Learning to Love Yourself: An Inventory

I continue to meet people of service who have gotten out of balance because of their lives of service. These good people answer the call to love one’s neighbor but minimize the part about loving oneself.

I invite you to reflect on the following inventory to assess how well you are doing with loving yourself:

  1. I consistently take care of myself, get adequate rest, and avoid unnecessary stress. Many of the people of service I know are exhausted or not sleeping well. Others suffer health issues such as headaches.
  2. 2.I try to forgive myself and others since resentments are toxic and unhealthy. As several writers have noted, resentments are like trying to kill the rat by drinking the rat poison yourself. Think about someone you resent. Now listen to your body. Does your breathing get shallow? Stomach tense? Remember that the person who benefits most from forgiving is the forgiver and that forgiveness does not mean condoning.
  3. I am sensual. One of my biggest issues with organized religion is the degree of conflict established between body and spirit. Our bodies are a gift to be celebrated!
  4. I affirm myself on a daily basis. You might think this is corny or simplistic. But how often on a daily basis do you judge or even condemn yourself?
  5. I acknowledge the ways I am gifted. Your power is in your gifts. They are given to you to enrich your life and others. Just think of gifts beyond physical and athletic gifts.
  6. I feel joy more often than I feel guilt. Many of us get so focused on sin and avoiding it that we lose the in-born capacity for joy. What gives you joy? How often do you allow yourself those experiences?
  7. I admit my faults honestly and without defensiveness. We all have work to do given that we are all imperfect.
  8. I truly believe that God’s love for me is unconditional. This probably challenges me the most. I still am trying to shake the old image of a punitive, harsh God.                                                                                                                                                                             I know. Easier said than done. But there is way too much violence and conflict these days, much of which has its roots in self-hatred. By working on loving yourself, you really do contribute to the world in a way that matters
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On Your Inner Boo Radley

My favorite book and movie are To Kill a Mockingbird. When I first read the book, when I finished I turned back to page 1 and read it again. The first time I saw the movie I went back the next night to see it again. The book and movie have greatly impacted my life.

As I noted in an earlier post, Atticus Finch gave me a role model for being a father. But I also am drawn to one other figure who appears infrequently but looms large throughout the story. That figure is Boo Radley.

Boo was a neighbor who, by and large, was a recluse, kept at home in part because of a violent incident. Boo would probably be diagnosed as schizophrenic nowadays. Yet Boo becomes attached to the Finch children and starts to give them small gifts — a school spelling medal, a pocket knife, a broken watch and chain and other little surprises the children would find in a knothole of a tree.

Being a recluse, however, Boo was someone of whom the children were both afraid and intrigued by. As their friend Dill says, “Wonder what he does in there? Wonder what he looks like?”, starting an effort to make Boo Radley come out. And come out he does in a powerful act of self-sacrifice.

Why am I drawn to Boo? I think in part because I have parts of me that I kept locked up, mainly out of some sort of fear. Thus, for example in my own case, I kept creativity locked up out of fear of being criticized. Perhaps you have kept a part locked up as well. For some, they lock away their sexual side or their aggressive side. Others will simply lock up their capacity to love.

We know that the Shadow comes bearing a gift, just as Boo Radley did. But to receive that gift, we have to find a way to let our own Boo Radley come out.

Here then is a beautiful scene after Boo Radley comes out (And, yes, that is a very young Robert Duvall as Boo!)

Reflection: What is your inner Boo Radley like? Have you been able to let him/her out in some way?

 

 

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On Righteous Anger

When I was growing up Catholic, I was led to believe that being angry was a sin. Now this created quite a problems for me since I had a short temper and was prone to get into fights. One day in Church, though, I heard the story of Jesus in the temple. He becomes furious at people selling stuff within the temple. He makes a whip and starts knocking over tables. As I sat there listening, I thought “Gee, Jesus sure was pissed!” This of course set off another track of questioning. “If anger is a sin, then did Jesus sin?” (It occurs to me, by that way, that in this day and age, Jesus would have been arrested and referred for Anger Management. Jesus’ actions also give me pause when I see the bake sales and raffle tickets outside my Church on Sundays)

Anger became a troublesome feeling for me. I would either explode aggressively or take on The Silent Treatment. Both were unproductive.

There is plenty of reason to believe that suppressing anger is not good for us. It can cause health issues. It can lead to depression. And it can cause that spiritual type of cancer known as resentment.

Years ago my wife and I attended the Marriage Encounter program. Here I heard a novel notion: “Anger is just a feeling like any other feeling. It is not necessarily bad.” Indeed, I came to see that the problems is not with anger. The problem is what we do with anger.

Yet recently I met a very fine woman who had suffered terrible childhood abuse. Being a Christian, she believed that she was supposed to forgive her abuser. She resisted when I suggested that perhaps she first needed to be angry for a while. I then asked her “Do you know what Jesus had to say about people who harm children?” She didn’t know. In fact, he said they should have a huge rock tied around their necks and thrown into the sea!

We are indeed called to forgive. But the whole point of the Temple Incident much less throwing child abusers into the sea is that there also needs to be a place in our spiritual world for righteous anger. There needs to be balance.

Righteous anger becomes the foundation for protest and change. Without that righteous anger, the Catholics of Boston would never have held their cardinal responsible for covering up abuse by clergy. Without that righteous anger, there would never have been marches for civil rights. And at a personal level, I don’t think we can forgive until we first allow ourselves a degree of righteous anger. Without that anger, forgiveness is only an intellectual exercise.

Reflection: 1. How much trouble does anger cause you? Is there room for righteous anger in your spiritual world?

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On Being Odd

Recently my wife and I were walking home from Newton Square up in Massachusetts. Up ahead I saw a woman and a boy who appeared to be around 8 or 9 years old. As I got closer, I noticed the boy had a pacifier in his mouth. When I got up close, the boy removed the pacifier and began to say “You might think it’s funny that I …” I interrupted him and said “You don’t owe me an explanation.” Then I looked at him and told him”Don’t ever let anybody tell you how to be. You just be the person you want to be, ok?” He simply said “Ok”. As I walked away, the woman I assume was his mother said “Not enough people tell him that.”

Years ago, I heard a story about my mother-in-law. Betty was an extraordinary woman. She had raised 13 children as she was recovering from addiction. Strong as steel but on the surface very passive. In any case, back in the 70s, a friend persuaded her to attend an encounter group. These encounter groups were supposed to be for “being honest”, “letting it all hang out” etc. As the group progressed, someone commented “Betty, that’s a lovely scarf.” Betty deflected the compliment, saying “Oh, it belongs to my daughter.” Well the group erupted, telling Betty things like “You should accept a compliment” or “You should be more assertive” and so on. This lecturing went on for some minutes. Finally, it died down at which point my sweet mother-in-law looked around the group, smiled and said “You know, ‘should’ is a shitty word.” Brought the group to a dead halt!

Should is indeed a shitty word. That little boy up in Newton obviously felt like he should not have a pacifier in his mouth and that he should have to explain this behavior. He reminded me of ways I and most people I know compromise ourselves, avoiding being real in some unusual way because we shouldn’t do that and what would people think?

I’m not saying we give ourselves license to say and do anything we want to. In this world, we hurt one another a lot as it is. But what I also know is that most of us are constantly “shoulding” on ourselves, repressing a moment of creative authenticity because we “shouldn’t”.

I remember another time my wife and I were out to dinner. Our waitress, who looked to be maybe 20, had a wonderful smile. As we were paying the bill, I said to her “You have a beautiful smile. Don’t let anyone take it away from you.” She thanked me. Did she think I was just some nutty old man? Maybe. But I’m glad I said it.

When one hears about spiritual and psychological journeys, one hears words and phrases like “authenticity” or “Be yourself”. That’s fine but, to pursue such a path, we risk being viewed as “odd”. (A compliment I treasure, by the way, came from a man who told me he had met another psychologist here in El Paso. Referring to this other psychologist, this man said “He said you were rather odd.” At the time, it bothered me. At this point, I treasure it.)

So to the little boy in Newton and to anyone with ears to hear, I say “This world of ours is drying up with mindless conformity and sameness. Unique and creative behavior gets diagnosed instead of embraced. Dare to be yourself, even if others might view you as odd. As Zorba the Greek said “Without madness, you never cut the rope and are free!”

Reflection: 1. How are you limited by shoulds? In what ways do you like being “odd”?

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Of Marathons and Faith

I am currently reading a book about the streaks of the great baseball players Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripkin. As I read, I am thinking often of my own streak — running at least a mile every day for over 21 years. During that Streak, I ran 3 marathons.

I have written elsewhere that my running has woven itself into the fabric of my spiritual journey. When I read St. Paul’s famous words “I have finished the race. I have kept the faith”, many images come to mind. One of those images is the marathon so I thought I would share some spiritual lessons learned on the marathon road.

The first marathon was the Cape Cod Marathon in Falmouth in November 2000. I found out only later that, among hard-core marathoners, this is considered a tough marathon because of all the hills. My running of this marathon was also complicated by the fact that the previous weekend I found myself in Intensive Care because of asthma. Thankfully, I was able to recover and complete the marathon. Being loaded up with steroids probably helped. And, yes, I maintained the Streak despite being in ICU. But that’s another story.

As I stood at the starting line, I was grateful, an important spiritual reminder. I quickly learned that running a marathon is an act of faith, a belief that I am strong enough to run 26+ miles. I also learned another important lesson at Mile 24.

I was chugging along and saw a sign saying “Last hill.” I assumed this referred to the hill I just climbed. We round a corner and — another hill! (Or as I said aloud “What? Another @#$%&ing hill?”) So it is with a faith journey. We get through a trial and hope that somehow we have paid our dues when, sure enough, another hill. We just have to keep moving, whether it’s a marathon or a journey of faith.

The second marathon was in New York City in 2001, several weeks after the World Trade Center attacks. This time my first challenge was fear. At that early point, we did not know if there would be more attacks and several thousand people standing on a bridge would seem to be a desirable target. Indeed about one-third of registered runners dropped out. I thought of not going but, in my own way, I needed to send a message along with other runners that the run would continue despite tragedy. So it is with faith. The temptation to quit in the face of tribulation is always there. Needless to say, I was also faced with my ongoing argument with God as to why bad things happen to good people.

I also learned one other lesson. My sons Matt and Ben graciously came down from Boston to cheer me on. I saw them at several points, including Mile 23. I was determined that my sons would not see me walking and so I struggled on as they cheered. It wasn’t pretty. As Matt said later, “Yeah, Dad. You were barely shuffling.” So too it can be with faith. In the midst of trial, we must keep moving even if we are “barely shuffling.”

The third marathon was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2007, a beautiful run through Washington DC. I had learned that if runners were not at the 18th Street bridge by a certain hour, they would not be allowed to continue. So I and many other runners pushed to beat the deadline. As I ran onto the bridge, I noticed that, having accomplished this goal, many runners started to walk. That image got into my head and made it very difficult to keep running. So it is with faith. It is easy to take it easy. To do the minimal. To figure out what is the least we can do to “keep the faith”.

I don’t know if I’ve run my last marathon. What I do know is that the lessons I learned on the road will help me make these last few miles so that hopefully I too can say “I finished the race. I kept the faith.”

Reflection: Do you have a metaphor for your faith journey?

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On Being An Introvert

Several years ago I cam home after reading a book titled The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney and announced to my wife that I was declaring myself a Militant Introvert! In her book, Dr. Laney pointed out that many of us introverts grow up believing there is something wrong with us because we are not as out-going or socially skilled as the extroverts in our lives. I resonated to that, having long seen myself as socially inept. What her book and the better known Quiet by Susan Cain helped me see was that we introverts have our own set of gifts and that I would do well to embrace those gifts.

Indeed many people we look up to are introverts. People I had long admired — people such as Gandhi or Eleanor Roosevelt or St. John XXIII were introverts yet were also clearly people of inner power.

What has also been helpful to me is to understand introversion and extroversion in terms of what energizes us versus what exhausts us. I remember after reading this idea in Laney’s book, I had the thought “Gee, maybe that’s why I’m so tired after a day of counseling with others!” We introverts indeed can do many social things and can do them well. (Remember that one thing most people like about we introverted counselors is that we listen well!) It just tires us while solitude energizes us.

As a strong introvert, I am aware, just as Jung said, that I have extroverted capabilities. I drew on those energies for example when I portrayed Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey. But my make-up is that of an introvert and I have come to embrace that rather than judge it negatively.

At the spiritual level, I function mainly as an introvert. I am drawn to introverted practices such as meditation or silent prayer or journaling. To be a complete spiritual person, I see that I am challenged to work at extroverted spirituality. I can do that but only if I first accept that I need to do that to be complete but not because extroversion is the better path.

So, yes, I am an introvert and a militant one and, somewhat later in life, proud of it!

Reflection: How do you see yourself on the introvert-extrovert scale and how does that inform your spiritual world?

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On Being a Veteran

I share this again in honor of the many veterans who continue to teach me lessons of courage, resilience, and faith

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

I have a lot of trouble with the concept of God’s will. Some folks use this concept to bear up under hardship. My mother, for example, would find comfort in that notion whenever she reflected on the deaths of her mother when my mother was 6 as well as her two daughters. Often, too, I would hear words about God’s will in the Third Step of the 12 Step program and would hear others talk about peace they found in accepting God’s will.

I suspect that for me the issue has been that I have seen too much senseless suffering to be completely at ease with the concept of God’s will. Having said that, however, it occurs to me on this Veterans’ Day eve that it was God’s will that I serve in the U.S. Army.

At this point in my journey as a helper, I sit with many men…

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Amazing Grace

On his blog, my friend Tom Russell asked some time ago for readers to reflect on a song that impacted their lives. I answered immediately — “Amazing Grace”.

Those of us in recovery relate to this song, especially to the lines of the first verse: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me/I once was lost but now I’m found/Was blind but now I see.” I know of no words that better capture the experience I had on June 2 1983 when I was rescued from addiction. I would like to take credit for the decision to become sober. I can’t. It was given to me through amazing grace.

The song derives from a poem written by Anglican clergyman John Newton who, among other things, was involved in slave trading prior to becoming a preacher. Newton also became mentor to William Wilberforce, who became a key spokesman for ending England’s participation in the slave trade. Here is a moment from the excellent film “Amazing Grace” when Newton urges William Wilberforce to use his document of slave trading in Wilberforce’s efforts to end it.

 

“Amazing Grace” eventually was paired with traditional tune “New Britain”. It was this melody that has come to us as the most familiar tune paired with the poem.

Among many favorite versions here is a beautiful one from the ending of the film “Amazing Grace:

This great hymn can be heard nowadays at funerals as well as other services. And one day in South Carolina President Obama sang it, an event that led Zoe Mulford to write this beautiful song;

Music has played a key role in my spiritual journey. This simple song has been first among many pieces that have shaped that journey.

 

 

 

 

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On the Arrogance of Power

Our news these days is filled with stories of persons of power using their positions for personal gain. Often the personal gain is sexual in nature. From the Catholic Church to Hollywood to the United States military to the Federal Government we are learning of persons, most often male, using their status to solicit sexual favors or to force them. In the field of psychology there is a new term –MST. Military Sexual Trauma. The saddest aspect of all is that such abuses of power are nothing new.

Power is a dangerous thing. It takes a person of great self-awareness and spiritual strength to have power and not abuse it. Face it. We all covet power, most often in the workplace but also in other arenas. When we are placed in a position of power, whether by promotion or election, the result is very heady stuff. The temptation to use that power for personal gain is even more enticing.

There are those of us who collude with such abuses by way of silence. We may see a fellow employee be bullied, a female colleague be sexually harassed, a fellow Catholic make an outcry. We remain silent usually out of fear. “If I speak up, I’ll lose my job!” This collusion of silence is as serious a matter as the abuses of power themselves.

For those of us in positions of power, we must face the Shadow within and acknowledge how enticing is the temptation to use that power for personal gain. In an ideal world, persons of power would have spiritual advisors.

For the rest of us, we must face our fears and speak up or otherwise express our dissatisfaction. We can vote those abusing power out of office. We can support union action on behalf of employees being bullied or harassed. We can embrace the whistle-blower. We can take the time to listen to those victimized by power. Historically we know that the Voice of the People can have impact. From Viet Nam protests resulting in a president not running for reelection to Boston Catholics forcing the Church to oust a Cardinal who looked the other way, our history is replete with stories of the power of protest.

Yes, you may be harassed and shunned yourself if you speak up. I know, having once been labelled an “Enemy of the Church”. But for those of us trying to follow a spiritual path, the demands to speak up are unavoidable. The only place for silence may be in meditation.

ReflectionWhat have your experiences been with speaking out?

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Further Thoughts on Hope

These are the days of senseless shootings in Las Vegas and elsewhere, of destructive hurricanes, and earthquakes, of ongoing wars and potential new ones. These are days when hope may be elusive.

Hope for what? Here is the key. What do we hope for? Freedom from suffering? Riches? Success? Suppose we hope for simple things such as peace of mind. Or just peace. It seems more and more difficult to base that hope on anything substantial.

I often find myself unimpressed with our species. We appear to be a violent, self-centered species bent of destruction. And yet I know from Viktor Frankl and others how important is hope in the face of tragedy.

But hope is empty unless it has a real foundation. I can’t just passively hope for a “better day”. I must base that hope on something tangible.

Ironically, as a person who doesn’t like people much, I end up finding my hope in other people. One of the enduring images for me from the recent Hurricane Harvey was the long line of boats heading to Houston to help with rescue. It reminded me of the miracle of Dunkirk, another instance of people at their best. The recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and forest fires have been rich with small stories of people helping one another. Similar stories are emerging from Las Vegas, some of them reflecting people sacrificing their lives to protect loved ones.

Somehow our species also seems to be able to rise above fear and the instinct to survive. The results are dramatic and very moving. That is part of the blessing of my own work as a psychologist. I meet regularly with people who try to rise above tragedy and hardship, trying to face such stresses with dignity and courage.  I think of a man dying of AIDS telling me he looked forward to stepping into the light. I think of a combat soldier holding his dying friend in his arms, trying to comfort in the midst of bullets and bombs. These and many other heroes help me find hope.

Beyond that, if I have hope that peace is possible, I must try to live that life of peace in my own way, embracing the charge to love my enemy. And at dark moments, I remind myself of the words at the end of Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” As Morgan Freeman says at the very end of the film, “I hope…I hope.”

Reflection: How do you sustain hope in your own life?

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