Acceptance as an Intervention for Chronic Pain

In reflecting upon the importance of acceptance in the context of dealing with chronic pain, some may mistakenly believe that acceptance means giving up or giving in to the pain and to negative thoughts such as “I can’t do anything” or “My life is over.” Real acceptance, however, doesn’t mean giving up. On the contrary, acceptance means living in the present moment and experiencing the present moment, instead of reacting to it and being controlled by it. From this non-reactive stance, it becomes easier to determine which factors concerning chronic pain are within your sphere of control and … [Read more...]

Virtue: The Ultimate Remedy for the Problem and the Passion of Anger

In the past blog posts on anger, we have seen the way in which modern approaches to managing anger can be used by Christians in a way that is consistent with the teachings of earlier ascetics. Consistency with Christianity and the message of Christianity, however, are not the same. The ultimate cure for the problem of anger is not to be found solely in techniques such as relaxation, reframing the situation, taking a time out, thought stopping , or assertiveness training, as valuable as these techniques may be. No, the ultimate cure can only be found in acquiring the virtues inherent in the … [Read more...]

Irritating Situations or Anger-Provoking Interpretations: It Matters Whom We Blame

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts concerning anger, there is a certain concordance between cognitive therapeutic and patristic approaches to this problem.  This harmony is particularly evident in the observations by ascetic fathers and cognitive theorists about one’s perceptions of an anger-provoking event.  The Anger Management Manual authors employ Albert Ellis’s straightforward A-B-C-D model in order to explain not only the relationship between events, interpretations, and consequences, but also the importance of countering one’s interpretation in order to modify the cycle of anger. … [Read more...]

Anger and Incompatible States: Attending to the Body and Attending to the Spirit

In addition to the time-out, there are other beneficial anger management strategies that cognitive therapists recommend.  One such strategy concerns relaxation through a deep breathing exercise.  The authors of the Anger Management manual correctly note, “An interesting aspect of the nervous system is that everyone has a relaxation response that counteracts the stress response. It is physically impossible to be both agitated and relaxed at the same time. If you can relax successfully, you can counteract the stress or anger response.” The deep breathing technique offered by these therapists is … [Read more...]

A Time-out from Anger, a Time-in for God

In the last blog post on anger, I wrote about seeking out its causes or roots.  In the next several posts I would like to explore the various therapeutic interventions concerning anger from the perspective of the fathers and cognitive therapy. In their Anger Management Manual, the cognitive therapists note, “Theoretically, the more techniques and interventions an individual has on his or her anger control plan, the better equipped he or she will be to manage anger in response to anger-provoking events.” The same could be said from the perspective of the fathers, although they would not seek to … [Read more...]

Getting to the Cause

In my last blog post, I noted the vast difference between the theological/spiritual approach to anger seen in the fathers and the biological/naturalistic approach observed in cognitive therapists. Still as healers and helpers for the suffering, they both home in on an important principle: the necessity of identifying the source of the underlying anger before recommending a specific therapeutic intervention. In a particularly rich passage on the pathology of anger, Saint John Climacus notes that, “As bodily fever is one thing, but the causes of this are not one but many, so also the boiling up … [Read more...]

Be Ye angry, and Sin Not: Let Not the Sun Go Down Upon Your Wrath

Cognitive therapists and the ancient fathers would agree that misdirected anger causes much human misery, destroying relationships, smothering compassion, and bringing about untold suffering in the form of emotional wounds and even physical injuries.  Both classes of healers would also agree that there are therapeutic interventions that can be applied in order to bring relief to the scourge of anger.  However, before I discuss similar therapeutic interventions in future posts, it’s important to note that cognitive therapists and the ancient fathers understand anger in quite different terms. In … [Read more...]

Acceptance That Heals

In the last blog post I mentioned a tenet from Acceptance and Commitment therapy: “We can choose to react to negative thoughts or simply accept the fact that we have had a negative thought.” This is also a fundamental principle in the spiritual life. Our choice has more than temporal, psychological repercussions. It has eternal significance, for repetitive choices set up patterns of behavior that can either draw us closer to God and neighbor or drive us further away from the two poles of our existence. Let us assume for the sake of this post that the choice made involves acceptance of the fact … [Read more...]

Being Captive to the Thoughts or Learning to Choose

As human beings, we are constantly bombarded with thoughts.  Many of these thoughts are not volitional in the sense that we don’t necessarily choose them.  They may simply enter our consciousness without a deliberate choice. Sometimes, they also affect our emotions, again without any choice on our part. If, without reflection, we perceive all our thoughts as expressions of what is real and true, we are setting ourselves up for further problems. But if we can become aware of the choices that are still ours, we can find freedom, the freedom that God intends for us to enjoy. Let me provide an … [Read more...]

Little Words with Great Significance: Some Psychological and Spiritual Revelations of Pronouns

Saint Gregory of Nyssa once wrote, “the hidden conception of the heart supplies the motive for such and such words, ‘for from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’” (Against Eunomios, Book I). Sometimes that hidden conception is concealed even from the person speaking. How many of us are manifestly selfish, judgmental, or dishonest, yet not fully aware of it! As Saint John Chrysostom remarked, “The mouth speaks indeed, but the understanding knows not what it speaks” (Homily 5 on Collossians). There are, however, some linguistic hints in day-to-day speech that can betray the hidden … [Read more...]