Monday, July 31, 2017

Cognitive behavioral therapy improves functioning for people with chronic pain, study shows

From Science Daily on July 11, 2017

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most frequently used psychological intervention for people with chronic pain, and new approaches for improving CBT outcomes may be found in the psychological flexibility model and Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), according to research.

Editor's note:

There are many reasons why psychotherapy can help people suffering from chronic pain. Stress often aggravates pain and reducing stress may then decrease pain. Also, making a distinction between "pain" and "suffering" is helpful. Some people may have lesser amounts of pain but suffer greatly, while others have higher amounts of pain and suffer much less. Why would this be?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Motivation through punishment may not work

From Science Daily on July 4, 2017

Parents scold their children to correct their behavior, hoping that their offspring will discontinue their misbehavior as a result. What's paradoxical about this kind of punishment is that it can have the opposite effect.

For more click here.

Editor's note:

There are many explanations for this finding that motivation through punishment may not work. The best explanation in my experience is that negative attention is better than no attention at all. Even though the punishment may be uncomfortable there is what is called "secondary gain" meaning that beyond the negative experience produced there is a positive one. So while the scolding or other hurtful punishment is somewhat painful, the reward of the parent's attention and engagement is positive enough to offset whatever negative experience was inflicted.

Punishment, also, is not enough to correct behavior and repair harm that has been done by the mistake without offering the child at least one alternative behavior.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Misuse of psychiatric diagnoses

The misuse of psychiatric diagnoses in argument is usually an attempt at dismissal and marginalization of the person's position on things as in "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, you're crazy!" or "He's nuts!." 

The use of psychiatric diagnoses inappropriately is an act of dismissal, disregard, and sabotage of credibility. In its essence, it is a prime example of the logical fallacy of an "argumentum ad hominem." The use of this logical fallacy is what got Donald Trump elected president as he attacked people of Mexican and Islamic heritage and his nicknaming of his political opponents, "Lying Ted", "crooked Hillary", "Little Marco." 

To an audience, there is an emotional exhilaration and enjoyment of such attacks because of the witnessing of acting out of projected emotions. The factor that makes the use of this logical fallacy successful is not the insult and attack in itself but the provision and enjoyment of the audience who witness such attacks and laugh or cheer as in "Lock her up, Lock her up." 

There is something sick in this dysfunctional behavior not so much because of the harm to the target but because of the effect on the audience which leads to a mob mentality whose behavior is motivated by unbridled emotion and not any kind of deliberate reason. The catharsis may be enjoyably mood altering until the harm of the consequences become apparent further down the line.

As psychotherapists we have taken on solemn responsibilities and commitments to appeal to the better natures of human beings. The kind of bullying behaviors evidenced by agumenum ad hominems which alarm us as therapists should lead us to not only focus on the bully and the bully's target but on the audience who provide the bully with a pulpit to do his/her dirty work. To name and label this destructive behavior is a significant public service and to encourage people not to provide an appreciative audience for it may be the most effective intervention for its diminishment.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - Review

Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a dystopian novel about a future country in which religious, puritanical depots have taken over the government. Human reproduction is intensely regulated by setting up a system in which  procreating surrogates called “handmaids” are taken into the households of government officials called “commanders”. These commanders have wives who oversee the insemination of the maternal surrogates by their husbands in a highly controlled depersonalized manner. These handmaids are under almost constant surveillance to assure their obedience and compliance with the expectations and requirements of the commanders and their wives.

The premise for this narrative is highly contrived and unrealistic. The characters are stilted, robotic, and predictable. The tone of the narrative is paranoid, secretive and dark. This is not an enjoyable book to read because it is often tedious, unnecessarily detailed, and very slow in plot development with redundant scenes laboriously described.

There is little to learn from reading this story other than the preposterous possible consequences of puritanical sexual repression especially with its damaging consequences for females. Another interesting dynamic is how females participate in the domination and repression of their own sex. It is interesting how men in power use females to implement their own male domination in a patriarchal society to maintain their own male power and dominance.

The depiction of females in this story is not positive except for two female characters who rebel both of whom wind up being further repressed and subjugated. In the end, it is a male who saves the handmaid who is the narrator of the story.

What this story teaches about feminism is not positive but depicts a scenario of extreme female subjugation. What this story teaches about females is that they can be easily taken over and controlled by men who manipulate them for their own power aggrandizement.

In our post Dobbs era where women's bodies have been subject to legal regulation and reproductive decisions have been criminalized, the Narrative of The Handmaid's tale in slowly being implemented in the United States.

Veterinary social work opens outlet for grief, emotional stress

From the Pittsburg Post-Gazette on July 3, 2017


The veterinarian side
Every day, five to 12 euthanasias are performed at PVSEC, the region’s largest specialty and emergency veterinary center, seeing several hundred cases a day. The number of euthanasias is high because many pet owners cannot afford the complex medical intervention needed to save a pet’s life.
“It’s hard when they know the animal can be fixed but the process can’t be paid for by the family,” Ms. Harbert said.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, based in Illinois, reports that 1 in 6 vets struggle with thoughts of suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that veterinarians have a four times higher suicide rate than the general public and are two times more likely to commit suicide than dentists and medical doctors.
“We see the sickest cases, so its hard for us as doctors and nurses everyday to see deaths. We are sad every time,” said Christine Guenther, a PVSEC veterinarian.
As a result, some PVSEC veterinarians suffer from compassion fatigue, burnout and ethical exhaustion when trying to come up with an alternative way to save a pet, given an owner’s financial constraints.
“You empathize so much with patients that you take on the burden and it takes a toll on you,” said Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Ms. Harbert works with the veterinarian staff to emotionally process the cause of a pet’s death and help staff members cope with their own grief. She assesses how individuals are acting and then helps them reach a stable emotional state.
Training for this counseling is not typically taught in vet school.

For the whole article click here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Most popular stress coping strategies for children

Freud said that you can either act it out or talk it out. Good parents ask upset children to calm down and "use your words." A key parental strategy to encourage child growth and development is to give children the words for things. As I like to share with my clients, if you can't name it, you can't manage it. Naming things, both internal affective states and external factors is 90% of good stress management.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Good overview of the DSM - 5

The DSM - 5 is the fifth edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association which lists the psychiatric diagnoses used in the United States.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter

Learn about the limbic system and the biochemical processes that allow this key brain region to process rewards. The limbic system links together a number of brain structures that control and regulate our ability to feel pleasure. Feeling pleasure motivates us to repeat behaviors that are critical to our existence. The limbic system is activated by healthy, life-sustaining activities such as eating and socializing—but it is also activated by drugs of abuse, which is why they can hijack this circuit and lead to a compulsive cycle of drug use and, in many cases, addiction. In addition, the limbic system is responsible for our perception of other emotions, both positive and negative, which explains the mood-altering properties of many drugs.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The 4 tasks of grief

Editor's note:

While accepting the reality of the loss of the person's physical presence is necessary, the continuation of the person's spirit occurs in the stories we tell about the person's values, beliefs, opinions, preferences, and practices. The spirit of the person can accompany us through the rest of our life if we choose. Often it is very enriching to evoke the person's spirit in our memories and story telling.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

New research into the benefits of Omega 3 on anger management.

From Journeyman Pictures:

Every year 3% of us are physically assaulted. The scale of the violence is shocking. However, scientists may have found a solution to this peculiar problem: studies have shown that people who eat more Omega 3 are less likely to be violent.

Our reporters go into a prison where these theories are being carried out.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


When my therapist saw this bumper sticker on my car, she asked me if I thought co-dependency might be a problem for me?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What is end of life or "palliative care" like? How can such care be improved?

Editor's note:

Both of my parents died in my home 30 years apart. My father died at 65 in 1983 and my mother at 91 in 2011.  Both experiences were interesting in the sense of the understanding or lack of understanding of family members and friends about what was happening. Health care professionals, in general, do a poor job in informing family because they don't want to take away "hope" of the family members even if it is false hope. While well meaning, this lack of explicitness leads to confusion, distrust, and conflict between family members and health care providers. The truth may hurt but it usually is better than false hope or denial of reality.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Over controlling helicopter parents are avoided by their children as they get older

FRIDAY, Feb. 6, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Helicopter parents, take note: A mother has a better relationship with her child if she respects the youngster's need for independence at a young age, a new study suggests.
Mothers who allowed children more freedom at age 2 were viewed more positively by their children later in childhood, according to the University of Missouri study.
The study included more than 2,000 mothers and their children. The researchers observed how much the mothers controlled the children's play at age 2 and then interviewed the children at fifth grade to assess how they felt about their mothers.
"When mothers are highly controlling of small children's play, those children are less likely to want to engage with them," Jean Ispa, co-chair of the department of human development and family studies, said in a university news release.
For more click here

Friday, July 14, 2017

Stigma keeps employees from disclosing mental health problems to employers according to recent study

FRIDAY, Feb. 6, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Many workers say they wouldn't tell their manager if they had a mental health problem, a Canadian survey finds.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health poll of more than 2,200 working adults in the province of Ontario found that 38 percent would not disclose a mental illness to a manager.
Their reasons for keeping quiet included fears about the effect on their career, bad experiences of others who came forward and the risk of losing friends. Some said they wouldn't disclose a mental illness because it would not affect their work.
On the other hand, having a good relationship with their manager and supportive company policies were the main reasons given by those who said they would disclose a mental illness.
"A significant number of working people have mental health problems, or have taken a disability leave related to mental health. Annually, almost 3 percent of workers are on a short-term disability leave related to mental illness," said study leader Carolyn Dewa, head of the center's division for research on employment and workplace health.
"Stigma is a barrier to people seeking help. Yet by getting treatment, it would benefit the worker and the workplace, and minimize productivity loss," she said in a center news release.
For more information click here

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Teen Birth Rate Drops Again to All-Time Low: CDC

Teen Birth Rate Drops Again to All-Time Low: CDC

For more click here.

For more click here.

Editor's note:

There are many reasons for this drop in the teen birth rate. Having worked on this problem over several decades, my experience tells me it is improved sex education and the availability of birth control which has made the improvement. Abstinence based programs have been shown not to work.

Copy cat suicide

From Science Daily 
Heightened newspaper coverage after a suicide might have a significant impact on the initiation of some teenage suicide clusters, according to new research published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal. The study reveals that the content of media reports is also important, with more prominent stories (ie, published on the front page) and those that describe the suicide in considerable detail more likely to be associated with so-called copycat suicides.

"Our findings indicate that the more sensational the coverage of the suicides, and the more details the story provides, then the more likely there are to be more suicides," explains lead author Dr Madelyn Gould from the New York State Psychiatric Institute in the USA.

Editor's note: 
When I do a risk assessment on a client who is suicidal I always ask if they know someone, or is there someone in their family who has committed suicide. If the answer is "yes" this increases the risk.

Because of the phenomenon of copy cat suicide there has been a lot of controversy over Netflix TV series, 13 reasons why, which some people say make teenage suicide justifiable. For more information click here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What's in a name? Choose your child's name thoughtfully.

What's in a name? Turns out quite a bit. Social science research has shown that names have influence on later life success. Parents need to choose their children's names carefully with a view on how the name will affect the child's life prospects.

This video describes popular names chosen in Western New York city of Buffalo, NY in 2014. They all sound like Caucasian middle class names to me. Names are associated with race and ethnicity and so their implications are significant for first perceptions and initial impressions.

Do you like your name? Has it caused problems for you. Many people change their names for a variety of reasons. Would you change yours? While you can't tell a book by its cover many people wouldn't even pick up a book with certain covers, and many people find it hard to get past their initial prejudices stimulated by a name.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sex in long term marriage

From Science Daily 02/16/15:

While people in the early years of marriage have sex more frequently, and their sexual activity tapers off over time, a slight rebound occurs for those whose marriages endure longer than half a century, according to new research.

For more click here.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Are You a Cat Person or Dog Person?
University of California Television (UCTV)
(Visit: A web-based survey of more than 1,000 pet owners nationwide analyzed the key personality traits and nurturing styles of people who identified as a “cat person,” a “dog person,” “both” or “neither.”

Surprisingly perhaps, those who expressed the greatest affection for their pets also rated among the most conscientious and neurotic, suggesting that the qualities that make for overbearing parents might work better for our domesticated canine and feline companions, who tend to require lifelong parenting.

The research was conducted by UC Berkeley and California State University, East Bay. Mikel Delgado, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley co-authored the study. Series: "UC Berkeley News" [Show ID: 29308]

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Managing vicarious trauma

From Sojourners, July 2017

Tips for Digital Self-Care

WITH NEARLY 7 in 10 Americans using some form of social media, journalists aren’t the only ones wrestling with the images and videos that flood their newsfeeds without warning. Here’s what to do next time you find yourself confronted with traumatic content online.
Hit “pause.” Don’t view traumatic material without a procedure in mind. Take a moment to stare out a window or at an indoor plant. This disrupts the tendency to cruise-ahead on autopilot.
Ask: Do I need to see this? If you know this material is old or is of no real relevance to your objectives, it is best not to engage.
Ask: Do I need to see this now? It is best not to view violent material when you are tired. If you decide to continue viewing ...
Make the viewing window on your computer smaller. This disrupts the narrative flow of the material and builds in distance.
Steel yourself. Put on imaginary protective clothing of some kind, such as a raincoat, or visualize that bulletproof glass exists between oneself and the screen—techniques used by forensic investigators.
Lower the sound, or turn it off altogether. Sound is often the most affecting part of a video. You can always turn it back on later if you need to.
Scrub through. Drag your cursor through the timeline to locate aversive sections. If you don’t need to look at those parts in detail, don’t.
Adapted from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma

Study suggests drinking tea, black or green made from tea leaves, can reduce the risk for Alzheirmer's in people over 55.

Drinking tea is linked to a dramatic reduction in the risk of cognitive impairment in older people, new research suggests.
A single daily cup of tea reduces cognitive decline in those over 55 by 50%, the Chinese study found.
For more click here.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Buying from Amazon using the MBH widget helps support the blog with no additional cost to the buyer.

Check your schadenfreude

Schadenfeude is taking pleasure in other people's misfortune.


Remarrieds have less sex than those who stay in first marriage

From Science Daily 02/16/15:

The study also found that people who remain in their first marriages have sex more frequently than those who remarry. 


As to why "remarrieds" have less frequent sex than those in first marriages, "it may be that those who have been married in the past may not have as strong of a sense of permanence or lasting investment," Stroope said.

For more click here

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What can be done with music to enhance healthy growth in elementary school children after school

Roots & Rhythms, an after-school drumming program, teaches students to collaborate, create, and have some fun while learning the basics of percussion and embracing their own cultures,

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Social workers impacted by the opioid epidemic

From News 5 Cleveland on July 3, 2017
AKRON, Ohio - Heroin overdoses are skyrocketing across the U.S., especially here in Ohio.
Nearly half a dozen people are likely to die from the drug. And now, kids are getting their hands on it, with dangerous consequences.
Already this year, at least four Ohio children have overdosed. Three of them live in Northeast Ohio.
The first people often called when that happens? The county social worker.
"The most difficult is managing everything that is thrown at you, it's a pretty unpredictable job," said Lauren Brown, an Intake Case Worker at Summit County Child and Family Health Services.
Brown is constantly putting out fires and working with families in some of their most traumatic and vulnerable stages.
Already there this year, a two-year-old overdosed in Akron, and a one-year-old died after getting his hands on heroin.
For more click here.
Editor's note:
As people locally struggle with opiate addiction in various ways, the Republicans have considered cutting substance abuse and mental health services from their health care bill through the health insurance plan itself and through cuts to Medicaid. Instead, they propose to give further tax cuts to the very rich. Ohio is a red state that has consistently elected Republicans to office except in their cities.

Opiod addiction is a family problem

Opioid addiction contributes to increase in children in the foster care system. For more click here.

The Mozart effect? Does listening to Mozart make you smarter?

The Mozart effect? Does listening to Mozart make you smarter?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Verenicline(Chantix) helps some patients stop smoking

Editor's note:

There are many ways to stop smoking. Working with an addiction specialist can help you develop a plan that will work best for you. In this JAMA report, verenicline helps some patients, but I also have found patients who used other ways to successfully quit and who didn't like the side effects of verenicline. The important thing to know is that there are many ways to quit and the chance of success increases with each attempt. So, the motto I like the best is, "don't quit trying to quit."


Monday, July 3, 2017

Understanding The Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship by Christine Ann Lawson

Understanding The Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship by Christine Ann Lawson is an extremely important book for any psychotherapist or layperson interested in the impact of parenting by a person with Borderline Personality Disorder. The impact is huge and can be multigenerational. Dr. Lawson, in lay language and with clear case examples describes the dynamics that occur between mother and children and somewhat with fathers. She also has clear suggestions for how adult children can manage the relationship with the Borderline mother. I believe this topic is so important that I am planning on posting a series of articles on this blog as I re-read and study the ideas in this book further. I am developing a new category on the blog which I am entitling, Borderline Parenting. While the focus of Lawson's book is on mother's, fathering plays a critical role as well. In addition to reading this book and being a psychotherapist, I also have personal experiences with the topic which undoubtedly fuel my interest and resonance with the material described. I highly recommend this book. This is article #1 in a series on Borderline Parenting


Why Is It So Hard to Change People’s Minds?

Why Is It So Hard to Change People’s Minds?

Our opinions are often based in emotion and group affiliation, not facts. Here’s how to engage productively when things get heated.

What is conservation psychology?

Conservation psychology might sometimes be called "ecopsychology". For more on ecopsychology click here.


Narcotic Painkiller Use Tied to Higher Risk for Depression

From Health Day on 02/20/15:
FRIDAY, Feb. 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- High doses of powerful narcotic painkillers appear to be linked to a higher risk of depression in patients, new research finds.
The study focuses on a class of prescription narcotic painkillers called opioids, which include drugs such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. While most people use the medicines to ease pain, widespread abuse of narcotic painkillers is also a growing concern.
The new study involved 355 patients in Texas who reported low back pain at an initial medical visit and still had the pain one and two years later.
Although the study couldn't prove cause-and-effect, people who used higher doses of narcotic painkillers to manage their pain were more likely to have an increase in depression, the researchers found.
For more click here.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What's wrong with America's drug enforcement policies?

 From the Pacific Standard, , March/April, 2015 

 And for the past century, our policymakers have responded to the challenge of managing public drug use in a manner that is, alas, riddled with contradictions: We have enforced strict bans on some intoxicants (cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana) and allowed the legal sale of other addictive substances (nicotine, alcohol, caffeine). Some legal substances are quite dangerous to public health; some illegal ones appear safe by comparison. Along the way, the United States has spent more than a trillion dollars enforcing anti-drug laws, and has imprisoned millions of people.

For more click here.

Editor's note: 
While health care providers are increasingly held to "evidence based practices" and/or "scientific based practices" unfortunately, politicians, policy makers, and the public are not held to the same standards. Is it time that they were?

Autism myths - "I saw it on the internets."

Mindfulness meditation practices help with insomnia

From Science Daily on 02/16/15:

Mindfulness meditation practices resulted in improved sleep quality for older adults with moderate sleep disturbance in a clinical trial comparing meditation to a more structured program focusing on changing poor sleep habits and establishing a bedtime routine, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

In a related commentary, Adam P. Spira, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, writes: "As the authors explain, effective nonpharmacological interventions that are both 'scalable' and 'community accessible' are needed to improve disturbed sleep and prevent clinical levels of insomnia. This is imperative given links between insomnia and poor health outcomes, risks of sleep medication use and the limited availability of health care professionals trained in effective nondrug treatments such as behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. This context makes the positive results of this RCT [randomized clinical trial] compelling."

For more information click here.

A Psychological Model of Forgiveness

The Psychology of Forgiveness


As mentioned in the previous introduction to the essay on spiritual forgiveness I work with two models of forgiveness: the spiritual model and the psychological. This psychological is based on a systems conceptualization of restoration of equity, fairness, in a relationship. Restoration of fairness does not necessarily mean reconciliation but it does mean the reparation of the harm that was done and a restoration of “right relationship.”

These two models can, of course be used together as there is much overlap although spiritual forgiveness can be done I believe without psychological forgiveness although psychological forgiveness may make spiritual forgiveness easier.

In psychology there is the idea that forgiveness should be done for the benefit of the forgiver not necessarily for the benefit of the forgiven. Research shows that harboring grudges, resentments, bitterness is bad for one’s physical and emotional health. To forgive, to let go, frees one physically, mentally, and emotionally from the servitude of nursing past injustices, and liberates one to move ahead freely into the future.

At a spiritual level also, masters such as Jesus taught us that to forgive is divine. To rise above injustices on the earth plane allows one to focus on the big picture, the transcendent, and to realize that injustices are petty and insignificant in the long run. “It all comes out in the wash” as they say. As Richard Carlson says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” To rise above injustices is to see them in context. To understand the context, the circumstances and false thinking that lead to the transgression in the first place contributes to an awareness that helps us make sense of the injustice so that we can take it less personally. So often it’s not that people are unwilling of doing the right thing, of treating us better, they are incapable; they are just incompetent. There is a difference between being unwilling and being incapable given who the person is, how he/she is wired, where they are coming from. Most injustice, requiring forgiveness, is born out of a lack of awareness, and being stuck in the person’s egotistic thoughts, desires, and motives, they do stupid things. Stupidity does not require punishment as much as education, enlightenment. And so forgiveness, as an interpersonal skill and strategy for spiritual growth, requires four steps.

The first step of forgiveness requires that the forgiver has the right and opportunity to have his/her say about what he/she believes the injustice is. Everybody deserves his/her day in court, for the record if not in person. Even after the offender has died, the forgiver still deserves the opportunity to have his/her say about what the injustice is. If the offender is sincere about reconciling, the offender needs to give the forgiver a hearing, to allow the forgiver to name the injustice and how it has affected him/her. So often the offender doesn’t want to hear how the forgiver thinks and feels about the situation, of what the forgiver perceives as unfair and unjust. The offender might say, “Get out of here! I’m not listening to your nonsense!” Having a hearing, getting your day in court, for the record if not in person, is the first step in the forgiveness process.

The second step is getting an explanation. The forgiver has a right to hear what the circumstances were that contributed to the injustice occurring. This takes time. It takes digging which may take some time to understand, in any comprehensiveness, what the myriad of factors were that contributed to the injustice occurring. The explanation is not a justification, or a rationalization, an excuse, or cop-out. The explanation is an honest, and sincere attempt to examine the unfair situation, to understand how it occurred so that it never happens again, and that something of value can be learned from a hurtful situation. Hopefully, we “live and learn” as they say. If we don’t learn from mistakes and injustices we are doomed to repeat them.

The third step is a genuine apology. There is a difference between a band-aid apology and a sincere apology. A band-aid apology is placating to get the offender off the hook, but a sincere apology follows from the first two steps: having heard what the injustice is and what how the victim thinks and feels about it, and to have examined the circumstances that contributed to the offense, the offender can say, genuinely, “I’m sorry. I had no idea the extent of the harm of my actions.” Most victims want an apology. An apology sometimes, but not always, brings about a healing, a restoration of a sense of equity which leads to a sense of peace.

The fourth step is the making of amends. If the offender is genuinely sorry and has apologized, there is a natural desire to want to make amends, to repair the harm. This making of amends, in many situations has to be very creative, because the injustice is water under the bridge, nothing can be done to put things back to where they were before the offense, and yet there is a need to redeem oneself by repairing the harm. How the harm is repaired needs to be negotiated by both the forgiver and the forgiven. In the instance where the offender is dead or unwilling, Life has a way of making amends to the victim. If he/she can acknowledge that blessings have repaired the harm, the victim can move forward feeling whole.

These steps can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, and even decades. We cannot live in our imperfect world and not be victimized, not to feel the sting of injustice and unfairness. Injustice is natural. It is an everyday human experience. Injustice will continue as long as humans are unenlightened and unaware, and yet injustice is not the problem; how we handle the injustice can  be the problem as we either benefit or further compound the problem. Having our say, our day in court, understanding the circumstances that contributed to the injustice, obtaining a genuine apology, and the making of amends is a four step model for bringing about a greater sense of equity, justice, and compassion in our human relations and in the whole world.

The mature soul knows what really matters in life and how to act accordingly. This knowing and  positive acting comes from experience reflected upon and learned from. Forgiveness is one of the most important spiritual activities which we can engage in. It is very good for our soul.

Questions for consideration and discussion
1.      What do you think of the four steps outlined? Can you give an example of a situation where you might have worked through the four steps or got stuck?
2.      What is the difference between a “genuine” apology and a “band-aid” apology?
3.      Have you ever had to get creative in making amends because the harm is long gone, or water under the bridge, and what had been done couldn’t be undone so some other way of compensating the victim and/or repairing the harm had to be creatively implemented?

Spiritual forgiveness

Spiritual forgiveness

    It is very common in couple counseling to hear the complaint “She doesn’t love me anymore. I know that she could if only she would, but she won’t because she is holding out on me. I’ve tried to get her to change and I have grown more frustrated and discouraged. I’ve talked to this one and that one. Their advice hasn’t helped. People are growing tired of me complaining and have told me to go for counseling.  I’m not crazy, but I don’t know what else to do. What should I do? Can you help me?”

            When the other person gets a turn, the other person says the same thing. They both have the misguided notion that the other has the power to make them happy. An objective outsider, observing this dance of mutual recrimination, recognizes that neither one of them can make the other happy. They can’t make themselves happy, let alone take the responsibility for someone else’s happiness.

            If one were aware, they would understand that they don’t have the power to make other people happy nor do other people have the power to make them happy. We, each, have the responsibility for our own happiness. To project this responsibility on anyone else is to give our power away and to deceive ourselves, barking up the wrong tree as they say, preventing us from  coming to an accurate understanding of how to achieve true happiness.

            It says in the introduction to A Course In Miracles “The Course does not aim at teaching the meaning of Love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of Love’s presence, which is our natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite. The course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way: Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”

            The course is not talking about romantic love, or brotherly love, or altruistic love, or parental love, or aesthetic love, it is referring to something much larger, more fundamental, some might say transcendental. The course is referring to Divine Love, Grace, being one with everything. What did the monk say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything. The monk handed the hot dog vendor $5.00 for the $2.00 hot dog and when the hot dog vendor failed to give him his change, the monk complained, “Where is my change?” The hot dog vendor said, “You, monk, should know more than anyone that change comes from within.”

            On the earth plane we suffer under the illusion that “special relationships” will make us happy. “Special relationships” are romantic relationships, parent/child relationships, best friends. As we develop these relationships we expect them to be permanent and we project all kinds of expectations and requirements onto them, that if met and fulfilled, we believe, will make us happy. When our expectations and requirements are not met we complain of betrayal, disappointment, frustration, discouragement that leads to resentments, recriminations, grievances, that can becomes so severe that they culminate, in the extreme,  in homicide and suicide. The suffering experienced because of unfilled expectations at a spiritual level is totally unnecessary and can be absolved if we can forgive ourselves and our loved ones for sins and dysfunction which, at a spiritual level, never existed anywhere but in our own insane minds.

            As the Rolling Stones sang several decades ago, “I don’t get no satisfaction” and “You don’t always get what you want.” Rarely would we admit that our pain and suffering is self generated by our own conditions which we put on our efforts to love another. We don’t say it, but we think it. “I’ll love you if…….” This, of course, is conditional love. We pay lip service to unconditional love but it is rare in our own behavioral repertoire, and few people are mature enough to actually practice it, if we are honest enough to admit it.

            When our conditions, meaning our expectations and requirements, are not met we first become afraid that we won’t get what we want, and then we become angry and frustrated, and then we become discouraged and depressed. In psychotherapy we say “You can either be mad or be sad.” It usually hurts a little less if we are angry, and when we deal with our fear of loss with anger we look for someone or something to attack with blame, accusations, and sometimes mental, emotional, and physical abuse. When we act out our feelings of anger and sadness we often think of ourselves as a victim while we also are being a perpetrator.

            Often times in counseling when our conversation turns to the observation that the client is powerless to get their partner to love them the way they want to be loved I will ask, “Do you think your partner is unwilling or incapable of loving you the way you want to be loved?” Often times, the question is met with confusion and puzzlement, and rarely can the client clearly and immediately answer. This view of the relationship and situation has never been raised before, and the client may ask, “What do you mean?”

            I will say, “Well considering the person’s personality traits, the way they are neurologically wired, the way they were raised with certain values, beliefs, opinions, and practices, do you think the person is capable of loving you the way you want to be loved? Maybe they are just incompetent. It’s not that they are unwilling, and holding out on you, but they can’t.” It is frustrating to expect and require things from people that they are incapable of. While somewhat degrading I will ask them if they ever heard the joke about the farmer who tried to teach his pig to sing? When they say “no”, I say, “Frustrated the hell out of the farmer and annoyed the hell out of the pig.” I quickly will say, “I am not saying that your partner is a pig, but you are acting like a farmer who is trying to teach a person to do something that they are incapable of doing.”

            It is at this moment of awareness that the person is incapable, not unwilling, that we come to the realization that we need to forgive ourselves for having inappropriate expectations for gratification from a “special relationship” that are not going to be met through no fault of the person we are expecting the gratification from. We come to understand that “special relationships” based on expectations and requirements for our satisfaction will eventually make us unhappy.

            One of my best professors in my graduate Master’s In Social Work program used to tell us that we have to “take the client where they’re at, not where we want them to be, or think they should be, or ought to be, we have to take the client where they’re at.” When we can take people where they’re at we can begin to love them unconditionally and we experience peace and love ourselves.

            So often what we call love is really egotistical attempts to decrease our fears of loneliness, isolation, and death. Unconditional love, on the other hand, begins with first loving our self and then extending our sense of well being and gratitude to others for our awareness of Love’s presence in our lives. If we want Love in our life we have to be more loving, loving unconditionally without expecting or requiring anything in return. When we do this we should have fun doing it which adds abundant grace to our lives and great peace.

            Unconditional Love is not of this world. It does not reside on the ego plane. It is something that seems strange and unattainable and yet it is present constantly often outside our awareness blocked by the nonsense and illusions which we create and project onto our lives and relationships. Our egotistical desires, intentions, and thoughts often get in the way and block our awareness of Love’s presence like clouds blocking our sight of the sun. When we see glimmers of the sunlight of Love we become aware of being a part of ever widening and more encompassing systems of being, an interconnectedness with life we hadn’t been aware of so much previously. This growing awareness leads us to enlightenment.

            So often my clients who are frustrated and discouraged say to me, “I just don’t understand!” And I quietly say, “Yes, you do. I think you understand it very well. You just don’t want to accept it. As the Buddhists say, ‘It is what it is’. You need to forgive yourself for your expectations and requirements, and your partner for their failure to meet them. You need to recognize the torture you put yourself and your partner through because of the conditions you project that are not getting met. Forgiveness, in this case, means recognition, acceptance, and rising above the situation.

            Spiritual forgiveness is “rising above” the ego plane and letting the projected illusions go. Drop the conditions projected by your expectations and requirements. As the spiritual masters have counseled in all faith traditions for centuries, let go of your attachments. As they say in Alcoholic Anonymous, “My life is unmanageable. I need to turn my life over to my Higher Power. Let go and let God. You do your best and the universe will do the best.”

            Wayne Dyer, the psychologist, perhaps said it best when he said, “Forgiveness is really just correcting our own misperceptions.” The purpose of other people is not for them to meet our expectations. The purpose of other people is for us to learn how to forgive ourselves our juvenile resentments and to love unconditionally. Humanity will have arrived when everyone loves everyone all the time. The path to this kind of love is forgiveness and the recognition that what I do unto another I do unto myself.

Discussion guide:

 Describe a time when have you been afraid, angry, frustrated, disappointed, sad when someone let you down? How were you able to take care of yourself in spite of the distress?

 Describe a time when you were so upset about a relationship that you thought of killing yourself or someone else. Perhaps, simply, you thought that life was not worth living. How did you manage these feelings and get yourself out of this situation?

What role, if any, has your faith played in your managing the above situations?

 What else has helped you manage these situations?

What has been your experience with forgiveness? What did you learn as a child about forgiveness from your family, church, friends?

If you are a parent what have your taught your children about how to do forgiveness?

Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person has to be right about everything and will never or rarely say they are sorry? What do you think about these kinds of relationships in terms of what causes this dynamic and how it should be handled?

Do you believe in a God that loves you unconditionally or do you believe in a God of judgment who will punish you for what you think are your sins? Where does this belief in a punishing God comes from?

 Do you hope that God or fate punishes some people in your life or in the world for the bad things you think they have done? If yes, who are the people and what have they done that deserves punishment? Do you think they could ever be forgiven?

Who do you need to forgive for what? What will it take for you to do it?

What do you need to forgive yourself for? What will it take for you to do it?