Cultivating Resilience–Finding Hope in a Fallen World

Have you been feeling overwhelmed by the challenges in your life or in the world? It’s easy for us to get caught up or feel overwhelmed by the big picture when all we can see or experience is what’s going on in our day-to-day lives.

Theology of The Body reminds us that although the world is fallen, God is working through us to rebuild his kingdom. That rebuilding starts in our lives and our relationships.  We tend to get frustrated when problems, challenges, and stressors show up on our radar and, of course, that’s understandable. But looking at things through the lens of the Theology of the Body, we can see that responding gracefully to those problems, challenges, and stressors–and showing the world how to do the same–is the “job” God has hired us to do–so to speak. Unlike people-in-the-world, Christians don’t have to worry that the job of handling our problems, challenges, and stressors will be too big for us, because like any good boss, God has promised to give us all the tools and support we need to complete the work without burning ourselves out.

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. 

Focus on God’s Work—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.

You’re not alone—Second, we need to remember that it isn’t all up to us.  We need to keep bringing the situation to God and asking him to help us discern the next small step. 

Pursue Virtue—Third, we need to lean into virtue–the spiritual strengths God wants to give us.  We need to prayerfully ask, “What are the virtues or strengths we need to apply to this situation to glorify God in our response?” 

Seek Feedback—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 in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

Why Would God Let This Happen?—Keeping The Faith When Times Get Tough

Why does God let bad things happen? Why am I going through this? What does this mean for me? … Do these questions sound familiar? You’re not alone.

Although we can sometime feel guilty when we question God or doubt his love, it’s more than okay to ask these questions. In fact, it’s even good to ask these types of questions—as long as we bring these questions and struggles to God. The world is not as it was meant to be, and figuring out how to respond to everything that is broken in our lives and in the world is a big job that carries a lot of pain with it. The good news is, God doesn’t want us to have to deal with this pain on our own. He wants to help. He wants us to bring the hurt to him.

Theology of The Body reminds us that faith and life are not meant to be separate things.  In fact, being a disciple of Christ begins with giving our body to Christ so that every part of us can serve him and learn to love others as he would have us love them. Truthfully, rather than making things simpler, living out our faith can make things seem more difficult at times because bringing our lives and relationships in line with Gods will is hard work.  Doubts and struggles are not a sign of weak faith. Theyre an invitation to deeper faith.  As long as we keep bringing our doubts, struggles, and confusion to God–instead of letting them lead us away from him–the more God will use those struggles to draw us into closer union with his love and his will.

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Do you want to learn more about balancing struggles and your faith?

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

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How do we bring our struggles to God? Keep the following tips in mind.

Be Where Youre At–We often think that we have to pretend with God; like were not allowed to admit that we have doubts, fears, or even anger with God.  But Jesus reminded us that we are not meant to approach God as fearful slaves, but as friends.  God desires our friendship, and friends are real with each other.  They dont pretend.  They dont put on airs.  God wants to be with you wherever you are, so let him.  Tell him your doubts, be honest about your fears, vent your anger.  Trust that God is big enough to take whatever you have to dish out. 

Why does God want you to be this honest and vulnerable with him?  Because it is only by revealing your heart to God that he can heal the hurt.  The best way to experience Gods mercy, love, and healing, is to simply be honest about where you are at and how you feel about him, your faith, and your life.  Let it out and ask him to heal whatever is broken, to give you the wisdom to see things the way he sees them, and to respond to everything in a manner that will glorify him regardless of what youre dealing with.  If you can manage that much every day, God will take care of the rest. 

Re-center Yourself–Because we tend to turn to our faith and spiritual practices as a source of comfort, we also tend to abandon them when we feel like were not getting the emotional payout we were hoping for.  Thats especially true when we are experiencing faith-related struggles. 

While its understandable to want to give up on God, our prayer life, or even our faith in times of spiritual dryness or pain, abandoning these things simply creates a vacuum that tends to be filled with unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that cause us even more pain.  Instead of giving up, re-center your spiritual life with a few simple steps.  First, re-examine your approach.  If the way you are praying isnt bearing fruit, try a different approach.  If you usually talk to God, focus more on listening and meditation.  If you usually use a more spontaneous approach, explore some of the more traditional prayers of the church—or vice-versa.  Whatever you do, dont quit–RECOMMIT! 

Second, instead of focusing on your feelings and processing your faith through your emotions, process your feelings through your faith.  Confess whatever you are feeling to God–no matter how ugly or messy it is–but ask him to help you sort out your emotions in light of what is really true, in light of what gives glory to him, and in light of his grace.  Feelings are important but when they occupy the center of our lives instead of our faith and spiritual life, they tend to cause a lot of pain and confusion.  Dont deny your emotions, but make sure to process your feelings through your faith.  Youll be amazed at the peace this can bring.

Talk to A Spiritual Mentor--If you feel like your spiritual struggles are too much for you to manage on your own, reach out for good spiritual support.  Talk with your pastor.  Seek out a spiritual director or pastoral counselor who can help you reconnect with your spiritual resources.  The Theology of the Body reminds of what God said in the Book of Genesis, It is not good for man to be alone.”  Dont let the devil separate you from the heard and pick you off like a lonely gazelle. If you are struggling in your faith, reach out to the people God has put in place to help you.  Dont be too prideful to seek out a Simon of Cyrene to help you carry your cross.

If you would like to talk to a spiritual coach or pastoral counselor, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Challenging Times—Understanding Grief and Our Experience with The Pandemic

In these difficult days, have you noticed that you can feel fine one minute only to feel sad, confused, disengaged, or overwhelmed the next? If so, you’re not alone.

What’s the cause?  Believe it or not, you may be experiencing grief. We’ve lost a lot this year either directly or indirectly. While many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, all of us have lost our sense of normalcy, our connection with the friends we used to see, or the activities we used to participate in. With COVID-related church closings, we have lost many of our spiritual coping tools.  In many ways, we’ve even lost our natural coping skills—we just can’t do the things we used to do to take down our stress and get the break that we all need. Although we tend not to recognize it, all of these losses are producing a massive, world-wide grief reaction resulting in heightened emotions and often unpredictable mood swings.

But why is grief so difficult to manage? The Theology of The Body reminds us that although grief and loss is part of this life, God never meant for us to experience grief or loss and he intends to restore all things to us when we are one with him. The world tells us that loss–whether the loss of a job, a relationship, our health, or a loved one–is an ending.  In our broken world, the most natural response to loss is to give up; to settle. 

Seen through the eyes of faith, loss represents an opportunity to enter into a deeper experience of Gods mercy, providence and abundance.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be consoled.”  God wants us to approach loss differently.  He wants us to see him, not the world, as the source of all good gifts. Nothing is ever really lost to someone who loves God.  Whatever it is that we think is lost to us–our ability to provide for our needs, the people we care about, the situations or people we depend on—God wants us to turn to him for guidance on how he wants us to respond to that loss.  If we ask God to help us deal with our losses gracefully he will show us how to fill up the hole thats left inside by the things we’ve lost.

Here are three ways that God calls us to respond to our grief:

Be gentle—In challenging times, we must be gentle with ourselves and others. We often have high expectations for ourselves. When we don’t meet those expectations we think, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do what I used to do?” Be gentle and change this hurtful thinking to something more helpful, like,  “What do I need to do to feel taken care of in this moment?” “What is one small thing I can do now to take a step in the right direction?”

Seek connection—our natural response to grief is often to hide out, shut down, and withdraw into ourselves. This is the opposite of how God wants us to respond. God calls us to seek connection, to find community, and reach out to others who can walk with us and support us effectively through our experience.

Honor what we’ve lost—Working through grief requires us to honor what we’ve lost. We can honor a loved one by calling to mind their strengths and the ways they were a gift to our lives, then intentionally working to display those strengths in our own lives and being a gift to others in similar ways. We can honor the activities that we’ve lost by finding connection with them in new ways. If our kids are missing school we can ask them what they’re missing most about the school day and do our best to recreate some of those experiences at home. We can honor the connections they’ve lost by helping to keep them connected to their friends, or by encouraging them to draw pictures or writing notes to send to the people they care about. If we’re missing participating in certain events, brainstorm other productive and enjoyable things to do with that time.  The key is not simply sitting around waiting for someone else to program our life again, but to take charge and start living more intentionally.  By taking this approach, we honor the parts of our life that we miss while actively creating the new life God is calling us to grow into.

If you would like to seek support and find help working through your experience with grief, contact us at CatholicCounselors.com 

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