Self-Esteem: What Modern Psychology Tells Us, What a Man With Some Common Sense Tells Us, and What The Catholic Faith Tells Us


The time will soon come when a modern philosopher who returns to common sense will be hailed as one of the most original thinkers of all time’ – Bishop Fulton Sheen (‘God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy’, published 1930) (1)

Modern psychology and Self-Esteem:

The primary focus of psychology and psychotherapy today is on increasing people’s self-esteem and helping them feel good about themselves.  Rather than try to figure out the truth about ourselves, psychologists and psychotherapists focus on superficial remedies that try to make people feel better about themselves. They focus on ‘reframing’ negative thinking and removing cognitive distortions. In previous articles I touched on some of the ways psychotherapists try to correct negative self-beliefs.  Psychotherapeutic and psychological approaches today mainly involve a rejection of reality, particularly the reality of sin, and the flattering of their clients. This is an absolute cocktail for disaster.

A Man with Some Common Sense and Self-Esteem:

Thankfully, not all psychologists have bought in to the idea that high self-esteem is the end goal of therapy.  One psychologist that has spoken more clearly and more sanely on self-esteem than his deluded colleagues is professor Jordan Peterson.  In this 4-minute clip on self-esteem (2) he rightly highlights how our opinions of ourselves must be based on an accurate view of ourselves.  In broadcasting his ideas, he is thrown a bit of common sense into the psychological field which had been slowly draining itself of any common sense that it was clinging onto over the last fifty years. For this, he has gained a massive following, especially amongst young men, who need to hear someone tell them firmly to tidy their room and be better than they currently are.  He has been a springboard for many men to face the reality about their lives and get themselves together rather than sit around complaining about the injustices and suffering of their lives.  He tells people that ‘if you confront the world forthrightly, if you speak the truth and you expose yourself courageously to those things that you’re afraid of that your life will improve.

Peterson’s words and work resonate with those who know that they are not all that they could or should be. His ideas resonate with those who are sick of being told that they are ‘good enough’ or who dislike being pampered by flatterers who tell them all sort of sweet and nice things about themselves when reality and their conscience tell them these things are far from the truth. The reaction to professor Peterson’s work has shown that there is a longing for the truth in people’s minds and souls. Some people have seen through the superficiality of modern therapy that attempts to make you think more positively while ignoring reality. They desire the truth even if it hurts.  

Towards the Truth…

To those who love the truth, professor Peterson’s work can act like a stepping stone away from the nonsense of modern psychological approaches and towards the truth about ourselves. People are not put off by Peterson’s insights into human failings. Rather, they know that he is saying many things that are true and this appeals to them.  In another video (3) critiquing those who glorify high self-esteem, he asks the question ‘what makes you think you should high self-esteem? And he answers, half in jest, ‘Maybe you are a miserable little worm? God only knows.’ And it is here, in this question, ‘maybe you are miserable little worm?’, that professor Peterson steps closer, than he probably even realises, to the Catholic and true understanding of self-esteem.

 The Catholic Faith and Self-Esteem:  

I have written elsewhere about the need for the Catholic Faith to be presented in all its splendour and glory to appeal to young people. It can then appeal to those generous souls who desire to be told the truth rather than ‘sweet little lies’ to placate and comfort them.  It needs to be presented truthfully indicating to people what they are and showing them what they should be. Over the last 60 years, largely due to the changes implemented at the Vatican II council, the Catholic faith is not presented in all its glorious truth to people. Church men of the post-Vatican II/conciliar/Novus Ordo church now flatter man and tell him he is ‘good enough’ or ‘not too bad’.  They have gotten with the times. In the excellent book, ‘The Burden of Belief’ (4), written in the 1930s, what effect this attempted softening of the faith has is clearly described:

Is it not characteristic of this development that the tendency today, largely encouraged by official piety, is to make the yoke easier to bear, to soften things down, grant dispensations, blunt the sharp edges? It is what is called meeting people half-way.  The Christian life must be made possible with a minimum of effort; it must be offered ‘with every modern comfort at moderate prices,’ and on no account must anyone be frightened off. In the endeavour to make it attractive, it has been dulcified with a bone-softening sweetness and given a sentimental appeal which is not so much child-like as childish…A tame, pretty-pretty, unadventurous Christianity such as this, which is diseased at the core, and lives on a lie, is its own speedy avenger, inasmuch as it destroys itself, it perishes of its own anaemia, it condemns itself to a continuous process of degeneration. It no longer produces men and women, but caricatures or actors…bona fide for all I care. It makes not appeal whatever to the best that is in us, to those magnanimous impulses that ask to be seized in a firm, bold grip and exploited for great and noble ends. It only appeals to our petty, cowardly, mendacious instincts for shuffling and playing for safety – and these fortunately are suicidal. It flowers in illusions, which life soon explodes, and a good thing too.

Jordan Peterson has attempted to explode some of the illusions of modern psychology ‘and a good thing too‘. While the conciliar/Novus Ordo church ‘perishes of its own anaemia’ and ‘it condemns itself to a continuous process of degeneration’, men, like professor Peterson, sound more like Catholic leaders, than the bishops and pope that we have today.  Catholic leaders used to tell man what he really was. Today, the truth about the Catholic Faith has been dulcified by leaders in the post-Vatican II church ‘with a bone-softening sweetness’. It has become a religion for humanitarians and ‘in the eyes of the humanitarian, God is very much like the man whose sole office it would be to throw food to flocks of irresponsible fowls; to feed and to fatten is all that man is expected to do.’ (Fr Anscar Vonier, 1913) (5). Man is exalted and told to fatten up on the pleasures of this life.  God is told to buzz off and to stop making us feel bad about ourselves.  Previously the Catholic Church, particularly through her saints, told man what he really is. The language that they use makes professor Peterson’s words sound sweet in comparison.  Here are just a few examples from some of the Church’s greatest saints:

St Louis Marie de Montfort: ‘By nature, we are prouder than peacocks, more wedded to the earth than are the toads, fouler than goats, more odious than serpents, more gluttonous than pigs, fiercer than tigers, more slothful than tortoises, more feeble than reeds, and more fickle than weathercocks.’ (From: ‘True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin’, early 1700s) (6)

St. Bernard: “Remember what you were -corrupted seed; what you are – a body destined for decay; what you will be -food for worms.” (quoted in ‘True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin’)

St. Bonaventure, speaking to a nun about true humility and the spirit of poverty: The Highest God became as the least of all, and the immense God became a little creature, yet a filthy worm, a mere handmaid of Christ, ‘exalts and magnifies herself’ (Psalms 9:18)…Reflect then, whence you come and take it to heart that you are the slime of the earth.  You have wallowed in sin, and are an exile from the happy kingdom of Heaven.’ ‘It is a great, a heinous crime that a vile and contemptible worm, for whom the God of Majesty and Lord of All became poor, should desire to be rich.’ (From: ‘Holiness of Life’) (7).  

This language from these saints, who were all known for and wrote about their deep love of God and their neighbour, is far from the self-esteem promoting language of modern psychologists. One psychologist, Jordan Peterson, who maintains some level of common sense and sanity amidst the madness of his discipline, criticises his fellow psychologists’ theories and rejects their obsession with self-esteem.  But it is the Catholic Church, through her saints, that provides the proper response to self-esteem. In her wisdom she advises us to crush the snake that is self-esteem altogether. The saints point out what we really are so we can rid ourselves of this snake. Other Catholic writers and priests only emphasise this point further. ‘Whoever desires to honour the divine Majesty must rid himself of self-esteem and the desire of the esteem of others.’ (‘The Spiritual Combat’ by Fr Scupoli, written in 1589) (8). This ridding ourselves of self-esteem is painful. It is a battle and it involves taking up a cross. ‘Death and ill-health and accident and grief cannot be banished by any human formula, and the weaknesses attendant on human nature, sloth and self-indulgence, envy and hatred, can be eradicated only be each man taking up his cross and conquering himself.’ (Fr  M C D’Arcy, ‘Mirage and Truth’ (1935) (9).

While the words that the saints and wise Catholic priests speak are hard for man, especially modern man, to hear, they are most necessary today. The truth about ourselves must be faced. To a certain extent, this is something that professor Peterson captures. However, it appears he fails to realise that the truth has been spoken more clearly, more accurately, and more strongly by those who have come before him. To his credit, he is an exception to the flattering tongues that psychologists and psychotherapists have.  You will not hear the language of the saints or the Catholic Church in psychological services today. You will likely never meet a psychologist who questions the self-esteem craze and even when they, like professor Peterson do, they still fail to understand man is and what he needs. 

Clearly, a proper estimate of ourselves is necessarily a low estimate. Hence St Bernard rightly defines humility, as ‘a virtue which, giving a man a correct knowledge of self, makes him appear despicable in his own eyes’. – Fr R. J. Meyer (‘Science of the Saints’, 1902) (10)

The solutions to that gnawing conscience of yours, no matter how dimly you feel it, are not to be found in psychotherapists who do not understand what humility truly is. They do not give man a correct knowledge of self. Yet, many people fall into the charlatan’s web, which is psychotherapy, after making various attempts to overcome their misery and escape this correct knowledge of self, as Bishop Fulton Sheen (1949) (11) saw happening in his time, ‘They find that they are cloyed with what they thought would satisfy; they try to make up for each new disillusionment with a new attachment; they try to exorcise the old disgusts and shames with febrile new excitements…They are a burden to themselves, a bore to their friends, disgusted but never satiated, made more hungry but never satisfied; in the end they pay charlatans handsome fees to be told that there is no sin and that their sense of guilt is due to a father complex. But their moral cancer remains, even then; they feel it gnawing at their hearts.’ The world cannot satisfy the yearnings of the soul nor can it be satisfied by those who try to boost your self-esteem by telling you not to worry about sin or that you are ‘good enough’ as you are.  The road to happiness is built on truth and it is the Catholic Faith and her saints who show us this road and how to built these truthful foundations. 

The faithful desire to grow in the knowledge of God, to learn to serve and to love him better; they crave too, for self-knowledge that, by its light, they may humiliate and correct themselves, and so grow in virtue and in love.’ – ‘The Ideal of the Fervant Soul’ – Fr Auguste Saudreau (1927) (12)

The knowledge of God elevates the soul; knowledge of self keeps it humble. The former raises the soul to contemplate something of the depths of the divine perfections, the latter lowers it to the abyss of its own nothingness and sin.’ – ‘Spiritual Maxims’ – Fr Grou (1780s, republished in 1870’s) (13)

The Catholic faith does not ignore the reality of the miserable wretch that is man in our fallen state. However, in doing so, she also holds out the sublime reality of what man can and should be, i.e., a saint.  ‘The true knowledge of self is the source of humility, modesty, patience, and diffidence in self; and these are the conditions of true confidence in God. He only who does not build upon his own strength directs his glance straight to God. As upright humility, or the knowledge of the truth that God is all and the creature nothing, serves as a foundation to every virtue; so this humble and correct idea of ourselves makes the blooming of all virtues in our soul possible, and brings us into just relations with God, with men, and with salvation.’ ‘The Way of Interior Peace’ – Fr Von Lehen (1889) (14). 

In conclusion, let us ignore those who shout about the need for ‘high self-esteem’ Let us come to really know ourselves as we truly are. Let us avoid those who subtly deceive us and, as St Bernard once said to his wayward nephew, Robert, ‘Gird yourself, cast off your seducers, shut your eyes to flatterers, search your own heart’. (15).And having thrown the idol of self-esteem into the rubbish heap where it belongs, let us raise our hearts to God to know our real worth as ‘it is more to us to know what his Creator thinks of him, than to know what he is worth himself.’ (Fr Faber) (16).

May God bless us in our efforts to see through the flattery of the world and so come to true knowledge of ourselves.  And lest we wallow in our own misery, may God then turn our eyes toward Him who is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Himself and guide us, His children, safely to Him.  

References:

  1. Bishop Sheen, F. S. (1930). God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy. New York: Longmans, Green & Co. Available here: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.89276
  2. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKoTa6omipE
  3. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9f3qyNNtpQk
  4. Coudenhove, I. F. (1934) The Burden of Belief. London: Sheed & Ward
  5. Fr Vonier, A. (1913). The Human Soul and Its Relation to Other Spirits. London: B. Herder Books. Available here: https://archive.org/details/humansoulitsrela00voni
  6. St. Louis Marie de Montfort (early 1700s). True Devotion to The Blessed Virgin. Available here: http://catholicapologetics.info/library/onlinelibrary/trued.htm
  7. St. Bonaventure (edition published in 1923). Holiness of Life. London: B. Herder Books. Available here: http://www.catholicapologetics.info/library/onlinelibrary/holiness.pdf
  8. Fr Scupoli (original 1589). The Spiritual Combat. Available here: https://archive.org/details/spiritualcombat02scupgoog
  9. Fr D’Arcy, M. C. (1935). Mirage and Truth. London: The Centenary Press.
  10. Fr Meyer, R. J. (1906). Science of the Saints. St. Louis: B. Herder Books. Available here: https://archive.org/details/scienceofsaints01meyeuoft/page/n5/mode/2up
  11. Bishop Sheen, F. S. (1949). Peace of Soul. New York: Whittlesey House. Preview available here: https://archive.org/details/peaceofsoul0000shee/mode/2up
  12. Fr Saudreau, A. (1927). The Ideal of the Fervant Soul, translated by Frances M. Bidwell. London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne
  13. Fr Grou (original 1780s). Spiritual Maxims. Available here: https://archive.org/details/spiritualmaximso00grou/page/n1/mode/2up
  14. Fr Von Lehen (1889). The Way of Interior Peace. Available here: https://archive.org/details/wayofinteriorpea00lehe
  15. Fr James, B. S. (1953) St Bernard of Clairvaux – As Seen Through His Selected Letters. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co. Preview available here: https://archive.org/details/stbernardofclair00bern/mode/2up
  16. Fr Faber, F. (published, 1955). Bethlehem. Baltimore: John Murphy Co.

The Desire for Perfection


There is nothing so sad as the sight of those who once pressed forward to the goal of perfection frittering away the days and the hours in silly preoccupation about things that are futile, transient and unsubstantial.’  – Fr Edward Leen, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’

There is a distinct, though often faint, voice within us that tells us we could be so much more than we currently are.  It provokes an inner restlessness that is not easy to shake off.  There are moments in our lives where this voice seems to overwhelm us. We are flattened by the disappointment we feel when we look at who we are and what we have done with our lives.  There springs into our consciousness the thought that our lives are not all that they could or should have been.

These moments can be short-lived. Most of us do not pay too much attention to them. We return to the daily grind and distractions where we forget our own mediocrity. Some people around us might notice that we have lost some of our youthful vitality that once drove us forward, now seeing us ‘frittering away the days and the hours in silly preoccupation about things that are futile, transient and unsubstantial’. Sometimes they may let us know what they see but most of the time nothing is said, and we feel relieved by friends and family members that tell us, ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself’. Yet, for some, that lingering sense that we are not all that we should be does not dissipate and it is not easily blocked out. Fr Martin D’Arcy, former Master of Campion Hall, Oxford University, captures this angst: ‘We are haunted by perfection, and we all long to for some golden occasion when we can exhibit our strength, write down for all time what we are and could be and so wipe out the long array of petty deeds which go under our name.’ (‘Mirage and Truth’). This sense of being ‘haunted’ leads to some seeking answers for this desire for perfection from various mental health professionals who claim to be experts or, at least, to be knowledgeable about the solutions to this angst. But what do these ‘experts’ tell us about this desire for perfection? (Footnote 1)

A Rejection of Perfection:

At one of the most popular psychological websites, Psychology Today, one of these ‘experts’, Mel Schwartz, will tell us that ‘[The construct of perfection] remains rooted in an outmoded worldview and constrains our happiness. Shifting our beliefs about perfection can permit the burden that it imposes to lift.’  And he will also tell us that ‘If someone ever could achieve this impossible state of perfection, it’s likely that very few people would tolerate him or her. For the perfect individual would be a constant reminder to all others of their shortcomings. Not to mention that they probably wouldn’t be much fun to be with. Who would really tolerate, let alone enjoy being with, someone who was perfect?’  Mel here is telling the person who desires perfection that perfection is an ‘outmoded worldview’ or outdated concept, that we should really not tolerate anyone who is perfect, and that the concept of perfection needs to be got rid of so we can be truly happy.  The pharisees would be proud!

‘There Is No Finish Line’:

Another modern ‘life and relationship expert’, Anne Cohen, tells us that ‘It’s important to love and embrace your life and enjoy the moment as you strive towards your goals, and not just patiently or impatiently long for the end result, and assume that you’ll feel happy at that point. You won’t be. The truth is, there is no end result or finish line in life. The only finish line in life is when we’re dead. It’s important to enjoy our journey, and not to be so hard on ourselves.’ Basically, it is ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die’ which St. Paul (Corinthians, chapter 15) responds to by saying ‘Be not seduced: Evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake, ye just, and sin not.’ The argument of Anne Cohen was already refuted by ancient Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, before Christ, and it was torn apart by the historical reality of the Resurrection and the preaching of the Apostles.  Yet, almost 2’000 years later these arguments that try to do away with perfection or twist it into one’s own formula persist.    

These are just two examples of the senseless nonsense that it is to be found from modern gurus who claim to lead people to happiness. Elsewhere I have outlined how professional psychologists give the completely wrong answers to those who are ‘haunted by perfection’.  So, if modern psychology cannot provide the answers, where is one to find the answer to this desire for perfection?

‘Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48)

These are the ground shattering words that rock the foundations of those who have settled in the comfortable home of mediocrity. For those who do not know the heavenly Father or who already think they are perfect these words will be ridiculed and scorned. For those who have come up with elaborate, sophisticated, and proud ways of justifying their imperfections they will mean little. This is how the pharisees and scribes responded and is exemplified today in the writings of Mel Schwarz above. For those who would rather enjoy the hedonistic pleasures of this life than aim at the higher path, Our Lord’s words fall on deaf ears. 

But for those who do have some idea of the heavenly Father’s power, beauty and goodness and know something of their own inadequacy and mediocrity these words are like a thunderbolt.  For these humble, generous souls who realise that they are sinners like the publican, these words send shockwaves through them. They may respond with some skepticism: ‘Me, how can I be ‘perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect?’ ‘This saying is hard, and who can hear it?’ (John 6: 61). These challenging words can rock us as much today as they did then. Like Mel Schwartz, we can reject this Man who claims to be perfect and tells us all to aspire to perfection – this Man who is a ‘constant reminder to all others of their shortcomings’.  Or we can take Him and His words seriously despite how overwhelmed we may feel when hearing them. It may initially appear to us to be incredibly difficult to follow this path of perfection when we look at the example set before us. And to top it all, we now know, unlike those listening to the sermon on the mount almost two thousand years ago, that the Speaker’s life was one of suffering and hardship, resulting ultimately in His crucifixion. And he tells us to follow in His example!  This is not the road to happiness that Mel Schwartz, Anne Cohen, psychologists, therapists, counsellors, psychiatrists, and countless others posing as enlightened guides advise! Yet we know that there is something within our soul that tells us that this is the route we must take:

It is dimly felt that though the cross came to Christ only because He permitted it, the cross must come to the Christian of a necessity and the Christian is not free to evade it if his life is to reflect, in some degree, the perfection of the life of the Son of God on earth.  Christ had perfection of soul without the cross: there is a secret instinct which tells the Christian that he cannot have perfection of soul without the crossIt is this obscure but intimate realisation that the Passion is not a mere historical contingent fact, affecting one man, but a theory of life applicable to all men, that stirs uneasiness and a species of discomfort in the heart of the thoughtful and honest Christian in face of the Passion and death of Christ.’ (Fr Edward Leen, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’, my emphasis)

‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me’ (Luke 9:23)

The Catholic Faith teaches us that there is no way to perfection except through the picking up of our cross daily.  There is no getting away from it. No matter how many elaborate psychological theories and professional associations try to twist this message the cross still remains there to be picked up. To reach perfection this is the offer that is put before us. It is not for the fainthearted and great saints do not sugar-coat the hard work and effort that we must put in on this path.  For example, St Bernard speaks to his wayward nephew, Robert, ‘Arouse yourself, gird your loins, put aside idleness, grasp the nettle, and do some hard work.’ (‘St Bernard of Clairvaux – As Seen Through His Selected Letters’) St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, is even more direct while writing to a nun who aspired after perfection, says: ‘The spouse of Christ who longs to become perfect must begin with her own self.  She must put aside, forget everything else, and enter into the secrecy of her own heart.  When she has done this, let her sift narrowly all her weaknesses, habits, affections, actions and sins.  She must weigh everything carefully, and make a thorough examination of past and present.  Should she discover even the least imperfection, let her weep in the bitterness of her heart.’ (‘Holiness of Life’) And St Therese of Lisieux, who is often depicted in modern times as nothing but sweetness and roses, says that when we commit a fault, ‘we must not attribute it to a physical cause, such as illness or the weather, but we must attribute it our own lack of perfection…Occasions do not make man weak, but they do show him what he is.’ (‘Counsels and Souvenirs’) (See footnote 2).

The saints know man. They know our distance from God and the effort that needs to be made to try to shorten this distance. If we are to set out on the road to perfection, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge how far from perfection we really are. Yet, this is nothing more than acknowledging reality. It is establishing our starting point upon the map before we set out for our destination. Once the destination is determined, we can set out. On this journey, there will be slips, mishaps, falls, and, perhaps, moments of despair as we begin to truly understand ourselves and our distance from God. But we must be determined to keep on this path as St Teresa of Avila tells us, ‘Everything depends on people having a great and a most resolute determination never to halt until they reach their journey’s end, happen what may, whatever the consequences are, cost what it will, let who will blame them, whether they reach the goal or die on the road, or lose heart to bear the trials they encounter, or the earth falls to pieces beneath their feet.’ (‘The Way of Perfection’). This path towards perfection is the only path to take as the alternative route only leads to misery both in this life and the next. It is the reality that a true understanding of the one true Faith holds out to us.

But what about the objections that claim that it is too hard or unrealistic or unpractical and idealistic to speak in this way about perfection? Well, the Faith has the answers to these complaints through the example and words of Our Lord, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’ and through the example of all the saints who followed in His footsteps whose spirits were more free and lives happier than the world will ever know (see here and here for two blogs on this).

It is a great thing to realise that each one of us is meant for sanctity and that God will not allow us to lead a mediocre life. Christ takes us seriously and when we have the hardihood to put ourselves in His path and show ourselves ready to obey Him, He expects us to rise to the ideal He has traced for us, every one according to her own form. That is a dread thought. But He is prepared to give us the means of achieving what He asks of us…We cannot fall back. We have to face reality.’ – Fr Edward Leen, ‘My Last Retreat’ (See footnote 3)

Let us not languish in the errors and fables about perfection offered by modern psychology and its various proud and foolish gurus. ‘Christ takes us seriously’. Let us take Him seriously and ‘face reality’. Perfection is possible and the path He has led out before us is the only path that will bring this about.  We know that to reach our destination serious effort must be put in. However, lest we despair with the thoughts of what is laid before us, ‘fall back’, and start considering whether modern psychological answers may be right after all, let us finish with a quote from Fr Eugene Boylan describing the spiritual teachings of St Therese of Lisieux:

The perfect picture that St. Teresa of Lisieux has drawn of the spiritual life will help to give us courage.  She sees it as a stairway to be climbed, at the top of which God is waiting, looking down in Fatherly love at His child’s efforts to surmount the first step.  The child, who represents ourselves, fails to manage to climb even the first step; it can only keep on lifting up its tiny little foot. Sooner or later God takes pity on it, and comes down and sweeps the child right up to the top in His arms; but – and St. Teresa insists on this as much as she insists on God’s loving kindness – we must keep on lifting up our foot.  The soul must never be discouraged by the fruitlessness of its repeated efforts. It seems to be a law of the spiritual life that, since all progress ultimately depends on God, He lets us first learn our complete helplessness by long and weary efforts that come to naught.  But we have His word: ‘I Myself will come and save you!’ (‘Difficulties in Mental Prayer’)

So, keep making efforts towards perfection and may Our Lady guide you and God bless you in your endeavours

Footnote 1:

These two articles are the first and fourth results after a duckduckgo.com search with the terms ‘desire for perfection’.  They are a general representation of the dangerous nonsense written about psychological matters that is to be found in our world.

Footnote 2:

Lest the wrong impression is given that the saints were all harshness and extremely demanding towards one’s neighbour we must keep in mind that these were saints who imitated Christ in their words and behaviour. This is how Fr Edward Leen describes Our Lord: ‘He is very tender towards the imperfect, but relentless towards imperfection.’ (‘Why the Cross?’).  The above quotes show the relentless of St Bernard, St Bonaventure, St Therese of Lisieux and St Teresa of Avila towards imperfection while the following quotes show their tenderness towards the imperfect:

St Bernard wrote extensively on Divine love writing, ‘The measure of love is love without measure.’ He also pleaded with popes on behalf of those who showed the slightest sign of repentance, humility and good will as he did for Bishop of Salamanca, writing to Pope Innocent II:

When the man told me the whole story of his tragedy as it had happened, I had nothing but praise for the judge and approval for the judgement; but I must tell you, I was moved by pity for the judged.  The whole theme of his story was those words of the Prophet: ‘I have been lifted up only to be cast down and left bewildered’, and ‘so low hast thou brought me who didst once lift me up on high’. When I thought of your justice and your strong character, which I used to know so well, I thought at the same time of your great mercy which I have experienced on so many occasions…I found grounds for hope, confidence for my petition, a reason for my pity, in that I saw the man did not, as is usual in such cases, turn away in fury, and return to his native land, there to stir up scandals and foment schisms; but that he gave place to wrath, adopted an attitude of meekness, and turned his steps towards your monks of Cluny there to throw himself at the knees of the humble monks and fortify himself with their intercession, as with powerful arms from God.’ (‘St Bernard of Clairvaux – As Seen Through His Selected Letters’)

St Bonaventure on love of God and his neighbour:Give me, O Lord, such great fervour and immense love that I shall see no difference between this or that life, this or that state, person, time, or place, but shall do what is most pleasing to You, whatever or wherever it may be, tending always to You by the affection of my soul. Grant that I may see all things in You, and nothing but You in them, ever eager and anxious to serve You in all things; and that, all on fire and burning with love, I may not take into consideration what is easiest and most agreeable for me, but only what is most pleasing to You.

     Grant, O Lord, that I may imitate the angelic spirits who, although they are with us, never interrupt their divine contemplation. May I treat and serve my brethren by seeing and enjoying You in them, and may I always assist my neighbour, offering my heart to You.’ (cited in ‘Divine Intimacy’)

St Therese of Lisieux on patience and tenderness towards the imperfect: ‘Perfect love means putting up with other people’s shortcomings, feeling no surprise at their weaknesses, finding encouragement even in the slightest evidence of good qualities in them.’ (‘The Autobiography of a Soul’)

St Teresa of Avila on compassion towards one’s neighbour: “For at times it happens that some trifle will cause as much suffering to one as a great trial will to another; little things can bring much distress to persons who have sensitive natures. If you are not like them, do not fail to be compassionate.” (‘The Way of Perfection’)

Footnote 3:

The Irish priest and scholar, Fr Edward Leen, has been quoted a number of times in this blog. It is highly recommended to readers that they check out his inspirational books such as ‘Why the Cross?’, ‘In the Likeness of Christ’ or ‘My Last Retreat’.  See here for a sample of his writing from another of his books, ‘Progress Through Mental Prayer’. These books are very helpful for inspiring and encouraging the desire for true perfection in ourselves.

‘The Words of the Prophets are Written on the Subway Walls and Tenement Halls…’

Where does one find the truth today?  There are so many distractions, falsehoods and lies being expounded in our world that it seems that we only catch glimmers of truth here and there.  This situation is not helped by the appalling state of academia and what passes for expertise today.  Sometimes truth is found, not from the writings of these ‘experts’ but from those who point out the absurdity of their writings.  This is often found in the comment section that proceeds the articles that these ‘experts’ write. The following blog gives just two examples of this. (See footnote 1)

The first article, ‘The truth will not set you free‘, (link here) is pseudointellectual nonsense written by a psychotherapist who also teaches at Florida International University.  The more interesting and beneficial part of this article is the comment section where a commentator, ‘Raul’, points out the absurdity of the author’s argument. I would recommend checking out the main dialogue between Raul and the author by clicking the link but here are a couple of comments by Raul that refute the author’s assertion that the truth is unknowable:

Raul: ‘if a statement corresponds to a real item it is true. the statement “grass is green” is true if grass is in the real world happens to have grass that is green. if you are color blind you may have a different perception of the truth and be wrong if you think it is grey. but that is not true. you would be absolutely wrong. William Berry contradicts himself in saying that we are incapable of knowing truth. Is that true? childish mistake in reasoning. the statement is contradictory on it’s face. read what he says” the FACT is we can not know TRUTH” the title “the truth is, we can not know truth” is that true?

Raul: ‘Truth is singular and universal. 2+2 is 4 and not 5 or 6. here and everywhere in the universe. it is 4 regardless whether you know it , or believe it. truth is independent of your belief. that is what makes it absolute and objective. you can believe you can fly with all your heart and truth in reality will introduce you to the law of gravity and that is truth independent of any personal idea of truth. you can not independently define truth. truth is what is real. not perceived, or imagined, or wished. Santa Claus is not true for me or anyone. he is a fairy tale, like it or not. Regardless of what you say or think to be true. if you believed it to be true, you would be, uhmm, what is the word, oh yeah! WRONG. can we say that? or is everyone right? in that case you have become absurd and can no longer dialogue.’

(Personal note: I read this article long before reading anything by the likes of St Thomas Aquinas or before grasping some of the fundamentals of philosophy.  I share this interaction as a way of highlighting how a person with some basic understanding of philosophy and a good dose of common sense is able to counteract the nonsense that a psychological professional espouses. I believe that Raul, by pointing out absolute and simple truths, such as ‘2+2=4’ and ‘the grass is green’ and the Santa Claus example, can help to direct souls away from the foolish, proud and disastrous hyper-intellectualising path we can often be on. His comments also remind me of the phrase my father once told me, ‘Don’t forget the bog’, i.e. keep grounded, which I have talked about elsewhere, see here).

This second piece (link here) is a collection of responses from a commentator called, ‘johndoe’ on the website, www.madinamerica.com (See footnote 2).  Johndoe’s insightful replies are far closer to the truth of matters than anything that is offered by the various professionals, including a professor of psychiatry, a psychiatrist, a journalist and an acclaimed LGBT author, in their posts. He shows a better grasp of the truth about the human condition than any of these contributors and psychological professionals.  This is particularly true in his replies to the articles, ‘Doctor Munchausen: Hear no, See no – What?’, ‘The Lessons of Ancient Philosophy’ and ‘Heteronormative Violence of Mainstream Psychiatry: A Cautionary Tale’. Here are some of his comments that challenge the falsehoods of the authors:

Johndoe – Defending Catholicism Against Marxist criticism: ‘So it is Christianity’s fault, is it? And not, I don’t know, urbanization and industrialization and the consequent break-down of communities? An urbanization and industrialization which was the direct consequence of the weakening of Christianity from the Renaissance onward – think of the relaxation of the Christian prohibition of usury in the XV century and how that led to the birth of Capitalism (which is to say, a return to the economic system of Ancient Rome, an economy based on overt or covert slavery).

As always the paper in question is written from a purely English perspective, i.e. a Protestant perspective, and it therefore ignores the fact that Protestantism is not in fact Christianism but materialism in Christian clothing (read Max Weber, who was on to something even if he didn’t know what himself).’

AND

Pointing out author’s lack of historical knowledge and bias:

And of course nowhere in the article a reference to the level of poverty in Ireland back then – you’d think there was a welfare state running in parallel with these evil nuns. Why don’t you take a look at other countries with similar levels of poverty but without evil nuns (i.e. Eastern Europe) and see what happens/ed to teenage mothers and orphans there?

Nothing like a bit of good old Catholic-bashing to give a boost to your career, is there Dr. Healy?’

Johndoe – ‘On reparative therapy: ‘Ron, I certainly think you need to look at the (scarce) data there is on reparative therapy rather than repeat misinformation about it. I would ask you to honestly make an effort to look it up (not in Wikipedia) if you have any interest in the truth rather than just confirming your prejudices.
You may want to start with the APA taskforce report, written up by people who absolutely loath reparative therapy, and yet even they could not come up with significant evidence of harm:
http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf’

Anti-intellectualism?

When somebody points out the absurdity of such professors and intellectuals, they are often accused of ‘anti-intellectualism’.  For example, the current President of Ireland and ex-lecturer, Michael D Higgins, speaks about ‘ant-intellectualism’ being a ‘weapon of anti-democratic forces’, while he simultaneously pushes for his own brand of ‘critical thinking/philosophy’ which is not based on ‘old orthodoxies’, or, in other words, having no foundation in the truth.  When the fact is pointed out that the Emperor has no clothes, i.e. modern sociology, modern psychology, psychiatry and modern psychotherapy are promoting nonsense and falsehoods, the intellectuals in these fields, like Michael D Higgins, respond with arrogance and a condescending attitude.  They dismiss those who point out these false foundations as ‘uneducated’ or ‘anti-intellectual’ and suggest that they lack the ability to understand the depth and breadth of their arguments.  The two pieces above do not prove that the ‘common man’ today has more sense than the intellectual but they do show how far removed intellectuals can be from the truth.  The purpose of this post is not to ridicule intellectual pursuits so let me try to briefly outline some advice in relation to intellectuals and ‘experts’, i.e. those who claim to have more knowledge and understanding than the common man.

Humility and docility to the truth are virtues. They are key in assenting to the truth. One must know oneself and understand that there are others who can grasp and understand certain things better than you can.  We have a certain level of dependence on others in this regard. St Thomas Aquinas, in explaining why we should be humble and docile to the truths revealed to us by God, offers the following analogy: ‘One can also answer this question by supposing that a certain master has said something concerning his own special branch of knowledge, and some uneducated person would contradict him for no other reason than that he could not understand what the master said! Such a person would be considered very foolish.’ (‘The Catechetical Instructions of St Thomas Aquinas’, p. 4).  This analogy works well when the masters are genuinely masters and their knowledge is grounded in truth.  In this case, it is humble for the uneducated person to be docile and accept the superior knowledge of the master in that field.  Here, St Thomas expresses the need for masters or those of strong intellect to guide those who do not have the same capacity to grasp certain knowledge as they do. This follows a natural order where some people are more skilled than others in certain areas. So far so good, but the question is: are today’s leaders in the academic fields really ‘masters’?

Today, our modern-day intellects in sociology, psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy and various other pseudo-scientific disciplines can try to claim that the ‘uneducated person’ rejects their assertions because they do not understand what they are saying.  However, when our modern ‘masters’ are speaking in riddles, when they can’t say whether anything is really true, e.g. ‘2+2=4’ or ‘the grass is green’, when they won’t give any solid definitions about what it is they are talking about, when their statements and theories are in direct contradiction to common sense or fundamental philosophical principles, e.g. a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect, or they are mistaken in important historical facts, then, the uneducated person, who still has an ounce of common sense left in him, should reject their ideas as false or at the very least, see them as highly questionable.  Even if a professor with numerous letters after his name is to speak eloquently and beautifully with lots of warmth and passion, one must be careful not to be duped by this appearance of authority and wisdom.  We must learn to think for ourselves as Harvard Professor of Philosophy, Charles A. Dubray outlines, ‘Frequently you have relied on the testimony of others; you have learned a text-book and taken it for granted that the author was right.  How could do otherwise, for instance, for historical or geographical statements?  But this method, which was the only possible one, must not now lead to an exaggerated reverence for all that is found in books or newspapers.  For, how many errors are published and how many fallacies are taken for truths simply because they appear in print, or even because they are spoken in brilliant language accompanied by fine gestures. It is necessary to learn how to use one’s own reason and to practice the difficult art of criticism so as to distinguish truth from falsity, and thus to become able to steer one’s own mental life, to think for oneself, and no longer depend too exclusively on the thinking of others.’ (‘Introductory Philosophy’, p. 5). Taking this cautious approach is not anti-intellectualism. It is only acknowledging that people can err while maintaining that there are certain things that are absolutely true. 

Let us imagine that St Thomas Aquinas was around today. It is highly likely that he would be appalled at the state of academia and that he would be accused by our modern ‘intellectuals’ as being ‘anti-intellectual’, solely because he loved truth, understood and worked within basic philosophical principles in his theorising, and valued common sense. St Thomas would probably see many of our modern ‘intellectuals’ as crazy and rightly view modern theories and ideas, particularly in relation to God and man, as fables and quackery. As Prof Dubray asserts, ‘Facts, i.e. concrete experiences, both internal and external, and principles, i.e. self-evident propositions, are the necessary bases of thought.  If they are rejected, nothing is left but to stop thinking altogether or go to an asylum…’Two and two are four’, ‘a straight line is shorter than a curved uniting the same two points’; ‘the same thing cannot at once be one way and the contradictory way’; ‘I am now thinking and writing’; ‘the paper on which I am writing is white, and the ink I use black;’ ‘I experience a headache,’ etc., are so many assertions of which I am certain that, should any one try to destroy or even weaken this certitude, I should at once suspect his seriousness or his mental sanity.’ (‘Introductory Philosophy’, p. 380-381).  St Thomas may be able to have a good conversation with ‘Raul’ or ‘johndoe’ but he most certainly would be questioning the sanity and seriousness of psychological professionals who teach error in universities and fill influential websites with absurdities.  Alas, in our current times, St Thomas would probably be the one who would be seen as obstinate, crazy and perhaps diagnosed as having ‘oppositional deviant disorder’ for not willing to admit that there is no such thing as truth or for saying that the grass is definitely green!

Learn how to use one’s own reason and to practice the difficult art of criticism so as to distinguish truth from falsity

Before finishing this article, it is best to leave a word of warning lest this article be seen as dismissing all expertise and being overly praiseworthy of the opinion of the ‘common man’. In criticising the current state of academia and the lack of wisdom and understanding of academics and masters, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The solution is not to overestimate our own intellectual capacity or knowledge and only follow what our minds tell us without consulting others. This is tempting in our current times as the so-called experts in many fields, e.g. psychology, sociology, theology, are so misinformed. However, the danger of being overly skeptical about expertise in general is that it tends to lead to subjectivism and increased intellectual pride in ourselves.  Today, there are so many academics speaking nonsense eloquently and with apparent sophistication that we are tempted to associate eloquence and sophistication with nonsense and falsehoods! St. Augustine warns us against this prejudice in our reasoning by reminding us that ‘A thing is not necessarily true because badly uttered, nor false because spoken magnificently.‘ The blunt factory worker may be right sometimes and wrong other times while the well-spoken academic may also be right sometimes and wrong at others. We still must engage our reason when deciding what to believe. Let us not dismiss or scorn intellectual pursuits or the quest for knowledge and understanding because of how bad the current academic environment is and how much eloquent and articulate rubbish is coming from it.  Let us try not to let our reasonable skepticism verge into cynicism. There is a thirst for truth in each one of us.  It is true that this thirst is not being fulfilled in schools or universities today. Instead of students receiving the refreshment of the truth they crave, they are being given fables and myths that confuse the mind and titillate the lower faculties.  As these tales resemblance truth they may give some brief joy or peace but as they are not the genuine article they fail to satiate the deep longings of the intellect and soul. However, instead of dismissing all expertise let us go back to the likes of those who spoke the truth simply and also magnificently. This is the likes of St Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, and other genuine masters, such as St Augustine and St Bonaventure. Let us soak in the truth they offer us and protect and nourish it. 

Finally, let us keep our eyes and mind open for the truth. Sometimes, it is spoken magnificently and other times it is found in the internet equivalent of the subway walls and tenement halls as shown above. Wherever we find it let us still soak it in and let it change our hearts and minds so that we can, ultimately, delight eternally in Truth Himself. 

Footnote 1: The following two pieces are from websites that I used to frequent regularly until I finally realised the amount of errors that were emanating from them. The website Psychology Today provides a platform where psychological ‘experts’ have a place to provide their ‘professional’ opinion despite not understanding what man is nor understanding what leads to true happiness and peace of mind and soul.

Footnote 2: Mad In America is another website I used to visit until I realised how many errors and falsehoods they push, e.g. promotion of homosexuality, feminism and Marxism.

Psychotherapeutic Dangers – The Nutters Running the Nuthouse

‘Sin is never the worst thing that can happen to a man.  The worst thing is the refusal to recognise his sins.’ – Bishop Fulton Sheen

‘It is good to talk’ ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ ‘Don’t bottle things up!’: All these phrases sound like good advice and following them at times can be of great benefit.  Having a trusted person that you can talk to, who ‘gets it’ and who gives solid advice is a great gift to have. However, these benefits are ultimately based on who you talk to and what advice they give you. This is especially true when it comes to advice on ethical behaviour.  We need people around us to help us recognise ourselves clearly as we do not always see or wish to see certain sides of ourselves.  This article explores the dangers of psychotherapy, particularly in relation to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and shows why it is often not ‘good to talk’ to psychological professionals, especially those who don’t recognise immoral behaviour for what it is and, as a result, give dangerous and potentially soul destroying advice and guidance.

In a previous article, ‘2+2=4?’, I gave a satirical example of how a psychologist can encourage people to doubt obvious realities.  In another article, ‘Validating Emotions’, I spoke about how emotions are important but that the ultimate guide on whether they are ‘valid’ or not is whether they are in accord with reality.  This article explores how psychotherapy, especially CBT, can encourage you to stop you thinking in concrete ways about reality, can promote immoral behaviour and can encourage subjectivism and moral relativity.

Psychotherapeutic approaches, e.g. CBT, can be useful if it is used by someone who wishes to direct people towards the truth. They can be harmful weapons in the hands of those who do not believe there is an absolute truth or who are confused about the truth.  In the article, ‘2+2=4?’, I used a satirical example to try to highlight this point. But let us take a more concrete example to illustrate what I mean:

A young woman comes into a therapy session saying that she has been feeling really anxious and depressed over the last few months. It soon transpires that she has had an abortion recently.  She feels guilty about this, believes that what she has done is wrong and that she should not have done it.  She has been raised with some Catholic beliefs.  She believes that she may go to hell for what she has done but has not gone to confession about it.  She says that she has thoughts about how bad she is and believes she is a murderer. She goes to a psychologist.  The psychologist believes abortion is a woman’s right and that society only imposes its biased attitudes and prejudices on women who have had abortions. The psychologist believes that this is what causes most of the feelings of guilt or regret in these women (as the Psychological Society of Ireland and many of its members believe- see here).  The psychologist sees this woman’s anxiety and guilt as signs of ‘cognitive distortions’ (see footnote), i.e. they are not in accord with reality.  The psychologist tells the woman that she is experiencing the cognitive distortions of ‘heaven’s reward fallacy’, i.e. believing that there is some ‘global force’ that punishes bad behaviour and rewards good behaviour, ‘labelling’, i.e. calling herself ‘bad’ or a ‘murderer’ because of the abortion, ‘emotional reasoning’, i.e. allowing her feelings to strongly influence how she views the truth, ‘shoulds’ fallacy, i.e. imposing rules on herself and feeling bad when she doesn’t live up to them, and ‘black and white’ thinking, i.e. believing that abortion is wrong and not seeing the grey areas.  The psychologist outlines how these ‘cognitive distortions’ have manifested themselves, e.g. cultural/social conditioning, living in a patriarchal society, high emotions, etc., and helps her to see that abortion is not murder but ‘healthcare’.  The psychologist discourages the guilt that the woman is experiencing and discourages the need for confession.  The woman initially feels better as the psychologist seems kind and caring. She also takes comfort in the fact that it is a psychological authority that has told her these things.  She comes to believe the words the psychologist has spoken as she does not have a strong foundation in the Catholic faith and has some of her own issues with it. She arranges to see the psychologist again to help her work through these ‘cognitive distortions’. 

This is a hypothetical example, but I believe that this is close to the reality for women who seek support from modern psychological services today. The sad thing is that the guilt and anxiety will surface again at some stage and they will appear in all sorts of destructive ways later in the woman’s life.  They will continue to fester until the woman is consumed or destroyed by them.  This is the sorrowful reality for many people who visit modern psychological services today.

CBT is useful but only in the hands of those who have an accurate understanding of what a human being is and what the purpose of life is.  It can be used to encourage people to reflect on whether they are interpreting a situation, their behaviour or their thoughts accurately.  The bedrock for this interpretation is reality. If someone’s thoughts or emotions are not aligned with reality then this can cause serious psychological and emotional difficulties. This is why it is essential that a professional that uses CBT has a firm grounding in and an accurate understanding of reality.  In the hands of a professional who is detached from reality (and there are many of them operating in the world today) CBT will be toxic and corruptive.  Instead of encouraging people to deal with and face reality, they will encourage them to run away from it by telling their clients that they have cognitive distortions or telling their clients that they can not see reality as accurately as they can.  As Fr Ripperger notes, ‘Psychology has caused an enormous amount of damage by preventing people from appropriating their problems. This occurs when someone commits a horrific act which later affects them mentally. The psychologist comes to knowledge of it but tries to assure the person that he is ‘OK’ and that he should not concern himself with it.  Often this is done in order to avoid causing emotional disturbances.  The problem is that it is a denial of reality and denying reality has never helped any mental patient.’ (‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’, p. 96)

Overall, one must be very careful about the professionals you decide to confide in. Psychological professionals are trained to empathise with you and gain your trust. They also hold a position of authority which can encourage people to take the nonsense they speak seriously and follow what they say or advise.  This is especially true if they have a few letters after their name. Although they lack wisdom, they are usually of high intellect and they are able to use convoluted and ‘sophisticated’ arguments citing evidence and science to convince you that they are right and you are wrong.  Some also have the power to take away your rights, put you on compulsory treatment orders or contact other services, e.g. social services, if you persist in your ‘cognitive distortions’.  Some people may respond that it is only humble to not trust your own judgement too much and sometimes we must follow the advice of authorities and those that know better than us.  This is true in some instances and it takes prudence to understand when one should and should not follow the voice of authority. However, one must remember that humility is a willingness to live in accordance with the truth’ (‘Introduction to the Science of Mental Health’, p. 292).  If you know that what the psychological professional is saying is false or you do not believe it to be true, it is not humble to follow their advice as it is not humble to live one’s life in accordance with falsehood or error. Be on guard. Follow what common sense and the Faith tells you. As Our Lord says, ‘Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Be ye therefore wise as serpents and gentle as doves’ (Matthew 10:16)

One last note: If you are somebody who believes that there are absolute truths and believes in Catholic dogmas, e.g. people either go to heaven or hell when they die, people who die in mortal sin go to hell, or even if you believe that there are scientific facts, e.g. there are only two sexes, abortion is the murder of an innocent human being, be very careful going to any psychotherapist or psychologist today. They will likely see these beliefs as some form of ‘cognitive distortion’, e.g. black and white thinking, a fallacy of fairness, a ‘should’ mentality, an ‘always being right’ mentality, etc.  Due to the training they have had and the lies and falsehoods they have been exposed to and accepted, e.g. the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and its members promoting abortion and homosexual behaviour,  it will be highly likely that they will work at ways of ‘helping’ you to see things more clearly, i.e. their way or the ‘new’, ‘liberal’, ‘enlightened’ way.  Be on alert to this. Ground yourself in the truth and stand firm in it.  In these times where it is hard to trust figures in authoritative positions, Professor Charles A Dubray’s words are particularly salient: ‘It is necessary to learn how to use one’s own reason and to practice the difficult art of criticism so as to distinguish truth from falsity, and thus to become able to steer one’s own mental life, to think for oneself, and no longer depend too exclusively on the thinking of others.’ (‘Introductory Philosophy’, p. 5)

May God bless you in your endeavours to ‘distinguish truth from falsity’.

Footnote: The cognitive distortions listed above are a selection from the article, ’15 Common Cognitive Distortions’ from one of the most popular and influential websites for psychological advice, psychcentral.com.  Overall, this article pushes subjectivism and moral relativism as the right way to think.    

Validating Emotions

Emotions, and especially passions, are the source of the greatest good, and of the greatest evil.’
– Harvard Professor of Philosophy, Charles A. Dubray

In the psychotherapeutic field one often hears about the need for feelings or emotions to be ‘validated’. This type of talk has come particularly from those who are on the left side of the political spectrum and particularly mental health professionals who lean towards left wing politics, e.g. websites – Psych Central, Psychology Today.  In reaction to this type of talk, some of those on the right side of the political spectrum, have dismissed feelings as irrelevant in informing serious political discussions, e.g. Ben Shapiro, Stefan Molyneux.  This blog examines what is understood by ‘validating’ feelings, looks at how emotions are treated in modern psychological services and concludes by outlining what it means to truly validate emotions. 

Take a look around you. If you can slow down your own mind enough, sit and look at people as they go about their everyday business.  Many people are extremely agitated and anxious.  There is a restlessness that pervades our society.  Many people are feeling overwhelmed by the psychological pressure and emotional turmoil they are under. Mental health services can not keep up with the public demand, pharmaceutical companies have never been richer, and psychotherapists have never been busier.  Amongst all this anxious activity, one hears the cry that feelings must be ‘validated’.  It seems to come from those who are truly entangled in their emotions and want to be heard. What is certainly valid is that people are in distress and need help.  How people, especially those professionals in mental health services, decide to deal with and interpret or ‘validate’ emotional expressions is vitally important in helping people and society regain emotional stability.        

Emotions should be acknowledged (See footnote). Acknowledging feelings is essential in helping and communicating with people.  Feelings could be indicating an objective reality that the person is experiencing or has experienced, i.e. feeling more agitated after taking prescribed drugs, feeling guilty after aborting my unborn child, feeling sorrow after lying to my friend. What feels subjectively bad and what is objectively bad can overlap due to the nagging of our conscience which can trigger an emotional response in us.  Due to this, it is worth acknowledging feelings as they can, sometimes, be the first signs of something going wrong.  However, feelings are far from infallible guides. 

Feelings are often disconnected from the truth, especially if the experiences involve the passions as passions blind us to the truth, e.g. I feel good after casual sex (fornication) and so does the person I had sex with so what’s the harm in it?, I get a thrill out of petty theft so what’s the harm?, I felt happy on the day I was ‘married’ to my same-sex ‘partner’ so what’s the harm?. Our conscience can be misinformed and/or blinded by our passions/feelings.  Feelings are often wrong and can lead the conscience, which is informed by the intellect, astray. Therefore, feelings and one’s conscience need to be measured in the light of reason and evidence to see if there is any objective truth in the emotions experienced.  

Reason and evidence can guide people to the truth.  It is particularly important for mental health professionals to have a firm understanding of what is objectively true/good as they are the ones working with people who have lost their way. If the client/patient has no idea of what is objectively good/true, then it is even more incumbent on the professional to have a good idea of this.  Professionals also need to be humble enough to acknowledge that the personal experiences and emotions of clients or patients are worth hearing and exploring, especially in areas where there is no clear understanding of what is objectively true/good, e.g. a certain drug may not have caused agitation in many patients but there is always the possibility that it could have in the patient in front of you.  A correct formation and education in the truth about human beings and a humble attitude are essential traits in a mental health professional, particularly in any professionals that hold the power to force treatment on someone or take away their basic human rights.  The more responsibility one has, the humbler he should be. ‘For he that is the lesser among you all, he is the greater. (Luke 9:48).

While it is not possible to classify every emotional reaction as good or bad, a good and clear education about the nature of human beings and an accurate understanding of human psychology helps the professional to have a clearer understanding of emotional expression in humans. This formation also helps to give a clearer idea of when people’s feelings are disconnected from reality.  Being humble helps the professional to treat the person in front of them as an individual who has unique experiences and insights.  The basic premises of good psychological health care are summed up in: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment.  And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Mark 12: 30-31) (Or ‘All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them.’ (Matthew 7:12)).  As mental health services become detached from these premises, it only leads to a rigid and totalitarian approach, which often is initially packaged as ‘care’ and ‘compassion’.  There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing today in mental health services.  Once society has detached itself from the divine guidance above, decreased freedom is the inevitable outcome. 

Increasingly, in the liberal/secular/Marxist paradigm that dominates mental health services, some emotional responses are seen as ‘right’ and others are seen as ‘wrong’. If you are annoyed or become irritated that the psychiatrist is not willing to validate the feelings you have that the drugs you are on are damaging your brain (which many do) and you express this to him you can be labelled as ‘non-compliant’ or ‘irrational’. If you don’t believe that you need the drugs you might be seen as ‘lacking insight’ and if you keep up the opposition, you might get diagnosed with another disorder such as ‘oppositional deviant disorder’ (While working on psychiatric wards I have seen this happen).  If you are feeling guilty about having had an abortion or about engaging in homosexual activity, the kind, warm hearted therapist will ease your worried conscience. Most likely, they will ‘validate’ your feelings with good eye contract and basic counselling phrases like ‘that’s tough’ and ‘poor you’ while telling you that you have done nothing wrong and that it is only society and the Christian culture you were brought up in that is making you feel guilty (This is what the Psychological Society of Ireland are currently doing). 

Authorities such as psychiatrists, can physically restrain you and force treatment on you if you disagree with their pseudoscience.  Psychologists and psychotherapists can encourage you to become a slave to sin and the devil by comforting you and helping you find ways of rethinking or reimagining your ‘negative’ emotions.  Your emotions and concerns may be acknowledged, i.e. the professionals may acknowledge your emotions by acknowledging that they are what you are experiencing, but they will eventually dismiss these emotions as not being in accord with their interpretation of reality.  In many cases, a softly, softly approach may be taken to convince you that their interpretation of reality is correct. If that doesn’t work some mental health professionals (who are often detached from reality themselves but have lots of letters after their name after many years of study) can bring the full force of the law down on you to force you to see the world their way.  If a professional or others are going to tell you that your feelings are not in line with reality or that ‘feelings don’t matter’ or ‘facts don’t care about your feelings’ (as some notable right wing political commentators suggest and are applauded for) they must do this with humility and they must be sure that they know the facts and have a good knowledge of the truth.  It is easy, due to pride, to force our false interpretations of reality on others and by doing so, we may be missing genuine concerns that the individual expresses which indicate that there is something seriously amiss. 

If today’s mental health professionals knew the truth of human psychology, they could really help people who have nagging consciences. They could then direct them appropriately, e.g. confession, catechism classes. Instead they mostly exacerbate the problem as Willibald Demal (‘Pastoral Psychology in Practice’) explains, If ever-recurring impulses or emotions which either cannot be defended before the tribunal of our conscience or appear to be indefensible do not find a natural outlet and are forcibly repressed from consciousness, they simply continue to grow in the subconscious and cause the gravest disturbances.’ The liberal/secular/Marxist mental health professionals are coming up with more and more convoluted ways of suppressing one’s conscience and the feelings that arise from it, while the Church, which many of these professionals criticize for suppressing people, has always acknowledged that emotional expression is part of what makes us human as Bishop Fulton Sheen (‘Peace of Soul’) points out: ‘[The Church] does not deny emotions, any more than it denies hunger; the Church only asks that, when a man sits at table, he shall not eat like a pig.  Our Lord did not repress the emotional zeal of Paul; He merely redirected it from hate to love. Our Lord did not repress the biological vitalities of a Magdalene; He merely turned her passion from love of vice to love of virtue.’  This is the healthier and nobler way of handling emotions, i.e. by directing them towards Love itself.

So, the ultimate judge of whether an emotional response is reasonable is whether it is line with the truth/reality.  Now, as there are so many variables that inform emotional expression, e.g. life experiences, temperament, character, education, understanding, what is and is not an appropriate emotional expression is difficult to decipher.  There are no fixed standards for emotional expression. To try to create fixed standards, could impede the cultivation of the personality of the most remarkable of individuals.  For example, if we were to apply today’s standards of ‘normal’ emotional expression to the lives of the saints many of them, such as St Francis of Assisi or St Martin de Porres, would likely have been diagnosed with mania, locked up on a psychiatric ward and drugged up for being too exuberant in their love of God, their neighbour and the animals of this world.  Other saints, such as St Dominic and St John Vianney, who were known to weep at the thoughts of all the offences committed against God, would likely to be diagnosed as ‘depressive’ and put on drugs that would blunt their emotions, such as SSRI’s, today.  While under the control of reason and guided by the light of faith, the emotional expression of these saints was an essential part of their being. 

Unlike, the Catholic Faith, which celebrates the cultivation of one’s unique personality and which has given many sainthoods to those who may be considered ‘mad’ or, at least, eccentric, by today’s standards, psychiatry and modern psychology is only coming up with more diagnoses and formulas to destroy individuality and numb emotions in the name of ‘scientific progress’.  In their efforts to control the emotional expression of the masses, psychologists and psychiatrists, informed by Marxist or liberal ideologies, have helped to tear down walls that gave people a chance to express themselves and their emotions in a safe and healthy way.  As Bishop Fulton Sheen (‘Peace of Soul’) notes,Life may be likened to children playing…the playground established by the Church might be a rock in the sea, surrounded by great walls; inside of those walls the children may dance and sing and play as they please. Liberals would ask the Church to tear down the walls on the grounds that they are a restraining influence; but if this were done, you would find all the children huddled in the centre of the island, afraid to play, afraid to sing, afraid to dance, afraid of falling into the sea.  This is exactly what it is happening today as the walls come crumbling down. 

The wisdom written on these desecrated walls has also been cast aside in our current era but fragments of great advice can be found such as those offered by Professor Dubray in the early part of the 20th century.  He speaks about how emotions need to be cultivated, controlled and ‘made an auxiliary in striving for the noblest aims’. They should be evaluated by and brought under the control of reason. Reason should be the master of feelings as feelings are blind in themselves and are not universal but vary across individuals. 

Until we get back to a stage where we truly understand what exactly a human being is and what human beings were created for, we will struggle further in our attempts to understand and evaluate the appropriateness of human responses. There will continue to be constant endless bickering between those who encourage ‘validating’ of feelings and try to create their own reality based on these feelings and those who dismiss feelings rashly and don’t believe that feelings are relevant in any serious discussion about life.  Let us understand ourselves and let God use us and our human frailty, which includes emotional expression, in the way He sees fit.

As Prof Dubray (‘Introductory Philosophy’) makes clear, ‘To try to eliminate all feelings from morality, and look upon them as obstacles to be removed, as the Stoics and Kant did; to look upon duty as being by its very nature a burden to be carried painfully and by dint of effort; to place the ideal of man in a state of perfect calmness and rest undisturbed by any feeling or emotion, is to misunderstand human nature, to overlook human psychology, and to give a rule unfit to guide men, since it fails to take men as they are essentially.’ Let us understand human psychology and emotions and use the energy they can inspire in us for the greatest good. If there is any real ‘validating’ to be done, let us first validate the true meaning of our existence.  Then let us validate the true dignity of each human soul by acknowledging the sadness that can come in this valley of tears and let us try to help each other to carry our crosses as we strive to find or stay on the straight and narrow path.  In this way, we do not give emotions the worship nor the disdain that the world thinks they deserve but, rather, we place them within the divine order to which they belong. 

This is truely validating emotions.     

Footnote:

Acknowledging emotions is not meant, in the sense, that strong emotions should be associated with objective reality if they contradict plain facts or conclusive evidence. Neither is it meant, in the sense, that talking about feelings is always useful as some people like to suggest.  For example, if someone rejects basic facts, e.g.‘2+2=4’ or first principles, e.g. ‘something cannot be at once one way and the contradictory way’, then Prof Dubray suggest that ‘nothing is left but to stop thinking altogether or go an asylum’.  You can still care for the person who is thinking like this but engaging in any conversation rather than pointing out the absurdity of their feelings may only validate the falsehoods they are expressing. Acknowledging emotions is meant, in the sense, that emotions indicate a psychological reality for people. In most cases, outside of the above examples, one can safely acknowledge them, i.e. acknowledge that certain feelings are real for the person you are speaking to, without encouraging the belief in obvious falsehoods.  For the above examples, where somebody doesn’t have an obvious biological/cognitive impairment that is disrupting their reasoning, the Irish expression, ‘Ah, would you cop on’ is probably useful in these cases as it is not too harsh but gets to the point quickly.  Gentle and firm encouragement is sometimes needed to help people see the absurdity of their feelings or beliefs before they get in a lot of trouble trying to live a life formed on false and unstable foundations.

The False Philosophy of Modern Psychology

Every theory which discredits the true nature of man or denies the need of a Divine Remedy is only intensifying the disease which it attempts to cure.  The psychopathic messes into which many tumble are due either to a want of a knowledge of human nature or to a want of a genuine religion.’ – (Bishop Fulton Sheen, ‘Peace of Soul’)

The last blog, ‘2+2=4?’, gave a brief insight into how mental health professionals can push falsehoods on their clients. It highlighted how mental health professionals can convince or persuade their clients that the client’s refusal to accept falsehoods is due to psychological or emotional issues that the client is experiencing or has experienced in the past. This can be done in a subtle and clever way under the guise of care (as outlined in the blog) or these falsehoods can be pushed more directly and violently on people, e.g. involuntary electroshock or involuntary injection of ‘non-compliant’ patients by mental health professionals (as outlined in the first blog, ‘Introduction/Bricks in the Wall’).  This blog looks at how modern psychology gives the false answers from the outset and how it is sending many people the wrong way.   

‘An error in definition is always fatal’

Fr Doolan’s quote above outlines the importance of accurate definitions in philosophical endeavours.  This applies equally to psychological endeavours. To help a person, one must understand what a human being actually is.  In the blog, ‘Be Yourself’, it was outlined how important an accurate answer to the question, ‘what am I?’, is if one wants to be truly free.  As the discipline of psychology is concerned with understanding the human mind and human behavior, it is essential that those who study and practice psychology have a clear understanding of what a human being is. Defining the object of study, i.e. human beings, is the first task that a psychologist must do. Understanding what a human being is involves scientific analysis and speculation to reach the right answer. One must be very careful in this initial process to avoid error as this will have devastating results further down the line if an error in definition has crept in.

 ‘A hair,’ they say, ‘divides the false and true.’ But a hair’s breadth departure from the heights of speculation from what is true and straight, will mean an ever widening gap as the stream of thought is followed from the heights, down to the lower planes whereon men’s everyday lives are passed.’ – Fr Doolan (‘Philosophy for the Layman’)

A thorough examination of philosophical science, driven by good will and a sincere love for the truth, will bring one to the conclusion that a human being is made of a soul and a body, with the soul being the more noble part of man.  Further philosophical analysis informs us that God is the Creator of each individual’s soul.  The Catholic Faith shows us that the purpose of human being’s existence is to know, honour and love God and it gives us the necessary supernatural assistance to help us do so.  Continuous deviation from or a rejection of this task of knowing, honouring and loving God will only mean misery and destruction for ourselves and the society around us.  ‘As we approach God we approach unity and perfection; as we descend from God we descend into multiplicity and imperfection.’ (Bishop Fulton Sheen, ‘God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy’).  Any definition of man that does not acknowledge this true nature of man is already set out on the wrong path.  Any psychological service that does not work with the person in helping them to achieve the task of knowing, honouring and loving God is only intensifying the disease it is attempting to cure.   

Breakdowns:

When a person is experiencing a psychological breakdown, it is often a sign that the person is deviating from the task that they were created to fulfil.  An analogy will help to make this clear.  If a car has broken down and you are unable to start it, it indicates that something is wrong with the car as it is not performing the function it was designed to do.  If a person is living a disordered life where God is dismissed, mocked, ridiculed and insulted, it is a sign that something is wrong as they are not fulfilling the task that they were created for.  The car needs fixing and so does the person.  One fix involves a mechanical or electronic readjustment so the materials necessary to start the car work efficiently.  The fix for the person usually involves a divine remedy which nourishes the soul so that the person can work efficiently in their task of knowing, honouring and loving God.   Viewing sinful behaviour as ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ behaviour is like the mechanic viewing the car being unable to start as ‘normal’.  Both require interventions.  A competent mechanic who understands what a car is and what it was designed to do is far better than one who believes a car being unable to start is ‘normal’ for cars!  A competent psychologist who understands what a human being is and what human beings are designed for is far better than one who believes sinful behaviour is a sign of good health and ‘progress’.  However, unlike the car, people who are offered fixes from mental health professionals have a choice over whether they accept the fix or guidance offered.  God gifted humans with free will and gave them a choice over whether they decide to live a life ordered towards His divine plan or not.  

It is not our privilege to measure out the kind of God we shall have…If there is any fitting to be done, it is we who are to fit ourselves to God, and not God to ourselves.’ (Bishop Fulton Sheen, ‘God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy’). 

Modern psychological services are encouraging people to not live life in accordance with the divine plan or they try to twist God’s plan to fit the client’s disordered lifestyle. These psychologists encourage people to continue in their disordered lifestyles and they blame society for any pangs of conscience that a client engaging in sinful behaviour experiences.  For example, being registered as a psychologist with the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) is contingent on affirming and encouraging homosexual behaviour (see: https://www.cancer.ie/sites/default/files/content-attachments/psi_guidelines.pdf)  and the PSI blames societal ‘stigma’ for women feeling bad after an abortion (see: https://www.psychologicalsociety.ie/footer%202/PSI-Guidelines-Policies–Papers).  By not understanding what human beings are and what they were designed for, modern psychologists push man away from the Truth and further into a disordered and chaotic lifestyle.  If the distressed person believes and acts on false information provided by the mental health professional the inevitable result will be more misery in this life and an increase in the likelihood of experiencing eternal misery and torture in the next.

Clear Reflections:

Bishop Fulton Sheen highlights how necessary it is for us to gain a true picture for those leading a destructive life: ‘As a drunkard will sometimes become conscious of the gravity of his intemperance only through the startling vision of how much he has wrecked his own home and the wife who loved him, so, too, sinners may come an understanding of their wickedness when they understand what they have done to Our Divine Lord.’ (Peace of Soul).  Just as there is a duty to point out the destruction the drunkard is causing for their own good, it is a duty of mental health professionals to point out the sinful behaviour of their clients for their own good. If people living in sin are not given the truth about their situation and not encouraged to change their lifestyle and seek divine remedies, then the chains around them will only become tighter. There are solutions and people should be directed towards these.

It is the intention of this service, Truth and Freedom Therapy (TFT), to provide an alternative to the predominant, false and destructive direction modern psychological services are going in.  A true understanding of what it means to be human is the foundation for TFT. Understanding what us, human beings, are and acting on this knowledge is the starting point on the road to freedom.  This is the way to happiness.

‘2+2=4’?

“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
George Orwell, ‘1984’

A sketch of modern psychological services (particularly those provided by the Psychological Society of Ireland):

Psychologist: Nice to meet, please take a seat

Person: Thanks, nice to meet you too

Psych: Well, I see you’ve filled out the assessment form and signed the short information acknowledging you understand the service. My job is to help you to find peace of mind and to help you to understand why you are thinking in certain ways. I am trained in many different types of psychotherapy. I will try to be as gentle as possible but I may challenge you where it seems appropriate.  This is only done to help you so you can increase your happiness.  I’m also going to write a few notes on my pad here so I can get a clear picture of what’s going on for you. Is this OK by you?

Person: Yeah, that’s grand.

Psych: I see you are based here in Dublin now but are from Longford originally? How are you finding it up here?

Person: Ah yeah, it’s alright, I’m up here about a year now, bit busier than back home, miss the peace of the countryside but I’m meeting new people up here and work is going alright so it’s grand.  

Psych: Yeah, I can imagine it’s a bit different up here than down in Longford. So let us see where to begin (scanning through the assessment form). I see that you mention that you are very anxious at times. Let’s begin there.  Please explain a bit about that to me. 

Person: Well, ya know, I’m just feeling on edge a lot of the time.  I’m trying to make sense of the world we are living in. My head seems a bit fried. I’ve tried all sorts of ways of coping but they ain’t working so I decided to come along here as, ya know, I’ve heard it’s good to talk and all that.

Psych: OK, OK, sounds like you are struggling at the moment and you are trying to make sense of it all.  And yeah, it’s always good to talk. That’s what this service is here for.  So how long have you had this anxiety?

Person: Well, it’s started fairly recently. I just feel like either I’m going mad or the world has gone mad over the last year.  I’m trying to keep in tune with reality and keep myself grounded but I just can’t seem to cope at times.

Psych: OK, yeah the world is a crazy place at times and it’s hard to cope with the pace of life, especially if you are used to a quieter pace. Now, when you say, ‘reality’, what do you mean by that?

Person: Well, umm…you know like just trying to keep focused on the everyday stuff, not getting caught up in all the misinformation and fake news out there in the world

Psych: Yeah, it’s a tricky environment at times to operate it in. It’s hard to find ways to cope with the constant news coming our way and figure things out.

Person: Yeah, that’s it, like I’m trying to live my life in accordance with the truth, ya know, and sometimes I just feel that no one is telling the truth and that what we are seeing and hearing is just lies and manipulation.  Like I don’t know anymore, sometimes I think I’m being paranoid and some people have told me that I’m paranoid so maybe it’s me. Like sometimes I’m just like ‘I give up’ and can’t be bothered even trying to figure it out

Psych: OK, sounds like you are trying to filter out what is fact from fiction, that’s good. It is better to live a life in accordance with the reality we find ourselves in. Sounds like it is all a bit much for you at times and you are trying to stay in tune with reality but that’s not always easy to do so.

Person: Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. Like, I’ve tried the whole drink thing to escape reality and that didn’t really work. I then tried distracting myself with gambling, then porn but I knew I still had to face reality at some stage. It’s just hard at the moment as I’ve no one to talk to about how I’m feeling so I decided to come along here to try to sort out my head

Psych: OK, that’s good. It sounds like you are trying to reconnect with reality and the present moment rather than constantly distracting yourself with drink or quick fixes.  That’s what this service is here for, trying to help you live peacefully and serenely in our current crazy environment. So how are you finding life without these distractions?

Person: Well, ya know, difficult at times. Like one minute I’m thinking, the world has gone crazy and is getting crazier.  Like just there yesterday I heard a news report saying that a lot of people are saying 2+2 doesn’t equal 4.  But then the next day, I’m like, maybe I’m not seeing something and maybe I’m the one cracking up.  Like even some of my friends are now saying 2+2 may not equal 4 and they are saying that I’m not with the times and all this sort of thing. It’s just fierce confusing and my head is melted by it all.

Psych: Oh, that’s interesting.  Tell me who do you think these people are that are pushing this 2+2 may not equal 4 idea?

Person:  Well, ya know, I’ve been trying to make sense of it all and now, I don’t want to sound paranoid or like some crazy conspiracy theorist but it really seems like there are like, there are people in high places, pushing this ‘2+2 may not equal 4’ agenda. Like I don’t know why people can’t just see that ‘2+2=4’.

Psych: That’s interesting (writing on notepad: ‘paranoid?’). So look I’m not going to take a position on this ‘2+2=4’ issue as it is a contentious one at the moment but I’ll act as a screen that you can bounce your thoughts off and I’ll pose some challenging questions here and there. Kind of like the devil’s advocate. This will help you to come to an understanding about your own thought processes. Sound good?

Person: Yeah, I suppose, if that’s what you think would help.

Psych: Yeah I’m sure it will. So first off, how do you know that 2+2 equals 4?

Person: Isn’t it just common sense? It’s just obvious, like.

Psych: Maybe it’s not so obvious to all and we can’t always rely on what is deemed common sense. Wasn’t it the great philosopher, Voltaire, who said, ‘Common sense is not so common’. Now, when you say it is obvious do you mean that most people believe 2+2=4?

Person: Well, no, it seems that the majority of people say they don’t know if 2+2 equals 4

Psych: So the common opinion is we don’t know if 2+2=4 but you believe that you have more insight than the majority of people?

Person: Well, yeah I think so but yeah know, as I said, I’m just confused by it as there are so many people saying 2+2 may not equal 4. 

Psych: (Writing ‘narcissist?’ on notepad) How do you know you are right on this issue? Have you had many discussions with people about this issue?

Person: Well, sometimes, but it is hard to talk about. I’m not so good at explaining things to people so I end getting angry sometimes as I just can’t see why people can’t see what seems so obvious to me

Psych: Do you get angry often?

Person: Well, more so lately.  There are times like when I’m sure 2+2=4. I just want to wake people up to it.  Like I just want to shake people sometimes. 

Psych: (Writing on notepad: ‘anti-social’?) Sounds like this is a very emotive issue for you?

Person: Yeah, that’s what some of my new friends are saying to me.  They are just telling me to relax about it as it’s not a big deal whether 2+2=4 or not.  Eventually they got sick of talking to me about it so I don’t mention it anymore so I ended up coming here to try to sort this all out.

Psych: Well, it’s good that you came here. So let’s try to break this down.

Person: OK

Psych: So I can see this 2+2=4 issue is a big issue for you so let’s see why that is so.  First off, let’s look at it objectively and rationally. So you believe that 2+2=4.  Can you be absolutely certain 2+2=4?

Person: Well, like, I was certain at one stage but I’m not 100 per cent sure about it now. I’ve tried to question myself on this. I know everyone else seems to believe that 2+2 may not equal 4 so I was initially thinking that I was the one with the problem, that it was my mind that wasn’t working right. But I spoke to my mam and dad and they still believe 2+2=4 and they have helped me to see that I’m thinking straight. 

Psych: How old are your mam and dad?

Person: Both are around 70

Psych: You have a good relationship with them?

Person: It’s not bad

Psych: So your parents, they would have grown up in an era when everyone thought 2+2=4 and they are reassuring you that 2+2 still equals 4 despite the majority now telling you that this may not be true?

Person: Well, yeah I think that they are trying to help me to keep in touch with reality. They can see that I’m struggling. 

Psych: Sounds like your parents are really trying to help you and no doubt with the best intentions as well. But I’m just wondering, did your parents often tell you that 2+2=4 when you were young?

Person: Well, not really, I remember saying that 2+2 may not equal 4 to them one time when I was a teenager after I watched a talk by a distinguished professor on YouTube and they corrected me on it.   

Psych: Corrected you? What do you mean by that?

Person: Well, like my father told me to cop on and not to be foolish

Psych: And how did that feel when he said that to you?

Person: Well, I felt a bit annoyed but like… I think he was right

Psych: (writing on notepad: ‘verbal abuse in childhood’?) You had a lot of respect for your father?  You looked up to him?

Person: Yeah, he was a decent man, bit reserved and not always around as he was busy working but yeah I respected him

Psych: (Writing on notepad: ‘neglect?’) But he wanted you to think like him or have the same beliefs as you?

Person: Well, yeah sort of, I suppose

Psych: You mentioned that he called you foolish and this left you feeling upset and annoyed when you said that ‘2+2 may not equal 4’. Did he ever get angry with you when you challenged him?

Person: Well, not so much on the 2+2= 4 thing as that was a once off thing but sometimes he would threaten me with the wooden spoon if I did or said something wrong. Think I got a smack of it maybe, once. Didn’t do me any harm, like.

Psych: (Writing on notepad: ‘physical abuse but passing it off as ‘normal’). Still it sounds tough. It seems like he struggled to accept your individuality and your questioning of conventional thinking at times. It seems like he was trying to control you in many ways and he didn’t accept your different way of thinking about the world. Were you ever afraid of your father?

Person: Well, sometimes, as a kid, I’d be a bit fearful of his reaction, especially if I was in trouble in school or something like that or if I said a bad word or if I annoyed my mother

Psych: So he was pretty controlling at times?  Tried to make you see the world his way?

Person: Yeah, I suppose, sometimes he would be hard on me and he did have some beliefs that I couldn’t get onboard with it but look, I don’t think he was that bad

Psych: (Writing on notepad: ‘defensive about father/father as God complex’?) Your father probably did the best he could considering the circumstances. It is not about blaming anyone here but do you mind if I throw out a hypothesis on what I think could be the root of the problems you are experiencing?

Person: Yeah, sure, go ahead.

Psych: Well, see, I’ve been doing this job for 25 years.  I’ve met people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. I often have people coming into my office with certain worldviews, or what we in the psychotherapeutic field call ‘schemas’.  One thing that I try to do is to help people understand how they have come to think in certain ways and why they hold on to certain beliefs.  Often, people come from tough family backgrounds where they experience physical and verbal abuse and where they are forced to comply with the belief their parents, especially their father, has.  Often, in these families, people grow up under, what we call in psychological research, an authoritarian father figure, who is emotionally distant and who doesn’t know how to communicate with them. These types of fathers use their position of power to force their traditional beliefs on their children.  As I said, I’m not looking to blame anyone here as these types of fathers often pick up this type of behavior from their own fathers. Do you follow so far?

Person: Yeah, I see what you’re saying.

Psych: Now, it seems to me you experienced some of this in your childhood and I’m guessing that this helps to explain why you believe so strongly that ‘2+2=4’. It is born out of a fear of the authoritarian father figure you experienced as you grew up and it is probably reinforced by the small country town that you grew up in, which reemphasized this restrictive ‘2+2=4’ mentality.  I think that this explains much of the anxiety you are experiencing currently as you have moved away from the small town and the ‘2+2=4’ mentality. You are now meeting new friends and are beginning to see that you don’t need to think in that narrow way anymore but are free to finally think for yourself rather than have traditional views imposed on you.  But it’s tricky for you as this 2+2=4 mentality has been beaten into you. Now, when you come up against people who challenge you on this 2+2=4 mentality, you unconsciously follow the example of your father who pushed back forcibly so as to protect these traditional ideas.  Does this make sense to you?

Person: Well, that makes some sense but I still can’t shake off the feeling that 2+2 does really equal 4.  Like I’m not the only one thinks like this and I know other people that think like me.

Psych: Who are these other people?

Person: Well, some friends, my parents, as I said. 

Psych: Have any of them done any research into whether ‘2+2=4’?

Person: Well, no, that’s just the way they’ve always thought…, they just think… It’s common sense that 2+2=4

Psych: Well, it may have been the common view years ago but as we begin to know more about the world and the human mind sometimes what was once seen as dogmas are no longer seen as such. Now, look, I’m not saying 2+2 does not equal 4 but I think that it is worth analyzing why you hold on to this opinion so strongly. See, believing 2+2=4 may have given your parents some stability or assurance about life as they struggled along in it. They lived in harder time and needed more stability. It’s not easy to change one’s thinking especially when it is something someone really believes in, has grown up believing and has emotional investment in.  Look, there is some new research coming out suggesting that 2+2 may not equal 4. Would you consider checking it out?

Person: Yeah, I suppose I can do, I don’t want to be narrow minded. But look, I’m a bit confused now. It seems like my head is more mixed up now than it was when I came into the office

Psych: Well, that’s actually OK, you are grappling with new information. It is a sign of what we in the psychological field call, ‘cognitive dissonance’. It is just a process where the mind is grappling with information that is contrary to old information. It is a good sign really as it shows that you are open to this new information and that your mind is willing to open up and assimilate this information.  That’s what I’m here for, to give you this space to wrestle with this new information and ease the anxiety you are experiencing. This will eventually lead to peace of mind.    

Person: Well, look I don’t really know what to believe anymore. I just want some answers. What you said seems to make sense when I reflect on it. I mean I suppose it’s good to talk out these issues anyway, maybe I should look at my childhood experiences a bit more.

Psych: Yeah, it’s always good to talk and I hope I can provide a listening ear for you.  I can see that you are really trying to overcome your anxiety.  I believe that your childhood experiences, where you weren’t allowed to think for yourself, are influencing some of your anxiety and this is still playing out today in your life.  We can explore that further at the next session. How about we meet again in two weeks time? 

Person: Yeah, I think I do have some childhood stuff to work through and maybe I’m a bit obsessed with this whole 2+2=4 business due to it.  Yeah, two weeks sound good, let’s do that.

Psych: In the meantime, just try to find some practical strategies so you can relax about the whole 2+2=4 thing. Look, it’s really not that important in the grand scheme of things. Just try to enjoy each moment, be present and practice deep breathing. That will help with the anxiety.  Also try to avoid arguments with people over this issue. Just count to ten if you feel anger or anxiety rising in you when someone says that 2+2 does not equal four or just change the subject to something lighter or more entertaining when the conversation does come up.

Person: Alright, thanks, I’ll try that, sounds good.

Psych: Yeah, no problem, glad I could help, see you in two weeks.

END

Note: Replace ‘2+2=4’ with any number of scientific or Catholic truths, e.g. on ‘gender’, abortion or homosexuality, and you will see how dangerous psychological services are for those struggling to make sense of it all in our current times.

The Light Shineth in Darkness…

‘And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity’   (1 Corinthians 13: 13)

What is the most important factor that contributes to positive therapeutic outcomes? The type of therapy used?  The amount of qualifications that the therapist has?  The type of room where the therapy takes place?  The amount of time a person spends in therapy?  No, it is none of these.  The most important factor for predicting positive therapeutic outcomes is, what is called, the ‘therapeutic alliance’.  This is essentially the relationship that exists between the therapist and the person coming to see them. Numerous studies have shown that the therapeutic alliance is the most vital aspect of therapy.  But what is this therapeutic alliance and what gives it such power?

Many psychotherapists and counsellors use the phrase coined by the counsellor, Carl Rogers, ‘unconditional positive regard’, to describe what is deemed essential for positive outcomes in therapy.  Others speak of ‘genuine love’ or ‘genuine loving relationships’ as key to therapeutic success, e.g. psychiatrist and author of the book, ‘The Road Less Travelled’, Dr Scott Peck, and his followers. All recognize that charity and love play a central role in counselling and therapy. While many different therapies and therapists compete against each other in the marketplace to promote their particular type of therapy, there is nothing more powerful and effective than being helped and guided by someone who truly cares for you.  We know this from our own experiences.  When we are in trouble and the world seems to be crashing in on us, we naturally tend to look for help from those who are charitable, caring and kind.  As we struggle through this life, we all need help and a bit of genuine love from time to time.  The importance of the therapeutic alliance is also backed up by what the science tells us, with a comprehensive investigation concluding that ‘the quality of the client–therapist alliance is a reliable predictor of positive clinical outcome independent of the variety of psychotherapy approaches and outcome measures’ (Ardito & Rabellino, 2011). No matter what therapy is used, it will be useless without ‘genuine love’, ‘unconditional positive regard’, ‘therapeutic alliance’ (call it what you will) being at the heart of it.  St Paul expresses this deep truth beautifully: ‘If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.’  (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).  But how do we know if someone has charity in them? One piece of advice in making a decision about who to trust and open to is this:

It’s in the Eyes

The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be! (Matthew 6: 22-23)

Our Lord emphasises the importance of the eyes as ‘the light of the body’.  Our eyes are the windows to the soul and offer a glimpse at the divine spark within us.  In our modern society, sometimes we can become so disillusioned with the state of things that we fail to look for or fail to recognise the glimpses of goodness that can still be seen in others. This cynical attitude is exemplified by Bob Dylan in his song, ‘It’s Not Dark Yet (But It’s Getting There)’, where he sings about how he has almost given up completely on people, ‘I’ve been down on the bottom of the world full of lies, I ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ in anyone’s eyes, Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear, It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there’. Sometimes all we see is anger or darkness or danger in someone else’s eyes.  This can be particular true if we have not received adequate care, love and attention from important figures in our own lives, e.g. our parents, or we are burnt out by our experiences of the world. Like Bob, we can stop even looking for the light in another’s eyes.  When we do meet someone whose eyes are shining (or ‘smiling’ as the famous song, ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ tells us), and we recognise this light, it can give us a lift and help us to get through the toughest periods in our lives.  We can see light in the world again through their eyes.  Through someone’s eyes we can often tell if they really care for or love us and if we can trust them.

Clever Imitations:

Before I lose myself in romantic notions about this life, I do want to give a note of caution. Don’t fall for cheap imitations of the therapeutic alliance. Don’t fall for the helping professionals who just nod their head and occasionally throw out a ‘that must be tough’ slogan and treat you like a commodity or a being without a unique soul.  Marketers, advertisers, government spin doctors and businesses know the psychological tricks to convince you that they are kinder and more compassionate than they seem – they are skilled at this, e.g. they have even helped to create the notion that abortion is ‘compassionate’.  Along with engaging your heart and senses in evaluating whether you see light and goodness in someone else, make sure to engage your mind as well. Without being cynical, be mindful in evaluating whether what certain people are selling is aligned with reality. Make sure that the people you decide to trust and open up to have a firm understanding of the reality of this life.  Check out the actual fruits of the professional’s labour and if they have really helped people overcome their distress. Through reading, studying, prayer and reflection, come to know what the words ‘compassion’ and ‘love’ actually mean and do not fall for distortions of the truth of these words.  While being humble, trust your common sense.  Keep before your mind and heart, memories of someone who you knew really loved you. Focus on the divine and supernatural images, words and ideas associated with Love. In doing so you store in your heart and mind the true understanding of compassion, love and charity.  You will then know them when you see them and it becomes less likely you will be duped by imitations, however clever they might appear. 

Keep Searching

Even when it’s getting dark all around you, keep searching for the shining and smiling eyes in the world, whether that be in the eyes of the professionals you meet, friends and family members you have, or the strangers you meet along this journey.  While it is tempting to give up while we struggle through this valley of tears, this Easter period shows us that the darkness cannot master the Light. Have courage and keep looking for those sparks of goodness and light in others.  Hopefully, in time, your eyes will shine and smile again too.  Then you can be a light in the world for someone else and add goodness and joy to this world, which, in turn, can help others along the straight and narrow path.  And as the song goes,  

When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, ’tis like the morn in Spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing

Happy Easter!