Mental health and relationship to God
Posted 02 December 2005 - 05:38 PM
There is a fine line in the center of this discussion that perhaps might prove fruitful, and that is the one that divides the event[s] of childhood from the child's actions in response to them. Not to downplay the traumatic nature of the events, but to empower, in pop-psychological terms, the child...
We are born to be broken, and some of us start earlier than others in the more horriffic parts... Many are butchered in the womb itself... So that we can take responsibility as children for what we do and did about what happened to us, without in any way lessening the responsibility of the parent or other adult for inflicting the trauma... To blame self or other is counter-productive, for it focuses on blame... And the cure of the soul in this condition is the turning to God, and the accepting of self-responsibility, and divine intervention... Worldly interventions are but stop-gaps...
This is what I have found to be true in my own person... Where trauma began very early indeed...
It may not apply to everyone...
The Church seeks to establish this relationship with God, and will perhaps seem insensitive to the neediness of the afflicted... I hope we are not, but are looking to a more substantive emergence that is not born of soulish, but of God's, interdiction...
And the problem with blaming the adults is blame. It is true that children have this tendency to assume responsibility for the adults, and this is wrong. But the cure is not to blame the adults, but to simply acknowledge the facts as facts, thereby neutralizing them, and then moving into self-responsibility for self, and turning to God...
Lord please let this be read softly...
Posted 02 December 2005 - 08:11 PM
Now, everyone suffers. That is the great leveler. That is what makes us all equal. No one has gone through life without suffering. The degrees of suffering, the kinds of suffering are different and, yes indeed, some suffering, especially at a young age, does life long damage. But the principles of Christianity apply in all cases, and in all cases, if put into practice, you will experience spiritual progress from where you were. Even psychotics can benefit from practicing the principles of our tradition, chemical therapies notwithstanding.
In particular, a person abused as a child must not wait for the parent to take responsibility as an excuse not to work at their own spiritual health. One may not be responsible for the abuse, but we are all guilty of mistreating others at some point or other. We must forgive, and we must change our own lives and our own thinking and our own perspective.
A good source on this is the chapter in the second volume of GULAG II that describes Solzhenitsyn's conversion.
Posted 02 December 2005 - 10:33 PM
I still disagree with you and *strongly*. In order for the adult child to recover they must place responsibility where responsbility lies, with the adults who were responsible for them as a children.
How many of you are in recovery? AA and it's related affiliates is a path of repenteance, in fact the American contribution to the path of repentance.
I still find the thought of the last two posters to be unhealthy. I am not willing to entertain the thoughts of anyone who has not been through recovery. I have been damaged by too many dry drunks serving in positions of authority in the church to put it simply. It does not matter if the drinking stops. So what. Where is the recovery? Show me somebody with 20 years of sobriety and then I will listen.
I find this thread to be a *most* unproductive discussion.
Posted 02 December 2005 - 11:30 PM
I continue to find this conversation very interesting; many thanks to those who have posted their thoughts. I agree entirely with Owen that one of the problems is faced in the modern day is to assume that only modern categories of psychology, psychiatry and theraputic methods have the potential to deal rightly and effectively with the conditions facing human persons in the world. Not that they should be in any way belittled; but the assumption that 'these and no other' are the means to health and recovery, is to deny any sensibility to the fact that the Church and the people of God have been dealing with such problems for two-thousand years and longer. It is also to call into question some of Christianity's chief confessions of human nature, which must underlie any discussion of the abuses and illnesses of that nature, which have been to some degree discussed above.
As to one of the most recent objects of discussion: blame. I am not a therapist and make no claims in that area; but in various roles I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of abused and maltreated children and young people, and my experience with these has been universally that 'blame' is always a negative -- which is entirely in accord with what the Church teaches. The natural first-reaction of a child, to blame the self, is immensely self-destructive; but there is also the observable truth that merely re-assigning blame to another 'cures' that self-destruction with another disfiguration of self -- a kind of deep-rooted torture of relating and knowing others, through 'blame', that has repurcussions throughout life. As Arsenios said above, the matter of acknowledging 'the facts as facts', and dealing with the responsibilities associated with them, is in line with the Church's tradition of dealing with the passions (in these cases, those inflicted upon us by others) in a manner that does not raise others.
Posted 02 December 2005 - 11:40 PM
As a Psychiatrist but not an expert in theology I have found this discussion very thought provoking. I suppose I have only two points to make. Firstly, I think there is some confusion between illnesses such as schizophrenia which we are finding out more and more are really biological illnesses like diabetes versus personality disorders. Let me add schizophrenia is an illness which is characterised by delusions and hallucinations and usually begins in early adulthood. It is not having a "split personality". Like all biological illnesses spiritual assistance is vital and miracles can happen. What I worry about is that these people who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society are not further stigmatised by the church. I know locally our priests are very protective and supportive of these people and help educate their families.
My second point was to do with people who have been abused as children. In a way I think everyone is right. Of course the children are not to blame. However, when they become adults , if they then don't take responsibility for their actions as adults, they will never be well or have a contented worthwhile life. The same I think goes for people abused as adults. Also if people hold onto bitterness they continue to suffer (the abuser often knows nothing about it).
Posted 02 December 2005 - 11:47 PM
Now I disagree with you, Oxford professor of theology and all. Oh boy.
I am not talking about blame. I am talking about placing responsibility where responsibility belongs. That is not the same as blame.
I do not see how this discussion is productive. I have found it to be an *immense* source of frustration. It may that I am the only liberal person in this community, I do not know, but I find my self *sorely* disappointed by this thread.
I even called my Bishop and told him about it and he told me not to participate in internet discussions, they were a waste of time. And I said "but this one is moderated by a professor of theology at Oxford and it has Father George Morelli on it".
Come on guys, you can do better than this.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 12:54 AM
Actions take place in a continum. If people do not identify the source of their actions, childhood, they will never recover. There is a form of therapy called object relations that deals with this very thing. In other words, the lack of responsiblity in the adults in a child's life does affect the child's future life as an adult.
I will not touch the word abuse.
People do not *hold on* to bitterness. They are *made* bitter by their suffering.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 01:07 AM
People do not *hold on* to bitterness. They are *made* bitter by their suffering.
This is an incomplete, or somewhat unbalanced, comment. Yes, people can be made bitter by their suffering; but people can also hold on to bitterness, expanding it. This is not an either/or question. Actual human affliction is far more complex. Most persons who experience bitterness caused by suffering deal with an intricate struggle: not only identifying the real source of the original bitterness, but also dealing with the interiorisation of that response and reaction that engenders bitterness elsewhere and in other contexts. It is partially this that makes addressing such issues so complex: it is a matter also of recognising how that source has engendered reactions and actions that go far beyond its original context. This has been a point that others have addressed in various ways in earlier posts. The complexity of human suffering, especially what we would today call 'mental suffering', cannot simply be reduced to a series of causes with patterned events. This is further one of the Church's most basic teachings on the human person: organic creatures of will and experience, react and respond to various events in ways that reach far beyond the immediate circumstances of those events, and do in fact have ramifications for the way one acts, thinks and feels in dramatically other situations. It is not a matter of shifting responsibility, but of understanding the complexity of the human person and of human experience.
Further, the blanket statement that suffering leads to bitterness is also not globally true -- another important part of the Church's vision of human reality. The effects of suffering are bound up in the context in which suffering is experienced and approached. There is suffering that is deadly and destructive, and there is suffering that is transfiguring and transforming. Simply saying 'suffering is bad and has bad effects' is to take observations of a very limited experience of human reality, and globalise it to a universal. This the Church does not allow of us, for human reality is far more complex.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 01:18 AM
If an adult abuses a child, whether it be physically or emotionally, the adult should take responsibility. Sadly, alot of the time they do not. If a child grows up in a chaotic household (as I did) due to whatever reasons (mine were alcoholism, drug abuse, schizophrenia, elder abuse), the parent(s) should take responsibility.
However, the question is "What does 'taking responsibility' look like?" Acknowledging they made a mistake? Acknowledging their alcoholism? Once acknowledged, then what? What will satisfy the abused child who is now an adult? Often it does not.
What about when the child becomes an adult, like me? Olympiada, you're looking for someone who is suffering severe depression, to the extent of asking God to not let her wake up in the morning? Add panic attacks. You want someone who is on the path to recovery (post 71)? Look no further. I'm your girl.
Do I want my parents to take responsibilty for how they neglected to care for me and to provide a safe and calm home, one that was secure and stable? They think they did! And truthfully, they did the best they could. However, there has been some acknowledgment of the problems with the individual who lived with us who was schizophrenic. Has that made my depression go away? Has that stopped the panic attacks? No.
What has helped is taking responsibilty <u>for myself</u>, for <u>my reactions</u>, for <u>my own illness</u>. How have I done that? Through regular confession, regular communoin, a lot of counseling, a lot of talking, and a whole lot of prayer. By using the medicine the Church has provided for me to heal from my sin, which has been my unhealthy reactions to the abuse.
Their acknowledgment has not given me one bit of satisfaction. Actually I'm glad because I think that would make me feel a prideful, smart-aleck type of self-satisfaction. What has happened as <u>I've</u> worked on myself and my reaction, is forgiveness and compassion for them. I've come to realize even at a deeper level that they suffered just as much as me.
So responsibility goes both ways Olympiada. Look inward, look to God, and the Church for the healing necessary to move on and pray for those who have hurt you (and me). It is only then that true Godly healing and forgiveness can happen.
How do I know? Because it's happened to me.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 02:55 AM
I never meant that the person who committed the abuse was not responsible for their actions. It would be best for them to admit responsibility, for the person they harmed and actually also for themselves. The problem is, often as in Athanasia's case, the perpetrator will never admit responsibility. If the person who has been abused does not take personal responsibility for their actions as an ADULT it will be difficult for them ever to have peace. They may even end up abusing their own children.
I am not minimising the pain of those who have been the victims of abuse in childhood especially. I work with people who have been abused in therapy. I sometimes feel traumatised by hearing what they have been through, so I can only imagine what it is like to actually have experienced the abuse. What object relations therapy is very focused on is how early relationships affect how we relate to others and feel about ourselves for the rest of our lives. The therapy is focused on helping people who have had problems in early relationships understand what has happened and be able to improve the quality of their lives through their understanding. This is a very simplistic explanation of a complex topic.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 04:19 AM
And they tell me that the real help came from the inside, and that the outer 'help' of mental health professionals, while supportive and kind, really did not amount to much in their overcoming the issues that held them. But that divine intervention did... And that upon that intervention, they knew what had occurred, and what was the part of the adults in the genesis of the problem, and what was their response to it... And how it was that their response was what was giving trouble, and the inner demons that implanted themselves by means of that response... And the fleeing of those demons at the approach of divine intervention... And another who, in the face of horrific abuse, was given 'forgetfulness' of the event... And now struggles to remember [western psychotherapy]... And may come to not doing so, for the medicine of the Church does not require such remembering...
And Athanasia is right. The medicine of the Church, beginning with the prayers of exorcism at baptism, and the partaking of the holy Mysteries of confession and communion, and the prayers and the repentance of the Church, is a medicine that overcomes these kinds of issues.
I do agree with Olympiada that calling a spade a spade is important, and closing our eyes to adult abuse is sinful and wrong, yet the cure of souls must include both victim and victimizer in its scope, [and not necessarily together!] And that entails forgiveness and repentance and dispassion and love...
I remember asking a mental health worker in our parish about a 'situation' of potential abuse in the parish by a severely abused potential abuser, and the response shocked me, because I expected a patristic solution interwoven with western conceptualizing, and what I got was basically a western approach that involved legal [child protective] intervention, drug and psycho-therapy, and had, in a word, nothing to do with the Church... With the somewhat hissed admonition that IF I did not act on the suggestions made, and the child was harmed, it would be my responsibility...
So I just pray for both, and let matters develop - It is not mine to do, and yet I maintain close friendship with the sounded family, and trust in the healing power of confession and repentance, and can report that there is not a phone-call network in place, so that when it gets too tough, one call and relief is at the door in 5 minutes or less...
Granted this is anecdotal, but is a real matter that was dealt with in a real way and is so far working well where the inner pressures are awesome... The abuse story there is utterly knee-buckling...
And there are worse in my community...
And we cannot afford to blink in the face of them...
I really do not know how priests manage to cope...
Posted 03 December 2005 - 07:29 AM
In some, indeed in most cases it can. I got interested in psychology when I discovered that DID patients (Dissociative Identity Disorder; formerly called multiple personality) is caused by child abuse; 97% of these DID patients were sexually abused in early childhood. My graduate studies have been in microbiology. My undergraduate degrees are in biology and psychology. Until I learned about DID and attended several grand round meetings for DID I was convinced that all major psychotic illnesses had a microbial etiology. We are now fairly certain that many of the obsessive compulsive and bipolar disorders have a bacterial etiology; specifically Streptococcus pyogenes. Can you imagine something as mundane as a sore throat can cause such a life long “mental” problem? . And why not? That organism and many others adversely affects other tissues in the body when it causes rheumatic fever; particularly the heart and kidneys. Why not neural tissue? Why not an unfortunate combination of bacteria or bacterium infected with a virus or some combination of viruses causing other major psychosis? But the DID patient is purely a product of abuse (usually sexual) by others during early childhood.
I am bemused when I recall listening to researches asking dental patients who had periodontal disease (of all things) if they had other systemic disorders (usually some gastric ulcer) and referring them to a psychiatrist or psychologist for counseling to teach them how to deal with their “obvious emotional distress” that was causing their teeth to fall out and their ulcers!!! But now we know that a bacteria, Helicobacter pylori is the culprit; and we now treat such patients with antibiotics rather than a strict diet, the anti-acid Tagamet and psychotherapy! Tagamet indeed! What a joke; it once was a strict prescription drug; but when the demand for its use in ulcer treatment went to zero it was suddenly OK to sell it over the counter!! Really makes you wonder; doesn’t it? Yeah really. When attending school I came across a researcher who was dissecting human aortas and found that most of those who had died from cardiac occlusions had bacteria in the sclerotic tissue of the occluded aorta! Yet we insist that obesity is the cause of heart disease; meanwhile very physically fit guys drop dead form heart disease and many who have been morbidly obese all their lives live to their 90es!! I am convinced that some of the Clamydia are to blame for many heart problems; I think passanger air planes are dangerous in that they are a source of Clamydia infections because the air is “reused” by filtering and not freshly pumped from the outside (this is to save on fuel consumption!). I could go on and on.
I truly believe that psychiatry/psychology has a place in medicine . Psychiatry for treating psychotics and some neurotics with counseling and psychotropic drugs; and psychologists to treat neurotics and the truly emotionally abused that resulted in some psychosis such as DID.
In science everything has a cause and effect. We just have to learn to look in the correct places when searching for the cause.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 09:22 AM
Regarding my discussions with Elder Paisios, Father Sophrony and his words about Saint Silouan, I am more than happy to discuss this with you. I would suggest we do it by email, as it is quite involved, and as I watch this thread unfold, I see sadly, that the very wonderful potential of Monachos, can be easily eroded by quick postings.
Some time ago Dr.Steenberg suggested everyone take a deep breath before posting. I think we all need to pay heed to his advice.
Allow me a few personal reflections regarding this thread, indeed membership in this online community.
Jesus Christ of Nazareth is, as we confess True God and True Man.
The understanding of the Orthodox Church concerning the Petrine Doctrine is correct. It is Peter's confession that Christ is the Son of the Living God which is the essential, not the person of Peter.
True healing is found only in the Church.
There is only One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as stated in the Nicene Creed. That Church despite its human fraility is the Orthodox Christian Church.
The great gift of God to humankind is the understanding of Christ found in the Orthodox Church.
If one moves outside being a disciple of Christ and does not see His humility and the consequent necessity that we acquire this grace, then what are we left with?
Though the mystical theology of the main Faiths appears similar in many areas, there is in fact a great difference.
True healing of any ailment is the grace of God.
This healing is given by our Church when we approach Her Priests with Christ-like humility.
We are commanded not to judge.
This is the easiest way to lose grace.
Let us take the example of just one Saint, one amongst a multitude.
I suggest St. Seraphim of Sarov because he is well known and as it has been said by so many so many times,if one person finds this grace, many are saved.
May Christ and His Most Pure Mother comfort and protect us all.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 02:35 PM
By complex, I do not think Mr. Steenberg is using the term in the conventional sense of, gee, this is very complicated. By complex, he is using the term in its scientific sense, which is to say that there are layers of reality that overlap, and a connectedness between things and processes that otherwise might appear to us to be discreet phenomenon. One cannot simply extract one out of the whole and make it the only thing. Likewise, simplicity in our tradition does not refer to a kind of oversimplification of problems -- a kind of reductio absurdum -- but rather it refers to the experience of harmony, union, and consistent structure to reality that we can examine with clarity. So, as Qohelet said, life is simple. Man's complex problems are of his own devising.
Most mental disorders have to do with a false desire to control reality, along with a false process of intellectualizing reality. The first treatment is simplicity. To acquire a spirit of simplicity. It is not necessary to analyse the cause of the mental disorder in any definitive or absolute sense. We can become so obsessed wiht causality, assuming that just by knowing the cause of some disturbance somehow the healing will follow. The problem is that there is a virtually unlimited chain of causality and at some point looking for the cause will drive us even more nuts! Particularly if we are deluded into thinking that it is an immanent cause only.
The spiritual principle of simplicity is key, so that the mental disturbance can not be used as an excuse to assume that the person is somehow unique and not connected to reality as a whole.
Now, the Church does not reject material causes. It does not reject the existence of microbes! Lord knows our religion is very physical. Taste and see that the Lord is Good! We even maintain that sanctity can be physically determined through bodily incorruption after death! But in any treatment of a physical ailment, there is always a transcendent cause and effect.
Which means that we might touch on the subject of exhorcism for a minute. Unfortunately, the Church, but especially the Roman Church, has tended to reduce exhorcism to a liturgical ritual. But that is not my understanding of our tradition. It is essentially the fact that the demons cannot reside where the truth is present. Demons exist in the presence of lies. Since all men are liars, we are all, to some extent, infected by and afflicted by some demonic influence. Exhorcism usually involves some other person who has attained a sufficient state of spiritual equanimity so that the demons can be confronted without infecting that other person. We also think of exhorcism has being a dramatic, singlular event in time, when it fact it is the whole process of living a life of spiritual honesty and purity, with guidance from others, and from our Tradition.
Most of us live our lives on a very superficial level. We live our spiritual lives on a very superficial level. If, however, we are confronted through an event, or another's observation, that we are, say, bitter, for example, or angry , almost congenitally, or obsessed about something, boy look at how the demons react in order to protect themselves! They are parasites that need a host and if we threaten the host with death, i.e. the kind of death that leads to rebirth in Christ, the demons resist, and create a wall, utilizing every conceivable rational argument and "defense mechanism." This is why submitting to obedience to God, usually through someone who tells us what we are doing wrong, or what is wrong about our thinking, is such an important aspect of our tradition, because we cannot see in us what another might see.
Of course, this tradition of submitting in obedience has often been abused in our tradition. It is the unforgivable sin to be in a position of spiritual authority over another and abuse that authority in such a way that robs another of his freedom and dignity and turns religious doctrine into a burden and a curse, when its purpose is to free us from the demons.
However, God is a consuming fire and according to our inner disposition, He either illuminates or burns.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 03:13 PM
I think Mr Jones has largely addressed the particular points of clarification I would have wanted to raise in response to your (Vasilis') comments on my earlier message. I still stand by my earlier comment, 'mental suffering cannot simply be reduced to a series of causes with patterned events', when it is taken in the context of the broader remarks I was making in that message (my no. 870, above). My point there was certainly not that specific causes do not have specific effects, but rather that the complexity of the human creature and human experience is such that the singular effects of singular causes are not the whole story of interior suffering. No one denies that the experiences of one part of life (early childhood in particular) have effects on mental states later in life; this 'modern understanding' has been well understood in the Church since the time of the Gospels. But there is not a one-to-one equation of suffering-to-cause that suffices for the healing of the human person. To use Owen's words, 'there are layers of reality that overlap, and a connectedness between things and processes that otherwise might appear to us to be discreet phenomenon. One cannot simply extract one out of the whole and make it the only thing.'
One of the abiding desires of the modern world is to over-simplify (in a way, and here I repeat Owen's comment, that patently does not equate to the Orthodox concept of 'simplicity'), and in the realm of our present discussion this has clear ramifications in the urge to believe that the agonies of the interior life are like flip-switches of cause and effect -- the belief that if all the 'switches' or events that have caused a given 'response' can be accurately identified and addressed, that address eliminates its the response; and if we might multiply this to all the causes, all the effects are healed. Human reality is simply more complex. Causes have effects; but effects mingle, and generate others. Associations form between effects and other causes, other effects. Our will and our freedom interact with the causes and their results, we mingle our will from self with those realities thrust upon us; we interiorise and exteriorise; we habituate as well as move on. It is for such reasons that the Orthodox approach to healing of the interior life does involve the deep examination of those 'causes' of certain behaviours, mental sufferings, etc.; but does not limit or restrict the approach to healing merely to this discovery and redress. Questions of 'what happened then?' are always united to questions of 'what am I doing now?'
Posted 03 December 2005 - 04:12 PM
I have listened to many people's stories. I have found that among the members of the church, many are reluctant to enter therapy. In the arena of marriage, many women are afraid to confront their spouses wrong doing and would rather let them commit adultery, then a bad marriage. Sad but true. This cuts across cultures: American, Romanian, Russian.
What does this have to do with mental health and relationship to God?
Well especially in the arena of marriage and family, women and children are *vulnerable*. There is a double standard. A man can play the whoremonger and get away with it while the woman is expected to put up with it. This obviously causes mental suffering.
Or children, who are at the mercy of their parents are subject to much mental suffering.
Often times the members of the church judge the intervention of the law such as the police or child protective services and say family matters should stay family matters. This is how abuse is perpetuated from generation to generation.
And again, what does this have to do with mental health and relationship to God? Well I would say that human suffering caused by other humans interferes with the human's relationship to God. And this suffering can be compounded by those who do understand.
My interest now is to how to deal with prejudice in the church towards psychotherapy, child protective services and the police, as well as education such as child development.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 04:32 PM
What to do? First we need to recognise how this same demon roams around in our own hearts & how much damage this demon has done to us as the image & likeness of God- and then to others. And then we need to recognise in what way Christ is calling us as our chief responsibility to co-resurrect man and creation through Him. What we are talking about though is ascetic and self-denying love so that we will be delivered and reborn.
To see this and acknowledge it let alone struggle against it is extremely difficult because this demon of self-worship is so very tasty and addictive. As Owen says we rationalise in any possible way to defend this destructive treasure of ours. So we see the basic problem is really pride- self-protective & blind to its own deeper good- that must be recognised and then struggled with. And the only possible way to counter to this is by seeing our first friend as humility. This is why turning to Christ in confession, through spiritual counsel- and also talking to others with an open spirit- is crucial.
In terms of what Matthew S said above about not over-simplifying matters. If I could just add something. I think it is important to recognise how this arises from passion- specifically from pride. Either our modern tendency to try to 'seize the truth'; or to blame others. The truth of things is to be found in being humble both in mind & heart.
In Christ- Fr Raphael
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