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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calming The Emotional Storm—Practical Tips for Emotional Well Being

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Struggling to manage the emotional storm that can often overtake you during the day? It’s common to feel stressed from time to time, but sometimes our stress and anxiety can be a problem all on its own. 

_____________________________________________________________

Is your anxiety getting the best of you? 

Take our quiz to find out if your anxiety is increasing the challenges in your life

and discover more resources to help you calm your emotional storm:

https://catholiccounselors.com/catholic-counselor-quizzes/is-my-anxiety-a-problem/

_____________________________________________________________

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 and feelings to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. It helps to start with realizing that 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, understanding what those impressions mean, and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others. When we bring our emotions, the stories they tell us, and the responses we want to make to them to God first, he can teach us how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing and help us work for the ultimate good of the people around us as well.

Here are three practical tips for calming your emotional storm:

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 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.

Explore more resources to overcome the stress and anxiety in your life at CatholicCounselors.com!

Three Keys for Cultivating Connection

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

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

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

Here are three ways to cultivate connection in your relationships:

____________________________________________________________________

Are you struggling with difficult relationships in your life?

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

____________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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.

Feeling God’s Presence in Pain

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

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

_____________________________________________________________________

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

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

_____________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In connected you will discover:

The pornography trap.

Practical tools for overcoming temptation triggers.

Healthy attitudes toward yourself, sex, and women.

Identifying and meeting the needs masked by pornography.

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

How to heal relationships damage by your use of pornography.

Reconnecting with healthy (and holy) sex.

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

Find out more at CatholicCounselors.com!

Rising Up!–Overcoming the Challenges That Weigh You Down

Day in and day out, it seems as though the challenges in life are constantly piling up. Sometimes they’re little, sometimes they’re big, but either way, the challenges we face often feel like they are going to overwhelm us.

It is easy to allow the problems of life to weigh us down and make us feel like “the cross is all there is.”  In our fallen world, the cross is certainly a reality we not only can’t deny, but also need to embrace. That said, Theology of The Body tells us that embracing the cross doesn’t just mean bearing up under it. It means following Jesus up the hill with the expectation that he is leading us to the resurrection that comes after the cross.  If “carrying our cross” just means “maintaining the status quo” OR “consigning ourselves to being miserable and offering it up” then we’re doing it wrong.

________________________________________________________________________

Are you struggling to overcome the challenges that you are experiencing in life?

Check out:

The Life God Wants You To Have!

________________________________________________________________________

Theology of The Body reminds us that the Christian–in order to approach life in a healthy, responsible way–has to keep two things in tension at all times: the reality of what is plus the belief that God is always working to make things better.  We have to learn to respond to the problems we experience with the expectation that God is in the process of delivering us from those problems and with the understanding that each of these challenges is an invitation to respond in a way that helps us become more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person we were created to be. God wants to deliver us from our crosses, but while we bear them, he wants us to respond to them in a way that will allow him to transform us into the healthiest, holiest, strongest versions of ourselves. We do that by asking God, “Teach me to respond to this in a way that will glorify you, help me work for the ultimate good of everyone involved, and make me my best self” before we take each, next step.  If we can do this, we can cooperate with God’s grace to both confidently carry our cross, and most importantly, experience the resurrection that comes after it. 

So how do we live this out?

Focus on The Growth—We often feel like our crosses are simply meant to be borne, and because of this, we lose sight of where our crosses can lead us. To combat this tendency, prioritize your focus on the question, “What can I make of this?” Or in other words, “How can I/am I growing from this?” This mindset helps us to become more empowered in our growth towards who God created us to be, rather than getting stuck in the challenges we face along the way.

Remember the Good—It can feel as though our challenges come with more bad than good. From this, we quickly lose sight of the fact that there is any good at all. Rise above this perspective by making a concerted effort to recognize the good that occurs in each day. Maybe you’ll find it in the weather, in your cup of coffee, in the smile from a stranger. But wherever or however you find it, acknowledge the good that is in every day!

Take Care—When we’re struggling with challenges, we tend to forget to prioritize our needs and do the things we need to do to take care of ourselves. Make sure you take small breaks throughout the day and/or week to check in with yourself. What do you need in this moment? A snack? To go for a walk? To take time for breathing or grounding exercises? Time with a family member or friend? Make a conscious effort to acknowledge and meet your needs.

If you would like additional support in overcoming the challenges in your life, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com!

Overcoming The Trap of Hyper-responsibility

For many of us, it’s easy to fall into the role of taking on responsibility for other’s situations or problems. We want to help, but often get hurt or frustrated when the other person is not accepting our help or allowing us to guide them. When this occurs, it may be because we’re struggling to manage the balance between self-donation and hyper-responsibility.

Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us of the importance of self-donation–of using our gifts and talents to generously work for the good of others.  But TOB also reminds us that for a relationship to be healthy, it must be mutually self-donative.  That is, both people in the relationship have to be equally committed to giving all they have to work for each other’s good.  Even Jesus models this. He offers all of himself to us on the cross, he holds nothing back. But he doesn’t force himself on us.  For us to actually benefit from Christ’s free and total gift of self, we must respond by giving ourselves freely and totally back to him.  He doesn’t drag us, kicking and screaming into heaven against our will.  He stands at the door and knocks, but it’s up to is to open the door and let him in.

Here are three ways to be self-donative without becoming hyper-responsible:

Don’t Pretend to be Mightier than God–We often become anxious because we feel like it’s our job to make people healthier than they want to be, to force people to be closer than they want to be.  All that tends to do is stress us out and push people away.  The most we can do is offer people an open invitation to greater health and intimacy, provide incentives for pursuing greater health and intimacy, and offer consequences if they choose to engage in unhealthy or destructive personal or relational choices–and that’s a lot. But when we find ourselves trying to beg, whine, cajole, force, manipulate, or pressure another person–against their will– into making healthier choices for their lives or our relationship with them, we are committing an offense against their free will. Even God will not cross the lines a person draws with their own free will.  Don’t pretend to be mightier than God. By all means, invite people to be healthier and closer, and feel free to offer incentives, and even consequences, that help them take your invitation seriously, but it’s not your fault if they choose to walk away, literally or figuratively.  In fact, you are morally obliged to let them.

Take Your Cue From Them–We sometimes get into trouble when we try to work harder on someone else’s problem than they are.  It’s good to be generous and to give all we have to help someone, but it only produces good fruit if the other person is also giving all they have to give. Even if, objectively, the other person is limited in some way and isn’t able to give much, they still have to be actively trying to give all they have to the problem for any help to stick. Otherwise, we burn ourselves out trying to solve problems that are not within our ability to solve. And we deplete the energy we would otherwise have to solve the problems that actually are within our control.

If You Need Help, Get It
–Hyper-responsible people often struggle with asking for help, especially if the people they have asked are less than enthusiastic about giving it.  If this happens to you, don’t assume that it automatically follows that you have to do everything. Either find some other way to get the help you need–even if it is not your preferred way to get it–or, if worse comes to worse–decide what you are capable of doing without help and stick to that.  When other people complain that certain things aren’t getting done, simply tell them that you are doing all you can without their help, but if they would like to pitch in, then you are sure you could accomplish more together.  It is not your job to make everything work to an ideal standard on your own power.  Even God doesn’t build his Kingdom by himself.  He insists that we partner with him, not because he can’t do it, but because it would not be respectful of our free will or the dignity of our personhood to do it all for us.  The bottom line–respect your limits, and get the help you need. 

If you would like to receive the help or support you need to overcome hyper-responsibility, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Pastoral Malpractice

Pastoral Malpractice

Dr. Greg Popcak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Fear—Three Steps to Developing Confidence and Conquering Your Fears

Fear is an experience we are all familiar with. It is the chest tightening, palm sweating, heart pounding barrier that holds us back from living the life we want to live—the life we are called to live. But there’s good news! We can overcome fear and train our brain to develop greater confidence.

Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that, for the Christian, confidence is not about feeling as though we can do anything we put our minds to, but rather that we can accomplish all things through Christ who is our strength. Christians are often afraid of cultivating confidence. It feels prideful. We get caught up in the world’s idea that confidence means puffing yourself up and believing that “nothing can stand in my way because I’m awesome in every way, just the way I am!” Although we know that isn’t true. For the Christian, confidence comes from knowing that God is working with us, in us, and through us to make the world right. When we experience a problem, our job isn’t to power through it on our own, it is about cultivating trust and confidence in Christ’s power to show up for us in every moment.

______________________________________________________________

Do you want to overcome fear and live the life you were meant to live?

Check out:

Unworried–A Life Without Anxiety!

______________________________________________________________

In doing this, it is first important to understand more about what fear really is.

A study out of Texas A&M University states,

Prevailing scientific theory holds that fear and anxiety are distinct, with different triggers and strictly segregated brain circuits. Fear — a fleeting reaction to certain danger — is thought to be controlled by the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region buried beneath the wrinkled convolutions of the cerebral cortex. By contrast, anxiety — a persistent state of heightened apprehension and arousal elicited when threat is uncertain — is thought to be orchestrated by the neighboring bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). But new evidence from Shackman and his colleagues suggests that both of these brain regions are equally sensitive to certain and uncertain kinds of threats.

So how do we overcome this fear and anxiety and train our brain to develop greater confidence?

Uncertainty vs Curiosity—Often fear/anxiety is triggered by a sense or cultivates a sense of uncertainty. This causes us to feel insecure, which makes us shut down, get defensive, or run away. We can counter this uncertainty by leaning into curiosity. While uncertainty causes us to pull away, curiosity compels us to lean in, to move forward, to explore. We can counter this sense of fear and cultivate confidence by asking questions such as, “What can I learn from this situation?” “What can I learn about myself during this process?” And “What can I bring to this circumstance?”

Feelings are a Choice–We often feel as if feelings of fear or feelings in general are something that happen to us.  And they are, but we don’t have to stay stuck in the emotions that overtake us.  We can chose to take actions that will help us feel better, stronger, calmer, more confident, and more hopeful.  No, your emotions can’t turn on a dime.  You can’t make yourself super-happy if you’re feeling sad, or perfectly peaceful if you’re feeling anxious.  But by challenging the false messages that run through our minds, we can turn sadness into hope, anxiety into resolve and powerlessness into purposefulness.  Instead giving into the thought that, “there is nothing I can do,” we can remind ourselves that, “Even a small change can make a big difference.”   Instead of saying, “No one cares about me.”  We can remind ourselves to reach out to the people in our lives honestly and give them a chance to be there for us. Instead of saying, “This situation is hopeless.”  We can remind ourselves that with God, all things are possible, and begin to ask him what changes we can make that will give him glory.

Reach Out–When you are feeling scared, powerless, or hopeless, that can be a  sign that you are trying to handle too much on your own.  Challenge yourself to reach out to God and the other people in your life–especially if you feel they won’t understand.  Make it your job to make them understand or find other people who will.  Remember God’s words in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  We were created for community. If you’re feeling scared or low–even if you don’t want to be around others–do everything you can to make yourself connect with the people in your life and leave yourself open to other’s efforts to connect with you. Our minds are literally wired to feel better and more positive when we feel connected.  Making the effort to reach out to others for help, for support, or even just a distraction, will trigger your social brain to start producing feel-good chemicals that will help boost your mood overall.  Work with the design of your body to increase your sense of hope, strength and confidence.  Reach out to God and others and let the love that is there for you fill all those dark corners of your heart.

If you would like more support in overcoming the fears that are holding you back in life, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!