Get a Grip—Mastering Your Emotional Life

What feelings tend to get the best of you?  Do certain people or situations provoke emotional reactions in you that are hard to get a handle on?  For that matter, does someone you love struggle with their emotions and you’re not sure how to support them?

In order to handle these difficult situations for ourselves and others, it’s helpful to understand the answer to the following question: Are our emotional reactions universal, or are they conditioned by culture and environment?  

Researchers at the University of North Carolina examined the words used to describe feelings in over 2500 languages to see how people in various cultures experienced emotion.  They did find differences in the ways different cultures describe the experience of certain emotions.  For example, some languages view grief as similar to fear and anxiety, whereas others view grief as similar to regret.  But researchers found that ALL cultures think about and categorize emotions in a similar way. Specifically, all languages distinguish emotions primarily based on whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to experience, and whether they involve low or high levels of arousal. For example, no languages view the low-arousal emotion of sadness as similar to the high-arousal emotion of anger, and no languages viewed the pleasant emotion of “happy” as similar to the unpleasant emotion of “regret.”  This suggests that there are universal elements of emotional experience that are rooted in biology more than culture.  The takeaway? The challenge of  understanding, expressing, and cultivating a healthy emotional life is a universal human experience.

Theology of the Body reminds us that just like the rest of our bodies, emotions and feelings can only do what they were designed to do–that is, help us recognize what is happening in and around us and respond to it in godly, effective ways–if we learn to bring our emotions to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. 

Emotions and feelings are two different but related things. Brain scientists tell us that emotions are the body’s monitoring station. Emotions represent the primitive brain’s general, collective sense of both our overall state of our well being and the circumstances in our environment.  Feelings, on the other hand, are what happens when our cortex, our higher brain, gathers all these general impressions and creates a story about what these impressions mean and how we are to respond to them and that’s where things tend to get complicated.  Because of sin, we often do a poor job of evaluating emotional impressions well and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others.  By bringing our emotions to God we can relearn how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing.

Here are a few, effective ways to understand and gain control over your emotional life:

Pause and Pray–Get in the habit of briefly pausing and praying before you act on an emotion–especially a negative emotion like anger, sadness, or anxiety.  When you notice yourself having a strong emotional reaction, pause–even for a second–and say something like, “Lord, help me correctly identify the specific thing I am reacting to and respond to it in a way that will glorify you.”  Brain scientists tell us that pausing even a second or two allows the higher brain to catch up with the emotional reactions generated by our more primitive parts of our brain.  This allows us to make better, and more complete,  responses to the situations that provoked our emotional reaction in the first place.  On top of this, bringing our emotional reactions to God reminds us our feelings aren’t God.  God is.  And everything we do–including acting on our feelings–has to be motivated by a desire to serve him.  If we can get in the habit of doing this, we give both God, and the natural talents for emotional management God built into our body–the opportunity to teach us to handle even the most provocative situations gracefully.

Add Feathers–Do you know how people can be really good at telling others how to manage their emotions but really bad at managing their own?  A new study by the University of Waterloo found that practicing one simple habit can allow people to manage their own responses as well as they can help others manage theirs.  The trick?  Add feathers.  Just like an arrow that has feathers flies straighter than an arrow without them, people who ask themselves what virtues they need to express their emotions well are much better at identifying and hitting the right emotional targets than people who just act on feeling.  If you want to be as good at taking your own advice as giving it, before you act on an emotion, ask yourself, “What virtue would help me express this emotion well?”  The study found that asking simple virtue-based questions like this helps people both avoid the temptation to repress negative emotions and also helps people make better emotional choices by reminding them to keep the big picture in mind. Next time you feel a strong emotional reaction welling up, don’t just let it fly with your feelings.  Add feathers, and let virtue guide the path toward the right response.

Get a Boost–Sometimes it can be too hard to learn to handle our feelings on our own.  If your emotional reactions are consistently complicating your life or relationships, seek professional help.  Psychotherapy is like physical therapy for the brain.  New research shows that modern therapy techniques help boost the brain’s ability to process emotional reactions more efficiently and identify healthy responses to emotions more effectively.  You don’t have to be a victim of your emotional reactions.  If you aren’t happy with the way your feelings are causing you to respond to the people or situations in your life, getting professional help sooner than later can help you get the skills you need to have a healthier emotional life.

For more information on gaining control of your emotional life, check out God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Not a Gumball God – A Gospel Meditation for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

“I feel like I sacrifice everything for my kids, running them to all their activities, and yet they don’t seem to like me. It breaks my heart…”

“I make a good living, I’m not mean, and still my wife says that I don’t show her I love her – what gives?”

“I say a rosary every day but I still don’t feel God. In fact, I feel nothing.”

What do these questions have in common? Well, for starters, they all convey deep hurt and confusion. We’ve all asked these questions or questions like them at one time or another, and the pain and exhaustion they communicate is all too real. If you’re asking some versions of these questions right now, please know that I am praying for you. I of all people know how bad that feels.

Secondly and more importantly, however, these questions have another fundamental trait in common: they are all gumball questions.

“Gumball questions” are what I call the confusions that arise when we treat the people in our lives as though they are purely transactional. Although these types of relationships take many forms and flavors, they all boil down to a simple belief about relationships: “If I do A, you should do B.”

How often do we fall into the trap of turning those we love into gumball machines? Nevermind what my spouse actually needs or wants, I say to myself, I’ll just do A, B, and C and then I’ll qualify as a “good” partner. Nevermind that it’s taking a toll on my children and on my family, we repeat, I HAVE to take them to all 500 extracurricular activities this week because that will make me a “good” mom. Nevermind my personal relationship with God, we insist, I’m sure if I pray ten novenas and get the words just right, He’ll give me what I want, tell me what to do, and I’ll be a “good” Christian.

In the gospel from Matthew 5, however, we learn something jarring: Jesus doesn’t want “good” partners. He doesn’t want “good parents”. He certainly doesn’t want “good Christians”. Jesus wants nothing short of all-consuming relationship.

Jesus, it seems, is not the “Gumball God” we might want Him to be, the God it might be easier to worship. Instead, He tells us to go deeper than mere transaction. No longer is it enough to just “not murder”; Christ tells us we have to actively build others up instead. No longer is it enough to just “avoid porn”; Christ tells us we must actively pursue healthy, holy relationship. No longer is it enough to just “not do wrong”. Now, we must be right.

If you’re anything like me, the premise of this edict is completely exhausting and defeating. After all, we’re already trying so hard to do everything right, and now God tells us He wants… what? For us to do it with more feeling? With a smile on our face?

No. None of that. All Christ wants is relationship. He wants you to have a relationship with your spouse where you listen to each other and respond based on your partner’s specific needs, not based on what would make you a “good spouse” according to some arbitrary checklist. He wants you to have a relationship with your children where you make parenting decisions based on their unique hearts, not based on what makes you a “good parent” in the eyes of the co-op or the neighborhood or even the parish. And more than anything, Christ wants a deep, profound, personal relationship with you; a relationship defined by authenticity, intimacy, and vulnerable sharing.

Why? Because Jesus is not a “Gumball God”. He’s just God. He wants to get to know you. Will you get to know Him?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

Resolving Repetitive Arguments

Often we feel as though we’re just going in circles, having the same arguments over and over. So how do we break the cycle and start actually resolving problems or situations?

Studies show that happy couples tend to be more solution-focused in general, and focus on spending most of their energy addressing more solvable problems. They’re aware of larger issues in the relationship but they tend to hold off on addressing these until they’ve built up enough confidence/rapport by handling the little things well.  Other couples tend to have a more emotionally-based approach that puts every issue—big and small—on an equal footing.  They are less successful at solving anything, in part because their arguments are more emotional and many of the issues they choose to focus on can’t be easily addressed, especially when there isn’t good rapport.

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge.  But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently AND don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be  some degree of conflict. Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things.  By learning to be loving, ESPECIALLY in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

How can this be done?

Zoom Out–Repetitive arguments tend to be ones that are polarized. People stake out their positions too early in the discussion and then argue back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you’re having the same fight over and over, zoom out.  Step back from trying to solve the problem and instead, figure out how to EMPATHIZE with the other person’s position. Ask questions that allow you to have genuine sympathy for what they are trying to accomplish.You might ask, “Help me understand how things would be better for you if you got what you were asking for.” OR “What is it you’re hoping will change if we did things your way?”  You don’t have to agree with the other person, but keep asking questions until you truly understand their goal. People who feel truly understood are much more willing to negotiate in good faith.

Build The Solution Together–Repetitive arguments are usually caused because each person feels like they are trying to build something that the other person keeps taking apart–like two children fighting over the same block to build THEIR tower! Build your solution together.  Once you have zoomed out enough to understand what each of you is really trying to accomplish. Ask, the other person, “What solution could you imagine that would allow you to get what you want but still be respectful to my concerns?”  This is powerful question because it is both deferential AND assertive. On the one hand, you are humbly asking their advice. On the other hand, you are insisting that they consider your concern in their solution.  This question sets up the right spirit of honesty and collaboration that allows two former competitors to start building together.

Work on Friending, Not Fighting–The most important thing in problem-solving is NOT solving the problem.  It is taking care of each other through the conflict so that you can feel like two friends working together on the problem instead of two enemies fighting over limited resources. Focus on “Friending” NOT fighting. Tell the other person you appreciate them hanging in there with you, offer to pray together so that you are both open to God’s will, do little things to take care of them during a conflict like offering to get them a drink, or take a break, acknowledging their strengths or the value of their opinions.  The more effective you are at taking care of the other person, the more likely you will be able to break through the tendency toward self-preservation that pervades repetitive arguments.

 

For more on how to resolve repetitive arguments, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life–weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Dealing With Hurtful People

We all know the world isn’t what it was meant to be. People say hurtful things and it is often difficult to know how to handle it. Similarly, it is difficult to not take what they say to heart. What’s important to keep is mind is that we can’t control what others do, but we CAN control how we react.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we are all works in progress but the best way to see that God’s plans are fulfilled in our lives is to build each other up, not tear each other apart. When we are frustrated, we have a tendency to criticize and pick at each other. It’s good to address the problems and concerns we have with others, but we need to make sure we are approaching people in a way that is respectful, loving, and solution-focused, instead of angry, hurtful, and problem-focused. With God’s grace, we can learn to address the frustrations we have with each other in a way that leads us to be closer to each other instead of worn out by each other.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for dealing with hurtful people:

Clarify and Do-Over–Believe it or not, sometimes hurtful people don’t know they are being hurtful. The first step in addressing another person’s criticisms is not to take offense or even to respond to what they said, but rather, to clarify. When you feel criticized, picked on, or attacked by someone, the first thing to do is say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to come off as hurtful, but something about the way you said that really seemed hurtful. Can you say that again so I can hear what you’re really trying to tell me?” Don’t attack back. Don’t argue the point. In fact, don’t respond in any kind of substantive way. Instead, give the hurtful person a chance to think about what they are really trying to say by first giving them the benefit of the doubt, then telling them how their statement made you feel, and finally, inviting them to say it again–more thoughtfully this time.

Don’t Ask Permission to Be Offended–Sometimes, even after you’ve told a hurtful person how much they’ve hurt you, they react by denying it. “I didn’t mean anything!” “I was just kidding!”  “You’re too thin-skinned.” Don’t fall into this trap. The best response is to say, “Listen, I’m not asking you permission to be offended by you. I’m telling you that what you said was hurtful. If you want me to hear what you’re really trying to say, your going to need to say it again.” Then leave it to them. If they decide to respect you enough to listen and correct themselves, do your best to listen respectfully and move forward with the conversation. On the other hand, if they refuse to take a more respectful approach, it’s ok to end the conversation even if they act put out about it. Don’t ever ask permission to be hurt by someone. If they hurt you, say so and stand by it.  If they love you, they’ll adopt a more respectful approach going forward.

Build Good Fences–If your attempts to clarify and be respectfully assertive are not effective, it’s time to set some boundaries. Limit your relationship to those places or contexts where the person is less likely to be hurtful. Do they do better in public? On the phone? For shorter visits?  Limit the time you spend with them to these contexts as much as you can. If they complain, simply say that you’d love to get more time with them but in order to do that, they’d need to be more sensitive about the ways they speak to you. Then see how they respond. If they manage to be respectful in the contexts you’ve limited the relationship to, then you can re-evaluate some of your boundaries, but if they continue to be hurtful in their speech or actions, you can either hold the boundaries where they are, or further limit the relationship.  Let their good behavior determine how close you can be.  Good fences really do make good neighbors.

For more on how to effectively handle hurtful people, check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety and tune in to More2Life—weekdays, 10am E/9am C—on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Be Still My Anxious Heart

Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be a creeping whisper or an overwhelming feeling. No matter how it presents itself, the feeling of anxiety can be intrusive and disruptive to our daily lives. So how do we calm our anxious hearts?

Theology of the Body 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. Only AFTER the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and themselves 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 reminds 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 Saint John Paul II, 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 More2Life hacks for combating anxiety:

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 real 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.

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, but merely the next step. What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources, and enlists more support? 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.

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 more on how to calm the anxiety in your heart, tune in to More2Life—weekdays 10am E/9am C on SiriusXM 130 or check out God Help Me This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!

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Dealing with Jekyll and Hyde

It seems like you are best friends one day and total enemies the next. We all have those people in our lives—friends, family members, co-workers, bosses, you name it—who lash out at us and then pretend like nothing ever happened. Although this Jekyll and Hyde type of personality is not uncommon, it can still be difficult to know how to handle gracefully.

Theology of the Body reminds us that, in all things, the Christians’ responsibility is to love others; that is, to work for the good of other people. That remains true even when it’s hard or costs us personally to do it.  The Jekylls and Hydes in our life don’t like to be called on their behavior, but we aren’t being loving–that is, we aren’t working for their good–if we just play their game and pretend that nothing ever happened. Bearing wrongs patiently is the right thing to do IF an offender recognizes what they have done wrong and are trying–on their own–both to take responsibility for their actions and get the help they need to make real changes.  In these cases, to call further attention to their bad behavior is to just to rub salt in their wounds.  But when a person refuses to acknowledge that they have done anything wrong, or worse, wants to pretend nothing ever happened so that they can keep acting that way, it’s time to use a different spiritual work of mercy and admonish the sinner.  Even if the verbally abusive person would rather just ignore what they have done, we have a responsibility, in love,  to gently, but persistently insist that they change their unacceptable behavior.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for dealing with those Jekyll and Hyde personalities in your life:

1.  It’s Not Over Until YOU Say It Is–As we mentioned earlier, Jekylls and Hydes want permission to lash out whenever their feelings get the best of them but then pretend that nothing ever happened when they feel calmer.  Just remember, they can only get away with this if you let them.  The fact is, no conversation is over until YOU feel that your needs and concerns have been adequately addressed.  It doesn’t matter that the other person doesn’t want to deal with it. You have a responsibility to be loving–to work for the good of others–even when it is hard.  Assuming you are not fearing for your physical safety (in which case, you need to be making plans to get yourself to safety) the most loving thing you could do when the abusive person comes back to you is to say, “I’m glad to see that you are in a better place, but we’re not ready to move on until you can tell me how you are going to handle the times you get upset with me differently because unless I know that you have healthier ways to manage your anger, you aren’t a safe person to be around.”  They won’t want to hear it, but that doesn’t matter.  Insist, in love, that they be willing to address their problem behavior with you and get whatever help they might need to make it stop for good.

2. Don’t Settle for the Magic Words–Many people who struggle to hold Jekylls and Hydes accountable feel obliged to accept even the most poutily offered, “I’m sorry, alright?!?” as a genuine apology. They know that the verbally abusive person doesn’t mean it, but they feel like it would be mean to hold the abusive person responsible once they have said the magic words.  This is nonsense.  A genuine apology requires that your  offender be able to empathize with how badly they hurt you, they they acknowledge that you have a right to expect that they do better (instead of trying to tell you that the REAL problem is that you’re just too sensitive) and, most importantly, that they are willing to sit down with you to make a plan so that the offending behavior doesn’t happen again.  If the verbally abusive person in your life is unwilling to do any of these three things, they aren’t really sorry and you cannot let them off the hook.  Don’t settle for the magic words.  Keep working for their good and the good of your relationship by insisting that they be willing to work with you to make a real plan for change.

3. Get Support–It can be hard to hold a verbally abusive person accountable.  They will try to make you feel guilty.  They will try to turn the tables on you and say that it’s REALLY your fault. They will accuse you of being unforgiving and unchristian.  If you feel your resolve flagging in the face of these attacks, don’t give in. Get help. Reach out to a trained pastoral counselor who can help you be loving, confident and firm in your effort to set appropriate limits with the Jekylls and Hydes in your life.  The fact is, we teach people how to treat us.  If you are not satisfied with the way people are treating you and you don’t know how to change the situation, you need to get help to learn what to do differently.  Verbally abusive people CAN control their behavior when it suits them.  Learn how to be the kind of person it takes to let the Jekylls and Hydes in your life know that they need to be on their best behavior around you.

For more on how to handle difficult relationships check out God Help Me These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139!

Men, Keep the Ball in Play!

Guest blog post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

Fighting that works!

Ever been in conflict and not known what to do?  Some men like a fight, some avoid it at all costs.  Too many of us drop the ball during a conflict….But first, let’s look at the bigger picture.

The Ball

When I taught a marriage class at a local Catholic high school, I held up a 10-inch playground ball and said, “This ball is going to teach you about the deep mysteries of life, relationships, marriage, and the Trinity.”  Yes, I went big!  I threw the ball back and forth with volunteers in each class.  I asked them what they learned about the Trinity from this.  They understood immediately that it reflected mutual self-giving, or extending and receiving, between the Father and the Son, which becomes the Holy Spirit.  I explained that the body speaks this same language in sex—males extend and females receive, bringing forth new life—babies and/or bonding.

The Infinite and Primordial Liturgies

Extending and receiving is the basic movement of life and love.  This movement within the Trinity I called the “infinite liturgy,” defining liturgy as a ritual and routine that communicates love and creates communion.  God uses liturgy to remind us who we are in God, to form our identity—think the liturgies of creation, the seventh day, and the Mass.

On a psychological level, this movement is seen in all our communication, starting with hello.  “Hello” is an extending; and if the other replies, “Hello,” the cycle, the liturgy, is complete, bringing new life to the relationship.  Deeper exchanges increase both our risk and rewards, while no response causes a little death.  Since our human extending and receiving was from the beginning, in the Garden, it could be called the “primordial liturgy.”

In the domestic church, the family, the primordial liturgy is our expression of love and the bedrock of our identity.  Without love, St. John Paul II says our lives become senseless and incomprehensible.  Without love, we live in fear.  Even more, these liturgies are the very structure and movement of love which casts out fear.  In fact, I think this extending and receiving should be the foundation of all spirituality, especially a lay spirituality—the micro-level of Therese’s little way.  Families should not imitate a monastic spirituality, carving out hours of time for prayer and feeling like failures when life interferes.  Instead, what if every interpersonal exchange, where extending and receiving is completed, is considered a prayer and a gift, directly reflecting the Trinity’s love?  That’s a liturgy we could practice all day long!

Fear, the Ball, and Bad Liturgy

In the class, I talked more about fear, explaining that while love moves us towards others, St. Augustine says sin (or fear) curves us back in on ourselves.  I then demonstrated our fear reactions of fight, flight, and freeze, or as we call them in our counseling practice, tantruming, pouting/withdrawing, and expert mode.  When my volunteers threw me the ball, I smacked it to the ground—tantruming on the receiving side.  And I faked a hard throw that made the first rows jump—another tantrum, but on the extending side.

Next, my volunteers threw me the ball, and I caught it and walked away.  This was pouting/withdrawing, or flight.  Expert mode happens when one person has a wonderful solution for the other person (extending), but the other is not interested (not receiving).  To represent this, when they threw me the ball three times, I let it hit my chest and fall to the ground.  Teasing, I told the kids I was sure they never did this to their parents.

Satan’s Anti-Liturgy

The tantruming, pouting/withdrawing, and expert modes are fear responses and always disrupt the primordial liturgy.  They are Satan’s plan for relationships and illustrate the literal meaning of his names: Satan—to accuse, and Devil/Diablo—to separate.

Conflict: Rally Ball vs. Ping-Pong

In conflict, we tend to forget love, the extending and receiving, and respond in fear—we “drop the ball” in some way.  The primordial liturgy is disrupted.  We start playing ping-pong, where we try to outsmart the other person to win.  But rally ball is the model needed during a conflict, where the object is to keep the ball going back and forth as long as possible.  If the ball is dropped, you simply start over.  The ideal in conflict is to receive the other’s hostility with empathy while not allowing yourself to be destroyed.  But sometimes this can be difficult, and you may need to end the argument with, “I am too upset to continue this conversation,” so you don’t move into ping-pong.  More on this in upcoming articles.

The Trinity, with its extending and receiving, the infinite liturgy, is the new foundation for a lay spirituality. Reflecting the Trinity in the primordial liturgy of the domestic church can make every interaction between persons a connection with God.  Men, radiate the Father’s love by living the extending and receiving in your families—and keep the ball in play, even in conflict!

 

For more about Dave McClow and Pastoral Solutions Institute, visit us at https://www.catholiccounselors.com

Stop Pressuring Me!  How to Stand Strong in Face of Manipulation

Peer pressure. We’ve all dealt with it throughout our lives, but does it still effect us as adults? Social Psychologists from SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland recreated the well-known Milgram Obedience Study (Milgram Shock Experiment) and discovered that the results were astoundingly similar to the results of the original experiment in 1963.

Like the Milgram study, the participants of the current study were provided with 10 buttons. The participants were led to believe that each button caused an individual in an adjacent room to receive a higher “shock” level (although, in reality, no one was receiving any type of shock). The participants were then encouraged by the experimenter to “administer” increasingly higher levels of the supposed shock to an individual in another room. The researchers of this experiment discovered that 90% of the participants were willing to go to the highest “shock” level.

But why do we act this way under pressure?

The Theology of the Body tells us that we are, first and foremost, persons who have a God-given right to be treated with love—as well as an obligation to treat others with that same love. When others try to pressure, manipulate, control or bully us–or when we do the same to others—we turn other people into a project, a thing, or a means to an end. In those times, it’s OK to set appropriate boundaries until we can either be sure that what we are being asked to do is genuinely in our best interest or that the other person will stop treating us as a means to their end. Although self-donation requires us to be willing to prayerfully consider, with a generous heart, the things others ask of us, we should never say, “yes,” to something we aren’t certain will either help us become the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people God is calling us to be or respects the relationships and obligations God has already asked us to be faithful to.

These More2Life Hacks are helpful tips to keep in mind when dealing with pressure from others:

Ask, “Is It Good?”—No one ever has the right to manipulate, control, or bully us. But people are permitted to attempt to influence each other IF they genuinely believe the things they are asking us to do would help us become the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were meant to be OR help us do a better job fulfilling the obligations God has asked us to be faithful to. Just because someone asks us to do something we don’t want to do, or even leans on us a bit to do it, doesn’t mean they are necessarily behaving inappropriately. When we feel pressure, the first question we need to ask ISN’T, “Do I FEEL like doing this?” But rather, “would doing this help me do a better job of being the healthy, whole, loving, well-integrated person God is calling me to be?” If the answer is yes, then I should say, “yes,” regardless of how I feel. If no, then I have an obligation to oppose whatever pressure the other person may assert. Our first obligation is never to either our feelings or other people, it is always to God’s call in our lives to grow into the saints we were created to be.

Always Propose, Never Impose—St. John Paul used to offer this rule of thumb, “Always propose, never impose.” Even if others are genuinely trying to work for our good, or we are trying to work for theirs, we always have to be careful about turning people into projects. It is possible to pursue the right course of action in the absolutely wrong way. When someone is asking us to make a change we don’t care to make—even when it IS in our best interest—or if we are asking someone else to do the same, a good question to ask ourselves is, “Is this request becoming the entire focus of our relationship?” If it is, chances are we are either being treated as a project instead of a person OR that we are treating the other as a project instead of a person. In those instances, we have an obligation to set some boundaries and say something like, “I appreciate that this is important to you, and even that this is a good thing, but I need to know that there is more to our relationship than this one thing.” Then figure out how to reclaim the connection that’s been lost even while finding ways to keep growing in necessary ways.

Stand Firm—Once you have prayerfully determined that the thing someone is asking you to do is either helping you become the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person God wants you to be, stand firm. As Jesus said, let your “yes be yes and your no be no.” If you believe that the thing someone is asking you to do is really in your best interest, keep doing it even though it is hard.  And if you genuinely believe the thing you have been asked to do is NOT in your best interest, then say “no” and stand firm no matter how they try to pressure you. As we mentioned earlier,  our first obligation is to grow into the people God is calling us to be, not to make our feelings or other people a false god. Discern the best response to a request, and stick with your answer unless you are given new information that doesn’t just make you relent, but really helps you see that this is a truly good change to make.

For more on how to handle pressure from others check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life, Monday-Friday at 10am E/9am C, on EWTN/SiriusXM 139.

Maintaining Your Marriage Connection

It’s easy to tell when someone is happy. People often express outward signs when they are feeling good, such as smiling, using an upbeat tone, or having a bounce in their step. But it can be harder to tell what someone is thinking when they are feeling down, tired, or upset. These emotions are often masked or do not come with as markedly definitive expressions. While you may think you know all of your partners’ “tell tale signs” of their emotions, new research suggests otherwise. Psychologist Chrystyna Kouros states “We found that when it comes to the normal ebb and flow of daily emotions, couples aren’t picking up on those occasional changes in ‘soft negative’ emotions like sadness or feeling down…They might be missing important emotional clues.” Because of this, there are a few things that we must keep in mind to maintain the connection in our relationships.

Theology of the Body reminds us that we were created for communion, but of course, sin ruptures that communion.  Because of sin, instead of coming naturally to us, making connection to others takes effort.  It requires us to be intentional about asking questions, scheduling dates, praying, reflecting and planning in order to create the kind of closeness and intimacy we were created to enjoy naturally. The sense that great relationships should “just happen” hints at the time before the fall, where Adam and Eve enjoyed Original Unity and it also hints at how things will be once we are united with God and the Communion of Saints in heaven. But here, in this sinful world, creating connection takes real work, and doing the work that is necessary to create loving communion–first, within our families and then in the world–is what it means to “build the kingdom.” Doing good works, serving in the parish or community, saving the world are all important things, but creating connection is the most important work a Christian can do.  Remember what St. Paul said, “If I have the faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Let’s refocus on the great work of being intentional about creating meaningful connection with the people closest to us and let God multiply our efforts to bring the world to him through our efforts to consciously connect.

Don’t Assume–Too many couples assume that things are “fine” if there isn’t any conflict.  They think that the lack of arguments is the same things as satisfaction. But there are a million reasons a couple might not be fighting that have nothing to do with intimacy. Don’t ever assume your marriage is on solid ground just because you’re not arguing. Instead, ask. Make time everyday to say to each other, “What can I do to make your day a little easier or more pleasant?”  Make sure you get meaningful answers. Don’t settle for “I don’t know” or “Nothing.” If those are the answers you get more often than not, make a point of scheduling more focused conversations–at least weekly–about how close you feel to each other, what pressures you might feel are challenging your sense of togetherness, and what you might need to do to grow closer–even if things are good. Happy couples, don’t wait for conflict to tell them they are off-course, they regularly check their course and make tiny course corrections every day so they can make sure to stay on track

Give Your Connection to God–God wants you to have a great marriage, both because he wants to fill your hearts with his love AND because he wants to show the world–through your relationship–that the love that everyone longs for is truly possible. But God doesn’t expect us to create that kind of connection on our own.  He wants to teach us, and he will, if we bring our relationship to him everyday.  Take a few minutes every day to sit down together with your spouse and say to God, “Lord, we give you our relationship.  Help us to love each other the way you want us to. Help us to really listen to each other, take care of each other, be honest about our needs, and be generous in our response to each other’s needs. Teach us to be a couple after your own heart, so that our hearts would be filled with your love and so that the world would see your life in us.” Let God teach you how to create and maintain a powerful, loving connection. Sit at The Master’s feet and learn to love each other with his love.

Connect Consciously–Most couples assume their relationship will “just happen” since they’re living under the same roof. But truly happy couples are conscientious about creating times to connect. Make a point of scheduling even 10 minutes every day to work, pray, talk and play together. Working together might mean setting the table together or cleaning up the kitchen together after dinner. Praying together just means bringing your day and your relationship to God and asking for his grace. Talking together means asking, NOT just about what happened in the day or what’s on the schedule tomorrow, but about how you’re feeling about the direction of your life and relationship and how you can better support each other. And playing together can be as simple as taking a 10 minute walk around the neighborhood, or playing a couple rounds of a favorite game. The point is, happy couples don’t assume relationship connection will “just happen.” They make mini-dates everyday to briefly maintain their ability to work, play, talk, and pray together, and then they look for bigger blocks of time to have more significant opportunities to connect across those levels as well. Being conscious about connecting daily, helps prevent you from feeling alone even though you’re always together.

For more on how to maintain the connection in your marriage, check out For Better…Forever! and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

Practically Perfect in Every Way – Three More2Life Hacks for Overcoming Perfectionism

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In the age of social media, self-criticism and perfectionism are more prominent than ever. We continue to become increasingly focused on being “perfect”: having the perfect physique, having the perfect job, or keeping the perfect house. In reality, however, this striving for “perfection” simply makes us increasingly unhappy as we lose focus of what we are really working towards.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve ourselves, but both theology and science show us that it is a mistake to believe that we can somehow mentally force ourselves into perfection.

Theology of the Body reminds us that God’s plan for us is written in the design of our bodies. Brain science shows that the more self-critical we are, the more our brains lock down and become resistant to change. It’s actually self-acceptance that creates the chemistry necessary for new neural connections to form.  Ultimately, it’s important to remember that while none of us is perfect, it is God’s love that perfects us.  We are destined to be, as Jesus puts it, “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” God does not expect us to get there on our own.  TOB teaches us that it only by cultivating a receptive posture to God’s love and grace that we are able to be transformed from the inside out through an authentic encounter with God’s love.  Perfection doesn’t come from flogging ourselves to be better. It comes from letting God love us and learning to see ourselves as he sees us–works in progress, certainly–but on the road, by his love and grace, to becoming the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we are meant to be.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for preventing perfectionism from taking its toll on you:

Mind Your Mind–Beating yourself up, feeling “not good enough,” engaging in  self criticism are all signs that your brain is overheating. Brain science shows that giving into these behaviors actually makes the brain resistant to change as it locks down in the face of a perceived threat.  When you hear that inner-critic ramping up, don’t try to challenge those thoughts directly at first.  Instead, remind yourself that self-criticism is just a symptom of the real problem–trying to do too much, too fast.  Give yourself permission to slow down, to create more realistic goals, and make a more realistic plan.  Remind yourself that jobs take the time they take.  Getting mad at them, or yourself, doesn’t alter time.  It just makes you less able to make good time by making you less efficient and less effective.

Deadline and Done–Perfectionistic people have a hard time just walking away. They always feel like they have to add just a little more or review it just one more time. A better approach is to pretend that you are on one of those reality shows where you have a certain amount of time to complete a task and when the clock runs down you have to step away and be done.  Whether you are working on a particular project or trying to plan your day, give yourself what you think will be a reasonably generous amount of time to accomplish your tasks, but when that time hits, walk away.  You can always come back to it some other time if you need to.  But for today? Be done! Perfectionistic people tend to get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. Setting an arbitrary deadline allows you to step back and gain perspective.  If a particular project really needs a little more effort, then it will still be there tomorrow. For now, move on to other things–like taking a break to connect with the people who love you and can remind you that you are a person, not a machine.

What’s the Point?  Perfectionism is almost always a faulty means to achieve some deeper end.  We WANT love, approval, validation, acceptance, peace, but we PURSUE being a perfect employee, a perfect parent, a perfect homemaker, a perfect…whatever.  But the harder we work at being perfect, the further we get from satisfying the real emotional need driving our perfectionism.  Ask yourself what the point of your perfectionism really is.  Take some time in prayer to reflect on what you are trying to accomplish–emotionally and spiritually–by being so self-critical and task oriented?  When you find yourself giving into the temptation to perfectionism, remind yourself what you are REALLY looking for, and ask yourself what you would need to do to get that?  If you honestly don’t know, then it’s time to seek some help so that you can step off the hamster wheel and start getting your needs met instead of constantly running but never getting anywhere.

For more information on how to strive to be the person God meant you to be, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, and tune in to More2Life Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.