Sunday, May 22, 2016

Understanding "Dry Drunk"

One of my counselees, John (not his real name), is an American patient who is addicted to alcohol and sex with prostitutes. His wife found out through a cctv camera in his office that he’s again contacting prostitutes and drinking heavily after 1 1/2 years of self-imposed abstinence.
His traumatized, deeply hurting wife saw me with much confusion. She asked, “What happened, doc? I thought it’s over!” Her question is typical and common.

In alcoholism treatment, the term “DRY DRUNK” is used to describe a person who still thinks and behaves like an alcoholic even though he is not drinking. In the case of my American patient who relapsed into a binge after 1 1/2 years of abstinence, this proves to be true.
Similarly, other types of addiction such as sex addiction or money addiction, can switch to abstinence mode for a period of time. Every addict is capable of a time of break or moratorium. Yet the addict is still living, feeling, and thinking as an addict.
Dr. Patrick Carnes, a world renowned addiction specialist/author, explains that a still “addicted brain” carries a supply within itself despite abstinence. The key then is internal change rather than mere external restraint or “motions.”

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Do You Over-Help Your Adult Child?

Antonio is a 47-year old adult child of a rich family. His parents have been providing for him financially from childhood to adulthood, onwards. He was kicked out of college twice, never held a job, and addicted to shabu and alcohol. Multiple times, his parents would bail him out of jail or debts incurred from his vices.
We parents all need to “see” our adult children as “adult” – not a little child or an adolescent. That means allowing our adult children to face responsibility and consequences in their lives. As parents, we need to learn how to replace over-help with precise help – scary or painful it may be – to really help.
This tendency of parents to over-help is just a misperception. It is an old habit, but an important one to change. When you as a parent change your mind-picture of your adult children to their true age, it will be easier to avoid over-helping.
Because it’s a habit, it will take practice through time to change your “mental picture” of your adult child. As you learn to cut strings and set realistic boundaries and consequences with your adult children, you help them grow and move forward in their lives.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Addiction Is Not The Real Problem

I feel for Baron's parents. They see that their son's problem is his addiction to alcohol, drugs, women, and money. After years of having him confined to three addiction rehabilitation centers, nothing still changed. Baron is still addicted to drugs, alcohol, and spending money to pay for sex. His parents are frustrated already, losing hope. They're about to give up.

I say that there is always hope. Baron's parents may had sent him to three rehabilitation centers and their son never responded appropriately to heal. Here is my take: in all of those rehabilitation efforts for Baron, they've possibly not gone down to the roots of his "real problem." Their view was only external - counting the number of times he took his addictive "drugs of choice."

Addiction is not the problem. It is only an external symptom, a result or manifestation, of the "real problem." The addict's way to happiness or numbing of his sorrow is to take "drugs of choice." Yet he remains oblivious to the core of his problem and the varied options to address it.

So, simply laying down external bottom lines and consequences (an important part of recovery though it may be), counting and suppressing the use of alcohol or any "drugs of choice," in an addict will lead nowhere. If treatment providers such as doctors, nurses etc in the rehabilitation centers focus on the inner life of the person addicted and treat the "real problem," there's a higher chance of true rehabilitation and new life for a recovering addict.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Psychological Violence of Verbal Abuse

Here below are some things I hear or witness from my sessions involving individuals, couples, or families. They are characteristic of verbal abuse, often escalating in intensity, frequency, and variety over time. It's a common source of emotional woundedness and breakdown in relationships.

"He says he loves me, but he's angry, irritable, and always putting me down."

"My Mom says he's accepting of my choices but she criticizes me and won't accept my views and feelings."

"She says she can say anything she wants to say to me in whatever way she wants."

"What are you complaining about? I talk to you."

"You idiot!"

"You take everything wrong. You feel too much."

Verbal abuse is psychological violence. It attacks or injures. Generally, it's a means to control, manipulate, or have power over another person. Verbal abuse can cause a person to believe the false or distorted perception about himself or herself. It may also cause one to speak falsely or react violently to the other one.

Obviously, verbal abuse prevents real intimacy or relationships. However, it occurs many times that the victim of a verbal abuser may think the illusion that he or she has a real relationship. In multiple cases, verbal abuse escalates to physical abuse. This transition is important to note because the clinical experience of therapists provide evidences that battered women have been verbally abused.

I remember one woman who endured years of criticizing, name calling, and blaming from her husband and still chose to stay. There may be a number of reasons. But for her, as she narrated during our session, an important reason being her need to function adequately in her role as a mother and provider to her kids. She may never know or acknowledge that she's a victim of psychological violence created by verbal abuse.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Can I Be Cured?

"There is no incurable illness, only incurable people.”
That’s Dr. Bernie Siegel in his book “Love, Medicine, & Miracles,” with a subtitle “lessons learned about self-healing from a surgeon’s experience with exceptional patients.”
That statement strikes me. I want to understand what Dr. Siegel is pointing out and its applications. I do, for it concerns what I do a lot of the time. In a society such as ours, the response to life’s stress and problems are pretty much left to the individual. The individual’s mind must learn to disconnect psychologically from external pressures to cope better and not get sick.

Not everyone who suffers a trauma, loss, or deep stress develops a severe illness. Whether the illness is mental, emotional, or physical, the deciding factor is always how an individual thinks about or copes with the problem. Scientific evidence shows that mental factors are always present in cancer, depression, violence, addiction, and other types of breakdown. Those who can reframe their minds despite stressful circumstances and continue with their lives generally stay well or better.
I once talked to a separated married couple in great distress. The husband was a drug addict, overdosing on prescription pills, a gambler, and a womanizer. He was harming his wife, both physically and verbally. He had undergone long five years of psychotherapy sessions already and he’d still not able to control his anger and addictions. The simple truth is, he was being driven to his sickness. The requirements of recovery are obvious and yet he remained disabled in his will to bring himself to wellness.
If a person deals completely with anger, addiction, or abandonment when it first appears, illness or mental breakdown need not occur. Often, when we do not deal with our deepest emotional needs, we set ourselves up for physical illness or mental disorder. Yet what are we most comfortable with? Avoiding or denying there is a problem. Telling a loved one we’re seeing a doctor to put up an appearance. We’re actually more comfortable finding escapes and covering up instead of going directly into the roots of our pain ourselves.
No incurable illness, only incurable people.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

You Can Not Change Your Spouse

"If you don't change, I won't change!," says Martin to his wife during our session. Both of them were in a blame mode, defensively reacting to and attacking each other. It's a repetitive, endless cycle in their marriage that continues to hurt them.

It never fails to strike me whenever a couple – married or partners – see me about their hurting relationship. Each one expresses a need to change the other. Typical with this need is the presence of blame and defensiveness in their interactional pattern.
I’m reminded again of the insight or “wisdom” encapsulated in the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
In many ways, when couples shift away from blaming each other to take responsibility for each one’s part, things begin to change a lot. Done sincerely, the denial wears off, understanding grows, and the pain is accepted. This produces a strong foundation for the relationship to heal and get better.
Here is a bottom line: you can not change your partner. The only thing you can change is YOU and how you respond in your present and in your new truths.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Healing Is More Than Intellect

Maribeth knows a lot of things on psychological therapy. She reads books - both digital and non-digital, that makes her sound like a seasoned phD psychologist when she speaks. Almost each day, she smokes, drinks, and rages at her husband, kids, and house maids.

Maribeth has a well-kept secret: she's a sex addict who's into pornography and multiple encounters of casual sex with other men. Nobody knows. She's having a nervous breakdown lately and was about to jump from the 5th floor of a friend's condominium. Then, for whatever reason, she decided to seek help.

As I've always pointed out to myself and others, "healing is more than intellect." So I think it's safe to say there's a lot of information and resources out there, and people ask me all the time why they're still not healing and changing. Honestly, most of what I say to them boils down to this: knowing is never enough, you need to experience what you know. I wish it were more complicated or mystical than that, but it's not. 

That's been my repeated impasse with my patients in my psychotherapy practice for some time now. Recovery indeed can not be achieved by our intellect alone. This is why I focus so much on what motivates people to actually experience healing and change. I don't think it's mainly a matter of having the right tools or doing it the right way. I think it usually comes down to just doing itApplying knowledge, experiencing what the mind comprehends.  

Recovery is like learning to ride a bicycle. When you accept the chronic nature of your underlying condition, you begin to understand the metaphor of bicycle riding. You don't experience riding your bicycle just by knowing its parts or reading about how to ride it in the Wikipedia or the Kindle books. You step into an actual use of the bicycle, get the hang of pedaling and balancing, and experience first-hand the sense of freedom and balance that one feels riding it.

With therapy or counseling and healing groups, you experience love, acceptance, direction, or guidance you need from others in order to truly see how to apply and experience knowledge to your wounds or condition. While a bicycle is usually built for one person, the nature of therapy or recovery  and working the steps is relational. In that context, the wisdom and safety of the steps in healing continue to unfold and are experienced as one applies them to life's challenges -- one day at a time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Healing from Loneliness

A lot of times when I  work with people who seek therapy, I always try to sense which feelings are most painful. A number of themes come into my actual sessions. But a common thread reveals that majority of them feels an inner vacuum, an unsatisfied inner pain, a craving for fulfillment. In one word: loneliness.

I read psychological research and it does reveal too that loneliness is a most pervasive emotional disorder of our times. Of course, even without those clinical findings, we know that loneliness has always plagued humankind since time immemorial. Interestingly, more so in our modern times, even with the rise of technology and other special comforts at our disposal.
When there is deep emotional trauma, loneliness is most acute. Experiences most conducive to acute loneliness are: the loss or death of a loved one, a broken home, parental abuses, separation or divorce, infidelity, leaving one’s home for work overseas. All of these special experiences prevail in our times and contribute to the increase of incidences of harmful effects of loneliness on people.
In her article in Mental Hygiene titled “Loneliness in Old Age,” author Irene Burnside writes, “Loneliness is the state of mind in which the fact that there were people in one’s life in the past is more or less forgotten, and the hope that there may be interpersonal relations in the future is out of the realm of expectation.”
Indeed, loneliness is a connection issue. It can be remedied. But the first steps need to be taken by the sufferer himself or herself.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Why Join Support Groups?

Life or support groups, such as 12 step groups, AA, or SAA, are essential to Recovery. Let me count the ways how they provide balance and healing in your journey.

1. An accepting environment from which to get support;

2. An opportunity to identify with others' stories and experience relief at not being alone or unique;

3. Support and strategies to stop or diminish addictive behavior;

4. Healthy intimacy and friendship with others in the group;

5. A process and framework for recovering from addiction and building spirituality;

6. Promotes honesty and honesty leads to change;

7. Decreased isolation, increased make connections; increased self esteem; increased relationship skills; decreased self pity;

8. Practice real life with real people going through same issues;

9. Great for sharing feelings;

10. A centering tool- a place to lay down your burdens;

11. Minimize your self judgment.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Though Dead, Still Speaks!

He wrote 600 works in his brief life of 35 years - hymns, cantatas, operas, symphonies. He lived in poverty and died in obscurity. His grave was unmarked. No place for candles to burn or flowers to display. He's forever absent, gone.
His name: Johannes Theophilus Mozart.
But is Mozart really gone? Unlike Hitler, the good works he did live after him. If he had mistakes, they're not highlighted. What good lives on after he died? Mozart's unique contribution to the world - his style, his eminent innovations, the "Mozart touch." In his music, Mozart lives on.
If you're having difficulties choosing to heal, give up your addictions, or live the best life you can have, you can learn to motivate yourself. Try imagining your self in your death bed. Dying, you are with your loved ones - spouse, children, friends, relatives, etc. What will you say to each one of them? What will they remember about you?
Yes, your opportunity is now. Not later. Life is brief. You can choose life and do good and leave your timeless legacy and memories behind. Today.
If you do, like Mozart, you too though dead someday, can still speak.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Moves That Matter

As a psychotherapist, my special focus has always been healing of wounds to self. As a specialist in the field, I’ve a program I’ve developed myself devoted to management of pain, especially during initial stage of trauma.
Real life survivors have essential "moves" that eventually restored their sense of self and brought them to greater life and love than before.
Here are some "moves that matter" that I process in my sessions with counselees/patients during the course of our collaborative healing journey:
1) Self encouragement:  you can learn self validation even in the absence of others, who may feel worn out hearing from you;
2) 100 % responsibility: Take 100-percent responsibility for tending to your own wound and for your own recovery.
3) Time management: Build in daily activities that are life-sustaining, including time with supportive friends, therapists, and support groups. Create quality creature comforts. Work provides well-needed structure. Throw yourself into work to enjoy its ‘occupational therapy’ benefits.
4) Mindfulness: Get into the moment and stay there as long as you can. The only safe place is the split second of now. When your painful thoughts intrude, return to the practice of soaking in the moment.
5) Constructive Use:  Put your suffering to constructive use: Learn to transform pain into growth.
6) Heal unprocessed pain:  Cleanse old wounds.  Deal directly now with cumulative psychological wounds from the past lingering underneath for a long time.
7) Acknowledge your strength as a human being:  Believe that you can survive. There are tools. Challenge hopelessness and despair.
8.) Feelings are not facts: Feelings are temporary and fleeting. From the center of self, observe your feelings washing over you. Find serenity in the now.
9.) Find serenity in the now:  Remember, this too shall pass.
10.) Seek the Higher Power.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Money and Mental Health

Howard, a senior citizen, hoards. He stashes money in the bank, which he says is for his future. He does not want to let his adult children know about it. So when he flies away, his children will not be aware of any of their father’s huge savings. In the meantime, Howard makes his children feel obligated to give to him a monthly allowance. He always feel insecure and worried regarding his material needs.
Money often reveals your state of mental health. Money “drug” can be like sex, power, alcohol or marijuana. The more you lust, the more you become dissatisfied! It never stands still. It keeps grasping. It is addictive. To be fulfilled, you’ve to keep increasing the dosage of this drug-of-choice. That’s when it develops into a kind of mental health problem we can call "greed."
In Howard’s case, the problem is not the saving of money. There are indeed times in our lives that need economy. The problem is the greed that motivates the saving of money. This greed is both psychological and emotional as much as it’s also spiritual. The anxiety over money that underlies the hoarding has much deeper roots that need to be attended to.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

When To Walk Away

How do you abstain from something that's destroying your life?

I'm gladdened by one of my more advanced counselees, Victor, with his plan to abstain from his former "drugs of choice." Many times, he'd just walk away.

For example, whenever he is tempted to look at a woman with lust, he bounces his eyes. And then, just walk away for a time rather than be tempted to advance his gaze.

Days when he'd meet with former friends who'd somehow force him to go to the nightclub with them.  These friends would "order" lots of alcoholic beers plus women. Victor, who formerly struggled with booze and women in the past, resolved that he is better off without them. So, after drinking coffee or juice, when the heat is on, he'd simply stand up, say his goodbye, and leave the gathering of his old friends for another day and place.

When your life has been damaged by addiction, you rightfully desire to have a new life. Yet temptation will still often knock at your door. Sometimes, it comes from your own internal fleshly desires. Other times, it comes from people you encounter or situations you find yourself in. The way out is to remove yourself from the object or situation of temptation, to flee from them.

The best strategy or action plan may simply be to walk away.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Serenity Secret of Mental Health

In therapy circles, Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer goes, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
If you can understand what the prayer means, you’ll see what you cannot change in a person, place, or thing, and what you can change in your self.
What does it take to do this: WISDOM, COURAGE. Result? SERENITY.
When you “detach with love” from an addicted or disordered loved one, you take your focus off him or her. Then, you place the focus into your self – what you can do, what you won’t do – and meaningful choices you can make. Focusing on the “patient”  as the problem keeps the problem alive. Detaching from the problem opens doors to solutions and turning problem into opportunity.
I’m reminded of Napoleon Hill who once wrote:  “It is virtually impossible not to become what you think about the most. If you concentrate on something long enough, it becomes part of your psyche … If you think about problems, you will find problems. If you think about solutions, you will find solutions… A successful person understands this and learns to overcome them by FOCUSING ON THE DESIRABLE OBJECTIVE, not on undesirable distractions.”
Remember this serenity secret of mental health.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Addict's Defenses

The psychological defenses that addicts use to avoid dealing with their addiction are typically deep and complicated. Most people, faced with someone who's talking and behaving irrationally, the first inclination is to confront and even rage.

Unfortunately, I've observed so often that directly confronting an addict almost never works. I say this because an addict is not even consciously aware that he is using psychological defense mechanisms to avoid dealing with his problem. Such defenses make the addict unlikely to believe anything you tell him.

There are varied types of psychological defense mechanisms. Addicts in general tend to use more frequently the following more than the others:  denial, rationalization, externalization, all-or-nothing thinking, acting out, passivity, conflict avoidance, comparison, claim into health, among others. When an addict uses his defenses, it enables him to put the best possible face on a terrible situation.  At the same time, he crusades and asks his family and friends to go along with his delusion.

How then do you start geting the addict in your life to agree to enter into treatment?  Start learning how to successfully deal with and manage his psychological defense mechanisms. It's hard work. But if you follow a definite plan and strategy, it can spell a great difference in healing the addict in your life.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

First Steps in Separation

If you have a spouse or partner who is abusive, adulterous, addicted, or violent, you may reach a point when you need to have a "healing separation" for your survival, protection, and mental/physical health.
What are your “first aid” steps in separation?
Here’s my top 13:
1. Recognize that it’s ok to have different feelings.
2. Give your self a break.
3. Don’t go through this alone.
4. Allow your self to feel the pain and grieve the loss or breakdown of the relationship.
5. Cultivate new friendships and interests.
6. Get outside psychotherapy help when you can’t manage your self or you're drowning in pain.
7. Take care of your self. Stick to a daily routine of nurturing yourself.
8. Avoid using alcohol, drugs, or food to cope.
9. Eat well, sleep well, exercise.
10. Be honest with your self.
11. Remind yourself that you still have a future.
12. Know the difference between a normal reaction and depression.
13. Important that you don’t dwell on negative feelings or over analyze what happened. Getting stuck in hurtful feelings like anger, blame, and resentment rob you of valuable energy to heal and move forward.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Infidelity as Psychological Trauma Wound

Infidelity is an interpersonal, psychological trauma wound. My clinical, professional, research, and personal processes demonstrate its devastating impact on a couple. Injured counselees often report overwhelming emotions that vacillate between rage and inward feelings of shame, depression, and abandonment. In many ways, infidelity's impact parallel that of PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder.

Maribeth told her husband during one of our sessions, "I don't know you. You're not the person I thought you were. How could you do this? I thought I could trust you." She was raging. Her husband's affair was not merely a negative trauma event. Maribeth likewise experienced a deep shattering of her core beliefs about her marriage and her husband that are essential to emotional security.

I always observe in my practice that, given the ruptured trust and uncertainties after the discovery of the betrayal, the injured partners are not easily able to move forward even if the affair has already ended. They typically cannot trust their partners not to hurt them again, especially in the initial aftermath. Flashbacks, faces, voices, or places may serve as stimuli for the injured partner's painful emotions such as anxiety, confusion, anger, depression, and shame. 

Therefore, before couples can start processing the meaning of the affair and rebuild trust and intimacy, they first need assistance in containing the emotional turmoil and destructive exchanges that are typical during and after the discovery. Frequently, they need help in learning how to communicate their feelings to each other in a constructive, healthy manner. They need to learn how to interact and navigate the challenges of their relationship in their day to day life. 

In sum, couples experiencing an infidelity trauma wound need some way to process the trauma that has occurred and some way to make sense of the past and move on from there. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Run, Walk, and Let It Go

Each day, I do a lot of running and walking. Thousands of steps. I find the release I need by simple, solitary runs and walks through the streets, malls, gym, or nature city parks. It's one of my ways to keep my sanity or well being.

Hurting people often have emotional reactions when they participate in therapy sessions. Psychotherapists too, being fellow humans. They expend much emotional energy in the sessions to help people understand and touch themselves.

Today, I cried twice out there. It was beautiful. I couldn't help myself. Tears spring forth as if from an underground spring. Part of it I was remembering my own life's losses. Another part I was simply overwhelmed by memories of whatever I've been able to accomplish in other people's lives helping them heal. I'm glad I'm alive - not detached or hyperrational.

Whatever it is weighing you down emotionally or mentally, whatever touches your heart with sadness or trauma, running and walking can help you with it. When you do that, you start feeling good about your self.

Run, walk, and let it go.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Psychology of Homosexuality

As of this writing, Filipino world boxing champion, Manny Pacquaio, continues to draw indignation from the gay community, especially in the media. He delivered a knockout punch with his statement about same-sex marriage. Essentially, he quoted Scripture about God's judgment on homosexuality and somewhat comparing gays to animals.

Expectedly, the members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community vehemently ranted and attacked him. Even those not being alluded to became unnecessarily hurt by Manny's misunderstood media-statement. Amid these, Pacquiao seemed to have acquired more supporters and admirers as he clarified his statement and stood his ground about his beliefs.

Witnessing all these, I see no point at all for the LGBTs to relentlessly attack Pacquiao. The more they put him down, the more he becomes hugely popular and profits from it! Besides and most importantly, LGBTs do not have significant objective support bases, such as psychology/psychiatry, Scripture, and the law on their side.
In psychology and psychiatry, homosexuality was once officially listed for a long time in DSM doctors’ manual as a “mental illness.” Prior to political lobbying of the gay community in the 1970s to have it deleted from DSM, homosexuality was being handled by psychiatrists and psychologists as a psychological disorder subject to treatment and recovery.
If you quote Scripture as Manny would often do, the very essence and nature of created humanity is described in Genesis 5: 1,2: “When God created man, He made him in his own image and likeness. He created them male and female.” Homosexuality, on the other hand, is clearly spoken of as sin, evil, and immoral by the Bible.
In Romans 1, it says, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…”
Even the law only talks of male and female in connection to sex. The Phil Family Code (article 1) defines marriage as a “special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman.” In over 95% of the nations of the world, marriage is legally recognized only between male and female. No such thing as gay legal marriage in the world at large.
The Phil Supreme Court on one occasion (Silverio vs Republic, GR 174689, 2007) ruled where sex is defined as “sum of peculiarities of structure and function that distinguish a male from a female. Female is the sex that produces ova or bears the young child, and male is the sex that has organs to produce spermatozoa for fertilizing ova. Thus the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ in everyday understanding do not include persons who have undergone sex reassignment.”
As a psychotherapist, I am with and for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders. I accept them unconditionally as persons or fellow humans (not animals!). Along with all males and females, they deserve dignity, healing or wholeness, to know the truth, and happiness.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Can I Be A Friend To My Child?

A mother talked to me about her disrespectful children. During their childhood onwards, she handled the children by pushing them into a friendship with her. Instead of being a parent to them, she’d converse with them as if she’s just a friend or companion and not an authoritative figure. The side effect of  her parenting style is conditioning the children to take disrespectful liberties with her.
I call it psychological abuse when a parent handles children inappropriately. In this instance, the mother denied the children the parenting they needed because she allowed her role to be compromised by her need for companionship and friendship. It’s a thin line of parenting behavior. Crossing it leaves a child with an undefined and empty view of himself.
Perhaps, the children would be accommodating to your unmet need as a parent. But only for a short while. In their hearts and minds, it stretches them. The role reversal does  strain what their parent-child relationship was meant to be. A parent forcing water from their children that should come from someone else or other adult sources is a relevant parenting lesson.
Let’s be wise parents to our growing children. Make sure we don’t make their tender, immature frame handle undue weight prematurely. Eventually, time will arrive when our children could handle adult weight or issues. But prematurely, the weight becomes a source of potential psychopathology, even a curse.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Best Medicine

Today is Valentine’s, a traditional love day. It gets me to have loving thoughts again!
I ‘m reminded of a well-known psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, who said, “Love is a medicine for the sickness of the world, a prescription often given, too rarely taken.”
Indeed, in each human, there is a built-in need to love and be loved. Take away that nature and you’ll remove humanity.
One of the best gifts we can contribute to the world is learning to love imperfect people. That includes everyone. You spouse. Your children. Your parents. Your friends. Your neighbors. Every fellow human being.
For love to be truly medicinal, you and I must be prepared to love flawed people. Dysfunctional people. Sick people. Enemies. Simply, imperfect humans. We must love people in areas where they’re good and yet be prepared to to tolerate areas that are still under construction.
It will save you much disappointment to realize that all of us will disappoint each other. The truth is, you often disappoint your self. So, if you’re going to love any one, you must be prepared to say, “I love you anyway.”
Unconditional self-love (USL). Unconditional other-love (UOL). That’s the love prescription the world needs to heal and be whole.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Remembering Positive Memories

One of my counselees remarked that she has a difficult time thinking well of her self when things are failing. She also noted her tendency to blame her self first …for everything. Even when she knows that something is outside her control, she’d still put her self down.
It’s a long-lingering “default mode” in her mind. She needs to become aware of this in deeper ways. As she takes ownership of her own story, she can deliberately shift her perspective on her recurring emotional circumstances and events.

Drawing on positive memories can help. Looking through photographs and thinking about people who love you may be one method. Think about these people who like you — grandpa, grandma, aunt, uncle, classmates, clients, customers, friends etc — and remember what they like about you.
As you remember and visualize the faces of those who love and like you, look with pleasure and fondness. Shift your thoughts and feelings at that moment from self-downing and self-blaming to those who love and like you. These positive memories then of people who appreciate you can help steady you.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Healing Your Mother Wound

Unloving mothers. Abusive mothers. Absentee mothers. Evil mothers.
Mothers are precious. Society, in general, appreciates and values them dearly. And, rightly so. Without them, lives will not be born and welcomed into the world. Yet life’s reality has a dark side. We are all imperfect humans, including our mothers.
Cynthia has a repeated mantra during our sessions:  “I feel unworthy.” Upon deeper processing, she eventually realized that her lack of confidence is a reflection of her internalized maternal voice. Since birth and childhood onwards to adulthood, Cynthia experienced abuse and rejection from her mother. This critical maternal voice is always there and takes the glow off her becoming a mother herself and even in the wake of financial success. Now as an adult unloved daughter, Cynthia still allows her mother psychologically and emotionally to dictate her view of her self.
During therapy and counseling, she began to have structure and meaning to see more clearly what has happened to her. She learned of her need to rewrite her own story as a bold act of redemption and healing. Becoming the writer of her own life and selfhood, Cynthia finally helped herself through her own eyes painting a coherent, realistic picture of her mother. This then improved her moods and helped her better manage her formerly unmanageable emotions.
Healing the damage of an unloving mother on a child’s sense of self is indeed an enormous issue for most. Yet it can be done as evidenced by countless testimonies of lives transformed. Through appropriate support and help, a wounded adult child can finally be a “grown-up” – firmly and gently at the same time – making it clear what to do and expect from his/her mother and his/her self.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Feelings and Mental Health

Feelings and psychological wellness are closely intertwined.

Sophia began her therapy session extremely raging and throwing tantrums at her husband, Tim. When I asked about the nature of her rage and upset, she reported her husband's infidelity and sexual addiction. The cause was reasonable, of course.

But we decided to work on Sophia's out of control emotions first because it was unhealthy, and causing her inability to function and cope with the stress needed to appropriately move forward with her husband.

Observe clearly the difference between "healthy negative feelings" and "unhealthy negative feelings."  Healthy negative feelings are those of sorrow, regret, sadness, annoyance, or disappointment when you don't get what's important to you. Unhealthy negative feelings, on the other hand, make you feel unduly depressed, panicky, self-pitying, angry, or even violent.

Realize that you are capable of changing your "unhealthy negative feelings" into "healthy negative feelings." In my therapy and counseling sessions, I work with counselees to take their depressed feelings, for example, until they only feel sorry and regretful. I encourage them to take their panicky, self-downing feelings into the session until they only feel concerned and apprehensive.

Don't give up until you actually change your feelings into healthy ones. It's a key to pressing on in your overall recovery.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Knowing Is Never Enough

In my practice of therapy and counseling, I’ve always found insight in and of itself to be inadequate. At best, I helped my counselees see and know of the psychodynamics of their emotional or mental disturbances. But, I’ve always realized that their knowing is not the same as their capacity to change their thinking, their emoting, and their behaving so they could stop self-sabotaging.
One counselee I had recently gained insight into the fact that her rage or uncontrollable anger is traceable to her unconscious hatred of her mother. In her work and social relationships, she realized how she has been “transferring” that feeling into other females who have similar traits to her mother. Surely, she understands how she got the ways they are — but not what to do or the ability to apply what she already knows.

This makes me wonder, where insight and expression of repressed feelings alone don’t work in my sessions. Something more then needs to be incorporated in order for a broken person to heal. It sets me to do some tall thinking about psychotherapy. I went back to my techniques and tools of therapy and started giving application assignments, among others. 
Insight alone is not enough for deep and lasting personal change. The truth is, most of us are very good at identifying what’s wrong with us and our experiences. Yet that knowledge in and of itself rarely produces deep level personal healing and recovery. In fact, without the appropriate steps and frames, insight may result in “re-traumatizing” a hurting person. So, make sure you have insights plus the experiential aspects in your recovery journey.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


I'm thinking about thinking today. Rumination. In many situations where there is psychological wounding, a person may tend not just to ruminate but to "over-ruminate." Such usually produces stuckness, inability to take healthy actions.

How do you navigate your over-ruminating to unclog your stuckness? Here are some pieces of thought I have about it that could be helpful to you.

*  Observe and analyze your self when over-ruminating:

*  Be sensitive and conscious of your fictional or magnified memory bias;

*  Reduce your self-criticism;

*  Spot over-ruminating triggered by sms, emails, or notes;

*  Try mindfulness meditation and prayer;

*  Define your options or alternative courses of action;

*  Replace thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make your over-rumination and worrying worse;

*  Use imagery or visualization to bounce flashbacks and images that get you stuck;

*  Reduce over-ruminating, your over-thinking, capturing ideas via taking notes as you have them and then sleep on them;

*  Practice thought-stopping and deep breathing;

*  Seek help when symptoms persist. There could be heavy, overwhelming root causes underneath fueling the over-ruminating.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

How Champions Handle The Past

Champions. What characterize them?

I've been thinking of the world's most successful people who suffered failures or losses in their lives. Some didn't finish or drop out of school. Many started out impoverished, even bankrupt full of debts. Others came from broken families or abusive backgrounds. Yet they managed to beat all odds and succeed in their respective fields. They came out stronger and better in broken places.

What's the secret of these champions?

Common among them is the will to move beyond their painful past through determined choices. They changed the results of their past by changing their choices in the present and for their future. As author T.D. Jakes put it, these champions "use the past to fertilize their future." They decided to allow their disappointments to come to pass and not get stuck. They pressed forward.

If you're going through a past trauma or loss, it's unrealistic to say that you are not in pain. You are. But once the initial shock is over, you can choose not to allow your life to get stuck in a stage that's just part of the whole healing process. This devastating event in your life shall pass too. Allow it to pass. Make plans for the future.

Surely, you can choose to be a champion as well. Accepting reality, stepping over depression, and making plans for the future is a significant announcement to your heart that you are planning to move on with your life.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Therapy of Real Friends

"I don't have a real friend. Not even one!"

That's what a bruised 62-year-old man expressed during my coffee talks with him last week. He is in deep need of healing friends.

Everyone needs a real friend. A real friend is one whom you can be yourself, vent your innermost thoughts and feelings, without fear of criticism or rejection. For some reason/s, real friends can be rare nowadays.

Today, lots of people are lovers or married, but not friends. They have marriage without friendship, sex without intimacy. They have been physically touched but not nurtured emotionally. They have been fondled but not patted in the back. They are hurting inside. Bleeding. In the road of life, they're so needy.

In churches, offices, schools, and in other places, people may also go through countless motions as well. Many painted joy in their faces with "professional smiles" that used to be real. Over time, they feel alone. Their hearts are peeling, exposed like driftwood. They could find no brush to reach their hearts and souls.

This deep thirst is a dangerous state to be in. A lack of real friends can be the deepest, most engrossing poverty any human being can experience. Addictions, affairs, and varied types of psychological wounds are born out of moments of thinking and feeling that water a deep thirst for real friends, real connections.

If, for whatever reasons, you find your self in this state, let me share secrets you'll surely find helpful. You can end your desperation. You can stop going to the wrong persons or places for the right thing. There is a Real Friend waiting for you.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Carlos and Mary

Carlos complains that his wife Mary is always tired of sex.

Mary says her husband never takes the time to get close, kissing and holding her, but always rushing to culmination of sex act.

After deeper process, Carlos and Mary discover it's not about their sex. Their root problem involves issues of intimacy.

Carlos longs for affirmation. After a long day at work, he comes home desiring to be valued, appreciated, and made to feel worthy. Sexual activity is the only way he knows and gets conditioned to to receive what he wants. His wife has no idea, so it never occurs to her to validate and praise him for his value.

Mary is also seeking affirmation. Alone at home with the children, she wants her husband to see her as valuable and desirable as she is. Not merely as a housekeeper, a child caregiver, or sexual partner.  She wants to hear her husband loving to spend time with her, thinking she is beautiful, and enjoying being near her. She seeks intimacy and love.

Carlos and Mary are healing - individually and maritally. They now realize that sexual intercourse is not a substitute for intimacy. When the two of them learn to express value to each other in ways apart from the sex act, their entire marriage begins to blossom. They're addressing their root need inherent in a marriage -- not merely the surface issue of too little or too much sexual activity.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Healing Your Self With Reality

British poet Thomas Eliot once wrote in 1935, "Human kind can not bear very much reality."  30 years later, he as well as his loved ones were forced to bear reality. Thomas stopped writing - and breathing. It's painful but it's fact.

Reality is a world from which most mentally and emotionally disturbed individuals have escaped. They attempt to avoid facing it head-on through varied means, such as drugs, alcohol, sex, adultery, gambling, obsessions, depression or even rage, among others. Reality is a point then to which they must return before health and wholeness is restored. As clinical psychologist and author, Dr. Gary Collins put it, mental health is a "search for reality."

Let me share a few pieces of thought I have about this significant healing component called "Reality."

... You heal with reality when you see life as it is. Not what you think it should be. Not what you think others think it should be.

... Reality is your most secure, healthiest place on earth.

... Reality saves you from the lostness of distorted perception or illusion back to the real world of right and wrong, the false and the true.

... You heal with reality when you recognize that you don't really know as much as you think you know.

... Reality is when you accept the fact that others view life differently and some may actually be right.

... You heal with reality when you learn that you cannot micromanage anyone.

... Reality is when you learn that everyone's problem is not necessarily yours.

... You heal with reality when you learn that you can't change everything in the world.

... You heal with reality when you discover that God, not you or another person, is the center of the universe.

... Reality is when you accept the fact that no one is perfect.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year, New Life

As I write this, a new year has come. Tradition shows that people used to make new year's resolutions. They resolve to become their better selves as they begin another new year.

A best principle to bear in mind for this is the principle of "sowing and reaping." "As you sow, so shall you reap," as Scripture admonishes. A related guide is the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

People who believe and apply this principle, which some call "karmic justice," are less likely to hurt themselves or their neighbor in the course of their life journey. Their choices or decisions will always be governed by their awareness of the long term or essential effects of their deeds. 

A woman I'd been counseling said she has become out of control and violent in reacting to her husband's infidelity. Moving on to our talks, she confessed that she herself had secretly cheated on her husband multiple times during business trips.

Yes, the couple is experiencing high hopes. They confessed their unfaithfulness to each other and vowed to heal and change. Individually and maritally, they desire to recover through the deep process of therapy and counseling. 

Yet both of them have to reckon with the reality of the reaping effects or consequences of their past sowing in their individual well being and marital state.  Surely there is hope and healing is always possible. Even in a fragmented state, one can get stronger and be renewed from day to day - leadingto a fuller life.

Healing and growth does not stop with deep childhood trauma or ongoing consequences of past mistakes. Each new year presents new opportunities for loving and changing. The "missed development" can be made up and remedied in whatever stage of life. It's never too late to change and be whole. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Healing In The Family

This Christmas season, I was with a former celebrity actor's family who "loves the Lord, cooking, and eating together." But it was not so prior to their family transformation and healing about five years ago. This family then fits Barbara Ehrenreich's morbid picture of it:  "Not the ideal and perfect living arrangement but a nest of pathology and a cradle of gruesome violence." With God's therapy, the family members stopped being worst enemies of each other and started growing in faith. How happy I am witnessing this family's journey of recovery and wellness!

Psychotherapy cures psychological and emotional trauma suffered by a family. It's a significant part of one's whole self healing. Family therapy centers sprout around the world precisely due to countless individuals and families suffering from the wounds inflicted upon them by family life. When alienation, brokenness, and a lack of wholeness reign in the family, it can produce mental disorders and breakdown.

Still, important though psychological treatment may be, it remains incomplete when the damage inflicted on the family by personal sin is not thoroughly dealt with. Sin and psychopathology are closely intertwined. Sin destroys a family. Personal sins of the past, though already acknowledged at the mental and emotional level, may continue to haunt a family without spiritual treatment and intervention. It's like a stone you throw into a pool, the ripples continue long after the stone has reached the bottom. All sins then, both those committed routinely and in secrecy damaging the family, need to be absolved through a deep process of confession, grace, and forgiveness.

No therapy can substitute for spirituality to complete the deep process of healing and wholeness. Sin destroys our ability to truly love God, our self, and others. Only the Christ of Christmas can fully restore and heal it.

Monday, December 14, 2015

When Communication Goes Underground

"Do what you like. You're always right!" says a disturbed wife to her raging husband. Upon hearing that, the husband withdraws and stops talking to her for weeks.

As a therapist, I've found that the more covertly and indirectly people communicate, the more wounded and dysfunctional they become. Communication goes underground. They do not agree overtly but at the same time disagree and even attack each other covertly.

Married couple Lita and Joey are dysfunctional to an extreme degree (children of abusive parents). Mary keeps saying to me that she tries so hard to "fix" her husband and make him productive. As a result, Joey ends up living what he thinks she wants from him. He gives control of his self to Lita, while deeply resenting it inside him. In effect, Lita and Joey find themselves acting like a parent one minute and a child the next. Each is trying to cover up his/her disappointment. They never truthfully manifested themselves as individuals to each other.

Without clear, truthful communication, we as humans will be unable to survive in relationships. Communication is interaction. It's a process of giving and receiving information. It involves not just verbal but also nonverbal behavior and meanings within the social context. In order for communication to be healthy in our relationships, we need to let others know what really is going on
inside us.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Can Addicts Be Intimate?

Addicts are incapable of intimacy. They turn off their internal information systems through the use of their addictive agent. Therefore, they can not have available to themselves essential information about what they feel and think. They block the process of knowing who they really are.

I had a client who was a sex and cyber-porn addict. He was caught by his wife paying prostitutes - both male and female. According to him, his sex addiction had leveled up which now included perverted acts in the bedroom. Being threatened with divorce by his wife, he hit bottom and sought help to heal emotional wounds and repair his intimacy dysfunction in the marriage.

I believe that a first prerequisite for this sex addicted husband to rehabilitate is intimacy within himself. It means accurate "presence with the self."  In order to be intimate with his wife, he has to know who he is, what he feels, and what he wants. For instance, when he is able to feel his true deepest feelings, he must learn what exactly to do with them and how to properly express them rather than act them out in self-destructive ways. In order to be intimate with his spouse, he needs first to be intimate within himself.

Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef, noted author/psychotherapist, once wrote that the "love" addictions (sex, romance, relationships) are all "escape from intimacy."  She said that too many people are unaware of themselves and so unaware of what they think, feel, and know. As a result, there is no way, according to her, for these "love" addicts to ever honestly express themselves to others. When something is triggered inside (e.g. some "pain"), they're unable to get in touch with old, buried "alive" parts of themselves that continue to haunt them.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Unconditional Love For Your Children

Countless people throughout the world have grown up without unconditional love from their parents. One parent or both parents may have abandoned them when they were children - physically, emotionally or psychologically.

Unconditional love. It means love never fades. No matter what a loved one does or says, the love stays.

Initially, children depend on their parents for this kind of love as their foundational "secure base."  It's letting children experience that Dad's love and Mom's love is not based on the choices they make or their words or their behaviors.

Awhile ago, I was counseling a 22-year-old young man who remains at odds with his parents. He was angry at them. According to him, both his Mom and Dad love him "conditionally." They'd always compare him with others and force choices on him. And when their wishes were not fulfilled, he said that both his Mom and Dad would physically and verbally abuse him. He never felt truly loved by them. I could see the tears coming down his face.

That was devastating to feel that pull of "conditional" love by a child. If you're a parent, like me, help your children to know that your love for them is based on who they are, not what they can accomplish. Even as you encourage them to grow, show them that you love them unconditionally. When they get older, you want them to remember how important they are to you.

Unconditional love builds in children a solid foundation for them now to be able to love and trust others in the future.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ghost Parents, OFWs

I call some parents "ghost parents" because they haunt children and homes they neglect, deprive, or leave behind. Yes, they exist. But you and I may not easily know what it really is and their destructive effects.

Most "ghost parents" are male, but some are female. You heard of parents who didn't become involved in the lives of their children. Some are distracted or distanced by money or work, others by affairs. Some are separated or divorced, some see child-rearing as beneath them. Some are abusive, emotionally and even physically.

In the Philippines, we have a social reality called the "OFW phenomenon."  I know of an OFW mother who had an affair and traded her three very young kids for that and an overseas job in the Middle East to join her affair partner. Emotionally traumatized, the youngsters grew restless and confused, waiting long hours every day by the house gate. They were simplistically told that Mom works abroad “for you” (omitting the adultery detail). 

Reliable government statistics show a rising rate of broken marriages and families among OFWs. A number of years ago as head of a national association of colleges, Dr. Vicente K. Fabella studied the impact of OFWs’ family separation. His study showed that one in every four OFW spouses separate. And up to two in five OFW children drop out of college because of lack of parental guidance.

Am I stepping on some toes as I write this? Very good! I join a global mental health battle to save the seed. "Ghost parents" are definitely one of the frequent and most damaging sources of psychopathology among individuals, marriages, and families today. I bled for all the children of "ghost parents."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ability To Withstand Painful Feelings

Surviving any trauma or crisis involves the ability to "withstand painful feelings." I know it can be so difficult to do. That holds true especially when you're going through deep, wounding emotional experiences, such as betrayal, infidelity, rejection, or abandonment. Yet if you're to survive, you do need to be a person of this essential ability within you.

I'm reminded of lawyer Wendy, an excellent example of such a person. When she saw me, she was in much pain and humiliation because of her husband's infidelity and lack of remorse. Yet she endured these painful, uncomfortable  feelings. She sought help and counsel, took vacation breaks, enlarged her circle of support, and was able to resume her responsibilities as a working mother to her children.

The ability to "withstand painful feelings" means learning to live with such feelings without being overwhelmed ot immobilized by rage, depression, or anxiety. That involves objectively understanding what happened, facing issues raised, and integrating the event in your life. A survivor puts the trauma or crisis into perspective, think the issues through, and learn to charge neutral or be less emotionally reactive so he can get to the "other side."

Therapy is usually geared towards helping you through the process of integrating the trauma, crisis, or event in your life. Knowing and developing cognitive skills will lessen the toxicity of emotions produced by thinking distortions. Such is crucial so you can be detached enough to problem solve.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When Beauty Fades

Pierce Brosnan, my favorite James Bond, was recently interviewed in the media about his wife, with whom he has six children. One entertainment outlet described her as the "ugly" wife of 007, primarily basing it on current external appearance. Pierce countered by saying that he loves her nonetheless as well as every part of her physical body. "That's the real man," a commentator commented.

We humans often look at the outward appearance. In our culture, it can be difficult not to, even in our relationships. I'm reminded of a middle-aged couple I counseled who were having problems in their marriage. The husband's complaint was that his wife avoids social gatherings and always seems too tired for sex. The longer I spoke to the wife, the clearer it became that she was not happy with the way she appears in the mirror.

When you're focused on your outward appearance, you believe that how you look is who you really are. Nothing can be farther from the truth. When time goes by and physical beauty fades, there is another kind of beauty that can emerge. In a marriage, when all externals disappear, what's left are two things: character and conversation.

There lies the secret of true beauty.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

When Unsafe Persons Block Your Healing

Countless times, I notice that the hurting hung around people — whether family, friends, or partners – who are “unsafe.” They need support during times of woundedness. Yet unknowingly, they are getting farther and farther away from being their real selves due to the influences of unsafe people around them.
Psychologist Dr. John Townsend wrote a book entitled “Safe People.” In it, he cited personal traits of unsafe people. Here are these traits below that can help you distinguish safe relationships from unsafe relationships, which are essential for your recovery process:
1. Unsafe people think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weaknesses;
2. Unsafe people are religious instead of spiritual;
3. Unsafe people are defensive instead of open to feedback;
4. Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble;
5. Unsafe people only apologize instead of changing their behavior;
6. Unsafe people avoid working on their problems instead of dealing with them;
7. Unsafe people demand trust, instead of earning it;
8. Unsafe people believe they are perfect instead of admitting their faults;
9. Unsafe people blame others instead of taking responsibility;
10. Unsafe people lie instead of telling the truth;
11. Unsafe people are stagnant instead of growing.