Giving Humanity a Second Chance


When seeking resolution to painful experiences in our lives, we may eventually learn that sometimes insight and self-discovery are not enough. We may have done all the cognitive work we can, grieved fully, and even journaled extensively, yet still find ourselves struggling. We are learning more about how painful or traumatic experiences affect the brain. Knowing how the brain is affected, helps us discover the activities we need to truly heal. To heal means to gain closure, peace, a profound sense of the past being in the past, and forgiveness. We  know now that the entire limbic system of the brain is affected by painful experiences. To heal all those parts of the brain that were affected by the negative experience, we will need to open up all those same parts, to new experiences that are healing and teach us the opposite of what our painful experience taught us.  God works in mysterious ways and this is just how He created us. He does not want us to heal alone.

We will need to find those deep experiences that can access and heal the same parts of the brain affected by painful experiences. Oftentimes, these deep experiences already exist in our lives, but are often overlooked or taken for granted.  Perhaps it is a healthy parish, our workplace, or even our own family.  However, due to living in function of a painful experience, we might not have allowed ourselves to feel safe in those healthy settings. We may have people in our lives that are more than willing to love us, give affirmations, and would protect us if we needed. However, we have not allowed them, because we keep them at a distance.  Sometimes, as a result of our past experiences, it is as though we send a message to others that we are not safe to be around. We believe that inevitably we will end up disappointing those who seek a relationship with us. We fear that they will see us in the same distorted way that we see ourselves. Shame can do this to us. Also, we do not always see others for who they are, but for who fear they could become. In these instances, when others try to show us love or affirmation, we respond by dismissing the affirmation or by not being responsive. This is because in order to receive an affirmation, we have to open ourselves to another and be vulnerable.

When someone attempts to love or affirm us, we might react as though it is not real or safe. As though on a deep unconscious level we are saying, the love they are showing me cannot be real, because at my core I am unlovable. We can experience a deep and profound incongruence when others try to love us, affirm us, and even look out for us. It is as though they are giving us a gift, but we cannot accept it, because deep inside we believe and feel that we are unworthy. This tends to indicate the presence of shame. It can also indicate the presence of fear. Specifically, the fear that if I allow others to get close, I will just end up being hurt all over again. So often, we can even overlook and take for granted our families.  When we are listening to the past, living in function of it, or trying to prove a negative belief wrong that was learned in the past, we can often overlook and miss the sources of healing experiences in the present, even those in our own homes.  We might have been unknowingly rejecting their healing messages and affirmations.  Whether it is because we doubt they could be true or out of fear, it is very tragic. We speak now of the basic elements of love and safety.  To be healthy, we all need love and a sense of safety. The reality is, we need to allow ourselves to be loved and to feel safe. Everyone is lovable, including ourselves. So, we will have to learn to give humanity a second chance in order to truly heal.

This is the great paradox for those on the healing path. The very humanity that so failed us or hurt us, is the same humanity that we need to heal us. We cannot detour or escape this reality. It was through deep experiences that we were wounded and it is through deep experiences that we are healed. It was through humanity that we were wounded, and it is through humanity that we are healed. We cannot detour dealing with one another. Of course, God can heal us directly, however He created us to be interconnected with one another. He does not want us to live alone and be isolated. He does not want us to withdraw from one another. He wants synergy. He wants us to exert effort in our healing. If we remain distant and guarded from humanity, it means we will never truly love and fulfill the great commandment. We have no choice but to love and be loved freely and in a carefree spirit. This is a key part of over-riding the fear part of our brain so that we have a chance to have those healing experiences. At our best, we can become fellow physicians of our souls for one another. Certainly, there is always a chance, and a likely one, that we will experience disappointment and hurt again. However, we come to know and believe that despite similar feelings, it is not the same experience happening again.  We also come to learn and believe that I can be hurt again, but still be safe.

In light of all this, perhaps we can learn to even welcome disappointing experiences. Afterall, we need to be tested so we can experience that even though we are hurt and disappointed by a present situation, it is not the past reoccurring.  We are not the vulnerable child anymore; we are not the powerless victim anymore.  There have been profound changes. Time has changed, our life has changed, we have changed, we have gained wisdom and experience, time has moved on, and so now we must as well. We have resources we did not have before. We can make adult choices, we can set boundaries, we have more emotional literacy, we can troubleshoot ourselves, and become our own managers of our emotional world. As we gain confidence in this truth, we become even more resilient. We begin to live like someone who never had our painful experiences. We may have a memory, but that memory is void of emotion. It is just a faint image and nothing else. The painful music from the past has ceased. We hear and listen only to the beautiful music of the present where there are risks, but where the benefits far outweigh the risks. When this occurs, we have healed and resolved the past.

About Fr. Joshua Makoul

Fr. Joshua Makoul has been serving as the Dean of St. George Cathedral in Pittsburgh since 2012. Before that time, Fr. Joshua worked in the Counseling Field for 16 years. This involved work in a family-based, school-based, and an outpatient setting. Fr. Joshua received two years of training in family therapy at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center and completed a one year certificate course in Cognitive Behavior Therapy at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. During his last six years working in a small outpatient group, he was supervised by Dr. Jesus Salas who supervises at the Beck Institute in Philadelphia. Fr. Joshua received his Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia and his Bachelors in Psychology from Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. He is licensed in the state of Pennsylvania for counseling. For seminary he attended Holy Cross Seminary in Boston and received an M.Div.

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