Decisions, Decisions… How to Be Confident in The Face of Uncertainty

From big to small, we are faced with decisions every day. Sometimes when we are at a crossroads between two–or more–options, we become paralyzed by the uncertainty and fear of decision making.

When we don’t know what to do, the Theology of The Body can help us gain clarity. St John Paul reminds us that every decision we make should help us, as he put it,  “become what we are”–the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person God sees when he looks at us. In any decision of any importance at all, if we’re confused about what to do, the be way to be confident in our choices is to look for the option that seems to give us the greatest chance of doing three things.  First, using our gifts to bless others. Second, enabling us to make our relationships healthier and stronger. And third, using the situation to become a stronger, healthier person.

It is these three qualities, meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue, upon which an abundant life rests. We can never guarantee the outcome of what we do, but we don’t have to. We just have to be able to be confident that we have a good and godly process that we use to make our decisions. If our desire is to avoid evil, to be loving and responsible in our decisions, and make choices that lead to what we prayerfully believe will increase our chances of growing in meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue, then even when we feel uncertain, we can be confident that, through God’s mercy,  we are making the right decisions.

Let’s look at a few practical ways to be confident in the face of uncertainty:

1. Focus on the Process, Not the Feeling–You will rarely feel 100% certain that you made the one right choice.  If you wait for your feelings to tell you that you are doing (or have done) the right thing, you will be waiting a very long time, indeed. When making a decision of any sort, don’t take your cue from your feelings, focus on your process. Have you taken the decision to prayer? Are you trying to avoid doing anything bad? Are you trying your best to be loving and responsible in your decisions? And finally, are you trying to choose the option that seems to increase your chances of living a more meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life?  If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then your decision making process is solid no matter what your feelings say. Trust the process, not your feelings, and know that God will be pleased with your effort and get you on the right path by means of his mercy.

2. Indecisive is Worse Than Wrong–You already know that being stuck isn’t working. As long as you are genuinely trying to make a meaningful, intimate and virtuous choice, even a wrong decision is better than staying put, because even a wrong decision will give you new information to work with. Very few decisions are irreversibly wrong, and those are almost always decisions made rashly, and emotionally instead of trying to intentionally pursue greater meaningfulness, intimacy or virtue. When you make a decision, don’t look back. Instead, look at the new information your decision has given you and look for the next step that allows you to pursue meaningfulness intimacy and virtue. Staying put gets you more of what you’ve got. Making even a wrong decision that reflects an active attempt to pursue meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue will draw you closer to God who, in his mercy, will get you on the right path. Grace can direct you when you’re in motion, but grace can’t move you if you are committed to staying put. Indecisive is always worse than wrong.

3. Don’t Feed the Goblin–Assuming you’ve followed the steps above, the voices of doubt that remain in your head after you make a decision are never from God.  Even if you made the wrong decision in good faith, God will gently guide you forward on the right path. As Jesus said, “I did not come to condemn but to save.” Those self-critical voices of condemnation that make you second-guess yourself are not from God, they are what St. Ignatius referred to as desolations. This is the voice of the Enemy trying to cause you to stay stuck and refuse to take any actions that God could use to draw you closer to him. Reject these voices and focus, instead, on the next step that leads to greater meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue. The more you refuse to feed the goblins of doubts, the more you will grow in the confidence that comes from stepping out in God’s grace.

For more resources to help you make decisions that will lead to greater meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue in your life explore CatholicCounselors.com!

 

Quick links and resources:

Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety 

Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of The Human Heart 

What Does God Want Me To Do?

 

I-Oughta-Biography — Overcoming The Shoulds In Our Life

“I should be better at this,” “I shouldn’t have to deal with this problem anymore,” “I should just get it together…” 

Do these “shoulds” sound familiar? We have a tendency to be so hard on ourselves. We fall into the “should” mindset, making ourselves feel guiltier or more powerless about the fact that we’re not living up to the perceived “shoulds.” 

The Theology of The Body, however, reminds us that although God has a plan for our lives, we can’t find it by beating ourselves up or by torturing ourselves with a constant list of what we should or shouldn’t be doing–or should have done. Living in the “shoulds” is just another way of living in a state of reactivity that closes us off to being able to hear God’s voice or discern his plan for our lives. Instead of living reactively in the shoulds, the Theology of The Body directs us towards the need to cultivate a spirit of receptivity.

When we feel disappointed,  confused, or caught up in the “shoulds” the first thing we need to do is bring that feeling to God. Openly and honestly sharing the thoughts that are going on in your mind through prayer. Next, instead of trying to puzzle out what his answer would be, we need to spend time allowing him to love us, reminding ourselves of all the ways he has shown his love for us before, praising him for all the ways he has been present to us, and thanking him for the little blessings of that day. Then, confident that we don’t have to earn God’s love by doing all the right things and having all the right answers, we need to be still and listen to the ways God is asking us to use our gifts to make a positive difference in our circumstances, to make our relationships stronger and healthier, and see all the things that happen to us as an invitation to do something small to be a little more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we’re meant to be.

One reason we fall into this “should” mindset is due to the fact that our stress level gets too high for our thinking brain—our cortex—to function effectively. When this occurs, we become significantly more reactive than receptive, ultimately functioning from our limbic system—the emotional reactions part of our brain. 

Taking our thoughts and concerns to God, resting in His love, and using our gifts to take action in a positive way allows us to lower our stress level, bring our thinking brain back on line, and find our power in the present moment. 

Focusing on the “shoulds” causes us to live in either the past or the future—two places where we have no control or power. Focusing on our present moment and what we can do in the here and now with God’s loving guidance allows us to take control over our situation in a healthy and positive way. 

The more we can take this receptive approach to life, the clearer we can be about what God wants us to do, and what choices will lead us to the abundant life we all long for.

Ash Wednesday and Our Journey To Forgiveness

“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our need for reconciliation with God and marks the beginning of our Lenten journey. 

Saint John Paul II saw mercy and the Theology of The Body as going hand in hand. The Theology of the Body recognizes that God has incredibly high expectations for us and our relationships, but he knows that we will inevitably stumble and fall along the way. The only way we can hope to achieve the heights we’re destined for is by leaning into God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness–and by sharing that same mercy and forgiveness with each other.

At the same time, forgiveness doesn’t require us to pretend that an offense didn’t occur or that things are better than they actually are. In fact, the Catechism (2043) says, “​​ It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense.” The Theology of The Body reminds us that we are created for communion with others, which means that we have to be willing to work to face the offenses we commit against each other honestly and courageously and then willingly work together to actually heal the damage that’s been done to the body of Christ. True communion can’t be built if we aren’t honest with each other about the damage our hurtful actions have caused and honest about the work that needs to be done to actually heal those wounds. The work involved in forgiveness and reconciliation is good work, but it’s also hard and complicated work. It’s ok to take the time that is necessary to do it right.

Let’s look at three stepping stones on the path to forgiveness:

1. Know What Forgiveness Is–St. Augustine said that forgiveness is surrendering our desire for revenge. It doesn’t mean pretending everything is ok. It doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to discuss the situation further. It doesn’t mean you can’t hold the other person accountable for what they did. It just means that you are refusing to hurt them for having hurt you. We forgive to make reconciliation possible. If a person says, “I’m sorry” without being willing to do the work of healing the hurts they caused, they are lying. Despite what some of us have been taught, “I’m sorry” are not “magic words” that make the pain go away. “I’m sorry” isn’t the end of the process. It’s just another way of saying, “I’m ready to begin the work of reconciling with you.”

2. Know What Letting Go Means–Sometimes we say we’ve forgiven someone, but we have a hard time letting go of the hurt. Many times we think that means we haven’t really forgiven.  More likely, it means that the injury hasn’t been fully attended to. Bring your pain to God in prayer and ask him to help you figure out what you still need from the other person to heal. Then go to the person who hurt you and, respectfully, tell them what you need. Don’t get caught up in thinking that the past is the past.  If you’re hurting in the present, the injury needs to be dealt with in the present. “Letting go” is what happens when you and the other person have done what God needs you both to do to heal the wound. Until then, stay committed to the process of healing.

3. When It’s Complicated–Sometimes a wound doesn’t heal on its own and you need to seek a doctor’s help. In the same way, while most emotional wounds will heal with time, some can’t.  These can become infected with bitterness. Bitterness is the infection that results when an emotional wound is not properly attended to. If you are having a hard time healing an emotional wound either on your own or with the person who hurt you, don’t let bitterness grow in you.  Seek professional help from a faithful counselor who can help you discern the best ways to heal your hurt and restore peace to your heart.

If you would like to seek professional support on your journey to facilitating forgiveness, we’re here to help. Reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com

Three Keys for Cultivating Connection

Are you struggling to connect with the people in your life? Sometimes things like differences, disagreements, misunderstandings, or distractions stand in the way of creating connections with the people that we love.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we were created for relationship and that the most important things we can spend our time and energy on is cultivating as much closeness as we can in all the relationships we participate in. People tend to think that “building the kingdom of God” involves doing “big things” for Jesus. Doing projects. Volunteering at the parish. Getting involved.  Those things can be important, but the primary way we’re called to build God’s kingdom is by working to heal the damage that sin has done or wants to do to our relationships. The kingdom of God is discovered in the way we connect heart to heart and soul to soul.

We are destined to spend eternity in intimate union with God and the communion of saints. Doing the work we need to do in this life to make our relationships whole and holy helps to prepare us for that heavenly communion. It’s true that there are some relationships that can’t or won’t be healed or fully realized this side of heaven, but the more we focus our energy on at least attempting to cultivate as much closeness, intimacy, openness, and love  as we can with the people in our lives the more we are preparing ourselves to participate in the ultimate union of heaven.   

Here are three ways to cultivate connection in your relationships:

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Are you struggling with difficult relationships in your life?

Check out:
God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts!

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1. Develop a Relationship Mindset–We are all too busy and most of us tend to focus, primarily, on “getting things done.”  It is certainly important to do good work and accomplish the important tasks that are set before us, but we have to resist the worldly temptation to put things before people–including projects and chores. One of the most important tasks of living an authentically Christian life is cultivating a relationship mindset.  That means, as you go about your day, asking yourself two questions. First, “What small things could I do in this moment to close whatever gap exists between me and the people in my life?” And second, “How can I approach the tasks I need to complete today in a way that lets me be as close as possible to the people I care about?”  These two questions allow us to make continuous micro-efforts to keep people close and fight the temptation to value accomplishments and projects over intimacy and people.  Cultivating connection doesn’t mean that you necessarily have any more time than anyone else does.  It just means that you keep the relationships you have and the people you love in the forefront of your mind instead of in the back corners.

2.  Make Small Steps–We have a tendency to think, “I can’t wait to get this big chunk of time to connect with the important people in my life.  Things will be great then.”  We live for date night, or vacation, or the weekend trip when we’ll get to “really connect.” But we ignore our relationships until then. Cultivating connection isn’t done in big gulps. It’s made of a million little steps. Cultivating connection involves sending those little “I’m thinking of you” texts through the day. Calling just to check in. Making time in the middle of a busy day to do that thing that makes a loved one’s life a little easier or more pleasant or makes them feel cherished.  If you want to be closer to someone you care about, challenge yourself everyday to do something that keeps you close or draws you a little bit closer. Making small relationship steps everyday is a much more effective way to cultivate closeness than hoping to cover the same relationship ground through occasional giant leaps.

3. Remember “A Stitch in Time…”–There is an old proverb that says, “a stitch in time saves nine.”  That means “solve little problems before they become big problems.”  This is a great rule for cultivating closeness in relationships.  Nothing creates more barriers to intimacy than resentment, suspicion, and estrangement caused by the piling up of unresolved problems or misunderstandings. Remember what St Gregory the Great said, “Thoughts seethe all the more when corralled by the violent guard of an indiscreet silence.” When it comes to relationships, make sure to clarify misunderstandings before they become problems and resolve problems before they become crises. The more you commit to regular relationship maintenance, the closer and more rewarding your connections will be.

For more resources on cultivating connection, check out our books, videos, and services at CatholicCounselors.com!

Lending a Listening Ear–How Being Heard Can Impact Our Mental and Physical Health

It’s understandable how being heard can have an impact on our mental health, but can having someone there to listen to us impact our physical health as well?

According to a study out of NYU Grossman School of Medicine, researchers have found that having a good listener in our lives is associated with improved brain health and greater cognitive resilience.

In this study, researchers examined the modifying effect of individual forms of social support on the relationship between cerebral volume and cognitive performance. The cognitive function of individuals with greater availability of one specific form of social support was higher relative to their total cerebral volume. This key form of social support was listener availability and it was highly associated with greater cognitive resilience.

So what do we do when we’re struggling to be heard?

Theology of The Body tells us that love is the only appropriate response to another person.  Listening is an important part of loving.  To love someone means working for their good, but we can’t know what they need help with, what their goals are, or what they are struggling with if we aren’t willing to listen–and that goes for kids as well as adults.  Listening is hard, but it is even harder to feel loved by someone who is unwilling to really listen to us.

Here are three ways to ensure you can be heard:

1.  Be Direct–If you want to be heard, it’s best to be clear and direct.  Sometimes, in a mistaken attempt to be polite, we simply hint at what we want or even just describe a problem and hope others will come up with ways to solve.  But if other people don’t pick up the hint, or propose solutions that don’t really meet our need, we can become resentful and feel like we weren’t being heard. If you have a problem or need, it’s best to begin the conversation by saying exactly what you want from the people around you.  For instance, instead of announcing, “This place is a mess!” and becoming upset when you end up cleaning everything yourself, say, “Guys, listen up.  We need to make a plan for how we’re going to get the place cleaned up before dinner.”  The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely it is you will actually be heard.

2.  Always End a Conversation with A Plan–Often we don’t feel heard because we discuss a problem with someone but don’t actually end the conversation with any action items or a plan for following up. This is usually the problem when people say, “We’ve talked about this a million times, but nothing ever changes.”  That usually means that you talked about the problem but there were no clear decisions about what to do about it, who was going to do those things, and when you were going to check in with each other for how things were going and what else might need to be done.  If you end a conversation without a follow-up plan that determines who is going to do what by when, then chances are high that you will be talking about this same problem again–and again, and again–in the very near future.  If you want to be heard, make sure to end your conversations with clear action items, who is going to be responsible for following up, and when you are going to follow-up.

3.  Back Up Words with Action–If you’ve done all the things we’ve mentioned so far, and you still aren’t being heard, there’s a good chance the other person isn’t hearing you because they don’t want to listen.  It may be that things are working for them the way they are and they don’t want to change even if that means that you are being inconvenienced.  Of course, that’s not OK.  In those cases, it’s best not to use more words.  It’s time to take action.  Tell the person that you aren’t happy leaving things as they are and that you have decided to make some changes on your own, invite them to join you in solving the problem, but if they still refuse (or don’t follow through) go ahead and take that as permission to act alone to make some changes even if they affect the other person.  Taking action may just be the thing to do to get the other person’s attention.  Either way, you’ll feel better, because you’ve taken active steps to solve the problem.

If you need additional support or resources for being heard and strengthening your relationships with others, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

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!

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).

Conquer Conflict–How Empathy Can Help Us Be Communication Warriors

When caught in a conflict, the last thing we want to do is be empathetic. Our natural response is often to become defensive, offensive, or to flee from the scene. While these reactions can be effective in getting us away from the original problem, they don’t really help us solve the problem.

So how do we overcome these natural reactions and work through conflict effectively?

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Are you dealing with frustrating people in your life?

Check Out:
God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!
Making Peace With Difficult People 

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Theology of The Body reminds us that, at all times, we need to treat other people–even people we disagree with or find offensive, obnoxious, or upsetting–as persons.  When we are in conflict, our natural, fallen response is to stop treating our opponent as a person and, instead, see them as an enemy, an idiot, a nuisance, an irritant, or an aggressor.  As soon as we start thinking of someone that way, we indulge our sinful tendency to depersonalize the other–treating them as a thing to be ignored, overpowered, dismissed, or shouted down.  None of these responses are consistent with our call to create communities of love and to treat others as unique and unrepeatable persons deserving of dignity and respect.  So what do we do?  We empathize. Empathy is the quality that allows us to accept that people do things for reasons that make sense to them and that we are obliged to do what we can to understand those reasons.  Empathy does not require us to agree with what the other person thinks, approve of what they are doing, or excuse any offenses.  It simply requires us to assume that–whatever they are doing–there is at least a positive intention or need that is driving their thoughts, words, or actions.  Empathy gives us a starting point for respectful change.  It reminds us that the best defense is not a good offense but rather compassion.  Empathy allows us to be strong enough to encounter someone we disagree with and say, “Help me understand what you are trying to do and then let’s work together to find a respectful way to meet that need.”

Although empathy in conflict is important, it can often be difficult. Here are three steps to effectively cultivating empathy in difficult situations:

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, remind yourself to “STOP!” Then invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Ask God for the grace to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to all the disagreements with the people in your life.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you are dealing with conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control?  Assertiveness?  Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well. If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict.  Faith and science agree.  Not only is it possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into disagreements, it’s the key to peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance as stubbornness that has to be overcome by talking even louder..  Avoid this.  Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person is resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?”  If you are getting resistance about your needs or concerns from someone else, don’t get defensive. Instead, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need.  You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle.  Treat resistance as a message.  Identify the need.  Create a solution, and move on.

For more resources for dealing with conflict effectively, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

How to Calm Your Amygdala and Live A More Positive Life

Would you like to be a more positive person?  You can.  It turns out that you just need to learn a few simple ways to trick you brain into letting you be happy.

Our brain is naturally wired to be attentive to negative stimuli. Negative thoughts, experiences, or images trigger a structure called the amygdala which is the fear/threat system in our brain. This part of our brain is often hyperactive in an attempt to keep us safe from potential danger, however psychologists at the University of Miami have found that it might have a negative impact on our long-term psychological health and happiness.

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If you are struggling with anxiety and would like more resources for calming your mind and living a more positive life,

Check out:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Psychologists have found that even small amounts of negative stimuli can have a large impact on our overall happiness, stating, “Suppose you drop your morning coffee and it splatters everywhere. Later a colleague drops by to say hello. Do you grumble a testy acknowledgment, or cheerfully greet her?” This example demonstrates that “how a person’s brain evaluates fleeting negative stimuli — such as that dropped cup — may influence their long-term psychological well-being.” Lead researcher of this study, Nikki Puccetti, stated, “One way to think about it is the longer your brain holds on to a negative event, or stimuli, the unhappier you report being,”

To conduct this study, psychologists evaluated 52 participants through a process of psychological questionnaires, nightly phone calls evaluating overall daily experience, as well as functional MRI scans measuring the effects of positive, negative, and neutral images on brain activity.

The results of this study revealed that people whose amygdala held on to negative stimuli for fewer seconds were more likely to report more positive and fewer negative emotions in their daily lives — which spilled over to a more enduring well-being over time.

So how do we teach our amygdala to hold onto negative stimuli for less time in order to increase our overall happiness?

Focus on gratitude—When we intentionally focus on what we are grateful for, we create greater activity in our hypothalamus, hippocampus, and balance our amygdala. The hypothalamus and the hippocampus are primary brain structures that regulate emotions, memory, and bodily functioning. Focusing on gratitude is a helpful way to increase our psychological well-being as well as our physical health. Practice gratitude by writing a gratitude list and adding to it as you move through your day.

Recognize the Gift—Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that you shouldn’t say “thank you” to someone who is “just doing their job” or “just doing what they are supposed to do.”  There are lots of people who don’t do their jobs and fail to do what they should.  The fact is, it takes effort to try to do what’s right and fulfill our responsibilities to one another, and it’s an effort that deserves to be recognized.  In a world that sees people as objects and takes everyone for granted, we Christians have a special duty to remind each other, and the world, how important each and every person is in the eyes of God and how precious a gift it is when someone does something–anything–to make our lives a little easier or more pleasant. Be that person who recognizes the gifts others give you today.  Acknowledge everything someone does for you today with a simple “thank you” and a smile. 

Celebrate the People In Your Life–Is there someone you especially appreciate? Someone who makes a difference in your life just by being who they are?  When was the last time you told them how important they are to you?  Today, take a minute to actually hand write a short note to tell them how much they mean to you.  You might thank them for something specific they did, or for how they make you feel, or just thank them for being in your life. Let them know what a gift they are to you and how you wouldn’t be the same without them.  Then drop it in the mail or leave it someplace where they can be surprised to find it later on.  It doesn’t take much effort, but you’d be surprised by how much of a difference  this little effort can make.

For more resources on increasing your mental health and well-being, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Taming The Beast—3 Ways to Understand and Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety often feels like a terrible beast that runs roughshod over our lives. It can cause us to feel scared, hopeless, or worn down. It can even feel like something that becomes more of who we are rather than something we can manage or get rid of.

So how do we manage something that can become such a large presence in our lives?

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Do you want more information on overcoming anxiety?

Check Out:
Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that anxiety is not God’s will for us.  Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. They were completely at peace.  Only after the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and their best selves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and anxious.  Confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency when separated from God they hid, cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way?  TOB tells us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless.  That’s why Pope JPII, was constantly reminding us, “Be Not Afraid!” Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater.  In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”

 

Here are three ways to win your battle with anxiety:

1. Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face.  Yes, these are serious things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves.  Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing.  If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems.  Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations?  How will I pace myself?  How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?”

Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!”  It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety.  Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed.  The MOST important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.

2.  Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!”  Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution to the situation that is upsetting you, but rather by focusing on the next step. What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources,  enlists more support, or at least makes you feel a little more taken care of while you think about what else you can do?  If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek.  Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once.  Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success.  The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.

3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for.  Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it.  Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through.  In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different.  God loves you.  He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace.  The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.

 

For additional resources and support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com