How To Raise The Dead

Guest post by Jacob Francisco M.A., LMHC, Pastoral Counselor at CatholicCounselors.com


There is an emotion that can kill, and that emotion is called shame. Shame is the sense that deep down inside, at the very core of who we are, we are unlovable, unworthy, broken beyond repair, or otherwise
bad. This feeling is something we are all familiar with going all the way back to the garden of Eden. For some of us, this shame seems to kill a part of us. We may describe ourselves as feeling “dead inside” or talk about the skeletons in our closet. Another common description is feeling numb all the time. 

Shame feels repulsive or ugly, like something dead, and we do not want to think about it or anyone else to know about it. It’s a natural impulse to bury something that is dead. We do this in the physical world and we do this emotionally. So we toss it in a hole and throw heavy stones on top to keep it buried. We medicate our self-loathing or despair with things that make us feel better in the moment; food, TV, social media, substances, pornography or other sexual behaviors, oversleeping, overworking. The list is endless. Sometimes the thing we use to bury the shame is even more of what we are ashamed of, and so the cycle continues around and around. Oftentimes we are able to numb out the shame to the point that we rarely consider it consciously anymore. We may deny that we have any shame at all. This dead part of us that we have now buried is a festering, rotting, thing that poisons the other parts of us. It spreads like a plague into many areas of our life, warping our thoughts and emotions into twisted half-truths that trap us in despair or suffering. 

Christ came to raise the dead in all senses of that phrase. He came that you may have life, and have it to the full. When Lazarus had died and Jesus went to Bethany, Martha and Mary asked Jesus for a miracle. In response to this request He says, “Take away the stone.” In other words, Jesus requires an act of faith. He requires that they work for what they pray for. Jesus is the only one who can do this and He requires that we clear the way.

 Here are a few steps to do just that:

  1. Identify the stone. What are the stones I have piled up over my shame? What sinful or unhealthy behaviors do I feel stuck in or powerless to change?
  2. Work for the miracle. I must do what is in my power to grow and become more healthy. I must act before I feel better. I need to cut away sinful behavior from my life. I must act contrary to my unhealthy urges and desires.
  3. Seek help. Big stones rolled in front of tombs are heavy! You will need help from someone trustworthy, mature, and/or professional. Start asking the Lord for the faith you need to believe He can raise the dead.
  4. Tell your story. Shame is like mold. It grows where it is dark and cool and hidden. Share your story with a trusted person. Let the light and the heat into that tomb. 
  5. Have faith and courage. Do what is within your power, and God will do what is within His. Your faith can raise the dead.

If you would like more resources or support to work through shame or other difficult emotions, reach out to a Pastoral Counselor at CatholicCounselors.com.

Use the ‘Fortress and Communion’ Prayer to Heal Past Hurts and Protect Your Heart

Have you ever felt deeply hurt or attacked, only to find yourself struggling to forgive and move forward? Christians are told to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them— but how do you do this when you are hurting?

This dilemma is what prompted Dave McClow, M.Div., LCSW, LMFT, a therapist at the Pastoral Solutions Institute, to develop a process of healing and forgiveness that he calls the “Fortress and Communion” prayer. This approach helps you protect your heart and transfer negative emotions, ultimately leading to genuine healing and forgiveness.

Understanding the Fortress and Communion Prayer

Dave explained the prayer process in a recent interview with CatholicCounselors.com. When we are hurt, he said, our feelings become dysregulated, and we often turn the people who hurt us into enemies. Moreover, emotional hurt often shows up with physical symptoms.

“When emotions get activated, we get a feeling in our body—it could be in our stomach, chest, shoulders, neck, jaw, eyes, head,” he said. “These physical sensations signal that it’s time to address the underlying emotional pain.”

The Fortress and Communion prayer provides a structured way to begin the healing process and restore a sense of peace and balance, emotionally and physically.

 

Step 1: Building Your Fortress

The first part of the process is about protecting your heart, which McClow describes as creating a “fortress.” He likens it to the walled city of Jerusalem, with your heart being the Holy of Holies at the center of the Temple that must be protected. Visualize this fortress (like the walls around the city) and imagine placing those who have hurt you outside its walls.

McClow suggests that clients use vivid imagery, such as catapulting people out of the fortress, to create a physical and emotional boundary.

“When you get them outside, you want to feel a physiological shift,” he said. This shift might be felt in areas like your stomach or chest, where tension is stored. If the initial boundary doesn’t create enough relief, mentally push them farther away (a tropical island, the moon, Mars, etc.) until you feel a noticeable difference.

Step 2: Transferring Negative Emotions

Once the fortress is established and the hurtful individuals are outside, the next step is to transfer the negative emotions to Jesus. This is where the “communion” aspect comes in. Imagine Jesus on the cross outside your fortress, absorbing all the anger, hurt, and negative energy from the person who hurt you.

“Let all the anger, all the rage, all the hurt from that person go into Jesus,” Dave advised.

This step is about visualizing the transfer of these emotions, allowing Jesus to “take the hit” for you. It’s a deeply spiritual and healing process, McClow said: “Jesus is kind of our emotional sanitation department: he picks up our garbage, processes our sewage, and takes care of it for us.”

Step 3: The Resurrection and Transformation

After transferring the negative emotions to Jesus, ask him to take them through the resurrection. This step involves transforming the negative energy into something positive.

“In physics, you can’t destroy energy; you can only transfer or transform it,” McClow said. “We’ve transferred it; now we’re going to transform it.”

Visualize this transformation as an explosion of love and light, turning the negative into something beautiful. This step can be deeply felt, with some people imagining fireworks or other vivid images.

Step 4: Spiritual Communion

The final step is to ask Jesus to offer spiritual communion to everyone involved. This includes not only yourself and the person who hurt you but also extends to intergenerational healing.

“Ask Jesus to give communion—his infinite love—to everybody involved,” McClow said. “This includes your ancestors, any souls in purgatory connected to the event, and your descendants, ensuring that the healing permeates through generations.”

Sometimes, his clients are still reluctant to ask Jesus to give their enemy or persecutor communion. “If you’re still mad at the bully, you can visualize infinite love knocking him on his butt,” McClow said. “Because infinite love coming into a finite suffering is impactful. So if you need to do that, that’s fine.”

“In the Depths of the Heart’

The Fortress and Communion prayer draws on many sources in the Catholic tradition, but it takes particular inspiration from the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s reflection on the lines about forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer:

“It is there, in fact, ‘in the depths of the heart,’ that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2843).

That quote is the entire process in a nutshell, McClow said: “You can have the memory without the feelings. That’s purifying the memory by transforming hurt into intercession.”

The Fortress and Communion prayer is versatile and can be used in various situations, from dealing with past traumas to handling daily annoyances. Like many forms of contemplative or meditative prayer, it gets easier with practice. At first, you may want to set aside 15 to 30 minutes to walk through the process thoroughly. Once it becomes habitual, you will be able to do it in a few minutes—say, when you’re sitting in a frustrating work meeting or trying to be patient about a crying baby on the plane.

You can see a video walkthrough of the Fortress and Communion Prayer on YouTube.

If you’d like McClow to guide you through the process, or if you’d like to work with another Catholic counselor on healing and forgiveness, reach out at CatholicCounselors.com.

How to Find Marriage Counseling That Really Works—and Why You Shouldn’t Wait

Nearly half of all first marriages in the United States end in divorce, yet couples typically wait four to six years from the onset of problems before seeking professional help. That’s too bad, because numerous research studies have shown that marriage counseling can be effective at significantly improving relationship satisfaction and preventing divorce.

Why do couples wait so long to seek professional help? Many couples steer clear of marriage counseling because they are afraid it won’t work, or because they view it as admitting failure. In the meantime, they usually turn to the sources of support that are most conveniently at hand: friends, family, pastors, and so on.

But these sources of help usually fail to address the deeper issues in a troubled relationship. Worse, well-meaning friends can offer advice that actually causes more problems.

“No one sets out to destroy their relationship, but I cannot tell you the number of hours I have had to spend with couples cleaning up messes that were made from bad advice they had received,” Dr. Greg Popcak writes in his book How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love. “Often, my clients will spend weeks undoing the problems caused by bad advice or poor support before we can even get to the original problem.”

When is it appropriate to lean on friends, family, and faith leaders for support, and when is it time to seek the help of a licensed marriage and family therapist? And how do you find a competent therapist—one who has training and experience in marriage counseling, and who is actually committed to helping you heal your marriage?

Dr. Popcak addresses all of these questions in chapter 11 of How to Heal Your Marriage, but we’ll summarize his advice below.

 

Family, Friends, Faith: The Limits of Common Marital Supports

Couples who encounter problems in their marriage often begin by seeking support from family and friends, and sometimes their pastor or another faith leader. Seeking emotional support and encouragement from family and friends can be a perfectly good first step, Dr. Popcak writes, when those people are able to provide informed peer support.

“The key words here are informed and peer,” he says. Peers are people who are on the same social level as you—not people who are emotionally or materially dependent on you. And an informed peer is someone who has demonstrated maturity, virtue, and good character. This is someone who is capable of lovingly challenging your outlook and assumptions rather than simply affirming everything you say.

While certain friends and family members can provide much-needed support, they are rarely a good source of practical advice for couples experiencing significant marital problems. That’s because friends and family are not usually in the best position to provide objective advice. Moreover, they usually lack the professional training and experience necessary to provide strategies that are research-tested and proven to work. Finally, Dr. Popcak says, in a culture where divorce is common, “most people intuitively know much more about what it takes to end a marriage than how to save it.”

What about your pastor? Your pastor may be able to offer you the spiritual support you need to tackle your marriage problems, but unless he has a professional degree in counseling, he is no more qualified to offer you marriage counseling than he is to treat your medical problems. That is not to say that you shouldn’t reach out to your pastor, but depending on the severity of your problems, most pastors will likely point you in the direction of marriage-friendly counseling.

 

Why Good Marriage Counseling Works

Human relationships, even between two people who love one another, are complicated, and the keys to a healthy relationship are not always obvious or intuitive. This is where a licensed marriage therapist can help. Drawing on decades of research, a competent marriage therapist can help couples learn the habits and practices that make for a happy, fulfilling relationship.

Dr. Popcak, for example, lists eight habits of happy couples:

  1. Regularly connecting through daily rituals of working, playing, praying, and talking together.
  2. Practicing emotional rapport and benevolence.
  3. Practicing emotional self-control, especially during times of stress and conflict.
  4. Practicing a “positive intention frame”—that is, assuming the best about your spouse even when they are at their worst.
  5. Taking care of one another as you work through conflicts.
  6. Practicing mutual respect, accountability, and boundaries.
  7. Learning from mistakes and learning to talk about “perpetual problems.”
  8. Finding good support for their marriage.

Couples who are struggling often think that the key is to solve the conflict between them. In fact, research shows that both happy and unhappy couples have about the same amount of conflict; the difference is that happy couples have the skills to handle those conflicts in ways that draw them together rather than pushing them apart.

A good marriage therapist serves as a sort of coach, helping couples learn these and other skills that will enable them to have a happy marriage. It is this long-term, expert guidance that makes marriage counseling so effective.

But how do you find a good marriage therapist?

 

Choosing a Competent, Marriage-Friendly Therapist

To find a good therapist, start by looking for someone whose training has prepared them to specialize in marriage counseling. Research by Gottman (2011) shows that therapists with specific training in marriage and family therapy have significantly higher success rates with marital therapy clients (over 90%) compared to general practice therapists (as low as 30%).

Ask about the potential therapist’s specific training and supervised experience in marital therapy. A qualified therapist should be able to describe their graduate coursework and practical experience in detail. If a therapist gives vague responses, they might not be the right fit.

Next, ask whether the therapist is marriage friendly. What is a “marriage-friendly” therapist? According to the National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists, this is a therapist who believes it is preferable to help couples restore their marriage to health, if that is possible.

It might seem that most marriage and family therapists would hold this belief, but according to one national survey of 1,000 therapists, more than 60% said they are “neutral” on marriage versus divorce for their clients, according to the Registry.

For many Catholic couples, finding a therapist who understands and supports their faith tradition is also crucial. Research indicates that faithful Catholics prefer therapists with competencies in moral theology and other areas specific to their faith. Different faith traditions have unique perspectives on marriage, and working with a therapist unfamiliar with or unsupportive of these views can make counseling challenging.

 

The Path to a Happier Marriage

So, while many couples delay seeking professional help for their marriage because of fears or misperceptions about what it involves, the reality is that good marriage counseling is no different from the sort of help you would get from a coach, financial advisor, or a medical professional.

Throughout the Bible and two thousand years of tradition, the Christian faith acknowledges that good relationships don’t come naturally to us humans. We all need the help of God—and one another—to nurture happy, healthy relationships. Marriage counseling that respects clients’ faith and works from research-proven methods can provide the support couples need to fulfill God’s plan for their marriage.

For more advice about finding professional help for your marriage, see chapter 11 of How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love by Dr. Greg Popcak. The National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists can direct you to marriage-friendly therapists in your area. And you can always get tele-counseling marriage therapy from the many Catholic therapists right here at CatholicCounselors.com.

Who Is Narrating Your Life? How You Answer Has a Big Impact on Your Happiness

In the movie Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS agent who is haunted by the voice of an unseen narrator who offers a running commentary on the events of his life.

Mr. Crick’s unseen narrator turned out to be a frustrated author. But the truth is, each of us have an internal voice that “narrates” the events of our life. The nature of that running commentary shapes the way we react to situations and events—and that, in turn, has a big impact on our overall happiness.

Like Mr. Crick, then, it’s a good idea to occasionally interrogate that internal narrator.

Interrogating Our Narrator

In his book, God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, Dr. Greg Popcak proposes a simple exercise. Whenever you hear that unbidden voice interpreting a situation or event in your life, stop and ask: Is this thought true or false?

In the context of this exercise, we’re not so much analyzing the factual accuracy of the thought. Most of the time, our internal narrator’s interpretation of events contains at least a grain of truth. Rather, we’re trying to determine whether the thought leads us to the richer, more joyful life that God wants for us.

“We know that a thought or feeling is true (healthy, productive, rational) if acting on that thought or feeling would lead us to experience a greater degree of hope, confidence, competence, intimacy, security, peace, strength, and so on, even in the face of problems,” Dr. Popcak writes. “On the other hand, we know a thought or feeling is false (not of God, who is ‘the way and the truth and the life’) if acting on that thought or feeling would lead to hopelessness, confusion, doubt, anxiety, despair, estrangement, insecurity, ignorance, or incompetence, none of which come from God.”

Let’s look at an example. Your boss asks to meet with you on Friday without specifying the reason for the meeting. How does your inner voice narrate this situation?

Here’s one option: “Is she mad at me? Did I do something to upset her? What if she fires me? I don’t need this kind of stress!” This is an example of a “false” thought—not because it is inaccurate, but because it doesn’t help you deal with the situation. You can tell this thought is not from God because it leads to worry, hopelessness, and despair, none of which do anything to help you.

Here’s another option: “I wonder what she wants to meet about? I guess I won’t know until Friday. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I’m a little nervous, though; maybe I need to pray for peace.” This thought is “true” because it provides a helpful path forward.

Let’s take another example. Martha looks at her calendar for the week; it’s crammed with medical appointments, school events, and work obligations—and that’s on top of her usual busy routine.

Her interior narrator might respond negatively: “I am so overwhelmed! There’s no way I can juggle all this. If one more person puts one more thing on my plate, I’m going to scream.” Those thoughts are “false” because they don’t lead to more peace. They don’t come from God; in fact, they obscure God’s will for Martha’s well-being.

On the other hand, her internal narrator might respond more “truthfully”: “This is way too much for one person to handle. To get through the week, I’m going to have to drop some of these commitments or hand them off to someone else. I need a plan!” This way of narrating her situation might not make it magically better, but it provides a more hopeful path forward.

Tuning into God’s Grace

Both of these scenarios illustrate the power that our internal narration—what psychology calls our “automatic thoughts”—has over the quality of our day-to-day lives. False thoughts send us down a path where we waste energy, spin our wheels, and stew in stress. Worse, these noisy thoughts often distract us from the help and comfort God offers us. True thoughts, on the other hand, help us tune into God’s grace. And when we’re tuned into God, he opens our eyes to new possibilities and strengthens us to get through tough situations.

The key is to be more intentional about what our internal narrator is telling us. Like Harold Crick in Stranger Than Fiction, we need to confront our own personal narrators. If they’re not reading from God’s script, then we need to change that.

Poor Harold Crick had to get hit by a bus in order to get a new script. Thankfully, most of us won’t have to go to such lengths. If you need some professional, faith-based help, though, connect with a Catholic counselor at CatholicCounselors.com.

Five Ways Happy Couples Fight Differently

Conflict is an inevitable part of human relationships; even the happiest of couples experience it sooner or later.

But surprisingly, research shows that happily married couples “fight” differently than others. While many couples fall into an adversarial, combative mindset, happy couples tend to take more of a team approach. Their priority isn’t winning the argument. Instead, it’s solving the problem in a way that respects their spouse and strengthens their marriage.

Just as great sports teams support one another even in tough situations, couples with a team mindset go out of their way to make sure that their spouse feels loved and cared for. In fact, research finds that happily married couples have five positive interactions for every negative interaction—even during conflicts.

What does this look like in practice? In his book How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love, Dr. Greg Popcak describes some of the strategies couples can use to navigate conflicts in a more loving, caring way. Here are five to try the next time you find things heating up between you and your spouse (or other conversation partner).

 

1. Give a Heads Up Before Difficult Conversations

If you know you need to tackle a tough conversation, try scheduling the conversation with your partner for a later time—and do it in a way that sets the tone for a cooperative, problem-focused conversation. For example: “Hey, I feel like we need to talk about (topic). Could we make some time to do that tonight? I know this isn’t a conversation either of us really enjoys, but let’s think about how we want to handle it between now and then. I’m interested in hearing your ideas.”

 

2. Turn to God for Help

Christian couples have an extra resource to help them manage conflict: the power of prayer. Praying before, during, and after a hard conversation grounds your relationship in the larger reality of God’s love for both of you, opening you to receive God’s help.

You can maximize the power of prayer by praying together, out loud: “Lord, you know how difficult this conversation is for us. Give us the grace to be both loving and truthful with one another, and help us be open to your will for us. Amen.”

 

3. Complain, but Don’t Criticize

At a minimum, couples who take a teamwork approach to conflict focus on solving the problem, not attacking one another. It’s all right to complain. But when that complaint becomes a personal criticism—when you name your partner as the problem—you’re headed for a contentious, unproductive argument.

Here’s a personal criticism: “You obviously have no money management skills; I can’t trust you with a debit card.” And here’s the same issue framed as a complaint: “When you go over the budget we agreed on, it makes me feel frustrated and anxious.” The first statement locates the problem in the partner; the second states two facts (the state of the budget and your feelings about it) that pose a problem to be solved.

 

4. Offering Encouragement and Affirmation

High-functioning teams offer one another words and gestures of support even when they’re in a tough spot. The same goes for happy couples during hard conversations.

You can reaffirm your bond and create a supportive atmosphere with a simple gesture—reaching out to hold your spouse’s hand, for instance, or offering them a tissue or glass of water. A few well-chosen words of affirmation can work magic, too: “Hey, it’s going to be okay. We’ve gotten through worse.”

 

5. Take Mini-Breaks When Things Get Too Hot

Another way couples can care for one another when a conflict starts getting too contentious is to take a short break. The point of the break isn’t to avoid the situation; rather, it’s to give yourselves a chance to calm down and refocus the conversation.

During your mini-break (five or ten minutes may be enough), work on empathizing with your partner and his or her position (even if you don’t agree with it). Then, ask yourself what you can do to shift the conversation to a more solution-focused mindset.

 

For couples who handle conflict in this way, it doesn’t drive them apart—instead, it results in a stronger, happier relationship. And that makes sense: After all, what better testament to true love is there than caring for your partner even when they’re driving you a little crazy?

You can learn much more about this topic in the “Caretaking in Conflict” chapter of Dr. Popcak’s book, How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love. And if you could use some professional help with your marriage or other relationships, reach out to one of the Catholic counselors at CatholicCounselors.com.

But I don’t want to spoil them!–How to Have a Healthy and Positive Relationship With Your Child

I want to have a good relationship with my kids but I don’t want to spoil them!”

Does this statement feel familiar?

Attachment does not mean that you have to give your children everything they want, when they want it, and how they want it. It means listening to them, taking the time to understand why they want the things they want, and—if you can’t let them—brainstorming more godly and efficient ways that you could help them meet at least some of those needs in the here and now.

Alternatively, if you have to say no, as parents often must, it is always for a good and objective reason (for instance, your child’s safety or well-being) and not just because you don’t feel like it or because you reactively tend to say no to things out of stress and irritability.

In infancy and toddlerhood, fostering healthy attachment means responding promptly, generously, and consistently to cries. It means trusting the schedule God has built into your child for sleeping, feeding, and comforting and not making your child “cry it out” at night, or cry for long periods as a matter of habit during the day. Crying is never good for a child. It always means he needs help in regulating some system in his body (Sunderland, 2008). God gives parents the responsibility to attend to those cries promptly, just as he tells us He does in Psalm 34:4. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

As your child matures through childhood and adolescence, his needs become more complicated to meet. Parents should, as much as possible, use the “qualified-yes” technique in responding to these needs unless the request is for something that is truly contrary to the child’s well-being. For instance, if a child asked for something the parent couldn’t afford, the qualified-yes technique would have the parent say, “I can afford to contribute only X toward that, but let’s talk about ways you might be able to earn the difference if it is that important to you. Otherwise, this is what I can do. What do you think?” This would be as opposed to saying, for instance, “You want me to spend $250 on a pair of sneakers? Are you crazy?”

With the qualified-yes technique, the child learns that the parent is always someone to whom he can turn to get help in meeting his needs or making a plan by which those needs could be met. Because of this, even when the parent can’t supply what the child wants or needs, the child still feels attached because he has been heard and helped to come up with a plan. And, if the child decides that having that thing really isn’t worth the effort after all, it is he who makes that decision, and not the parent who makes himself an obstacle to achieving that need or want.

For more on how to use the qualified-yes technique as a way of fostering attachment through childhood and adolescence, check out our books Parenting Your Kids With Grace and Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace!

 

Quick Links and Resources:

Parenting Your Kids With Grace

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace

Discovering God Together

Carrying Your Cross—Concrete Steps to Overcoming Difficulties

 

Life can feel like one challenge after the next. Or maybe, when things are good, we have a hard time trusting the good, because it feels like we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak.

The Theology Of The Body reminds us that although the world is fallen, God is working through us to rebuild his kingdom. Carrying our cross doesn’t mean just learning to put up with the problems and frustrations of this broken world, but rather to face them with strength and virtue and where possible, through God’s grace, to overcome them. Pope St. John Paul reminded us that focusing on what God created us and the world to be is more important than focusing on what we and the world are today.

We tend to get frustrated when we have to deal with persistent problems, challenges, and stressors. Of course, that’s understandable. But when we look through the lens of the Theology of the Body, we can see that God is always giving us the grace we need to bounce back in the face of trials and respond in ways that help us to cooperate with his grace and make a positive difference. As Christians, we’re called to do whatever we can to show the world that God’s power is always working in us–even in the middle of persistent problems–and that he is giving us the ability to make whatever challenge we’re facing better–even if just in small ways.

It’s true that some days that work can seem harder than others.  But there are a few tips we can draw from the Theology of the Body to persevere even when we start to doubt ourselves or feel worn down.  First we need to keep our eyes, not on what’s in front of us, but rather on how God wants to work through us to make the situation into what he wants it to be. Second, we need to remember that it isn’t all up to us.  We need to keep bringing the situation to God–not just once, but again and agin until its resolved– and ask him to help us discern the next small step.  Third, we need to lean into virtue–that is, the spiritual strengths God wants to give us.  We need to prayerfully ask, “What are the virtues or strengths would help me overcome this challenge and what would it look like to practice them?”  Fourth, we need to look at failure–not as a closed door–but as feedback that we bring back to prayer and then leads us back thought these steps until we find the solution.  If we can work this process, we can fulfill the promise that St Paul makes in Romans 8:28 that to those who love God, all things work to the good.

Here are three practical steps to accomplish the above points:

1.  Center Yourself– When you’re struggling to recover from a setback or disappointment, before doing anything else, the first step has to be centering yourself. Bring the situation to God, pray, “Lord, help me rest in you, trust in your grace, and gather the resources and support I need to make a plan and see this through.”  Then refocus on a goal–any goal–that represents the next small step you can take.  You’ll feel less like running away if you can identify the next step forward and focus on gathering the resources to help you take that next step.

2.  Get Out of the Tunnel–We often find it hard to bounce back from disappointments or challenges because tunnel vision causes us to get stuck trying to find the one big thing we can do to solve this problem once and for all. Especially with more complicated situations, there is rarely one thing you can do to make the problem disappear. Instead, concentrate on the next small thing you can do to either address the problem or insulate yourself from the problem or both. Focusing on small steps you can take in several areas– instead of searching for ultimate answers to the one big question–allows you to come out of the tunnel and begin to see new options on the horizon.

3. Make A “Got It Done” List–We all know about To-Do lists but what about making a “Got it Done” list?  Sometimes we struggle with bouncing back from a problem or setbacks because we feel like we’re  just not up to the challenge.  You can combat these feelings by intentionally calling to mind–and better yet, writing down–all the past times in your life when you were sure you weren’t up to a challenge but, through God’s grace and your good efforts, you managed to succeed.  Making a “Got It Done List” will help you remember that you have conquered many difficult situations before and remind you that between you and God, there is nothing you can’t handle moving forward.

Looking for more practical steps to navigating life’s challenges? Check out our videos, books, and pastoral tele-counseling services at CatholicCounselors.com.

_____________________

Quick Links and Resources:

God Help Me! This Stress is Driving Me Crazy!

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

Pastoral Tele-Counseling

This Is My Circus And These Are My Monkeys! — How To Gracefully Deal With Drama and Stress

Does the world around you feel chaotic? Are you having a hard time knowing how to handle certain challenges that are coming up in your life? Often when situations are escalated, we can quickly become overwhelmed and feel as though we don’t know where to start or what to handle.

This is because drama pulls us out of the receptive spirit God calls us to live in. It makes it difficult to hear God’s voice and cooperate with his will. We’re so busy living in reaction to the drama-causing events and people that it sometimes doesn’t even occur to us to ask God what to do.  The Theology of The Body reminds us of the importance of resisting the impulse to get caught up in our drama: that, even in the middle of the drama, it’s important to cultivate receptivity, the ability to step out of the craziness that’s happening around us, center ourselves in God’s grace and respond (rather than react) to what’s happening in a loving, responsible way that glorifies God, works for our good and the good of the people around us.

Here are a few ways to ensure we are responding with a receptive spirit:

1. Take a Dramatic Pause–When the drama is mounting, we’re often tempted to try to get control of what’s going on around us, and that’s what pulls us in. Don’t jump into the drama.  Instead, take a dramatic pause.  Mentally take a step back and look inside yourself.  Offer up a quick prayer.  Ask God to give you peace and perspective.  Ask for the grace to respond to this situation rather than reacting to it.  Then think, “Where do I want this situation to go?  What do I need to do to move it in that direction? What do I need to do to protect myself and the people I care about from the drama?”  THEN and only then are you ready to act.  When drama strikes, the best way to get control of the situation, is to reclaim your sense of self control.

2.  Get the Other Person Back “On Book”–When actors forget their lines, they are said to be “off book.” When people are creating drama, they’ve forgotten how to be their best selves.   After reclaiming control of ourselves, the next thing to do get them back “on book”  that is, remind them of healthier ways to deal with the situation they are creating drama about.   Don’t criticize their behavior.  Instead, help them refocus on solutions rather than their reactions.   Don’t say, “Calm down.” or “You’re really overreacting”  Say, “Listen, I really want to help but you’re just lashing out right now.  Can you focus on what we can do to make this better?  What’s the next step you can take to make this better?”   Try to help the person creating the drama refocus on solutions and reminding them that you’re here to help.

3. End the SceneRemember, it is not your job to save other people from their own drama.  You should do what you can to be helpful, but if they resist your efforts, get worse, or lash out, the best thing you can do is end the scene.  When a person is too seriously caught up in their own drama, anything you say or do can and will be used against you.  Although it might feel like you’re being insensitive, the best thing to do is to say something like, “I want to help, but the most important thing you can do right now is take some time to pray about this and think about what you want to do to try to make this situation a little better.  Let me know when you’re ready to do that and I promise I’ll be here.”  Then, find a way to make a graceful–or if necessary, abrupt–exit.  If you can’t redirect someone who is in drama, the most loving thing to do is to refuse to contribute to it, even if that means withdrawing. If the person continues to try to draw you back in, suggest places they can turn for more professional support, and encourage them to turn to those resources.  If they are serious about seeking help, they will be grateful for the suggestions. But if they are just interested in creating more drama, it would be better for you to step out as gracefully as you can.

Find more resources at CatholicCounselors.com!

 

Quick Links and Resources:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

Pastoral Tele-Counseling

St Sebastian Center for Performance Excellence

Getting Over The Grumpies—The Secret Antidote for Shifting Your Mood

When we’re feeling frustrated, burnt out, or just downright grumpy, it can be easy to get stuck in those feelings. Maybe because it’s comfortable, maybe because we’re trying to figure out what’s wrong, or maybe because we just don’t know how to overcome our negative mood. 

A recent study out of the University of Texas explored the effects of expressing gratitude on the gratitude giver and receiver. The study revealed that more often than not people hold back from offering thanks to others because they either feel uncomfortable doing so, or believe that the person receiving their gratitude will feel awkward. The results of the study indicated however, that expressing gratitude, even in the simplest ways, can have a big impact on how the giver and receiver feel about themselves, each other, and their overall mood. 

The Theology of the Body reminds us that God created us to be a gift to each other. When you receive a gift, it is only appropriate to say, “Thank you.” Christians are called to love one another, and one of the most important ways we can love each other is by reminding each person in our lives how important, how treasured, and how special they are to us. Sometimes we can feel foolish telling other people how much they mean to us, but today, perhaps sharing our gratitude for one another can be one small way we can fulfill St. Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor 4:10 to be “fools for Christ.” Take a moment to find some small way to let the people God has brought into your life how grateful you are to them. Tell your spouse, your kids, your family, friends and co-workers how much you appreciate them, and don’t forget to say “thank you” even for the little things that others do for you. It’s a simple way you can be God’s blessing to others and remind others of what a blessing they are to you.

Here are three ways to boost your mood (and another’s mood) through gratitude:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Get Happy–Research shows that people who make an effort to practice simple gratitude habits can increase their happiness set point by up to 30%. Your happiness set point is the natural level of happiness you experience in your everyday life and it is remarkably stable. Whether people are surprised by good things or frustrated by unpleasant events, they tend to return to their happiness set point fairly shortly thereafter. But simple acts of gratitude like keeping a gratitude journal, saying “thank you” to others, and finding simple ways to acknowledge how much the people in your life mean to you have been shown to significantly increase a person’s happiness set point, increasing their overall sense of wellbeing and joy.  It turns out, the best way to be a happier person is to remind yourself to express thanks for all the little blessings you’ve been given and all the people who bless your life everyday.

For more ways to live an abundant life, check out our resources at CatholicCounselors.com

Quick links and resources:

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

Praying For (and With) Your Spouse

For Better…Forever—The Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage

Can You Hear Me Now? Cultivating Greater Understanding in Communication

“Where did you get that idea from?!” Sound familiar? Often we feel like we go in circles with our conversations or we try to explain ourselves in a million different ways and the other person still doesn’t get the point. 

Theology of The Body reminds us that the primary work of building the Kingdom of God involves building real communities of love between us and the people that share our life. Seeking to understand another person–especially when it’s difficult–is what allows communication to become communion. Really listening to each other is hard, but if loving another person means helping them become everything God created them to be, then we need to take the time to really listen to each other so that we know what each person needs to grow and flourish.

The more difficult a conversation is and the more important we feel it is to get our point across, the more important it is to listen to the other person’s needs, their concerns, their perception of what we’re saying, and the reasons they are having a hard time hearing us. Of course, all of this requires us to grow in virtue, such as self-control, respect, compassion, and love. That’s why cultivating a spirit of understanding isn’t just good for our relationships, it is a spiritual exercise that allows us to love each other as we love ourselves.

1.  Say Less–The biggest mistake we make in trying to communicate with another person is that we say too much. This is especially true when we aren’t getting the response we were expecting from another person. We tend to think that if we just explain ourselves again, or offer more examples, or say it one more time, they’ll finally get where we’re coming from. In fact, in these situations, it’s better to say less. Instead of throwing more words at the other person in the hopes of being clearer, ask this simple question, “Can you tell me what you’re hearing me say?”  Asking the other person to tell you what they are hearing you say will quickly clarify any confusion and help you and the other person get on the same page. People tend to run the things they hear through their own internal filters that end up distorting or confusing what we say.  Don’t assume that your words are sinking in. Ask them to tell you what is coming across so that you can make sure that the message you are trying to send is the message that’s being received.

2.  Make a Plan–Sometimes we think that if we’ve complained about something or vented our feelings about something that we’ve done a good job letting another person what we need.  Complaining and venting is sometimes necessary to help us sort out all the noise in our heads, but it does nothing to solve a problem.  Remember, the point of most important conversations should be figuring out what to do about a particular situation.  Make sure you don’t leave a discussion until you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to do about the problem you’ve been discussing, who is going to do it, and when you’ll be getting back together to discuss what else might need to be done.  If you do end a conversation after you’re done venting  or complaining, you should assume that the problem will come back because you haven’t done anything to actually solve the problem. Complaining isn’t problem-solving. If something is worth talking about, it’s worth taking the time to make an actual plan for solving it. Don’t end a conversation until you know what you’re going to do differently moving forward, who is going to be responsible for what, and when you’re going to check back in to see how things are going.

3.  Make Them A Partner–When you feel like another person is having a hard time hearing what you are saying, or doesn’t really want to listen, see if you can make them a partner and get them to buy-in by proposing their own solutions. Tell them, “Look, I’m just trying to do X.  Obviously, you’re not crazy about the ideas I’m suggesting to make X happen. What ideas do you have for making X happen?” Don’t let the other person avoid addressing your actual need. If they propose something that falls short, acknowledge what’s good about their idea, but then explain why it doesn’t completely fit the bill. Then ask them again for an idea that actually would address the actual concern you’ve stated.  If the conversation gets stuck or bogged down at this point, or if they keep trying to convince you that your concern is silly or not worth addressing, that’s a good indication that you probably need to get other people involved to help you solve the problem effectively. Invite another family member, a mentor, or a professional counselor to help you break through the impasse and develop solutions that will work for all concerned. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others to get the help you need to create deeper connection and understanding.

Would you like more support in being heard or cultivating understanding in communication?

Check out these resources: 

Pastoral Tele-Counseling

How To Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations With Your Adult Sons & Daughters