O my! I finish my first semester this week at Loyola!
I haven’t written much because of my panic over five courses with a Jesuit institution.
In Response to my volunteering at Stella Maris and the Sisters of Mercy, I wrote the following. I hope you were all generous to the Retirement fund.
What was the most important thing I learned?
I used to be neurotic and narcissistic. Everyone told me so.
The more I tried to change myself, the worse I got.
Then one day, my closest friend told me, “Ron you really need to change.”
I was devastated.
My self-esteem was shot.
Beneath my skin, where no one could see,
I felt humiliated, degraded, hollow and empty.
Beneath my skin I was boiling with disdain, rage, and defiant blaming.
My anxieties increased and so did my unloveliness to the world.
When I recanted with, “I am special!”
They told me, “No you are not! You only think you are special in some grandiose way!”
They told me I lacked empathy, when I knew it was they who lacked empathy.
They told me I was arrogant and haughty, and that I thought I was entitled to compassion.
I thought telling me “that” was arrogant, haughty and uncompassionate!
Why did they focus on me? Why did they blame me?
No matter how much I tried, I could not change my narcissistic symptoms and criteria.
My diagnosed personality disorder was pervasive and landed me on Axis II.
I was stuck for life.
My need for admiration, approval, and having to be the center of attention got worse.
My family and community cut me off, because they thought that I was contagious.
I cut my family and community off, because they were so judgmental and unjust.
All I really desired was success, power, brilliance, beauty and ideal love.
I could not understand what was wrong with that?
Doesn’t everyone desire success, power, brilliance, beauty and ideal love?
I was so alone.
I was narcissistic and unloved.
Then one day, The Pastoral Counselor sought me out.
She told me, “Don’t change, I love you just the way you are!”
Don’t change! Don’t change! Don’t change!
It was like music to my ears, blood to my heart, and spirit to my soul,
especially after all that psychological diagnostic stuff.
She told me what I believed all along.
She affirmed me and told me I was beautiful, brilliant and very special.
And do you know what happened?
As soon as someone could love me as I am, here and now, through and through,
I could change.
I not only changed… I became a pastoral counselor. *
Why is it important?
Saint Paul pointedly says, “But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (Corinthians12:25-26) This is the key to understanding the marginalized. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, unjust elder care, the self-centered, and the dying are everyone’s problem. Those marginalized can also be everyone’s opportunity and joy. Just as anxiety and mental illness run in families, they may also run within churches, communities, nations and our emotional systems. By addressing a social justice issue like quality health care for all, we rarely make a transformative change unless we are willing to be transformed ourselves. It has become very clear to me after surviving my first semester attending Loyola University’s graduate school in pastoral counseling, that coming to grips with my own basic self and values is essential to embodying the identity of the “true pastor” in pastoral counseling.
Robert Wicks and Thomas Rodgerson share in the introduction of Companions in Hope (1998), that it was written as a “partial antidote to the isolation and potential alienation of people in a world that is moving too fast and, in the process, rapidly discouraging people from fulfilling their human and spiritual responsibilities to each other. It is written with the belief that ordinary people need to be considered as a critical component to the healing team of caring professionals that includes clergy, therapists and doctors (p. 2).”
How will it impact my work as a counselor?
Sister Regina and I talked for my last hour. We realized that the soul of the ministry with the elderly, sick and dying is more about sharing the good news about Stella Maris, rather than just ministering to the few people we help. The ministry changed us both as we recognized our own anxieties and speed bumps. My gift of writing and preaching could be sharpened and be of great service in advocating for the competent, compassionate and comprehensive health and housing services for the elderly, the sick, the injured and the dying (especially pastoral counselors). When a person is facing imminent death, anxieties rise even in the family member who seems calm. This is when a pastoral counselor is the specialist more accurate than a community counselor without pastoral training. All of us must one day die, but it is the counselor who is aware of his/her strengths and limitations that can go in like the surgeon and help the transition to the divine.
I used to be neurotic and narcissistic. I still am. The difference now is that I am changing because of unconditional love. I am transforming, and I will always be transforming, into a “very special” pastoral counselor. There is so much to learn.
Gratitude. That is my final word. Thank you Deb for mentoring me through my wrestling with the introduction to pastoral counseling identity and Stella Maris. The day that Dr. Elizabeth Maynard shared with the class about her little two-year-old asking on a Saturday morning, “School!?” was my wakeup call. Loyola, with her service-learning, reminds me of my sea years at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and beyond. The first day I boarded a new ship; my almost clinical panic attacks with all their anxiety baggage would paralyze me and cause me to dread the day (similar to my phobia of writing about community counseling). Then, a day or so later, I would wake up at half past three in the morning for my 4 to 8 am watch in order to complete my navigational journal (service-learning) and shoot some stars and planets. Silence, prayer, faith, love, service and peace embraced me as the ship plowed through the majestic seas. The sacredness of the starlit mornings can heal any soul. So I now realize that I often bolted up at O-dark thirty in my cabin and shouted, “School!?”
*The opening poem is a creation influenced by the DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (p. 714-716) and a memorized poem told by the late Anthony DeMello, SJ.