War and reconciliation

Piotr Chmielinski

Sometimes people wage wars on themselves and they always lose. Their organisms cannot stand the pressure, stress, and consequently, they suffer various kinds of pain, depression or heart attacks. Therefore, all those who wage wars are called to get reconciled with themselves.
A thirty-year old lawyer, let us call him Thomas, had severe headaches and stomachaches. He had diagnosed stomach ulcers. His condition included certain tension and stiffness, which were expressed in his walking and clothes. Thomas did his best to ignore his sufferings, suppressed his fear and anxiety, which he had experienced since his childhood. As a child he had scruples concerning good behaviour. His mother brought him up in a very strict way; she did not show him any love but instead she demanded absolute obedience and ideal cleanness. Even today Thomas remembers that as a five-year old boy he could not sit anywhere outdoors because he was afraid of getting his clean trousers dirty. ‘I learnt to fear God and tremble at the thought of sin and hell, which, I think, has exerted a deep influence on my emotional balance. I vividly remember being terrified when I was nine and was called to come to the priest to explain my unintentional violence of fasting and unworthy receiving Holy Communion although I had acted in good faith’, Thomas recollects.

Proper diagnosis

First of all, Thomas blamed himself for his sexual behaviour, which was connected with fear and anxiety. At the age of 17 he began masturbating regularly, and he felt intensive fear. He did nothing with this and decided to overcome fear by his strong will and to suppress it, place it into his subconscious. The first attacks of migraine, which were sudden and overpowering, began when he was in grammar school. He suffered from fear and anxiety during his studies, too. He tried to control himself even more and he reached perfection to discern the rules that he imposed himself. ‘The more I struggled the bigger my tension was’, Thomas says. Receiving sacraments meant tortures to him. Finally, Thomas incidentally heard a lecture of some psychologist who described similar symptoms. And he gave the diagnosis: obsessive-compulsive neurosis, which could be treated with success. But one had to consult a psychiatrist, which Thomas did. ‘I feared my first visit to a psychiatrist. But it made me feel deeply satisfied and made me begin feeling urgent need to have more visits. During the first year of my therapy I impatiently waited for next visits and I realised that I was completely dependent on the therapist. My trust changed into admiration. I felt that that man made me feel healthy. His own maturity and love for life made me want to be like him. My feeling of dependence gradually decreased and my visits became less frequent. Currently, when I have recovered and experienced inner peace I am feeling independent and free. I can really make decisions on my own. I do not experience this horrible emotional pressure. My life is full, rich and joyful so much that it is hard to pass all my joy and happiness, which I have enjoyed, to other people. The inner conflict has disappeared and I know that I am really living.’ Thomas stopped fearing God. He gradually learnt to understand and experience the real goodness and love of God. His headaches and stomachaches are over.

Harmony and peace of soul

The above-mentioned story was described by Anna Terruwe and Conrad Baars in their outstanding book entitled ‘Integracja psychiczna’ (Polish edition published by ‘W drodze’; the original title ‘Healing the Unaffirmed: Recognizing Emotional Deprivation’). Thomas suffered from neurosis, which could be called an inner conflict or even a war. It is the war man wages on himself. Man is not often aware what powers wage war in him. Man is the biggest victim. His organism cannot cope with the tension, stress, and he experiences pain, depression or heart attack. Everyone is called to reconcile with himself. He should throw a white towel on the battlefield and surrender. And then he should begin a process of peacefully building the elements of his personality, which have been destroyed in the war. This process is called inner integration and was already depicted in the Bible. In the beautiful Psalm 131 we read a confession of a man who has just completed the process of his integration, ‘Lord, my heart is not proud; nor are my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me. Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother's lap, so is my soul within me’. The process of integration is long and laborious. Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, strongly stressed that one should necessarily order his emotions in the process. First, one needs to get to know oneself, his life and all his adherences, which put God in the second place. Thus the process is not only psychological but also purely spiritual since ultimately its objective, after having removed all unordered adherences, is to seek and find God’s will. However, it seems that the big disorder often occurs in the psychological sphere and it hinders us from opening fully to God’s grace. Therefore, one should get his psyche, emotions and feelings in order. How should it be done?

To notice and name your emotions

First of all, you should notice your emotions and name them thoroughly. They provide important information about our inner situation and we can reach our battlefield when we follow our emotions. It especially concerns negative feelings. Let us see that on the example of our neighbour living on the first floor. Whenever we meet her we get nervous without any concrete reason. When she smiles or is sad, talks too much or is silent we always get irritated. We feel anger and even aggression. It is important to notice these feelings and do not run away from them. Unfortunately, we often begin the mechanism of repression, i.e. suppressing the feelings, that we regard as bad, into our subconscious. Since we should not feel angry with our neighbour. Our suppressed feelings live their own lives in our subconscious and desire to come out to the surface. This can take the form of the so-called projection, i.e. projecting your own unaccepted features on other people. In the example of the neighbour we suppress our anger and then project it on other people, e.g. our miserable neighbour. ‘Why are you angry with me?’ we can ask our astonished neighbour who does not feel any anger against us. The mechanism of suppressing feelings makes us not see the truth about others and ourselves. Consequently, we are in constant conflict with others and ourselves like it was in the case of Thomas. He suppressed his fear pretending that he had no fear. As a result, he had headaches and stomach aches. Besides, if we discern our feelings we should name them. It can be done in various ways. We do not always realise that our various physiological reactions, e.g. sweating, going red or heart beating, express our emotions. Additionally, we cannot control them since we cannot control ourselves going red.

Controlled reactions

However, we do not want to show our emotions but to verbalise them, i.e. to tell others about our emotional state. We want to make our emotions objective. Therefore, we should not tell about our emotions to some casual people but to people we trust, to someone that can look at us in an objective way. And he can help us discover what is hidden behind our feelings. For example, why do we always get angry with our neighbour? One of the reasons could be that she has higher education, works at a university, has wide interests and we have completed only elementary school and our scope of interests is limited to the contents of the news presented in ‘Teleexpress’. Realising that makes changes easier. Perhaps we should work on improving our feeling of self-worth? The fact of elementary education does not mean that we are worse people than others. And we may consider going to some cultural centre, to some interesting meeting, exhibition or conference...We may consider going to the theatre that we have not visited for a long time... And besides ‘Teleexpress’ or our beloved TV serial we should watch some documentary, which would make us think and which we would not simply ‘swallow’ without any reflection. Using such means it can occur that we do not get angry with our neighbour any more. On the contrary, she is a nice person to talk to. Another step is to accept you feelings. Even if I feel something negative, e.g. anger, its does not mean that I am bad. This emotion is still in me but I am not this emotion. Finally, we want to have emotions under control, which does not mean that emotions are to be suppressed. On the contrary, I am aware of them but I do not act under their influence. If my neighbour makes me angry I do not insult her nor resort to fisticuffs. And if she faints in the corridor I will help her although I do not like her much. Emotions must be controlled by the mind, which tells me what to do in a given situation. Since my anger, aggression or any other feelings do not determine my life.

"Niedziela" 11/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl