Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wholistic Psychology

Fear, worry, and anxiety can overload the system leading it to close down (depression). Psychologist and author, Edward M. Hallowell, writes,

"Excessive worry is an exhausting and dangerous problem for millions of Americans. People who worry a lot suffer, as do the people close to them. Some people worry so intensely that worry becomes much more than an annoyance: it hinders their work, their personal lives and both…Like high blood pressure, excessive worry can make you physically sick, it can even kill you.” (Worry, xi)

Hallowell regards much of this thinking as irrational and resorts to cognitive therapy to identify irrational, counter-productive thinking and to correct it:

"As the negative thoughts pour in, you must question them realistically and logically. Instead of blandly saying, “Don’t worry, be happy,” you ask with a critical eye, “How much danger am I actually in? Are these catastrophic outcomes I’m imagining the only alternatives? What am I basing these conclusions on? Is there another point of view that makes any sense?” (257)

This is just good-old-common-sense, the very wisdom that God grants us! However, Hallowell also notes that many engage in demeaning self-talk like, “I’m an Idiot,” or “I’m just going to fail again,” a form of self-castigation (punishment). These too he addresses with cognitive therapy in hope of replacing the irrational thinking with the rational. But is rationality the problem?

Many find relief by inflicting themselves with either physical or mental wounds. Oddly perhaps, there’s an inner logic to this masochistic behavior. The evidence for this is that it can bring temporary relief or even pleasure. Just ask the masochist!

Although rationality is a significant issue, there are deeper issues at play, like pain and pleasure. Simply showing the “irrationality” of hurting oneself fails to address these deeper issues. These must be faced by uncovering the hidden meanings of masochism. Why do we chasten ourselves when we fail or do wrongly? For one thing, we have internal standards that we must meet. We believe that we are worthy of punishment when we fail these standards. After we’ve been punished, we feel we’ve atoned for our sin and can once again enjoy ourselves. But where does this script come from? Why must we pass through the passageway pain and punishment in order to get to the banquet hall?

Perhaps we’re born with a script that says, “If I mess up, I’m not a good and worthy person and must pay a price.” This script does seem to be pervasive and tends to explain why humankind desperately avoids failure, ridicule, rejection, and criticism—anything that might convey a sense of shame and unworthiness. If we don’t pay the price through masochism, there are a wide variety of other techniques available: blame-shifting, denial, repression, self-righteousness, elitism, workaholism, substance-abuse and even compulsive do-gooding—whatever it takes to prove our worthiness and to live with ourselves!

However, this is no more than masturbation. We have a need, and we satisfy it—a lonely, tortured, un-ending process! Instead, Christianity answers that we were never meant to forgive or punish ourselves. Instead, we were created for relationship, through which our psychological requirements can be satisfied. We know intuitively that there must be a payment. It is because of this intuitive understanding that primitive peoples have long realized that they need to make reparations, and they do this through their offerings to their gods.

Hallowell’s ultimate answer for worry is, “The situation isn’t so bad; you can do it!” We can’t do it! Human history is a tearful indictment against this presumption. Ironically, Hallowell has placed another burden upon our shoulders—the weight of our own struggling lives. We have to confront the threats; we have to change our deeply-imbedded thinking; we have to prove ourselves! In contrast to this, Christ offers the very opposite reassurance:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29).

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