About this blogger:
Ronda Chervin received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Fordham University and an MA in Religious Studies from Notre Dame Apostolic Institute. A widow, mother, and grandmother, she currently teaches philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Write to her at chervinronda@gmail.com.
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"Bishops have a duty towards both wise and foolish. They have to rouse the devotion of the carnal people with material ornament, since they are incapable of spiritual things."
— St. Bernard of Clairvaux (†1153)

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Healing the Emotions
published 30 April 2011 by Dr. Ronda Chervin

A very popular book in the 70’s was entitled The Wounded Healer. It was written by Henri Nouwen, a priest psychotherapist. The book was about how most of us suffer different emotional wounds in childhood but, then, through prayer and counseling or spiritual direction, we need to become not Wounded Wounders but Wounded Healers.

Let me give you a simple example. A little boy of five is jumping around the house playing noisily with his brother. Whenever they make noise, if his alcoholic father is around, he runs into the room where they are playing and whacks them yelling “I deserve a little peace and quiet in my own home.”

In effect the father is being what we used to call “a kill-joy.” He could have calmly insisted the boys to go out in the yard or down to the basement to play, but instead he lashes out in anger. This could give the little boy the feeling that his father only wants him around if he is quiet, “seen and not heard.”

The father thinks that he is a very loving father because he works hard to “bring home the bacon,” but when the son grows up he may truthfully say that he can’t remember his father ever smiling at him or saying “I love you.”

Now let’s take our example a little further. Because he hated being yelled at and hit by his father, the boy, when he becomes a father, may never hit or yell at his kids, but he becomes a wounded wounder just the same.

How so? He may respond to annoyance and frustration by means of sarcasm as in “heh, kids, you think everyone’s deaf so you have to yell when you play.” Let’s say that he is sarcastic not only to his kids but also to his wife and to his employees.

Let’s step back now. As Christians we are taught that the highest value is love. We are all called to holiness, which I define as having nothing but love in our hearts. Clearly, being chronically angry in the form of yelling, hitting others, or sarcasm, is not loving.

Besides not being loving to others, it is also harmful to ourselves, because anger is the opposite of peace.

In the course of this presentation and the optional workshop after this on healing of masculine and feminine, I am going to offer opportunities for healing of toxic emotions that are obstacles to experiencing love and peace in our hearts.

Some of us think of being emotional as in itself negative. We think of sometimes out-of-control negative emotions such as fear, anger and sadness. We wish we had less of them and we wish we didn’t have to be the victims of those emotions when others experience them in an out of control manner.

Others of us think of emotions are largely positive. We think of emotional persons as free, not repressed, and “real.” We compare them to others we think of as “locked up,” cold, Stoical, distant and distancing.

The great Catholic philosopher, Dietrich Von Hildebrand in his book The Heart, distinguishes between different types of emotions. Emotions such as feeling miserable because too hot or cold due to the weather, or tired because of a sleepless night, are not within our control .

Other emotions such as anxiety attacks, rage, and melancholy can involve over-reactions. In themselves, it is not irrational to feel fear if there is an serial killer in your neighborhood, to feel angry about grave injustices, or to feel grief if a beloved person dies. But it is irrational to be so frightened of the serial killer that you hide you your house for years or to be so angry about the actions of a spouse that you kill him or her, or to be so grieved that you never get close to anyone again after the death of a loved one.

A lot of these negative emotions come from childhood. Anxiety can come from being neglected as a kid as in often left home alone when too young to cope. Anger can come from deprivation of basic needs in childhood such as being passed over because a parent preferred a sibling, or, worst case, being abused sexually or being battered, or being verbally demeaned. Melancholy can result from many deaths in the family. Counsellors know how to bring a person back to these painful experiences, offering healing insight and love, to break patterns coming from such wounds. Your own parish may have such counselors available without cost. My experience is that small daily frustrations trigger the over-reaction. For example, if a meal is delayed, I can feel irrational anxiety. A therapist taught me that this was probably due to being bottle-fed by a nurse as a child rather than with mother’s milk or mother’s close embrace.

Some emotions, however, are always rational and good. Von Hildebrand gives such examples as love, peace, and joy when these are responses to such realities as returning God’s love, having peace because of faith in the proved virtues of others, being joyful to see a member of the family after a long absence.

To return to the Wounded Healer image – when we speak of healing of the emotions what we hope for is that we may move from being dominated by negative out of control emotions into the positive rational emotions of love, peace and joy. When we are feeling such emotions our relationships to others become healing to them. We become soothing, comforting, delightful to others instead of being Wounded Wounders of them. A poster says, “no one heals himself by wounding another.”

Two main remedies for out of control emotions are psychological insight and deep prayer.

The insights that helped me the most had to do with chronic anger starting in childhood. Until I studied and participated in the system of Abraham Low, founder of Recovery, International (not 12 Step), I used to have 5 public fits a day. This is a free self-help group started in the 1940’s and now all over the world.

Here is the way Abraham Low would describe the angry father’s sarcasm. This man is a perfectionist. He thinks that life could be beautiful if only everyone else fell in line with his directives. But, according to Low, only realists are happy. Realists “expect frustrations every five minutes” and peacefully work around them. They expect the average instead of the perfect. Instead of wishing his kids were obedience robots, this father, knowing that kids are noisy, fixes up a room or a basement just for the kids to play in.

Here’s how I describe my own chronic anger, greatly diminished because of going to Recovery, International for many years. I think of myself as the heroine of a drama called life. I want everyone else to be either secondary characters or walk-ons who do and say what will enhance my ideal day. Since they refuse to accept these roles, I try to coerce them into doing so by yelling at them. That rarely works. So I feel weak, impotent, and miserable. To overcome those awful feelings, I try to get a “symbolic victory” by talking with my friends about how awful my family is. “Symbolic victory” is a term Low devised to explain why people like to be angry even though it makes them miserable and doesn’t work. We hate to feel weak. When we can’t get a real victory, we try to feel strong and victorious by putting others down, lower than us, through anger or sarcasm.

To express this idea, I entitled my Catholic book on anger: Taming the Lion Within: Five Steps from Anger to Peace. Now, often, if not always, when I feel angry, I ask myself whether it is because I want to be the heroine of my day and feel frustrated, and why I feel weak. I try to accept that others won’t go along with my plan and that it’s okay to be weak because that is REAL. I am weak in many respects.

Then, bolstered by my weekly Recovery, International meetings, I combine these insights with my spirituality centered in daily Mass, and prayer.

How does prayer help? Let’s look at the father’s sarcasm in terms of healing prayer. On the way home from work, the father says a rosary in thanksgiving for his family and asking Mother Mary to intercede for him about what he can realistically expect to find when he walks through the door of his house: that is, the average behavior of his kids and wife. Once a week he goes to an Adoration chapel at his parish. He lays on God everything in his life that bothers him. He sits quietly and begins to bask in God’s love. He hears in His heart Jesus telling him how grateful He, God, is for the many sacrifices made out of love for spouse and kids. When his sarcastic anger gets the best of him, instead of justifying his anger on the basis that “I’m angry because everyone else is obnoxious, so they are the problem, not me, he brings that out of control anger to Confession. When the problems become major crosses, the father identifies himself with Jesus on the Crucifix. He begs Jesus to bear those crosses with him, lest he fall into anger, anxiety, of despair.

The worst pain I ever experienced was when my son committed suicide 19 years ago. Over time healing came with a combination of insight and the healing love of Jesus.

When I asked how could a God of Love let my son do this, I thought of C.S. Lewis’ book the Problem of Pain. Basically his answer is that if God wanted free human beings vs. robots or dolls, he had to allow us to do things that cause others unbearable agony. If I could have stopped by son by coercing him, he would not have been free. Just the same, when C.S. Lewis went through his worst agony over the death of his wife, Joy, described in A Grief Observed, he was honest enough to admit that his answers in the Problem of Pain didn’t help him at all! He still started thinking, “Maybe there is no God or God is a sadist!” What finally brought him through was giving up trying to figure it out and just letting God reasssure him on an experiential level.

So, when these philosophical answers don’t suffice, I lie on the floor in a cruciform position and tell God, “I’m not getting up until you reassure me that it is going to be all right somehow in some way soon.”

When I do that, usually the situation that I find unbearable doesn’t change, but I feel God’s personal love for me enough to make it bearable after all. After my son’s death, when I was feeling such agony, these words from Jesus came into my heart and reassured me: “You son had his foretastes of heaven in the joys he had. You will find him in my Sacred Heart.”

Rudolf Otto, a Protestant theologian of the 20th century in his famous book The Idea of the Holy points out in his commentary on the Book of Job that the answers God gives Job are not that different from what the false friends said! What brings Job around is the experience of God’s Holy Presence.

In conclusion, to become Wounded Healers instead of Wounded Wounders, we need to seek insight into our negative emotions, through reading, spiritual director, and/or professional counseling, and we also need to pray in a deep way to give God a chance to heal us.

Between sessions I will be happy to pray over you for healing of your negative emotions or for your worst sufferings. Now I would like to read from a healing service. It is mostly from Fr. De Grandis, but slightly modified by me. You can more of this on his web.

Read from Taming the Lion

Dr. Ronda Chervin has many free e-books and audios on her website rondachervin.com. If you go to her website and read or listen and then want to correspond with her she will be available. Her schedule does not permit, however, responding to comments on the Blog, though she enjoys reading them. Dr. Ronda’s newest project is spiritualityrunningtogod.com.