Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Way, the Truth and the How of Life

Most bad homilies can't get down to the level of "how".  A priest can stand up and say we all need to love one another and be applauded.  If he dared to say, "This means stop using contraception.  Stop supporting abortion or politicians who enable it.  Stop cheating on your husband or wife.  Get away from porn.  Stop sleeping around.  Stop paying starvation wages.  Stop harboring grudges.  Stop pilfering from work.  Stop dissenting from Church teaching.  Stop ignoring the Catechism.  Stop sacrificing your family for the sake of earning more money," he'd get stoned.

Even a detailed explanation of how suffering can be redemptive, of how the cross operates in our lives, of how we can use God's grace to get better - these things are left unsaid.

This is one of the reasons psychology is so popular.  Strange mixture of art and science that it is, it is a kind of practical "how to".  It is "sacramental" in that way.  It is all about healing the soul on a day to day basis.

***

Here's an example of how psychology is able to do something a vague and fuzzy homily can't.

I have come across a few sites that have a stunning insight into a type of woman I've known well (many of them are actresses; at least one such woman is a relative) - a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder.  

One site describes what it must be like for a guy to date a woman like this.

Is the girl you're dating very seductive, explosive, charming, warm, wild, ecstatic, fantasy-fulfilling and emotionally vulnerable? Does she think you have such a sweet, sexy voice?
She thinks you're the funniest guy on the planet. And you think she is so brilliant. She is absolutely without any hang ups. She enjoys just being with you. She ignores all the other men around her and fixes her gaze upon your eyes. She tells you all the stuff you want to hear. She has a remarkable talent to focus on your greatness. She has an amazing ability to mirror your attributes to appear like you. Thus, you feel an instant connection.
She engages you to her life story. The numerous stories of childhood betrayals in her life keep you intrigued. The drama in her life surpasses the TV soap operas. She starts her story as an abandoned child. She narrates how her mother was abusive. Sometimes, there is some kind of incest. Her mother left her with relatives who molested her. She also tells about a fascinating story about how her mother taught her to shoplift.
She continues her story to describe her father. He is someone she hardly knew. He was a heroin addict. He loses his temper quickly. He would indulge in alcohol and extra-marital affairs. She recalls her miserable life with him.
She remembers how her mother would sleep with different strangers. She describes them as drinking beer and smoking. In her fear, she would hide under her bed. Sometimes, she admits seeing things that a child shouldn't see.
You ask her if she was molested. She will tell you that she had no memory of certain periods in her life. Then, she suddenly has crocodile tears in her eyes which turned to unstoppable sobbing. She said that she cannot talk about it further. You tell yourself, "This poor girl doesn't deserve this life. This girl has never experienced love before. I will show her what love is. I will rescue her from her horrible life."
In this phase of the relationship, she is very interested in your whereabouts. She likes to know the nitty-gritty details in your life. She adores your talents. She is interested in what you do. She puts you up on a high pedestal. You feel like a king around her. She tells you that you are everything she could possibly want in a man.

But that's Phase One.  Another site describes the brutality of the inevitable break-up.


Borderlines can leave solid, long-term attachments or marriages very suddenly. You'll be feeling shocked and bewildered by this--particularly when she cites frustrations or problems you were never made aware of, to justify her abrupt departure. You might vacillate between numbness and tormenting confusion, but what's even worse, is she'll have you thinking you're responsible for this outcome! ... You're left only with a sense of sheer exhaustion, painful craving and deep betrayal.
You cannot help agonizing over how she could leave--given all the times she told you this was the "best sex" she'd ever had, how much she needed you, and that she could never even imagine living without you! You've believed you were the center of her universe, and it was finally safe to let your guard down, and trust that she was here to stay. Losing a Borderline is like being in a hit-and-run accident. You're in trauma, and she speeds away without a moment's consideration for the carnage she's left behind. That's brutality!

And in more detail ...

Initially, the Borderline mirrors for you absolutely everything you've always wanted to believe about yourself. As the relationship gets underway though, they echo how you really feel about yourself, deep down beneath your props or the markers of your success (the fancy houses/cars, your prodigious skills in bed, your thriving business, your splendid physique, etc.). You keep trying to revive that first image of yourself (at least, in their eyes), but it's futile, which triggers core shame. It's this awful feeling of shame that drives your feverish efforts to win him or her back, so you can get free of it.
A Borderline makes you feel responsible for their deceitful and manipulative behaviors; they could make you believe that if you just married them, they'd be devoted only to you, and life would be marvelous--but don't buy it! The truth is, the closer you get to a borderline disordered person, the more they freak-out and push you away. This paradox is due to their attachment fears.
They'll act highly indignant if you question their actual motives, or even hint that they've behaved without the utmost honesty/integrity--but this is their defense against failing to be perfect, which (for them too) triggers toxic core shame.
You might not have had much experience with real Love during the course of your life, so these contradictory messages can feel horribly confounding. The initial stages with a Borderline are sublime--and quite unlike anything you've ever experienced before. You start feeling as if you've finally found what you needed, your whole life. Hence, when he/she begins pushing away or finding fault with you, you'll be thinking; "this is only temporary--and I'll just fix the problem, or wait until it blows over. Surely they really love me, so this must be a simple misunderstanding, or glitch in communication." ...

Love is an abstract concept for somebody with BPD--and it's associated with pain. The Borderline's yearning for love is experienced as dramatic, painful emotions that were confused with affection for an unresponsive/unavailable parent during childhood, that constituted unrequited (or un-returned) love. Could this have also been true for you?

I find this level of insight fascinating, for it is insight into the soul, into the psyche of psychology.

Most of what I've quoted above is written by a secular psychologist who does not consider herself religious.

When, I wonder, can those of us with faith in God and in the soul actually move toward a study of the soul and a care of it that even non-believing psychologists can muster?

This roadmap to the psychology of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is the kind of how our faith needs on a daily basis.  Such insight fleshes out the basic principles that we yearn to follow.  Christians must learn how to love - that is our primary vocation, and wisdom like this can help.

The saints generally had this kind of insight.  The saints are typically quite wise about the operation of the soul in the world, for in their earthly lives they knew the workings of God, which are revealed in the sins and sanctities of the soul.

They knew the Way, the Truth - and in a very practical way - they knew the How of Life.

May we pray for such know-how.


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