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Do Not Allow Your Feeling To Control Your Life

Feeling is a force god gives you for willing and working with greater energy and constancy. But like steam in a locomotive it is a chaotic force. If well channeled by reason (with its safety valves and opportune expansion and release) it will be exceedingly useful to you.

Do not Let Feelings Govern You

Make no change under the influence of feelings. To have as a norm of action “because I like to” is the same as to take a trolley car or bus without bothering about where it is going or only because it is more comfortable or is shinier than another. Likewise, to stop working “because it is a bother” or “troublesome,” is to renounce success, joy, glory and even your own salvation.

T o want something only because there is no other way out, is the way a slave acts. To want it because it is no trouble (following likes or impulses) is the way an animal acts. To want it in spite of the bother (guided by reason or duty) is the way a rational human being acts. To want even the bother of it (with your eyes on the ideal or on God) is the way a hero or saint acts.

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The child and the socially unadapted person love or hate, work or stop working only because of their likes and dislikes, because reason has not been developed or has been inhibited.

Govern Your Feelings

Restrain exaggeration of feelings. Do not give too much importance to them, or to what pleases or displeases you, or to what you fear or desire. For experience tells us that feeling heightens colors, exaggerates good or evil, obscures and alters truth.

For example, do the words or behavior of another irritate you? Then your feelings will make you tend to think that he has a deliberate bad intention (whereas he probably only acted out of light-mindedness, or without full reflection). They will even persuade you that he has yet worse plans for the future. Does the mailman or telegraph messenger bring you bad news? At least your imagination will immediately run riot and overload the unopened envelope with the blackest shadows. “Somebody is dead,” you may think. Or, “Some relative has gone bankrupt.” Do you feel a little unwell? Your uncontrolled thought will tell you, “It must be tuberculosis or heart trouble or the beginnings of insanity.” Is it a case of not making progress in your studies, or in virtue or prayer? Do you find yourself sad and discouraged and wish to give up the spiritual life you adopted? Does it seem to you that you were not made for this? In all these cases you have lost control of your feelings.

Control Your Thoughts

Do not give free rein to their deceptive arguments. Avoid their exaggerations and transfers to other fields. Think about something else and, above all, do not change your plans or make important resolutions under the sway of feeling. Let a day go by. Let a night go by too. “Consult your pillow.” Then when your feelings are calmed you will be disposed for work and you will see that “the lion is not so fierce as he is painted.”

Three very wise rules for governing ourselves when a depressing feeling comes over us:

Firstly, in time of desolation (that is, when you are discouraged or sad, without light or strength, without peace or consolation, or when temptation blinds you) make no change but continue with the plans you made when you had peace, light and consolation.

Secondly, think of the fact that this state will pass and that light and joy will return. Encourage the thoughts and feelings you had before the desolation came.

Thirdly, act against the very desolation. Do the opposite of what you feel yourself inclined to do. Lengthen your prayer, for example, or perform even more mortifications.

In the Palace of Feelings there are brilliant halls where optimism, hope, love, valor and joy. And there are dark cellars, lurking places of discouragement, sadness, fear, worry, anger. The mistress of the Palace, the will, has to pass through all its rooms but can delay wherever she wishes. We should not give too much importance to fears or sadness when they come. We should not habitually and voluntarily stay with them, but pass on to the halls of joy and optimism.

Open the Safety Valve

There are states of feeling in which repression can cause fatigue, suffering and illness. Such are the apparent conflicts between the commands of duty and the demands of honor, love or instinct. Frequently the mere manifestation of these to your mental guide or spiritual director will lighten them, reveal the solution and cure them.

There are four kinds of difficulties or internal conflicts which we should make known as soon as possible to a prudent director lest they poison our wills or at least tire our minds unnecessarily.

(1) Acts which weigh down our conscience with moral responsibility.

(2) Worrisome practical doubts which we cannot solve, or obsessing temptations to evil.

(3) Tormenting indecision in important matters (this may be a result of the preceding).

(4) Oppressing fears or sadness which we do not know how to control.

When a tumor is opened, the victim is relieved. So a release of these emotional conflicts with a prudent friend or spiritual guide, and above all the divine release of them in sacramental Confession, roots out of our soul all that poisonous overload. It brings us so much peace, joy and encouragement that non-Catholic doctors of different countries agree that if Confession had not been established in the Church as a spiritual medicine, they would have had to prescribe it themselves as a treatment for emotional ailments rising from disordered feelings.

You should also open the safety valve of dignified affection in the expansions of family love, true friendship, spiritual confidences, love of your neighbor, love of souls, and love of God. All your mental energy does not flow into the channel of your understanding when you try to close off or block up the channel of feeling. There must be some release of feeling.

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Close the Escape Valve to Brute Instinct and Disordered Passions

A male medical student could not sleep, study or fix his attention. He was wallowing in discouragement, depression and profound sadness. He had to stop attending classes. He had been studying intensely, at the same time has to attend to troublesome family affairs, and was also worrying about an illness of his father's. He consulted an atheistic psychiatrist who recommended certain injections and that he give vent to his sexual instinct. This latter, according to the diagnosis, was being repressed and was the cause of his illness. The young man followed this foolish advice only to find himself even more confused, sad and worried. Once the true cause of his sickness was found and all was made right with God through Confession, he began the work of re-education joyfully. He recovered his ability to sleep in two days. You should also do away with useless confidences which are born of emotionalism or impulse. Never recount to any person you meet, just to console yourself, what you suffer or fear, desire or plan. This might give you some momentary consolation (that of yielding to the impulse) but the sad ideas will impress you more in the telling and make you more their slave. If you tell them to your friends you make them sad, if to your enemies you make them glad. The ills of another, and much less the details of what you suffer, feel or fear, are not of much interest to anyone even though his charity or courtesy lead you to think so. On the other hand, if you forget yourself in the affairs of other people you will at the same time get your own feelings under control, learn something useful, and acquire an affable and sympathetic personality.

Control Impatience

If you have an enemy or dislike someone, the greatest evil you can do, not to him but yourself, is to allow hatred to sink into your soul and plough a lasting furrow there.

A. Spontaneous phase

Injustice, insults, or annoyance affect the cerebral cortex. by means of the senses or imagination. If we perceive these as contrary to our life, honor, health or ideals, we form one of the three following judgments.

"I, They, It"

I: “With my good qualities, merits, and intentions, I do not deserve such treatment.”

They: “They are unfair, cruel, ungrateful, or unbearable.”'

It: “It (the event) is unfair, unjust, intolerable, dangerous.”

Especially if it is very prolonged and is felt to be very strong, this concrete judgment stimulates the hypothalamus which is the engine room of the emotions. Thence the autonomic nervous system spontaneously goes into action. This, plus the action of sympathin, puts heart, stomach, lungs, muscles, viscera, etc. in hyperactivity. And we are invaded by feelings of disgust and antipathy.

This is an example of what the classical moral philosophers. and moral theologians call motus prima primi. In it there is no responsibility nor any sin. We really cannot control it except indirectly, and then only with a great deal of vigilance. We can try to avoid the exciting factor, or at least the memory of it, and to shorten its duration. We do find that we are able to avoid making the concrete judgment, “I, They, It”, or at least to modify it once it is present in us. This we can do either by deliberately interposing a distraction or, better, by deliberately forming in ourselves a different attitude by means of an adequate education or re-education. If we do this the disturbance will pass rather quickly without leaving behind a lasting or profound effect.

B. Voluntary Phase

I. Destructive Development.

These disturbances in the organs themselves affect the cerebral cortex and warn us that we are beginning to be annoyed. The original stimulus itself may also be continuing to solicit our emotions. If the will, which could have distracted our attention to other things, gives in to anger, we will retain the concrete judgment, “I, They, It”. This judgment will become stronger and more prolonged and will prepare us for attack or some other reaction.

The reaction may be wholly unrestrained, in which case the hypothalamus will develop an animal wrath or unrestrained anger with primitive animal reactions. Or perhaps, faced with social conventions or fear of reprisals, we will be content with a restrained attack, that is to say, with a corroding impatience which will be accompanied by threats, or by acts which annoy our adversary, or by a feeling of disgust or sadness. Or finally, we may resolve to postpone the attack, on which occasion we conceive hatred or “bottled wrath” together with tension and prolonged inner disturbances.

In all of these three states the organism calls all its reserves into battle: the overexcited autonomic nervous system, the adrenalin which flows in the blood-stream and activates all the organs, the pituitary gland which liberates the hormone ACTH. This latter stimulates the suprarenal glands where there are manufactured what we might call the Atomic Bombs of the organism, the groups of hormones which affect mineral metabolism, gluco-metabolism, and androgen. All these help to produce a revolution or over-excitation which is more sustained than that of the nervous system, but which liberates an enormous amount of energy as if for use in an emergency.

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Moreover, the medulla of the suprarenal glands produces adrenalin which then stimulates even more the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Then we begin to feel the effects of hypertension in the circulatory system and musculature, the heart pounds, and the lungs labor as if to obtain more oxygen. The stomach contracts, thus stopping or disturbing the process of digestion. The whole organism becomes poisoned if anger is prolonged, and then fatigue and disgust invade us. After the emotion has passed, our resistance is weakened and we become depressed at feeling ourselves conquered by the emotion. Sometimes, too, there may come upon us an unholy joy at seeing an adversary suffer. But all these evils can be avoided by controlling the concrete judgment and by making anger subordinate to reason rather than to passion.

II. Victorious Development.

When the signals of an emotional disturbance come to the cerebral cortex, we notice that we are becoming annoyed and that our organism is beginning to prepare itself for attack or defense. The stimulus itself, the injury or the memory of one, may still be exciting us also. Then, instead of letting ourselves be dominated by the emotion, if we order that it be controlled, the free will can follow either or both of two procedures. First, it can modify the concrete judgment, “I, They, It” either by weakening it through a distraction or, better, annihilating it by a contrary judgment.

Secondly, it can order the contrary internal attitude of love and sympathy and the external expression of this on the face, in the tone of voice, and in muscular activity.

1. Control by means of distraction.

When you are at peace foster this advantageous state for the sake of your own advancement. Continually exercise yourself in acts of goodness and gentleness. If something bothers you, do not be disturbed or resist it. But when it comes, humble yourself graciously in the presence of God and try to put your soul into a tranquil state. Say, “Yes, I stumbled there; I must be more careful.” Do this always, however often you fail. Wait, have patience, gather your forces and you shall win the spirit of peace and gentleness.

We have often heard this advice given, “Calm down, don't answer, control yourself, have patience.” It would be more effective if, instead of wanting to remove the feeling (which is an effect of ideas) we were to remove or modify the ideas which cause it. When another insults you or his conduct disgusts you, instead of thinking about the injustice or grossness of his behavior, concentrate your attention on something else, objects or colors before you, or the sound waves coming at you from all directions, or in observing his waste of energy, his attitudes and reactions. You would then hardly feel any commotion.

2. Control by means of the contrary idea.

(1) Discover which of the three, “I, They, It” predominates in you and formulate the contrary of it.

(2) To the thought of pride or fear which the emotion arouses, e.g., “I do not deserve this treatment,” oppose the following, “I am a man like others, with limitations, defects and transgressions which would deserve a greater punishment.”

Instead of the idea that “They are unjust or cruel,” insist oh what experience teaches, namely that “Everyone has lesser defects and greater virtues than we tend to admit when we are angry.” Or, “They must have done that without thinking of what they were doing, or at least there was no bad will there.” Jesus Christ on the Cross used this means when He asked pardon for those who crucified and insulted Him, saying that their guilt was less because “they know not what they do”.

(3) If you are a spiritual man, a Christian with a living faith, reflect that an insult is what you deserve because of your sins. Think that it is a great opportunity offered you by God to gain by a minute's patience and humiliation “an eternal reward of glory”.

If the mere presence of that good person for whom you have an aversion draws a curl to your lip and brings you a thousand sharp thoughts and words, do a bit of spiritual gymnastics and meditate on his virtues. See in him “Jesus Christ disguised in his defects,” Who draws near to you that you may smile on Him, love Him, speak to Him, and serve Him with greater merit.

Our Divine Master said, “As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for Me.”

(4) Finally, the event itself, the “It”, is not too unbearable nor too dangerous. If it deprives us of some earthly good or convenience or comfort, yet this and all the goods of the world are no more than an insignificant speck of dust in comparison to the everlasting goods which are prepared as the reward of our suffering. “Although it be encircled with thorns, it is a diamond for heaven.” Injury or insult is an incendiary explosion which can only be triggered and detonated by our thoughts of protest.

3. Control by means of the contrary feeling.

We must try to substitute feelings of joy, peace, and sympathy for the feeling of disgust, perturbation, or antipathy which our emotions would tend to arouse in us. Above all we must digest inevitable suffering by accepting it fully, if we wish it not to go on poisoning us. We must treat persons as if they were very congenial and sympathetic. We must try to understand and value their virtues and excuse their defects. We must use a tone of respectful affection, pay them deference and do them services, pray and sacrifice for them. A month of this treatment will be enough to make us congenial and sympathetic ourselves. For knowing how to think well of others and how to smile on them is the secret of multiplying friends.

Bandits once attacked the house of a colleague of mine. He received their chiefs with all courtesy and kindness, just as he would orderly and more advanced people. He invited them to tea, candy and cigarettes in his reception room. When he brought them to the door they met others of the bandits making off with the missionary's mules. The chiefs ordered them to be returned and went away without doing any harm whatever.

4. Control by means of the contrary expression.

We should also use the method which is more physiological. Our voice, breathing, eyes and muscles should be given an expression contrary to that which anger would impose upon us.

We should either remain silent or at least speak deliberately, quietly, and pleasantly. If a cry of hatred or impatience is about to escape through your mouth, breathe deeply two or three times and release the air slowly, and you will extinguish it. Keep the muscles of arms and hands, mouth and face loose and relaxed. Above all make sure that a smile gives the eyes a kindly, gentle expression. And at the same time keep your thoughts on something pleasant.

A lady had her troubles, her bad temper and that of her husband. “My home is a hell,” she said. “We are always quarrelling, although we pass for good Christians, and even devout ones.” She was advised that she go look at herself in a mirror and practice smiling with her eyes. “When you have learned how to make this deep and open smile, and when you know that your husband is returning home, make an act of Faith: 'Here comes Jesus Christ disguised in the defects of my husband. He is coming so that I may smile at Him, love Him, and serve Him.’” A month later her home had been transformed. They were happy. She had modified the thought and the external expression of anger.

Exaggerated Fears

After passing through the fears of childhood we learn, perhaps by experience, about more reasonable grounds for fear. And we protect ourselves against them. Yet oftentimes the environment and our imagination make us see dangers where there really are none, or else magnify our fears a hundred times.

Strong impressions of terror or lively bouts of anxiety and fear, whether they come from conversation, or from a vivid imagination, or the movies, leave something like a residue or sedimentation in the subconscious. This residue is a tendency towards insecurity, or a feeling of anxiety. And when this feeling invades an idle mind it tends to fill it with anxiety, images, provoking organic alterations such as physical inhibitions, trembling, contraction of the blood vessels, pallor, panting for breath, palpitations, and so forth. Fear is a monster which dwells in the caverns of the subconscious. The more vague and confused it is, the more it afflicts us. We should drag it out from its hidden lair, look at it face to face, and then we will destroy it.

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How to Destroy Anxiety, Fears and Worries

1. Make them concrete. We must illuminate those dark caverns. Answer these questions in writing and in detail: “Just what am I afraid of? And why?” When fear or anxiety is made concrete and viewed objectively, it is destroyed.

2. Reason about them. “What probabilities are there that this (the thing I fear) will really happen? And even if it does happen, will it really be as disastrous as I fear?”

3. Face up to them. “Even supposing that this happens, what then? So what? Are there not others who have gone through similar crises? Haven't they gone on living and become happy? And even if I have to die, so what? Then can't I begin to be more happy in eternity?” When we imagine the worst possible natural evil that could happen to us and sincerely accept it and so find a human or divine solution for it, we will be victorious over exaggerated fear.

4. Avoid the exciting factors, or rather the alarming ideas which these stimuli arouse in us. Distract your attention from them by means of concentrating it upon conscious sensations of by deliberately following out a favorite train of thought or, even better.

5. Deliberately affirm contrary judgments, e.g., “There is no extraordinary danger. The chance that this will occur is very little. Even if it does happen, the disadvantage would be insignificant, or at least there would come with it several advantages which would far counterbalance it.”

6. Deliberately foster contrary feelings, e.g., of courage, or security. This is done by the same means by which fear betrayed us, i.e., by intense acts of courage, by vivid remembrances of peaceful moments or places, by actually saying something with a tone of courage or security in the voice.

7. Associate this relieving of past peaceful moments with the circumstances which had been producing anxiety in you. Imagine that you are in control of the situation and that you are speaking in a masterful tone of voice.

There is this male stammerer who was afraid that he would be unable to finish his studies because of this defect. Face to face with any professor he could not speak two consecutive words. The same thing would happen when with certain of his companions and in certain classes. On the contrary he spoke well whenever he had learned something by memory. Hence it was the feeling of anxiety which was inhibiting his vocal muscles. He was afraid that the professor would declare him unsuitable to graduate. But he found a doctor that helped remove this fear by showing him that he could cure himself if he would implant the contrary feelings in his subconscious by the means indicated above. And so the doctor had him link these feelings to the experience which had terrified him most. The doctor had him imagine and then actually say, “I am going to see one of my professors … I greet him… And all is serene. I am completely at peace and am master of the situation.” At first he spoke the last phrase with the same descriptive tone as the first. But the doctor had him repeat it with a tone of security. On doing it with all the courage and force of which he was capable, he was transformed. The stammerer had been cured.

Conquer the Feeling of Inferiority

There is a very frequent type of timidity or cowardice which has its origin in a false or exaggerated concept of one's “inferiority”. It may come from a conflict whose proportions and consequences are multiplied a hundred-fold by wounded self-love. Or it may come from a real defect or incapacity in on field which you are extending to others while hiding your real talents and good qualities. Or it may be from an irrational panic about “What they will say” or about receiving ridicule.

There are students with brilliant compositions in a written examination whom fear of the examiners will disturb and make awkward in an oral examination. Inexperienced orators and poets who have prepared magnificent compositions, at sight of an exacting audience will begin to tremble. They will grow pale, stutter and even forget what they have learned or prepared. Too severe criticism had, after their first trials, cut their wings for life. There are well-trained men who after a failure in business or at one job think themselves unsuited for new ventures. And there are people who converse pleasantly and act courteously who one day are caught ill prepared. We see them grow mute, flush when they have to participate in a social event and finally change into misanthropic solitaries. Typists, pianists, children and young people who are extraordinarily gifted in private or within their family circle often seem nonentities in the presence of other people.

This timidity must not be confused with humility, for it sometimes arises from pride. It causes its victim no little suffering from blushing, trembling, palpitations and stammering. These symptoms appear and disappear without apparent cause. They can even bring on lasting phobias or a mental inhibition. When they border on an emotional shock, they weaken or paralyze the muscles. Humility is not depressing. It is truth and raises one up toward God and confidence in Him. Timidity frequently increases pride or is caused by it.

You must war against so widespread and evil. Above all do not cause such a feeling in children or youths by continually reminding them of and exaggerating their defects. They must on the contrary be encouraged and shown their possibilities for progress. Do not even as a joke give a child terror of ghosts, the dead, darkness or animals. This will probably remain active in his subconscious even after he has grown up. As children, we only feared two things: falling down, and loud noises. Then other fears went on accumulating inside of us. We should cut the thread of them and root them out. We should take fear out of its hidden hiding place and look at it face to face.

If you find this timidity in yourself calmly examine the thoughts and motives which cause it. Remove exaggerated deductions from your sub consciousness and have trust in yourself. Make an examination of your timidity in writing and show this to your director or mental adviser. You know that there is no reason for being a coward, that all men are equal, that you are superior to most in your own specialty, that there are many mediocre people, that geniuses know how to cover up their deficiencies and show their good qualities. Soak yourself in these ideas. Boil them down into suggestive formulas and frequently repeat them, especially when signs of timidity appear.

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With such convictions and suggestions attack the emotional difficulties. Begin with the more easy ones. Take courage at every victory, often repeating, “I am going to win out,” “Each time I have more courage,” and so forth. Never use negative formulas or conjure up the memory of phobias or symptoms which disturb you. If you say, for instance, “I am not going to blush,” “I won't tremble,” “I won't stammer,” you will produce the very effect you wish to avoid.

Blushing

Those who blush easily and suffer embarrassment from this, should not give importance to so natural and common a phenomenon. For it only indicates modesty and virtue (bad people do not blush). Go ahead as if this did not matter to you and take a greater part in the conversation. Pay more attention to what is being said or done. Let this attention fill the field of your consciousness. With no attention given them, the illusions suggested by the timidity and caused by blushing will disappear.

One young teacher who blushed and sweated before his students was greatly impressed and cured by the following reasoning process. “If in spite of feeling myself beginning to blush, I go on firmly and energetically without worrying about it, then I am not only not inferior to others but greater and stronger than all of them. For almost anyone else would act like a coward in these circumstances.”

As a bodily treatment you are recommended any tonic or strengthener of the nervous system, breathing exercises, sports or any moderate physical exercise. Practice sureness of gaze, not that you should seem to be staring or boldly provocative, or trying to pierce behind a companion's eyes. But practice a gaze which looks easily and dignifiedly at a point between another person's eyes. If you have photophobia (that is, if light bothers you) keep your back to the source of the light or use tinted glasses.

Superiors or directors who treat with timid people will do well not to look at their eyes or forehead or even sit directly in front of them, but toward the side. Thus the timid will be less bashful and more confident. Nor should they be required before special training to perform acts of self-conquest in which a great objective difficulty comes more from timidity or phobias than pride or a lack of mortification.

Orators who experience their breath growing shorter or being chocked off just before stepping up onto the speaking platform should breathe deeply for five or ten seconds, emptying their lungs of used air. At the subsequent automatic filling of their lungs with pure air they will begin to speak with a sure voice and will conquer their timidity.

The Supernatural Remedy

For those who have faith the great remedy is a concrete and heroic confidence in God Who can and will aid us. For He commands us “not to fear,” not even “those who can kill the body”. Their remedy is also confident and persevering prayer which obtains whatever it asks for. “The more you ask for when you pray, believe that you will receive it and it shall be given to you.” Here as elsewhere we must avoid timidity. We must not make the future present, for where the future is made present it is disfigured. The only time that exists is now. The past did exist but does no longer; the future may exist, but does not yet. The only two important times, as Catholics acknowledge in the Hail Mary, are “now and at the hour of our death”.

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