A therapist explores two obstacles to human flourishing

As a mental health therapist for 17 years, I have noticed a consistent trend emerging among most of my clients. They fall into either one or both of two categories. Both of these categories affect our ability to truly flourish as human beings, as we were intended.:

  1. They have felt deeply unloved all their lives and “invisible” to others; or
  2. They simply had no idea who they were: they had a self-identity problem.

We have been given a wonderful gift by our Creator that fulfils our very being and existence: to become our authentic selves and to love and be loved. God “wired” our brains for attachment—for relationship. He, likewise, “wired” our brains for individuation; that is, to become an individual and autonomous self—to become an “I”. Both are necessary for human flourishing. Cardinal Josef Ratzinger referred to this as, “substance as relation.” We are not merely an “individual substance of a rational nature” as Boethius taught—we were created to be a self, destined for relation with each other, and ultimately with God.

We were created for love and to be our authentic selves.

We may be familiar with the Scripture parable where Jesus speaks of leaving the 99 sheep in search of the lost one. Jesus knows the 99 are all together as one flock so there should be no worry of them being lost. After all, they are together as one flock looking out for one another while Jesus is in pursuit for the one that wandered away—alone, confused and destitute. So far, so good. But what if there is more than one lost, alone, confused and destitute within the 99? What then?

These are the ones, “lost in the mix.” I am referring to those sheep among the fold who are not so visible: those addicted to drugs or alcohol, the mentally or spiritually ill, the lost and often forgotten one, the one not seen nor heard, invisible to the gaze of others. They silently scream eclipsed by a world that seems to be falling apart around them. And yet, these very ones are right next to us, pressed upon us on either side by the rest of the sheep. So often we fail to take notice of them.

Many of these lost ones have learned to keep their aloneness to themselves. They recall previous encounters of being shut down and silenced. Or, alternatively, they may choose to repress and deny their true selves because they reason it is better to deny their inner anguish than to risk being rejected by their loved ones. They suppress their authentic self and hide it from others in order to blend in with the crowd. Moreover, their emotions suffer as they repress themselves, only further exacerbating their plight.

Jennifer Fox’s novel, “The Tale,” put it this way: “As a child I felt invisible at home and school, so I learned how to adapt…I taught myself the skill of being a chameleon, so that I would fit into people’s worlds.”

In part two of this blog, I will shed some light on how to help these “lost sheep”.

Peter A. Drabbant LPC, CSAC, Licensed Therapist, Catholic Charities Families Services

Learn more about mental health counseling available through Catholic Charities Family Services. During the pandemic, all counseling sessions are being conducted remotely, using secure teletherapy.