Monday, December 11, 2017

The Secret Gift of Abandonment

Abandonment is a time of trauma. Devastating repetitive losses. Personal disappointments. Upheavals in childhood. Chaos and abuse in family.


For Dennis, his abandonment trauma was an awakening. It helped him a lot to change the direction of his life. He knew he had much work to do. But at last, he knew what was truly important. It took losing his wife to another man and therapy to finally shatter his illusion of permanence and self-sufficiency.

Somewhere in the abyss he was sharing in our sessions, missing his wife, he was able to look up. He felt so astounded at how painful the abandonment and loss was. He realized how alone he was. He was in a critical period during which he must look to his own resources.

But something even deeper happened to Dennis. He discovered the secret gift of his abandonment and loss. It helped him find his way to "old wounds" from traumatic events he may not even remember. Finally, he can address his long unprocessed, unresolved feelings.

Abandonment and trauma may do accomplish more quickly what many psychotherapists strive for in years of therapy -- bringing you to the seat of your "unconscious." To your deepest parts, where lie your permanent recovery and wholeness.

Beyond the support of family, friends, and therapists, you spend most of your waking time with your own self. As your own separate self, you face this challenge alone. First you must be in touch with your secret fears and pains. Listen to what they're telling you about your emotional needs.

The journey to the core of the self, preparing you for deep-level healing, is the secret gift of abandonment and trauma. It's a crucial opportunity to shape your life from the inside out.

Receive the gift. You'll forever be changed by it.


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Solution to Fear

South Africa's Demi-Leigh Neil-Peters, 2017 Miss Universe, has an incredible testimony after her recent win. She was "hijacked, car-jacked." Yet she turned her experience into a positive mental health advocacy.

Neil-Peters was quoted by the news:

"Never allow yourself to be a prisoner of fear. Because if you allow yourself to be, you're going to live your whole life in fear. Go for therapy, it really, really helps. Don't be too proud ... I can walk with you - that makes us unbreakable."

Fear is a most common disability of those struck with psychopathology. Not normal fear. But fear that is severe. Out of proportion. It's fear that makes one choose to remain a victim. A person whose fears have become overwhelming gets crippled to move on in life.

I'm reminded of Pablo who struggled with fear and depression a lot. He was bullied a lot in his life by his parents and  schoolmates. As a result, he would have panic attacks and gasp for breath. He literally could not breathe and this happened often. Fear was strangling him.

Too often, when we meet a person struggling with unbearable pains of fear, we simply tell them "Get over it!" Or, dismiss the unreality of the source of the person's fears. In spiritual circles, we may tell him or her, "Have faith."

However, I've observed that none of these work most effectively. None is a lasting solution to the problem of the person regarding fears. The solution to the problem of fear is love. That kind of solution is permanent. Unbreakable.

You can choose to be unbreakable in the face of any fears you experience. You can make it through any rain. And that involves "perfect love," super doses of it.

Getting the right kind love is the medicine we all need to overcome all the fears we will face on earth.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).

Have you known how to experience "perfect love" in your life? Catch that secret!


Monday, December 04, 2017

The Medicine of Laughter

Laughter heals. The longer you practice it, the better you get.

The writer of Proverbs 17:22 said, "A happy heart is good medicine."

Or, as G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

I know this first-hand in my therapy hour. The first sessions people are usually filled with negativity and depression. Sad. Frowning. Disappointed. Confused by circumstances. They're mostly fearful of life, and things about it. Afraid to love, of even wanting to love again.

Then, something happens when I introduce laughter. With it, the climate is noticeably different. Patients open up. They share details they'd rather omit or avoid in the past. Troubled thoughts and feelings become easier to handle with right doses of humor.

Laughter is medicine. I can say that wounded individuals are able to better mend or recover from a host of different illnesses - physical, nonphysical - when they learn to laugh. Such experience disengages fear because it helps change perspective.

Just awhile ago, Patricia and Edward were all smiles during our marital therapy session. With a playful perspective, they're able to remove themselves from their marital problems that debilitated both of them with anger, fear, and anxiety. Their laughter created a healing distance between a situation and their reactions.

Indeed, we all can do well if we follow author-therapist Leo Buscaglia's prescription:

"When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!"

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Addiction is Not a Mystery

Addiction, in whatever form, is not an accident. It isn't an unfathomable puzzle. It can be understood, unpacked.

Although it's life-damaging for Timothy to have serial sexual engagements with strangers or regular masturbation at home, such "addiction" feels reasonable for him after his recent divorce. He is so lonely. Wounded emotionally. We can only empathize with the pain he went through.

Clearly, you can be susceptible to addictions if you lack the staples of living. You can be most readily addicted to your drug-of-choice when you lack belief in your personal value. When you lack social supports of family and friends. When you lack options for meaningful work or fun.

Nonetheless, despite the maladaptation to life through addictions, there is hope.

I've observed that if you've personal needs that are not met in a certain environment, you may become an addict to something or someone to satisfy those needs. However, you need to realize too that other people, even in the most deprived situations, don't become addicts. Where lies the difference?


I knew of an alcoholic and womanizing patient who continued his addictions while undergoing psychotherapy. As he became drunk in his favorite bar one day, he saw his aging uncle whom he respected a lot passing by. His uncle was staring at him disapprovingly.

This patient's uncle became his mirror of what he has become. And he didn't like what he saw. He quitted his addictions because he appeared before the eyes of a person whose opinion he valued a lot. That means, he finally realized how much he couldn't tolerate any more the disrespect he's giving himself.

There lies the hope, the difference.

Clarify what you value. Keep your positive reasons for life change at the forefront. Knowing what's truly important to you can tilt the balance permanently in that direction.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Do You "Baby" Your Child?

When 27-year-old Pamela left overseas, she felt crippled. She's unable to run a washer and dryer, iron her clothes, cook simple foods, or reconcile her budget. Back home, she never learned to do chores around the house or other basic practical stuffs. Her Mom did all for her and she got used to it.

"Infantilize" is a psychological term which means what you may be thinking now. In less technical terms, it refers to a parent's act to "baby" his or her child even past an appropriate age.

Parents, mostly mothers, who overprotect their children have been found to produce fearful, dysfunctional kids.

As Dr. Sylvia Rimm, author of "Smart Parenting: How to Parent so Children Will Learn," wrote of the power wielded by children who are too dependent as a result of overprotection. She writes:

"Because they are kind and caring and the children's symptoms of power (tears and requests for pity) are very persuasive, parents ... continue to protect them, unintentionally stealing from them their opportunities to cope with challenge."

Of course, parents often mean well. They certainly don't intend to harm their children. But despite good intentions, their "infantilizing" paralyzes the children. It robs them of the joys of struggle and achievement.

Struggle is psychologically and emotionally good. Resistance, delaying of gratification, and challenges are good. When our children don't have to struggle or experience obstacles, they don't grow up. A child crippled with such will find life cruel and depressing.

It's not our children's fault! They were not brought into the world to raise Mom and Dad! We parents influenced them first. We made the family rules while they're growing up. We may say our "infantilized" children didn't do anything wrong. We did.

Next step? We parents begin with courage, honor, determination. Resolute spirit. Bountiful wisdom and faith to take corrective action before it's too late. Let our children learn to tie their own shoes. Don't bail them out every time.

Are your kids (still) running the show? Are they truly growing up or regressing?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Beneath Your Restless Heart

Longing.

Our human heart is full of it. It's built-in. Implanted inside us. No one escapes it.

Oxford dictionaries define longing as a "yearning desire." Hunger or thirst. Craving. Need. Something that burns inside. Deep urge or itch waiting to be filled.

Mark Twain once wrote, "You don't know what it is you want but you want it so much you could almost die."

In my own life as well as the lives of those I see in the therapy hour, longings are ever-present. We ache. We only know and feel that we long for something all the time.

Ever thought about why you keep pursuing, pursuing, and pursuing? Why must you feel loved or get married? Have great sex? Run a business, get lots of money? Find success, be recognized by people? Travel the world?

Part of it is a need to experience wholeness. Happiness. Security.

But, there is much more about us. And our lives.

Augustine, in his famous quotation, said, "You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

Beneath all our human and earthly longings is a deep void only God can fulfill. We cannot not long for Him. Or, our hearts will remain restless. Wounding our minds, hearts, and relationships.

"God has set eternity in the human heart." (Ecclesiastes 3:11)


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Peter Pan Syndrome

His name was Peter. Age 25. He talked a lot. In session, he liked to monologue. Joke away. But he's not really saying much that matters. His feelings were often exaggerated, easily provoked, even silly.

When asked what he'd do now after having graduated from college, he paused a little. Then, he said he'd go back to college and take another bachelor's degree.

Totally unrelated to the first one he took, he said in jest of his next college course, "I'd like to make a difference in the world by studying the oceans and underneath them!"

Then, he sipped his coffee and ate a lot of cake in front of him. At 5'8" and almost 300 lbs., he professed his love for food.

My years of counseling teenagers, university students, young adults, middle-aged or senior men, and couples revealed to me a widespread psychological affliction in our society. It's a syndrome in our society that's causing a lot of problems in all walks of life.

Clinicians call it the "Peter Pan Syndrome."

You remember the happy-go-lucky character of Disney's Peter Pan, right? That's where the psychological syndrome was named after.

Peter Pan symbolizes everlasting fun and youthfulness. He rejects all things Adult. He avoids growing up vehemently. He wants to remain a boy forever.


Unknown to many of my patients (including their parents, spouses, or friends who care for them) is a chilling reality. They are unwittingly following in the footsteps of Peter Pan. 

We have a mental health problem of a man-child caught between the adult man he doesn't want to become and the child or boy he could no longer be. 

As Peter Pan himself said in the play, "No one is going to catch me, lady, and make me a man. I want always to be a little boy and to have fun."


Forgive me for hyping a psychological claw to unearth this often hidden Disorder. Reversing the process of this syndrome is crucial to the stability of our families and society. 

It's never too late for an adult man to grow up and for his loved ones to offer aid to make that happen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Failure is Part of Success

Sometimes, failure isn't really failure. It's part of the process of success. As long as you don't get stuck. Continue moving forward.


Jack Ma is China's famous multi-billionaire. He was at first a serial failure before he striked success. Failed many exams at school from primary to college. Rejected from Harvard 10 times. Turned down for 30 jobs. Only interviewee out of 24 rejected by KFC.

He is living proof that failure is part of success.

The world would have us believe that failure has no value.

Now, we can't be sure about that.

In our culture, there is indeed a lot of emphasis on instant success. If you don't hit big at a certain point or time, you're a failure. So many of us strive for the elusive overnight "success" status, not realizing that in and of itself it doesn't really mean much.

In therapy too, many among us want instant success. Magic. Overnight recovery. Like instant coffee, we unrealistically expect instant relief to our deepest pains. Rather than a candle that burns slow and steady for a long time.

Many years ago in my youth, I was a chess champion. I tell you, the training was long and hard to become one. Instead of resorting to available tricks or shortcuts, I focused on the slow burn. Rather than "enduring" my training, I learned to enjoy the process and what I do.

That made me win games, even after painful losses. Become a champion.

Life is creativity. Focus on the "long game" instead of short-term results that don't last. Love the process. That way, you'll be a steady flame, not a flash in the pan.

A champion in creating your best life, even after your biggest failures.



Enjoying the Season of Life Where You're In

Life is short. Each one of us goes through its seasons. Childhood. Youth. Adulthood. Old age. And then, we passed on to the next season beyond earthly existence.

Through each season of life that passes by, we're all called to develop accordingly. Based on age where we find ourselves in. Developmental tasks are a given. We fulfill them, we grow. We find wholeness and happiness.

As author Bo Sanchez says, "Every season requires a response. Don't mix them up or you'll have problems. During spring, you plant. During summer, you work. During autumn, you harvest. And during winter, you renew."

I'm reminded of a 30-year-old single Mom with two young children, ages 3 and 5. Struggling financially to support her self and two kids, she applied for an OFW contract job in a Middle East country. She got the job.

In the days following, she experienced tremendous panic anxiety. Her present moments had been a mental pain for her as she imagined leaving her kids to work overseas. Sleepless and depressed, she sought outside help and comfort.

Shortly, it dawned on her what's truly more important to her. She realized more and more that she will never get this season of her life back at home with her little kids. She cancelled her trip for overseas work and started a new business instead with close friends.

Most importantly, she's able to prioritize mothering her kids she called "gifts and blessings." At this season of her life, she felt much happiness with her little ones at home who want to snuggle and just simply spend time with her.

Enjoy the age where you're in! Maximize the gifts and blessings of your season of life.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

People Are Lessons

People are lessons.

When relationships fall apart, I often hear sayings such as "This too shall pass" or "Everything happens for a reason." Familiar words of comfort or perspective. Especially in difficult times, from broken marriages or friendships to all sorts of breakup.

People come into your life. Some stay long or enduringly. Some stay short. But yes, all your relationships with people happen for a reason. It's important to see the part people play in your life or self development, regardless of outcomes.

Recently, I was speaking to a mother with her teenager son. Her son was verbally "bullying" me during our time together. Ignoring. Criticizing. Discounting. Invalidating. In the course of the mother's account, I got informed that her son was severely bullied before in school and had lately been kicked out of school for his bullying other students on campus.

Unfortunately, some missed learning the lessons from people who hurt them. In the case of the teenager son in my session, he duplicated the same mistake in his own life rather than catching the lessons he can learn from those who bullied him in the past. Life lessons such as on how to treat others, kindness, friendship, communication.

People are lessons.

From your spouse or fiancée who loves you, you learn the value of intimacy in finding joy and meaning in life.

From a friend who taught you to save and invest money, you're taught what's worth buying for and what's worth letting go of.

From a parent who worked hard for your studies and future, you can thank for the lesson of sacrifice and devotion in caring for your child.

 From a loved one who betrayed or broke your heart, you learn the lesson that pain is temporary and wholeness is everything.

From the stranger who flashed a smile at you or extended courtesy to you, you learn the lesson that not all people are harmful or damaging.

People are lessons.

Let's learn from them well as we age forward.


Thursday, November 09, 2017

Self-Justification and Mental Health

"I was wrong."

Those words are one of the most difficult things to say for most people. Whoever we are. Whatever our situations or circumstances.


Perhaps this is the tragedy of fraternity student members of Aegis Juris at the University of Santo Tomas. These frat officers and members were caught in a major hazing scandal that led to the death of a neophyte.

Based on latest news, these young men, along with their "big brothers" and lawyers, have become so vehement in their defense. Despite obvious evidences, they insisted that the hazing did not take place or they were not involved if there was one.

The need to "cover up" the crime and wrongdoing so offended the senators who were hearing the case. This led to the imprisonment of its frat leader as well as the victim family's call to disbar the lawyers assisting the cover up.

What was the main crime?

I think it's not so much the initial mistake or wrongdoing done as it was their insistence on their own innocence. I believe this case is a poignant illustration of the disastrous results of being unable to say, "I was wrong."

I'm reminded of one of my patients, Charle. One of the clearest indicators of his psychological and emotional illness is inability to admit and deal with self-destructive behaviors. He specializes in self-justifying and self-excusing.

When I asked the father, who used to abuse Charle physically and verbally since childhood, to join in family session, the request was turned down. He said his son was to be completely blamed for his condition.

Medically speaking, if a person has a wound, he has to admit the wound. Then, allow a doctor to open it up and remove all foreign articles so he can heal. Once the infected area is cleansed and treated, tissues can be new again via healing elements.

Such concept is at work as well in psychological, emotional, and spiritual healing. Shameful acts, wrong attitudes, dysfunctional behaviors need to be admitted as they are. Taking responsibility for them starts a person's healing of his mind, emotions, and spirit.

Self-justification and mental health. Do you want to be right or well?

Healing Your "Procrastinatis"


"Procrastinatis." Not taking action.

After doing psychotherapy consulting for many years, I'd come to see a most common cause of why people don't heal and get whole ...

... and that is, most already know what to do to heal. Especially after they've gained knowledge from their therapy work.

They're not just doing it.

Meaning, "Procrastinatis." The envisioned personal mental health recovery is already in their heart. They're not just taking action to make that vision a reality.

Worst, others eventually quit or prematurely terminate their process.

This truth actually applies to any other area of our lives. Starting a dream business. Nurturing or saving a relationship. Losing weight, get fit. Finish a worthwhile project. Turning away from sin and towards God.

And ... much, much more!

If you're guilty of not taking action on what you need, here is one solution.

Rocking chair.

That's where 81-year-old Fernando, father of one my patients, is. In his procrastination and vices all these years, he never held a good job or built a solid business. Just his wife who worked to support him and their children.

Reflecting on his life from the rocking chair, he felt so sad. Depressed. His mind and heart was full of regret. He remembered he was given lots of opportunities and resources when he was younger. To which he uttered, "What a waste."

At the same time, he beheld the oppposite in his imagination. He set worthwhile goals. He took action on each of them without delay or quitting. He imagined the feeling of being a successful multi-millionaire businessman. He became a loving and responsible husband and father. His wife and children loving and respecting him.

From the rocking chair, he discovered a solution. But he ran out of time.

Heal your "procrastinatis" ... before it gets too late.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Man is More Non-physical Than Physical

Health can be a puzzle.

I've just heard the news of a young actress who's a gym buff pronounced fit by medical doctors and yet dropped dead a few weeks ago.

In addition, I've known of an aged man who's a heavy alcoholic and smoker all his life and yet seem to remain well.

Bad health affected Alan's life. When he entered our therapy session, he complained of not able to sleep enough for years, unexplainable aches and pains in his body, and lack of energy at work.

When he had himself checked in the hospital, the doctors gave him a clean bill of physical health.

Even with nutrition and disciplined exercise, Alan found himself still feeling physically sick. Probing deeper in his psychotherapy, he discovered a truth: his lifelong emotional problems were the ones producing his physical illness or deterioration.

He had the worst mental health between ages 13 when he was abandoned by his parents to 53 when he went through a painful marital divorce. Because of this, even if science and medicine can cure every disease of his body, he still could not be well.

Health is not just physical. It can actually be more non-physical. Our best medical and psychological knowledge indicates that wellness or wholeness is far more than not being physically ill.

As Dr. Bruce Larson put it, "Our bodies are barometers of our inner, nontangible experiences, thoughts, fears, angers, resentments, hopes, joys. It is safe to say that 90% of most physical ailments have a real emotional, spiritual connection."

Mental health plays a powerful influence on what happens to our bodies. When we are better at loving, having more satisfying personal relations, good emotional copers, and close to God, the odds are we'll have no or minimal illness. We avoid premature aging or health deterioration.

The fact is, we have more control or autonomy than we think in this whole matter. We can all learn and practice to be and do those things that make for real, whole-person health.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Three Brothers, Three Masks

Once, I met three brothers. Something seemed a little too regular or constant about each one.

The first brother is comic. Joke by joke, he uses laughter to wall himself off from others' inattention or lack of admiration. He plays the clown to avoid the burden of facing his dependency and lack of productivity.

The second brother is a cynic. He claims to know your agenda, motivation, or knowledge. Posturing himself as an expert with special knowhow, he discredits even others who offer authentic support.

And the last brother, a depressive. He is unable to think and feel well about himself. He feeds on idle time. He wallows in self pity in the tearful room where he isolates himself. The troubles he experiences inside himself are deep.

Comic. Cynic. Depressive. Three brothers, three masks.

Healthy self esteem is usually non-existent for those walled in by psychological masks. The comic, cynic, and depressive are often ones whose low self esteem prevent them from all they can be. The masks they wear keep them self-centered rather than take responsibility for providing their lives with meaning, product, and accomplishment.

Does these have to be with these three brothers?

Of course, not. All three of them can choose more than they are today. It happens when they learn to unchoose their masks.

The Quest for the "Good Time"

Fun, fun, fun. Travels, cruises, tours. Surfing, beaches. Shopping, sumptuous dinners.

The quest for a "good time" lies at the bottom of lots of people's pursuit of pleasure. To escape work or the rat race. Even as a motivation for retirement.

After 40 years working in a bank, Mario and Marsha shared how much they craved retirement now. Now that their kids are all grownup, they felt free.

They looked forward to the leisure and "inheritance" of retirement pay. They said they'd spend their money and time in their hands traveling, and simply "doing nothing." That brief future together was what they'd like to be, especially in the present moment.

Then it hit them! In our session, Marsha was telling her husband, "I could not understand what's happening. We hurried to retire and relax, do what we planned. Why am I bored? Is something wrong with me?"

I'm reminded of the mother of a young son as he impatiently waited for Christmas to come. He cried, "I wish it were Christmas!" His mother, with her gentle wisdom, told his son, "With such wish, you will wish your life away!"

The whole problem with leisure or "good time" delusion is that it is deceptive. It puts your days in separate boxes. It presumes that a day is going to be more enjoyable and far different. It chops off segments of life as worthless because they're not your "wished day."

As a result of that, you find yourself kept from seeing or treasuring your present moment. You get bored. Weary of the pattern of your days. The leisure blinds you to the importance of the work you gave to earn it and the need to create new meanings in life as a whole.

Of course, we can enjoy the "good time." Have our days off. We can treasure it. But it's not meant to be the "goal of life." Creativity is key. We find excitement and energy when we know we're creating. Creating meaning in our days - not leisure - makes life!


Friday, November 03, 2017

Happiness and Sadness Are Twins!

I sat with my 14-year-old daughter, Angel, a few days ago when she spoke of a poem she did for her Grade 9 English class in San Beda. Her poem's title lighted my face up -- "Happiness and Sadness Are Twins." Isn't that title something deep and interesting to ponder on about life?

It is good that sometimes we experience sadness. Such experience protects us from the illusion that life is all bed of roses. Under trying circumstances, when we feel sad, we are compelled to see reality as it really is rather than sugarcoat it with a pretense of okayness.

I was amazed the first time I heard one of my patients, Carlos, referred to himself as a loser. He felt so sad and dejected. But as I questioned him, I realized he had developed this self-opinion from very few isolated failures. He got locked in self pity.

As Carlos progressed in his therapy, he became aware how much of the narcotic effect of constant happiness and comfort in him came largely from being "overspoiled" and "overprovided" in his family-of-origin.

Carlos was not exposed or shaped enough to understand what life really is like. He got used to life as partying all the time. Everything is expected to be fun and comfortable. So even infrequent or slight discomfort, loss, and failure spelled damage to him already.

Happiness and sadness is the stuff of life. They are twins in the sense that they go together in all lives. Glory and pain always come bound together. Therefore, to see life as it really is, we will have to resist the notion that we ought always to win. Sadness can be a powerful lesson that there is meaning inspite of loss.

At times, our lives are visited by darkness. Failure. Disappointment. Loss. Breakup. Remember then that all is not sadness. There could be an overwhelming happiness waiting on our patience. All temporary sadness or loss can be sustained with meaning in anticipation of a coming happiness or victory.

I agree with my daughter and her poem. Happiness and sadness are twins!


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Managing Death Anxiety

This week, we have All Souls Day again. Culture reminds us once more the reality of death in our human existence. It also directs us to remember those that passed on – family members, friends, and others who profoundly influenced our lives.


As a young boy in grade school, I first attended funeral when my paternal grandmother died. I don’t remember anyone, including my parents, spelling out death to me in a frightening or philosophical way. I recall just playing around during the funeral, seemingly unaffected.

Then one day, while passing by my grandmother’s house that lay alongside a Main Street, I suddenly cried. My grief over my grandmother’s death broke out of mental/emotional denial or unawareness. I’m thankful that my personal distress had awakened me to something I needed to see.

In our society, it’s a common sight for people to talk about those who died and not feel anxious by the thought that death will happen to us as well. We recover from grief. And then, we move on with our everyday lives not minding the need to prepare for such inevitable existential reality.

But, at some point in our lives, all of us will be faced by this reality of certain physical death. It may be in deep, powerful ways that it affects the way we think, feel, and behave towards a lot of things. It’s a time of faith. A time of being compelled to ponder our own mortality.

Death anxiety. William James, American philosopher, eloquently referred to fear of death as “the worm at the core" of human existence. Psychologists tell us that we are often unaware of the effects of death anxiety to our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

When left inadequately managed, death anxiety can magnify our fears, obsessions,  social anxieties, and other psychological imbalances. It can amplify our disdain of people who neglect us or don’t share our values.

In my exposure Therapy session with Roger, we tried to cure his recurring panic anxiety attacks. His common triggers were  traffic while inside his chauffeured car, train stations, and foot bridges. When we first started scheduling our sessions in those normal places, he completely went haywire in protest and rage.

It’s interesting that a common theme flowing through Roger’s thread of thoughts and safety behaviors while looking at those normal places is fear of and anticipation of his own death. I can’t help thinking then if his recurring panic anxiety attacks, accompanied by high temper, are a reflection of his own desperate attempts to manage death anxiety.

Having reached an age when I too am inescapably visited by thoughts of mortality, I wrote this reflection with great soul-searching. Am I living with true purpose given the limitedness of time remaining? If I die tonight or sometime, can I be sure where I’m going? What legacy am I leaving to make the world a better place?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Are You a Master or Slave of Sex?

.

Sex is good.

It's part of God's natural gift to human nature. Within the context of marriage, sex is good. It's designed as an integral part of true love and commitment of two people in life union.

Yet, sex can turn bad.

Damaged. Polluted. Distorted or abused. In our society today, lots of channels feed bad sex. And bad sex creates psychopathology and other unwanted consequences.

Recently, Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein, an award-winning movie producer, was exposed of his sex addiction. Tens of movie celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, Gwendolyn Paltrow, Ashley Judd, among many, came out into the open to report his raping or sexually harassing them in the past. It has become a full blown scandal that ended Harvey's respected status and career in Hollywood.

I'm reminded of Bong, a patient who consulted me about his out-of-control sex drive. He engaged in sex with his live-in girlfriend. He also had sex with strangers or pay prostitutes for it. Bong said in session, "Sex to me is like food. It's a basic need. I can't understand why I feel bad about it." His girlfriend found out and broke up with him.

What makes a person a slave to sex appetite instead of its master? There could be a variety of reasons. There's space here for me to mention 3 possible reasons:  bondage to world's view, bondage to self, and bondage to ungodly mentality.

Bondage to world's view. The world does not know about true love. Love is unprotected by widespread loose sex, pornography, sexual perversion, prostitution etc we see in our media and culture. To master good sex is to cut free from this bondage and live differently away from damaging worldly influences.

Bondage to self. The wounded self deprived of real love in the past or present can be vulnerable to addiction to unquenchable, out-of-control sex appetite. Mastering good, healthy sex demands healing of this primal psychological wound that caused severe narcissism. To be cut free from inappropriate pleasing of self and self-seeking attitudes.

Bondage to ungodly mentality. Sexual immorality is bondage to unspiritual, materialistic, robot mentality. One who feasts on pictures, films, and thoughts that feed moral weakness is a robot, not a master of sex, much less of himself.

At times, as a psychotherapist and human myself, I too am challenged to master the lure of bad sex. Professionally and personally. That always involves constant renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). Free from the imprisonment of  imagination so the self can be free to make good, healthy choices.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Depression Among Our Youth

The other day, I was at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines to serve as consulting psychotherapist to university students for their Mental Health Campus project. Everyone who came to my consulting room was going through serious depression. It's an emotional illness to which many of our brightest students in the university have become subject to. 

Just being depressed does not mean something is wrong with your IQ or intelligence. These UP students I talked to were scholars who are highly gifted intellectually. Perhaps the fact that each of them has to live with UP's highest standard of academics and be subject to perpetual pressure in their studies is enough to depress them!

Depression is universal. Webster's dictionary defines it as "the state of being depressed ... dejection, as of mind ... a lowering of vitality of functional activity ... an abnormal state of inactivity and unpleasant emotion." To my knowledge, no one is exempted from this universal experience of human life, to a greater or lesser extent, including the youth. 


In the Philippines, almost 50% of the total suicide cases recorded since 2010 are from the youth. The report based on a bill filed in the Philippine Senate showed that 30% of those who committed suicide are young adults aged 20 to 35 years old. The remaining 16% or more are teens aged 10 to 19 years old. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 300 million people globally were experiencing depression as of 2015. It's the single largest contributor to global disability and major contributor to suicides. Suicide is the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29 years old globally.

We need to protect our youth. They're our hope of tomorrow. Happy are we who can face the weakness of depression among our young people, and diagnose its roots. That is half the battle. For once we fully understand the roots of their depression, all we have to do is help them remove those roots and get the right cure.


Let's reason our youth way out of their depression! 

As Dr. Aaron Beck, founder of Cognitive Therapy, put it: "If you could reason with depressives persistently enough - or, better yet, get them to reason that way with themselves - you may be able to free them from the stranglehold of their negative thinking - and from depression itself."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The "Difficult Person Syndrome"

What is the "difficult person syndrome?"

When I met Marissa, she's overwhelmed by her emotions. Anger towards her mother and siblings. They're mistreating and abusing her verbally and physically since childhood. As a result, she developed a pattern of difficult behaviors that only alienated her from people around her.

During our session, she acted out her rage, aggression, and manipulation on me. It's as if she needed an outlet for all her pent-up feelings. Obviously, it would do little good to instantly reason out with her while she spoke abusively towards me. She sought help but failed to be open enough to it.

The "difficult person syndrome" is psychologically complex. People generally feel uneasy when a person who manifests it is around. Even with the slightest provocation, a difficult person can be obnoxious. Complaining. Abrasive. Noncomplying. Belligerent. Resistant. Aggressive. Irritating. Hypersensitive.

Mostly, the difficult person exhibits behaviors that resemble that of a needy, demanding child. When she fails to get what she wants, she slips into a victimized complaining mentality. She thinks she deserves and must be given special treatment.


I'm reminded of Peter. After many years of drug and gambling addiction, he was forced by his parents to undergo a much-needed therapy and counseling. He agreed to seek help but he didn't really want it. In our sessions, I noticed the game he's playing with me - the real reason why he agreed to ask for help and counsel is so he can reject it.

An individual suffering from the "difficult person syndrome" is often abused by difficult people in his or her early years. He or she later grows up to be deeply ambivalent. He or she wants help or support from others but fearing it at the same time.

Psychologically, abrasiveness is a defense mechanism or mask of the difficult person against closeness or fear of being injured again. Unconsciously, he or she recreates in the present the early abusive relationship he or she experienced n the past.

So when you're dealing with a difficult person, understand that his or her behavior is not a personal attack on you. He or she simply is "tortured," damaged psychologically by life trauma experiences. He or she needs special therapy and care. To be treated empathically and wisely rather than hatefully or fearfully.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Curing Your Addiction to Please People

Do you feel an overwhelming inner need to please others?

If you do, know that psychologists call it with varied descriptions. Approval Addiction. People-Pleasing. Need-to-be-Liked Syndrome. Whatever we call it, it refers to getting your self-value through the approval of others.

A patient, Rebecca, hated the job offered to her. But because it's her father's office and business, she said yes when she really wanted to say no. She quieted her inner voice of protest for she believed it would displease one who's significant to her. She overextended her self.

As a result, Rebecca got too depressed and sick that led her to seek therapy. Her days were filled with boring routines, sadness, and moments of crying while on her desk. She eventually developed signs of insomnia and anxiety-panic. She felt helpless.

A first major step for Rebecca to cure her condition is to become totally aware of her behaviors. Her people-pleasing. Her approval seeking. Her avoiding confrontation - not "rock the boat." Awareness of it includes understanding how it created her emotional wounds that she can't heal if she doesn't take a look at them.

“The need to feel ‘okay,’ liked, or approved-of is rooted in the messages a person received about their inherent worthiness and belonging while growing up,” says clinical psychologist Erika Martinez. “Somewhere along the way, people with contingent self-worth learned that their worth came from others' approval, not from within themselves.”

To cure approval addiction, you learn to practice getting your self-worth from within yourself and not from what people say about you. That takes self-love. Self-compassion. Accepting who you are - flaws and all. It's understanding that even if people dislike or disapprove of you, it's not a reflection of your value as a human being.

How do you know you're overcoming your need to please others? A sign is when you find yourself able to speak up when mistreated or wronged. It's tolerating disapproval, criticism, or dismissal without hurting yourself in some way. It's taking a stand, asserting your unique identity and gifts.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Key To Survive

Carol set limits.. She told her husband, "I feel so devastated by your affair. You even used our car to bring her out and to our vacation house. Despite your promise to stop it, you still continue. I want you out of the house. If you agree to seek help, maybe we can talk."

Carol sought relief. But that's not the reason why she did that. She did it for her. While she wished her unfaithful  husband would make a turnaround, it's out of her hands. She separated from her husband's problem and responsibility without separating from him. She still cared to offer him help."


Detachment. At times, it's an only way we can do to survive overwhelming pain, frustration, and disappointment of our "broken dreams." Its often a first step in reclaiming our lives. It can be our best hope towards recovery and wholeness. 

First-aid emotional detachment teaches us to endure the unendurable, the inexplicable, the paradoxical. Not just in our selves or our relationships, but also in the world in general. Managing the difficult task of detachment frees us to move on even amid unanswered questions.

I'm reminded of Mommy Wilma who learned to practice a "script" with her daughter. Wilma heaved a deep sigh of relief, after rehearsing her new "script" to her daughter "I separate from your problem which is your responsibility without separating from you!"

Detachment is a conscious choice. An expression of our own will to survive. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Psycho-pathology of Pornography

"What love? We just have sex," Melanie cried during a session. Melanie, whose husband is heavily into pornography, experiences no tenderness in their marriage. Everything is done so fast. She just feels so used.

Pornography damages. Psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. It enslaves addicts in sexual activities and fantasies that destroy their personhood. Far from making a man or woman a better lover, pornography poisons relationships and sexual enjoyment.


Author Victor Cline, in his book "Pornography's Effects on Adults and Children," wrote:  "Pornography contains much scientifically inaccurate, false, and misleading information about human sexuality, especially female sexual nature and response."

Once, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner (who died recently) compared himself to Jesus Christ. He said he was a "missionary" whose important achievement was "liberating people from sexual hang ups" through his worldwide pornography business.

If Hefner is right, wouldn't the porn addicts find themselves happy, fulfilled, with a strong sense of psychological identity? If Playboy pornography aids great sex, wouldn't you expect that married partners will have a good sense of love and real mutual pleasure in sex?

Brenda Mackillop, a former Playboy bunny, model, and prostitute, who worked with Hefner frequenting his mansion from 1973-1976, confided, "I lived the Playboy philosophy. I felt worthless and empty. Out of my despair, I attempted suicide on numerous occasions."

Not too long ago, a patient was telling me that watching porn on the internet during bedtime puts him to sleep. He "fantasize" first before going to bed to put himself to sleep. The pornography he watches appears to alter his mood.

Psychotherapist Dr. Mark Laaser writes, "Fantasy can be addictive. It stimulates chemical reactions in the pleasure centers of the brain. The addict then uses these effects to escape other feelings, to change negative feelings to positive feelings, and even to reduce stress. Given the chemical changes it creates, sex fantasy addicts are, in reality, drug addicts."

Evidently, pornography only produces psychopathology. It destroys self-worth, dignity, and mental health. It not only stimulates sexual coercion or predation, it encourages rape, promiscuity, and other forms of sexual addiction or sociopathy. Rather than enhancing love and great sex, pornography destroys marriages and relationships.

If you believe a pornographic video, film, or magazine cannot affect you, then you must also believe that the Bible, advertising, or theatre have no effect on readers or watchers!

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your entire body will be full of light; but if your eye is unsound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the very light in you is darkened, how dense is that darkness!" (Matthew 6: 22, 23)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

When Your Adult Child Makes You Feel Unhappy (Part 3)

Therapy for both parents and adult child can be useful. It often is. It may be a first step to help us understand ourselves, our adult children's problems, and the family system or culture that contributed to the problems we face.


If you're a parent who is unhappy about your adult child's choices in life, you need a safe place. This is especially so when your mental or physical health and overall well-being is already being affected. In many cases, therapy becomes an only way to get support to cope with the feelings of shame and embarrassment inherent in the situation.

Shocked, stunned, and scared! That's how a mother and father reacted when they knew of their 35-year-old son's addiction to drugs. When I asked them, what they did, they said they immediately rushed in to "rescue." They brought him back home, provided for him and his family, and reverted back to treating him like a child.

Well-meaning as it was for them, the parents' over-involvement with their addicted adult son came close to sabotaging his rehabilitation. Only after a week back home, his son got arrested by the police for using and selling shabu in the neighborhood. The son is now in jail, awaiting a program of drug rehabilitation.

I can't imagine the deep emotional pain these parents are going through. While they had their best intentions for their son's good, they're just really "enabling" his addiction. Taking control over their son's out-of-control life took away the responsibility to solve problems that rightfully belongs to him. Instead, they put that responsibility, on them.

The truth is, our adult children have the right to live their own lives. Whether to save or squander it, it's up to them. As Simone de Beauvoir tells us, "we must recognize their liberty, even in failure." We are not the source of that right. It's one we can not take away from them.

No matter what happens to our adult children, we parents need to take care of ourselves. We may always offer help to them that's wise and appropriate. But in most cases, our self-care and "doing nothing" seems best. It may be all we need to do.

As we take care of ourselves as parents, when and if our adult children become ready to receive real help, we're capable of giving the right kind.

Monday, October 09, 2017

When Your Adult Child Makes You Feel Unhappy (Part 2)

An important way for us parents to understand how our adult children turned out is to examine first the part we played. Ours, before theirs. One we can control. Then, learn and improve thereon.

Some parents do too much for their adult children. And some do too little or don't do enough. Two extremes. A case of "sparing help" vs. "spoiling the child."

The call is always for balance.


Antonio, now a senior citizen, never held a job all his life. He's always given allowances by his prosperous mother. Even while married and raising four children, Antonio asked for everything from his Mom, from basic expenses such as food and house payments to kids' tuitions and car gasoline.

As a result, Antonio never found reason to be self-supportive and responsible even for his own family. He's always in a state of limbo. Even at old age, still a "baby" being fed. Antonio's days as a perpetual freeloader have not been corrected.

Does his Mom's giving him so much help destroy his motivation to help himself?

Parenting psychologist, Dr. Jane Adams, writes:

"Parents who give too much do so out of their own needs, not their children's. They give out of unmet desires for love, attention, or self esteem; they give to compensate for early deprivation (in either generation); they give to change their adult children's behavior or fill up the emptiness inside."

At times, we parents must rescue ourselves first! While we cannot rescue our adult children from the dysfunctions and troubles of their own making, we do need to save ourselves from the habit of trying to rescue them all the time.

Otherwise, our "adultolescent" children will never be able to manage appropriate to their age and life stage without us. Time for growing up ... and not to wait too long before it becomes too late.

Friday, October 06, 2017

When Your Adult Child Makes You Feel Unhappy (Part 1)

Donald's young adulthood, like his teen years, has been a constant source of misery for his parents. He's always been into drugs, gambling, promiscuity and sex addiction, drinking, and endless debts. After years of his parents spending for his therapy, he still chooses to live a life of mess.

His mother, in session, was telling me that she wanted to believe him that he means it this time - to change his life. But she added, "How can I believe him who's been lying to me all his life? I know I can't!" 

Are you a parent who has grown up children who makes you feel unhappy? Does your adult child disappoint you because ....

*  he/she has a problem with addiction (eg. drugs, alcohol, sex)?
*  he/she can't get or hold a job?
*  he/she is chronically depressed and isolated?
*  he/she can't or won't leave home?
*  he/she is estranged from family and friends?
*  he/she is mentally ill or suicidal?
*  he/she is in trouble with the police or law?
*  he/she is incapable of supporting himself/herself?
*  he/she is excessively dependent?
*  he/she is aimless and can't face responsibility?
*  he/she is disrespectful and disconnects from you?
*  he/she becomes brainwashed by a cult or criminal gang?
*  he/she gets enmeshed in immoral or unethical relationships
*  he/she has confessed being gay?
*  he/she commits domestic abuse and violence?


As a psychotherapist and a parent myself, I've been listening to people talk about their children for many years. They want perspective and support for the fears, worries, resentment, impatience, and frustration they experience as parents to their adult children who fail to thrive.

Behind every one of these failing adult children is a parent who feels his/her life may also be falling apart. The parent's heart is breaking. The Mom may be crying herself to sleep in the privacy of her bedroom. The Dad could be scratching his head in confusion.

Parents who feel unhappy about their adult children often wonder, "Where did we go wrong?"

Monday, October 02, 2017

Better Life Through "Manufactured Risk"

In the 70s, a psychology research project was done on the subject of "human wholeness." In the interview of subjects, this question always came up: "What ingredients of wholeness would be common to anybody in any culture or society of the world?"

The responses were varied but implied that normalcy depends considerably from culture to culture. However, when pressed more deeply, the experts found a common key. In unique ways they heard: "A healthy person is someone who can choose risk and danger."


I've known of a wealthy CEO of a large food company who loves riding his motorcycle, even commuting through it every so often. Once told that his main problem is a psychological "midlife crisis," he was advised by his doctor to be careful and take it easy.

He decided not to take his doctor's advice. He didn't believe in middle age. If he avoids anything new or risky, he claimed, it would only hasten his whole aging process. No matter how stressful or boring his days at the office, his motorcycle drives gave him more energy and excitement.

Mother Teresa in India is another example. She chose a life of risk and danger in the worst slums of Calcutta. As a result of her adventures, she blessed her life as well as the lives of countless others all over the world, even for generations to come.

Once, I visited a patient and his family in Mindanao for sessions. After our family sessions, we went roaming, ending up in Lake Sebu of Cotobato City where they had Southeast Asia's highest "Zipline Adventure" - 600 feet above the ground, 700 meters long.

I went through the "Zipline Adventure!" I've experienced. I've conquered my fear of heights. Why did  I do it, even spend money, to be scared to death? Well, as author Dr. Bruce Larson put it, "Somehow life is heightened by being scared to death some of the time!"

To be whole means to be open to creative risk. Outside of our comfort zone. Beyond our unrelieved boredom. Freeing ourselves from dull routine. When life is crushing you with boredom or routine, are you able to manufacture risk, adventure, and excitement to heighten your life?

Many years ago, I made a radical work change. I had safety and comfort where I was working. Then I accepted the call to be an independent practitioner, an entrepreneur, in my own field and passion. From there on, the risk and uncertainty of daily life in my "adventure" have made life exciting and stimulating for me. 

As former world chess champion Gary Kasparov put it, "Attackers may sometimes regret bad moves, but it is much worse to forever regret an opportunity you allowed to pass you by."


Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Big R

The famous psychologist, Dr. Carl Jung, once wrote that resistance makes us unfocused, restless, and apathetic, which in turn "begets meaninglessness." When the Big R (resistance) has us, we cease to live or work at all. We avoid being responsible and finding any meaning in life.

Resistance is an escape. It's a form of war against or running-away from what needs to be done. In psychotherapy, a patient who rejects recovery, too tired or lethargic, and unable to focus on any of life's courses, is a resistant person.


A young woman, Nicole, was smart enough to hold a high-paying position in her company. Yet she wouldn't go for it. She's always heard giving her self and others varied reasons why she's "incapable" of doing where she's seen to have great potential. One day, to the shock of those around her, she resigned her job.

Nicole went back to her mother's care. For years, she withdrew from applying for a new job and just stayed with her Mom. She felt helpless and hopeless. She avoided even the simplest tasks of self care. In the depths of her growing depression, she missed life's opportunities. 

I've been reading parts of author John Sanford's book, "The Transformation of the Inner Man." I discovered he describes a condition he called psychological "amniosis," which seems to apply perfectly to Nicole's state, her Big R. 

Sanford writes that "amniosis" means an "inability to come out of the amniotic fluid and be born, or flight by regression to return to the safe hiding place of the womb ... Amniotic people want to be taken care of. They want to find strong people - ones in whom they can nestle, upon whom they can be dependent..."

People with the Big R usually experience a damaged self esteem. And people with a damaged self esteem often avoid being powerful, responsible, and well-adjusted. Or, they become addicted to temporary sources of relief, such as drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling etc, that prove life-damaging in the long run.

It's a good thing Nicole is becoming increasingly aware of her Big R in our sessions. She's now being "reschooled" away from her earlier programming, inappropriate cultural or society values and biaes, and other influences that have damaged her own self, her own uniqueness, her own interior wisdom.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Is The Money Following You?

One of the things I often hear women in our society say is to find and marry a rich man. And indeed men often receive extra attention from women because they're wealthy. It appears to matter less for a lot of these women if these rich men are corrupt, addicted, or abusive in some way.


I've heard of a Mom recently who wished a high paying job for her son. And it stopped there. She didn't mention intrinsic values such as passion, fulfillment, or satisfaction. Her point for her son seemed to be to simply get a job that pays well, whatever it is.

I have no fight with making money. In reality, it's a need we all have as part of our definition of adulthood. Making money is having the means to provide for our selves and families. It's freedom from having to depend on others at least for our basic needs.

However, I've seen too many people wound or defeat themselves with money disorders. Their emphasis is wrongly placed. Either they focus too much on money that they compromise their health and values. Or, they just do what they enjoy but they couldn't earn enough to support themselves and those who depend upon them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that "we are all born to grow rich through the use of our faculties."   Money is likely to follow the person who works with the natural talents, gifts, and passions given him. That frame allows him to make healthy choices, sound timing, and superior energies.

I have Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate degrees in the fields of psychology, counseling, and divinity. Once, I had false starts receiving offers to engage in other professions that pay much. Despite my investment, time, and effort, money did not follow. They were not meant for me.

Eventually, I chose to do work I love which focuses on helping people heal. I took my chances to go into private practice as a psychotherapist. How I discovered how so good and excited I am at this work! It turns out to be the right choice. The money followed, flowing naturally in abundance.

What I especially like is that I call my own shots ... and branch out into cyberpreneurship leveraging what I already love doing! Rather than being intimidated by a culture that equates lots of money with worth as a person, my focus was on helping people and not making money.

Is the money following you?


As long as you have the right focus and proper use of your in-born talents, it will. People who could handle the issue of money could manage their mind. A key to your success is not to make everything revolve around making money.

----
Can You Be A Filipino Millionaire? Find out!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

What Is The Best Psychotherapy?

Recently, I read of this article by a psychiatrist who was critical and disappointed of his own profession. He found from his research that as much as 95% of depressed people who consulted psychiatrists were so minimally or not helped at all.

Interestingly, he noted from his study that over 80% who consulted a minister gained significant relief. Such particularly disturbed the psychiatrist for his profession was into helping people and yet it's not making a desired difference.

One middle-aged single woman's depression and addictions drove her to psychotherapy. Her previous years of psychiatric drug use and hospital confinement were so ineffective that it made things worst for her. Lately, she became promiscuous and had sex with different men within just a month.

When she came to me, she was overwhelmingly depressed. She's attempting suicide. She's not only depressed but staggering under an overburden of guilt. In addition, she was pregnant. For the years of psychiatric treatment, she should buy drugs and pay other services to house her?

There must be a better way!

While we may not hesitate to go to a cardiologist or surgeon for our physical ailments, a "doctor of the mind" is something else. The meaning of the word "psychotherapy" comes from the original Greek roots "psuche" and "therapepuo" which means "mind/soul healing."


God's ways are not man's ways (Isaiah 55:8,9). In the real healing of mind and soul, only God's ways apply. Therefore, we should not be surprised when the theories of Freud, Skinner, Adler, Yalom, and others are diametrically opposed to God's ways as stated in Scripture.

Humanistic psychologists or drug-based psychiatrists have no or little to offer by way of genuine psychotherapy. They're committed to helping people with only the humanistic or physical tools/concepts available to them. Both humanism and science (man-centered) try to solve mankind's problems independent of God.

What is the best psychotherapy? Jesus said, "Without Me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5) If you're healing in the areas of mind, emotions, and soul, particularly those that spill over into life values, you'll have to know God and His healing principles.