“Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)
I wish I could say that alertness and steadfastness are effortless for me. They are not. At least not all the time. When life is smooth or just moderately stressful, I have decent capabilities. When under high stress with situations that go straight at my areas of woundedness, I mostly react poorly: running from the situation, becoming passive-aggressive, or getting irritable and angry.
I want to improve my resilience. Thus, my Catholic therapist and I are exploring how to bolster my ability to control my reactivity to stressful situations.
What is Catholic resiliency exactly? You could describe it as a process of embracing trials as crosses, helping to sanctify us, bringing us into loving union with God, and giving us peace. A shorter way of putting it would be to say that it’s having deep abiding confidence in God.
I have been a Catholic for five years and have thrown myself into our beautiful Catholic faith full-bore as a revert and through His grace. In prayer, I have received some consolations (and dryness, of course). I have a personal relationship with Our Lord. I pray that His will be done and that He will help me to forsake myself, pick up my cross and follow Him. I attend Mass faithfully, help with RCIA, and go to confession regularly. When the priest counsels me in confession, I do my best to implement his suggestions. Quite a few of these suggestions have borne fruit.
I sometimes get irritable and angry when I am under fire. I have childhood wounds, and when those get touched, I mostly can’t remember to trust in His love, be confident in His promise, and remain calm and at peace.
Recently, my Catholic therapist has directed me to a set of podcasts by Peter T. Malinoski, Ph.D., titled “Interior Integration for Catholics.”
The core of these podcasts are the concepts of God-Image (subjective, emotional images of God shaped by parents, childhood, and that come up unconsciously) and God Concept (our intellectual assent to the faith and our understanding of God via catechesis and our will).
I am learning that my God Concept is mostly sound, based on all the aforementioned zeal for the faith and my ongoing catechesis through Mother Church. Of course, there is room for continued learning and understanding. Then, there are those areas that will always remain a mystery and that require my humility.
For times of stress and when under fire, my area of opportunity seems to be the God Image.
Without going into a lot of detail, my situation is such that there was severe rejection and abandonment in childhood. This negatively affects my unconscious, subjective God-Image.
I am just at the very start of this process of repairing my God-Image, but so far the guidance on how to heal my broken God-Image is to develop a deep sense of and pray on the five (5) psychological conditions for a secure attachment to God (developed by Brown & Elliott):
1) To feel and sense deeply that I am seen and known by God
2) To feel and know deeply that I am safe and secure with God
3) To have a confident sense that I am comforted and reassured by God
4) To have a confident sense that God cherishes me, rejoices in me, and delights in me
5) To know, at a deep level, that God wills what is best for me
I have been praying on the above five conditions and will continue to do so and bring this to Him in the Eucharist and confession.
It’s too early to tell whether my efforts will bear long-lasting fruit, but Condition 1 (seen and known) and Condition 4 (cherishes, rejoices in, delights) are setting off subtle shifts in me already. What do I mean? I mean tears. Yes, I know for some of us Catholic men or men in general—not a comfortable topic.
However, I believe that tears are healing. Childhood trauma created a desert of sorts, a dryness in me. As an eight-year-old, I went into overdrive to harmonize my relationships to the best of my ability, using whatever clues I had as an eight-year-old to make “everything better.” My eight-year-old take was that crying did not make it better. People that cry are considered bothersome, I figured. My mother was already suffering from depression; she certainly didn’t need a lot of crying when the family was falling apart. “Buck up, figure it out, and don’t cry and make it even worse for mom” was the motto.
Forty-five years later, what is the point? Well, that is precisely the question. The fact is that I have a deeply-seated wound that lives on and sometimes causes injury to my brothers and sisters when I am engaged in very stressful situations. Why deal with this now? Certainly not because I want to start up a lot of resentments or play the victim. Rather, it’s because I want to trust Him completely, deeply, and unshakably. More so than I have been able to trust him over the past five years. I want to come to God with my deepest, oldest wound, in complete trust that He will know what to do.
Thus, I will keep begging God in prayer to heal me, meditating on those five conditions for a secure attachment to Him, bringing myself to Him in the Eucharist and confession, and not worrying about any tears that may come.
David McHugh grew up in Germany and currently lives in northern California. He is married to Maya and enjoys spending time with their blended family. David works in banking and helps with RCIA in his local parish. He enjoys tennis, reading, and religious and creative writing. In 2020, he self-published a short suspense novel, Point of Convergence. He also writes a religious column for St. Peter’s Church that is published in the Dixon Tribune.