Mental health and relationship to God
Posted 03 December 2005 - 05:00 PM
All right since no one else has dealt with the topic of *sex* and how it contributes to our mental health and our relationship to God, or lack thereof, and since Fr. Raphael alluded to it, I will deal with it.
I posit that our culture's, and when I say our culture, I mean the West, because that is where I grew up, our culture's relationship to sex is the root cause of our mental disease and our estrangement from God. Or one of the root causes. That's right, by the lack of the chastity in the West, starting with saying "auto-eroticism is ok" (meaning making love to ourselves), we get sick and estranged from God.
And if you want a patristic reference I recommend reading this piece of theology:
Fr. Georges Florovsky, "The Darkness of Night: Evil is Among Us": Chapter IV of the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. III: Creation and Redemption (Nordland Pub. Co., Belmont, Masachusetts: 1976), pp. 81-91.
florovsky_3-4-darkness.pdf (85.3 k)
Paul Evdokimov, The Struggle with God (Sister Gertrude, OP, translator; Paulist Press, Glen Rock NJ: 1966) (entire book).
evdokimov_strugglewGod1966.pdf (564.7 k)
And I am turning over another thought in my head, how the word 'lover' fits into patristic theology, which after some research in my Biblical concordance I may start a thread on.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 06:23 PM
I am a priest of nearly 18 years experience, and I am a psychologist longer than that (most of my practice has been with chronic and severly mentally ill patients) I have had my share of abused children, adults abused as children, abusers (both child and adult) of both children and adults. I am certainly very comfortable working in the unique world of people suffering from schizophrenia and the delusional disorders. I have worked with mentally ill persons of normal intelligence and those who are developmentally delayed (as well as DD people with no mental illness). I have worked with the very old and the very young, the rich and the poor, and on and on. I say all this meaningless stuff simply to establish the fact that I hope that I have gained enought experience to have some idea of what I'm talking about.
I noted with great interest Dr Bakas' clarification that there are mental illnesses with a biological component (such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc) and those that are attributed to environment and learning (particularly personality disorders). This is an important distinction as it affects prognosis and sometimes even the types of interventions used.
I also took note of Mr Kirikos' assertion that mental illness is caused by "bacteria". I have read some of the information on this and I think that it is indeed an important avenue of research and something that bears consideration - but it is not the universal cause of all psychosis as he seems to assert for example there are equally compelling studies that demonstrate a genetic disposition to mental illness (a "gene" for bipolar illness has been identified). Stress also is involved in this equation.
Dr Steenberg and Mr Jones both contributed the idea of "complexity" as in a multi-layered cause and illness and that is quite evident - there is no simple solution - a mental illness can have multiple causes which working together result in the disorder that finally emerges.
If there has been any ongoing theme, it has been that of "blame" or "responsibility" Ms Kane seems to be inexhaustible in voicing her opinion that the "responsible people" should take responsibility. And I have seen that kind of thought in action. It is a good thing to take responsiblility for one's own actions, but too often the practical result is that rather than take responsibility for one's own actions, we search for the "responsibile party" for our actions (thus there are adults who put the responsiblity for their adult behavior on their parents who abused them as children or who provided a chaotic home or whatever.) This is not taking responsibility, but abdicating responsibility - it is only continuing the harm long past its original event. By assigning the responsibility for our own behavior to someone else, we then create a legacy of being "blameless" or "not responsible" which we then pass on to the next generation and on and on so that the injury is never healed, the dysfunction is never ended but rather it is perpetuated from father to son to son to son and so on (or we could add mothers and daughters in there makes no difference in this case). At this point Dr Steenberg's comment that "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." becomes very relevant.
It is no accident that one of the consistent tenants of modern psychotherapy is the power of the "here and now" Too often patients will deal in the past or the future and not in the here and now. This is where the illness or dysfunction is most properly addressed, in the here and now (and it is no co-incidence either that God Himself is the eternal "here" and the eternal "now"). The assigning of responsbility for behavior to someone else takes the task out of the here and now and puts in in the "there and then". We can't change the past, we can't change other people; we can only control our own feelings, our own behavior, our own perceptions, our own lives. This is where we must focus.
Thus I can say that my childhood was bad and so it resulted in certain conditions in my present that I now have to deal with - but it is up to ME to deal with it. If I continue to react to my past as I was programmed by "those responsible", then I remain enslaved to those "responsible people" and my behavior is determined by them. I am "not responsible" so I can do whatever I want and its "their fault". This is not functional or healthy behavior, it is certainly not *Orthodox* behavior.
In this the Church and modern psychology are united - it does not matter what "cards" we have been dealt in life, it is our responsibility to "play the hand" (sorry to use a card playing analogy to describe Church practice). Yes, my childhood and my parents may well have determined certain aspects of my adult emotional makeup. Genetics and microbial conditions also have had a hand in who I am and the inner condition that I face. However it is MY responsibility to react to those conditions, it is MY responsibility to choose my actions, to choose to succumb to them or to overcome them, to choose to deny myself (and all the childhood/biological programming that make up "myself") and live in obedience to Christ and the Church. It is MY responsibility. But God in His infinite mercy and compassion has not left me alone in my responsibility. He gives me a spiritually healthy pattern of life to which to conform myself - the life of the Church, life in obedience to the Law of God. He gives me spiritually healthy role models - the saints. He gives me medicine and healing power that is stronger than anything I inherit or am given in this world - His grace. All I need to do is to follow the path that He sets out for me, under the care and guidance of my spiritual physician, living the life of the Church.
This is the true psychotherapy - this is true "mental health" to become like Christ and it is the Church the teaches us the way. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos has written well and patristically on this in his book, "The Illness and Cure of the Soul" when he describes the Church not as a theology or a religion but as a therapeutic course by which the soul is healed.
Modern psychology (and by extension psychiatry) is a good resource for us in that many insights and techniques have been developed for us to more easily see the condition of the soul, but they cannot cure - they can only control the symptoms. The true cure, the only cure, is the revitalization of the soul - rebirth in Christ and the transfiguration of the whole being by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The only place this cure can be found and accessed is in the life of the Church.
Fr David Moser
Posted 03 December 2005 - 07:06 PM
if you permit to me to share you this deep topic
infact, the whole topic -I think- is depending on a fact which is absent to me ... the fact is the Western effect on our pure mind ... and I mean by pure mind the pure values and concepts and view ... we had a pure humanity through baptism ..like a white cloth , but the effect of the world is hurting it. one of these values is the concept of love. today, in the globalization winds all the east and west are under threat of the 'Rock Culture' from a side ... and the 'Jihad terroristic social idea' from the other side. I want to begin from friend Olympiada's previous introduction here :
Dear Community Members,
All right since no one else has dealt with the topic of *sex* and how it contributes to our mental health and our relationship to God, or lack thereof, and since Fr. Raphael alluded to it, I will deal with it.
I believe there are many patristic resources cover this point , because love and sex were not absent from the early church community , and the evidence is that we still exist
I shall revise some books about it ... but till this moment (as I'm sunk in my study ) I just want to put a single verse :
"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. rom 12:2"
this prevents us from these winds.
note : dear Fr Raphael , I remember that your Rev. asked me from a long time about my name ..I asked a friend about my name in greek , yes, Mina is the coptic name which is equivalent to Menas in greek (but the coptic is the original because st.Mina was coptic)
Posted 04 December 2005 - 06:02 PM
"It is no accident that one of the consistent tenants of modern psychotherapy is the power of the "here and now" Too often patients will deal in the past or the future and not in the here and now. This is where the illness or dysfunction is most properly addressed, in the here and now (and it is no co-incidence either that God Himself is the eternal "here" and the eternal "now"). The assigning of responsbility for behavior to someone else takes the task out of the here and now and puts in in the "there and then". We can't change the past, we can't change other people; we can only control our own feelings, our own behavior, our own perceptions, our own lives. This is where we must focus. "
I am totally in agreement with our brothers in Christ, brother Steenberg and Father David Moser. I would like to add that am a fan of Steven Covey. In one of his lessons Covey posed this question “who ever said, or where was it ever written that we have to confess the sins of others?” Because to do so accomplishes nothing but more strife. I believe that for our own emotional well being to recognize the wrong someone may have committed against us should only serve the purpose helping us GET OVER IT by understanding why you feel thus or so and “embrace the dragon” so to speak; NOT TO BE AFRAID OF IT; BUT TO RECOGNIZE IT BECAUSE THAT IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN LEARN TO RATIONALLY DEAL WITH OURSELVES AND CONSEQUENTLY OTHERS. To recognize and be able to say to ourselves “O I know what is going on with me; I feel this way because thus and so. To understand your own emotions, take responsibility and deal with them, your emotions. Not to blame anyone and bathe in self pity. I think that the most common ailment causing mental distress is fear. And fear often brings anger; because ALL anger is nothing more than masked fear.
I have lived the effects of PTSD for many years, actually most of my adult life. And that was sorely exacerbated when my wife , +Betty+ became seriously ill due to complications of nephritic Lupus (the complication was a brain abscess due to a yeast infection brought on by the steroid medication used to treat the Lupus……a very complicated case. The medication used to treat the Lupus worsened the brain infection and the medication used to treat the yeast infection was killing her already Lupus ravaged kidneys). +Betty+ spent 63 days in the ICU; and a total of 9 months in the hospital. Finally she came out of the hospital and it was all due to the mercy and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There can be no doubt about that; though she was left with some disability. A side note: my wife and I attended a promotion party for a colleague. At that party my immediate supervisor, who was chief of the department of infectious diseases, came up to +Betty+ and asked her if she believed in miracles. +Betty+ told him that indeed she did; and his answer came back “So do I . Do you know why?”. +Betty+ said “No.” and he replied “Because I am looking at one!”
Soon after I (actually the Lord) got her out of the hospital, though grateful to God, I was still feeling very depressed due to my work and the fact that she was left with some disability along with her having to go to dialysis three times a week. One Sunday in Church during the Liturgy I was feeling my lowest and so I prayed; first confessing my faults and sins and then prayed this prayer "Lord, you said 'come unto me all ye that travel and are heavily laden, and I will refresh you'. Well, Lord I am here to collect on that promise" and IMMEDIATELY a force field or power came from the Iconostas Icon of Christ. Somehow I could even sense the power traversing the distance from the Icon of Christ to me. The force hit me it was so wonderful; it was as though I was cleansed of every worry or care. It was the most wonderful feeling I have even had in my entire life! I was floating on air! I was not crying at all but smiling from ear to ear. I don't know how to describe it; how my mind was cleansed from all that depression. Imagine a very dirty counter top and someone wiping it clean of all debris leaving the counter top glowing. And I was glowing! Our Lord said that such a light cannot be hidden under a bushel basket...it is out there for all to see. O GLORY! It was indeed “The peace that passeth all understanding!”
After the service was over we all went down to the Church hall for coffee and the priest, came up to me and put his hand on my arm, began to rub it up and down and asked "What has happened to you? You've changed! You have changed so much! What has happened to you? "
To my deep, deep regret I did not give him a truthful answer but some off the wall remark and just as suddenly the WONDERFUL feeling of peace left me. To this day I weep for that loss. I weep that I did not embrace my wife and try to extend that wonderful feeling to her and perhaps gain her complete healing of her kidneys and the partial paralysis she had on her left side. I am disgusted with myself that I did not immediately confess to my priest what the Lord had given to me My stupidity! My self-centeredness God please forgive me.!!
Posted 05 December 2005 - 02:21 AM
The article is now posted at http://www.orthodoxy...orelliAbuse.php
Posted 05 December 2005 - 05:21 AM
Sometimes God wounds the soul repeatedly with trauma in order to draw it near to Himself. In this atheist secular world sometimes trauma is the means by which God seeks to draw a soul near to Him. He just requires that one trust in Him, which is not easy for one who has been traumatized. But He chastises those He loves. Trust in God is the medicine to heal from trauma.
Posted 05 December 2005 - 10:27 AM
Thank you for the nice summarisation of the rather diverse scope of this discussion; it was helpful to see some of the main threads brought together.
One of the things that has become particularly clear over the course of the discussion is the degree to which the sense of the Church as therapeutic is not nearly-enough understood in broad surroundings. There tends to be a desire to separate 'psychology' from 'theology', which would have left the fathers of the Church aghast; and when at times they are brought together, there is a tendency to try to hold the theological views of the person and her healing accountable to modern advances in such fields, rather than holding the two in harmony with, and to some degree, accountable to one another. It's been encouraging to read remarks by many to the end of overcoming this common attitude.
Posted 06 December 2005 - 03:02 PM
Not knowing really where to post this, I will place it here in hopes that it finds its proper place.
First, I ask forgiveness in being slow in responding and in some cases seeming to offend Members by my statements. I take great care to not offend, but being human it is a common trait of mine.
Second, I ask your prayers as I am battling a rather severe physical illness which impairs my strength to do practically anything.
The great number of posts on this thread demonstrate our common shared humanity. We are all familiar with illness in all its varied forms.
As I was taught by my Spiritual Father, illness is always a blessing. If it is not taken as a blessing from God for our purification, then it becomes, to echo Dr. Steenberg's remark, a negative.
We are called to be disciples of Christ. This necessarily means following Christ to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Crucifixion and then depending on the grace of God entering into the great mystery of the Resurrection.
Posted 06 December 2005 - 11:26 PM
I am sorry for your troubles. I have been reading a lot lately about God's purification. It is painful, for me, a sinner.
And in this light mental illness such as depression or post traumatic stress disorder can also be seen as a blessing for purification of the mind, I suppose, so that it may be illuminated and deified, yes?
I often think on Christ's agony and Crucifixion, but never of His Resurrection. Those thoughts escape me. It is not time for them apparently.
Posted 07 December 2005 - 02:37 PM
<blockquote>BOOK I, CHAPTER 30 -- THAT THOSE WHO COMPLAIN OF CHRISTIANITY REALLY DESIRE TO LIVE WITHOUT RESTRAINT IN SHAMEFUL LUXURY.
If the famous Scipio Nasica were now alive, who was once your pontiff, and was unanimously chosen by the senate, when, in the panic created by the Punic war, they sought for the best citizen to entertain the Phrygian goddess, he would curb this shamelessness of yours, though you would perhaps scarcely dare to look upon the countenance of such a man. For why in your calamities do you complain of Christianity, unless because you desire to enjoy your luxurious license unrestrained, and to lead an abandoned and profligate life without the interruption of any uneasiness or disaster? For certainly your desire for peace, and prosperity, and plenty is not prompted by any purpose of using these blessings honestly, that is to say, with moderation, sobriety, temperance, and piety; for your purpose rather is to run riot in an endless variety of sottish pleasures, and thus to generate from your prosperity a moral pestilence which will prove a thousandfold more disastrous than the fiercest enemies. It was such a calamity as this that Scipio, your chief pontiff, your best man in the judgment of the whole senate, feared when he refused to agree to the destruction of Carthage, Rome's rival and opposed Cato, who advised its destruction. He feared security, that enemy of weak minds, and he perceived that a wholesome fear would be a fit guardian for the citizens. And he was not mistaken; the event proved how wisely he had spoken. For when Carthage was destroyed, and the Roman republic delivered from its great cause of anxiety, a crowd of disastrous evils forthwith resulted from the prosperous condition of things. First concord was weakened, and destroyed by fierce and bloody seditions; then followed, by a concatenation of baleful causes, civil wars, which brought in their train such massacres, such bloodshed, such lawless and cruel proscription and plunder, that those Romans who, in the days of their virtue, had expected injury only at the hands of their enemies, now that their virtue was lost, suffered greater cruelties at the hands of their fellow-citizens. <u>The lust of rule</u>, which with other vices existed among the Romans in more unmitigated intensity than among any other people, after it had taken possession of the more powerful few, subdued under its yoke the rest, worn and wearied.</blockquote>
The second passage cited was the second half of book 14, chapter 15:
<blockquote>BOOK XIV, CHAPTER 15 -- OF THE JUSTICE OF THE PUNISHMENT WITH WHICH OUR FIRST PARENTS WERE VISITED FOR THEIR DISOBEDIENCE.
[...]In short, to say all in a word, what but disobedience was the punishment of disobedience in that sin? For what else is man's misery but his own disobedience to himself, so that in consequence of his not being willing to do what he could do, he now wills to do what he cannot? For though he could not do all things in Paradise before he sinned, yet he wished to do only what he could do, and therefore he could do all things he wished. But now, as we recognize in his offspring, and as divine Scripture testifies, "Man is like to vanity." For who can count how many things he wishes which be cannot do, so long as he is disobedient to himself, that is, so long as his mind and his flesh do not obey his will? For in spite of himself his mind is both frequently disturbed, and his flesh suffers, and grows old, and dies; and in spite of ourselves we suffer whatever else we suffer, and which we would not suffer if our nature absolutely and in all its parts obeyed our will. But is it not the infirmities of the flesh which hamper it in its service? Yet what does it matter how its service is hampered, so long as the fact remains, that by the just retribution of the sovereign God whom we refused to be subject to and serve, our flesh, which was subjected to us, now torments us by insubordination, although our disobedience brought trouble on ourselves, not upon God? For He is not in need of our service as we of our body's; and therefore what we did was no punishment to Him, but what we receive is so to us. And the pains which are called bodily are pains of the soul in and from the body. For what pain or desire can the flesh feel by itself and without the soul? But when the flesh is said to desire or to suffer, it is meant, as we have explained, that the man does so, or some part of the soul which is affected by the sensation of the flesh, whether a harsh sensation causing pain, or gentle, causing pleasure. But pain in the flesh is only a discomfort of the soul arising from the flesh, and a kind of shrinking from its suffering, as the pain of the soul which is called sadness is a shrinking from those things which have happened to us in spite of ourselves. But sadness is frequently preceded by fear, which is itself in the soul, not in the flesh; while bodily pain is not preceded by any kind of fear of the flesh, which can be felt in the flesh before the pain. But pleasure is preceded by a certain appetite which is felt in the flesh like a craving, as hunger and thirst and that generative appetite which is most commonly identified with the name" lust," though this is the generic word for all desires. For anger itself was defined by the ancients as nothing else than the lust of revenge; although sometimes a man is angry even at inanimate objects which cannot feel his vengeance, as when one breaks a pen, or crushes a quill that writes badly. Yet even this, though less reasonable, is in its way a lust of revenge, and is, so to speak, a mysterious kind of shadow of [the great law of] retribution, that they who do evil should suffer evil. There is therefore a lust for revenge, which is called anger; there is a lust of money, which goes by the name of avarice; there is a lust of conquering, no matter by what means, which is called opinionativeness; there is a lust of applause, which is named boasting. There are many and various lusts, of which some have names of their own, while others have not. For who could readily give a name to <u>the lust of ruling</u>, which yet has a powerful influence in the soul of tyrants, as civil wars bear witness?</blockquote>
Interesting to note that in both locations, Augustine is apparently using the phrase to indicate a specific kind of lust for political dominance (taking the participle as object), rather than what I believe was being discussed earlier in this conversation, namely the dominated lust (which would read the adjective differently). Though in the second passage at least, it is being inculcated as part of a catalogue of lusts fallen and dominated in precisely the sense that was earlier spoken of -- indeed, that whole chapter is part of Augustine's exegesis on the 'I want to do what I do not do, and do not do what I want to do' reality indicated by St Paul.
Posted 07 December 2005 - 04:59 PM
Here is the quote: "And there are still many other kinds of lust, some with names and some without. For example, it would be difficult to find a specific name for that <u>lust for domination</u> which plays such havoc with the souls of ambitious soldiers and comes to light in every civil war."
It's difficult for me to follow the numbering system for chapters in this edition but I think it is in the Book xiv, chap 15 referred to by both Matthew S & Owen.
In Christ- Fr Raphael
Posted 09 December 2005 - 10:03 AM
The context of book 14 is wholly focussed on the nature of the sin of Adam and Eve, and the response -- both as issued by God, but also the 'inward response' that comes about in their own person's in reaction to the embrace of sin. This forms part of Augustine's consideration of 'original sin', for the details of which he has always been criticised by eastern counterparts. Rightly so, in many ways. But it is interesting to read, even in only the small passage from book 14.15 posted earlier, of his conviction that the admission of sin into the person causes a manner of captivity, a domination, that gives rise to the myriad other 'lusts' which he is describing here. This is, taken in its own right, entirely Orthodox. Sin is a captivating power; and however its effects enter into the context of a personal life, they have a terrifying ability to take hold and lay root, and in turn give rise to further evils all their own.
This seems to me to be the sense of 'dominated lust' that Mr Jones was referring to earlier; and it also has direct bearing on the scope of this thread -- namely, mental health and healing. The 'complexity' of the healing process, especially when the illness has something to do with direct motivation in another's actions, comes at least in large part from the fact that evil has this power. No matter where it comes from (e.g. personal choices or inflicted actions), it has a power that in time must be dealt with personally, interiorly.
Posted 09 December 2005 - 03:14 PM
This reminds me of something I was thinking about last week while reading your posts. Actually the advice though came from my spiritual father- and that was that confession and revealing of thoughts was like picking up a rock and letting the air into a situation. Conversely, he would explain, under the rock all sorts of things fester in the darkness.
Somehow I am connecting what you Matthew are saying and what my spiritual father told me.
The question of detail often comes up about confession and spiritual counsel- to come to the point: does forgiveness of our sins by God entirely rely on us saying & detailing all of our sins? Forgiveness & healing often presents itself in such a way to our minds. The problem though is who could ever know all of their sins and their significance. And isn't the risk in this approach that one is turning confession into a commodity exchange: I tell God my sins and He forgives me?
The wisdom of recognising the complexity of ourselves is that it opens us up to a putting of ourselves into the hands of God, ie it is a doorway to internal faith rather than an external commodity exchange with God. We absolutely do confess(just so there's no misunderstanding here) what we know of our sin but without remotely claiming that we can fully understand our sins or their significance. In a word our confession is a lifting up of the rock so that Christ's light can shine on our whole inner self far beyond the sin we are confessing.
In Christ- Fr Raphael
Posted 09 December 2005 - 03:28 PM
of his conviction that the admission of sin into the person causes a manner of captivity, a domination, that gives rise to the myriad other 'lusts' which he is describing here. This is, taken in its own right, entirely Orthodox. Sin is a captivating power; and however its effects enter into the context of a personal life, they have a terrifying ability to take hold and lay root, and in turn give rise to further evils all their own.
How does one uproot and throw out this sin that has entered the soul and taken root. I like how you described the ability of sin to take hold and lay root as *terrifying*. I have never heard it described quite like that before. It really hits home.
Posted 09 December 2005 - 06:37 PM
The wisdom of recognising the complexity of ourselves is that it opens us up to a putting of ourselves into the hands of God, ie it is a doorway to internal faith rather than an external commodity exchange with God.
This is a very interesting take on faith as not being an external commodity exchange with God. Very creative. I have not heard that phrase before. Can you expound on it a little more?
Posted 12 December 2005 - 11:31 PM
How does one uproot and throw out this sin that has entered the soul and taken root.
This is really where the Orthodox approach to healing the person makes its demands. The teaching of the fathers, which the Church embraces as her own today, is that one begins with the self -- for there is nowhere else to begin. And one begins with means that might not, to an 'outside observer', seem like matters of direct correlation. The ability to deal with such afflictions comes through authentic humility, which comes through true obedience, which is enabled by a disassociation from 'worldly cares'. To heal the self, which is really to resurrect the self (and the mystery of Christian theology is that that which is resurrected is beyond that which had died), one must first crucify the self. Ascesis, which is the truest form of Orthodox therapy, begins with the sacrifice of true obedience.
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