex in real life. This explains why 20 percent of the men who participated in this study “felt that they needed to watch more extreme porn to get the same level of arousal as previously. We believe that the erectile dysfunction problems associated with porn stem from this lack of arousal.”

As this study and others like it continue to reveal, biology, psychology, and theology are all leading us to a better understanding of the negative impacts and effects of pornography on the human person. As Pope Saint John Paul II stated, “There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”

Have you or your partner been impacted by pornography? CatholicCounselors.com is proud to offer CONNECTED: Recovery from Pornography, an internet based group counseling experience designed to help men recover from the obsessional use of pornography and the damage it does to our mind, body, soul, and relationships. Pornography not only creates a distance between man and God, it destroys family relationships and reduces one’s own image and value of self, the only creature that God made in His own image.

In connected you will discover:

The pornography trap.

Practical tools for overcoming temptation triggers.

Healthy attitudes toward yourself, sex, and women.

Identifying and meeting the needs masked by pornography.

How to receive God’s forgiveness, and forgive yourself.

How to heal relationships damage by your use of pornography.

Reconnecting with healthy (and holy) sex.

How to build healthy, healing relationships with God, yourself, and others.

Find out more at CatholicCounselors.com!

Pastoral Malpractice

Pastoral Malpractice

Dr. Greg Popcak

A physician I know was recently faced a dilemma. A patient of hers on pain medication began engaging in behaviors that made it clear the patient was abusing, and possibly, selling, his meds. The doctor had to refuse to refill the prescription and recommend an alternative course of treatment. The patient stormed out, accusing her of being, “uncaring and unprofessional.”

Sadly, treatments can be abused. When they are, responsible caregivers must refuse those treatments until the problems preventing them from being effective are overcome. The failure to do so can constitute professional malpractice.

The fact is, even the treatments prescribed by the Divine Physician can be abused. God gives us the sacraments to treat the spiritual illness—sin–that damages our relationships with God and others. Normally, these “treatments” should be readily available to every Christian “patient.” The sacraments aren’t rewards for good behavior.  They’re treatments for spiritual disease. But when treatments are abused, they must be refused.

Take Confession. If someone confesses a sin but says he intends to keep committing the same sin, the priest—who functions as a kind of Divine “Physician Assistant” when it comes to the sacraments—is actually obliged to deny absolution.  For pastors to give absolution under such circumstances would be to encourage the sinful behavior and make themselves party to it by spiritually enabling it.

The Eucharist is another example. It’s the ultimate “spiritual treatment” for healing the damage sin does to our relationships with God and others. But this “treatment” isn’t magic. In order for it to be efficacious, the recipient needs to be seeking strength to live the Christian vision of love. If someone receives communion because they want help overcoming the struggles they face in learning to love like Christ, they should never be denied communion because it’s the very “medicine” they are looking for.

But what if someone’s persistent behavior severely wounds the Body of Christ? What if they dedicate themselves to organizing racist rallies? What if they eagerly promote the slaughter of children in the name of “healthcare?” What if this person has been begged dozens—even hundreds–of times to stop wounding the Body of Christ in such a way, but they dismiss those warnings, insisting that what they’re doing is actually good? Let’s further say that this person draws deep personal comfort from being allowed to receive the Eucharist.

Should they? Is it responsible to allow anyone to experience spiritual consolation while they intentionally, persistently, and unapologetically scourged the Body of Christ? In St. Ignatius’ words, wouldn’t such a consolation, in fact, be a desolation of the Enemy?

Of course, God would certainly forgive such a person, but even God can’t forgive someone who doesn’t believe they need it. And to know we need forgiveness, don’t we need to be allowed to feel the separation from God that our actions necessarily cause?

Permitting such a person to receive the Eucharist not only allows him to “eat and drink judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:29) but also constitutes pastoral malpractice (c.f. Ezekial 3:18).

As the bishops continue to debate whether to allow President Biden to receive communion, they would do well to stop letting  ideologues frame this as a political issue and, instead, take a clear stand against pastoral malpractice. There is nothing “pastoral” about letting people use the Body of Christ as an anesthetic to numb themselves while they abuse the Body of Christ.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books and the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute (CatholicCounselors.com).

You Change First!—What To Do If You’re Caught In The Blame Game

“I would be fine if they would just stop talking to me like that!” Sound familiar?

It’s extremely frustrating when we feel as though someone else won’t allow us to be calm, to be solution focused, or to be the person that we want to be. But often when we feel frustrated that another person’s actions have this kind of influence over us, our response is to try to change them first so that we can then be okay.

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Are you getting caught in conflict?

Check out How to Heal Your Marriage (and Nurture Lasting Love)

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The scenario I just described is a classic case of being caught up in the blame game. The key to escaping it is anticipating your tendency to fall into it in the first place and make plans for avoiding it before you start a difficult or typically triggering conversation. The dynamic I described is what happens when our brains become “flooded” with stress chemicals which causes our cortex (our thinking brain) to essentially go off line. At that point, our limbic system (our emotional brain) takes over and attempts to “solve” our problems by making us fight, flee, or freeze. This is exactly what occurs each time we find ourselves getting stuck in the kind of unhealthy cycle that occurs when we find ourselves caught in a blaming/reactionary conflict. When this happens, our brain works to distance us from the problem but prevents us from actually doing anything to solve the original problem.

The first step is increasing increase your awareness of when you start to become “flooded” with stress chemicals. What signs occur in your body—i.e. your shoulders tense, your face becomes flush/hot, you clench your fists? When you first start to notice these signs, take a step back, take a deep breath, send up a quick prayer and ask God to help you find solutions that will glorify him, and be the loving person he needs you to be—even in conflict.  Then, focus on something that will help you drain those stress chemicals from your brain and bring your thinking brain back online. In moments such as these I like to reflect on the verse from 2 Timothy: 1-7 which states, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

When we get caught in the blame game, our focus becomes fixated on changing, fixing, or controlling the other person—to get them to do what we want/need them to do. While this may not be the intention, it is how we tend to operate when we are in a blaming centered conflict. This reminder from 2 Timothy demonstrates to us that we are not capable of, nor is it our responsibility to control or change another person. Our responsibility lies solely in our ability to practice self-control and model the behavior we want to see in the other person. How do you wish the other person would behave?  Make sure you’re doing that first.  If that doesn’t get things back on track, pick a time when you’re not arguing to discuss things you both need to do to make each other feel taken care of when you disagree. 

Be aware of your signs of stress, pray, and breathe. Take a step back until you are able to respond in a calm and solution focused manner. Be a model of the behavior you want from the other person, and proactively discuss ways to better take care of each other when conflict heats things up.

 

If you would like additional resources to help you stop the blame game in your relationships, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Four Simple Ways to Change Your Thoughts and Change Your Life

Memories have a powerful impact on our lives.  They shape how we feel, how we act, and the choices we make.  When painful memories emerge, it can be especially hard to shake the negative feelings that bubble up and the way they affect our quality of life.

A new study by the University of Alberta provides us simple ways to manage the level of emotional intensity that we experience when recalling past memories.

Researchers report that when we recall our memories from a third-person perspective we are able to decrease the emotional intensity of that memory. “Specifically, the results show that recalling memories from an observer-like perspective, instead of through your own eyes, leads to greater…interaction among brain regions that support our ability to recall the details of a memory and to recreate mental images in our mind’s eye.”

Not only does this third-person perspective allow us to recall memories with higher accuracy, but it also enables us to experience relief from troubling or even traumatic memories more successfully.

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Do you want to overcome past hurts and live a whole, healed, and healthy life?

Check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Learning to decrease the emotional power of negative memories is especially important because it helps us overcome limiting “core beliefs.”  Cognitive behavioral therapy defines core beliefs as central beliefs that people hold about themselves, others, and the world. These core beliefs then influence what CBT refers to as automatic thoughts—those thoughts or beliefs that seem to pop into our mind that shape our daily self-talk.

In addition to recalling our memories from a third person perspective to decrease their emotional power, here are three ways to re-story our core beliefs and develop healthy self-talk:

Label Thoughts—One of the best ways to get control of our self-talk is to label our thoughts as either helpful or hurtful. When we do this, we can learn to lean into helpful thoughts and let go of hurtful thoughts, just like we would listen to helpful advice from others and dismiss unhelpful advice.

Live Intentionally—When we live busy lives it’s easy for us to operate on “auto-pilot.” We go about our day moving through our tasks without really being present. But when we live in this more passive state, we are living more out of reaction rather than intentional action. Gain control over your negative feelings by being intentional about your actions and your self-talk. This can be as simple as changing your self-talk from “I have to go to work,” to, “I’m choosing to go to work because…(of this benefit I get from it).” Likewise, instead of saying “what is the day going to bring?” you might say, “what do I want to make happen today?” Living intentionally helps us regain control over our emotions and our lives.

Focus on Strengths—We often focus on what we didn’t do well or what we wish we could do better. However, this kind of thinking often leads to negative core beliefs and automatic thoughts.  Instead, practice focusing on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do. Make a point of acknowledging your successes throughout the day. Even in the face of hardships, identify the strengths that you displayed and give yourself credit. For example, did you have a positive conversation with your spouse, co-worker, kids, or friend? Acknowledge that as a success and identify, “I was thoughtful, respectful, empathetic, (etc.) in that conversation which helped me be successful.”

For more ways to re-story your core beliefs and self-talk, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Secrets of Communication: How to Be A Better Listener

We try to be our best. We mean well, and when our efforts are misconstrued we feel like there’s nothing we can do. But there’s good news: recognizing the ways that we can grow in no way means that we’re not well intentioned and doing our best! This is one of the greatest keys to communication. Understanding that we’re well intentioned, but we always have room to learn from the other person and grow in ourselves and our relationships with others.

In order to learn from another person and learn to grow in relationship with them, it’s crucial that we learn to listen effectively.

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Are you struggling to get along with difficult people?

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Research published in the Harvard Business Review describes that the typical ways we think we’re being good listeners—such as being silent, periodically nodding or acknowledging the other person, or even repeating what the other has said—aren’t as effective as we may think.

Here are a few ways to become a more effective listener:

Ask questions—while sitting in silence allows the other person to talk, it doesn’t always communicate that they’re being heard. Asking questions shows both interest and comprehension in what the other person is discussing. Likewise this allows for the dynamic of listening to understand rather than listening simply to respond.

Be a cooperative partner—research indicates that the most successful conversations are those where the individuals view one another as partners, meaning neither person gets defensive about comments made by the other. When we are partners in a conversation, we work together, we care for one another, and we are certain that our responses are solution focused (rather than derogatory, competitive, or distracting from the topic at hand).

Offer reflections—A good listener keeps the conversation going by gently offering reflections that open up new lines of inquiry. Complaints often occur when someone feels as though the other just “jumped in and try to solve the problem.” Good listening, however, requires that the suggestions/solutions are not the end of the conversation, they are a support to the conversation.

To learn more tips and techniques for effective communication, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Labeling Yourself: 3 Steps to Stop Holding Yourself Back

The terms “mental health” and “mental disorder” are extremely common, but research from biological anthropologists are calling into question these definitions in relation to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology posed the question, “What if mental disorders like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t mental disorders at all?” A summary of the results indicated that, “With a thorough review of the evidence, they show good reasons to think of depression or PTSD as responses to adversity rather than chemical imbalances. And ADHD could be a way of functioning that evolved in an ancestral environment, but doesn’t match the way we live today.”

So what does this mean for our mental health and treatment for such mental health difficulties?

As evidence has shown, we have a tendency to identify with our “emotional problems” in a way that we don’t identify with “physical problems.” When we contract a virus, we don’t say, “I am flu.” We say, “I have the flu.” But when we struggle with anxiety (or other emotional difficulties), especially if we deal with chronic disorders, we do often say, “I am anxious,” or “I am high strung,” or something similar. It becomes an identity statement. The problem is, when we personally identify with the anxiety we feel, we begin to think of it as a necessary part of who we are.

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For more on this topic, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety
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How do we, then, break free from these labels and finally identify with our healed, healthy, “true” selves?

1. Identify with strengths, not weaknesses—To counter the tendency over-identify with our emotions it is important that we make an intentional effort to focus on our strengths. Write down at least one thing you did well every day. Identify the strengths that you displayed in that situation in order to handle that moment well. Prioritizing this thought process enables us to begin to identify with our healthy, true selves, rather than identifying with the areas where we may be struggling.

2. Stick to a routine, create “healthy habits”—No matter what we deal with in our daily lives, having a routine helps us to stay on track and cultivate healthy habits. Routines, like getting up and getting ready at the same time every day, doing chores at the same times every week, and going to bed at the same time every day, help us create order out of chaos and make us feel like we are on top of things. Make time for the things that help you feel good, such as journaling, prayer, exercise, or your favorite activity/hobby.

3. Be a gift to others—Look for ways to serve others, nothing is too small. Bake cookies for a friend, hold the door open for a stranger, let someone in front of you in line, reach out to someone you love or someone you haven’t checked in on in a while. Use your gifts to in big and small ways to be a gift to others. When we reach out to others in this way, we are able to make a positive impact on their lives AND feel good about what we have to offer at the same time.

For more on breaking free from labels and becoming the person you were created to be, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety.

New Research Finds Tele-Counseling To Be Even More Effective Than Face-to-Face

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, there have been significant changes in the way physical and mental health care are delivered. Many providers and patients have moved to tele-health, which certainly makes health care more accessible, but is it as effective as face to face treatment?

Timely research that began prior to COVID-19 and continued after utilized randomized control trials to evaluate the effectiveness of tele-counseling.

A recent study, involving randomized control groups found that that tele-counseling across a variety of modalities (e.g., telephone, videochat, etc) is, in many ways, more effective than traditional face-to-face counseling.

According to lead researcher, Zena Samaan, “The common understanding was that face to face psychotherapy has the advantage of the connection with the therapist and this connection is in part what makes the difference in treatment…However, it is not surprising that electronic interventions are helpful in that they offer flexibility, privacy and no travel time, time off work, transport or parking costs. It makes sense that people access care, especially mental health care, when they need it from their own comfort space.”

As Samaan describes, not only is tele-counseling an equally if not a more effective in treatment that face-to-face counseling, tele-counseling creates greater accessibility to individuals with busy schedules or limited resources (i.e. those who are home bound, in rural areas, or areas with limited specialized counseling).

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As leaders in the field of pastoral tele-counseling, Catholic Counselors has been providing pastoral counseling for individuals, couples and families by telephone since 1999 and conducts  over 15,000 hours of tele-counseling services per year. Interested in learning more about how Catholic tele-counseling—and our many other resources–can help you get more out of your marriage, family or personal life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Power of Our Thoughts

Most of us know that negative thinking isn’t good for our mental health, but did you know that repetitive negative thinking has harmful effects on our physical health?

A study led by researchers at University College London evaluated 123 participants to determine the relationship between repetitive (chronic) negative thinking patterns and dementia. The results of this study reveal that individuals who exhibit repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns have higher levels of tau and amyloid—two proteins which cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain. Over four years, the individuals who displayed RNT showed greater cognitive decline, including decline in memory.

As this study shows, negative thinking not only has harmful effects on our emotional life, but on our physical body as well.

So how to we break our habits of repetitive negative thinking and live healthier lives?

Find your power: In any situation, ask yourself, “What can I make of this?” Don’t simply allow yourself to be a passive participant in your situation. Seek your power through intentionality. Asking yourself questions such as, “What can I make of this/learn from this/do with this?” helps engage your cortex (your thinking brain) and allows you to focus on resources and solutions as opposed to getting caught in the trap of negative thinking. 

Focus on gratitude: Intentionally recall your blessings, your strengths, and your skills. This can be done in several ways, such as keeping a running gratitude list throughout the day, focusing on the things that you did well during the day, or keeping a “got done” list to remind yourself of your daily accomplishments. This type of thinking helps cultivate more helpful thinking patterns instead of the hurtful thinking patterns caused by RNT.

Cultivate Connection: Cultivate connection and maintain a sense of community by actively seeking ways to be a blessing to others—even when you are struggling. When we are focused on serving others and acting out of self-donation, we are more effectively able to break the cycle of negative thinking.

To find more resources for breaking your habits of negative thinking, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Quarentine Blues: How Can Your Family Cope While You’re All Cooped Up

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt.  Schools are closed. People are working from home.  Life as we know it has been upended.

On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least 10 fold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions.That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

When our schedules get thrown out-of-whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times.  Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.

You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it.  Get up the same time every day. Get dressed.  Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning, and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for, and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.

2. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day—and each other–inevitably begin to clash. 

Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function like a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it.  Break up the day into chunks.  At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call?  What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really to get done?  How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Discuss how the next few hours between breakfast and lunch are going to go.  Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.  

Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the  team you’re meant to be.

3. Work Together

Do at least one chore together as a family every day.  It doesn’t matter if you usually do X chore yourself.  When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together.  The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.

Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up–not just for the fun times–but the other times too.

4. Play Together

Don’t forget to have a little fun together everyday. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those boardgames and card games.  Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together—on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.

5. Pray Together

Now, more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy, and for our own intentions.  While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.

Though the witness of  Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.

Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.