Episode 28. Police Detective Gods, Pushy Salesman Gods, and Heartbreaker Gods – August 10, 2020
Intro: Welcome to the podcast Coronavirus Crisis: Carpe Diem, where you and I rise up and embrace the possibilities and opportunities for spiritual and psychological growth in this time of crisis, all grounded in a Catholic worldview. We are going beyond mere resilience, to rising up to the challenges of this pandemic and becoming even healthier in the natural and the spiritual realms than we were before. I’m clinical psychologist Peter Malinoski your host and guide, with Souls and Hearts at soulsandhearts.com. Thank you for being here with me. This is episode 28, released on August 10, 2020 and the title is Salesmen Gods, Police Detective Gods and Heartbreaker Gods.
So will cover three more God images today, the Outtogetcha Police Detective God, Pushy Salesman God, and Heartbreaker God. In the previous three episodes, numbers 25, 26, 27, we covered a total of nine God images.
Brief review: let’s just spiral back and review, what are God images again?
My God image is my gut-felt sense of God -- it’s how my heart feels God to be in the moment. My God image is who my emotions insist that God is right here, right now. My God image is very subjective, it can be miles away from who I know God to be intellectually, who I profess God to be. So it is critical to understand is that your God images are not necessarily who you profess God to be with your intellect in your will. They are the subjective, unfiltered, spontaneous, passion-driven representations of God that can vary wildly, sometimes even from moment to moment.
Similarly, my self-image is who I feel myself to be in the present moment, it is who my passions are telling me that I am right this minute. M self-images are much more driven by emotion, much more intuitive, subjective, and they also vary a lot more from moment to moment. My self image in the moment complements my God image in the moment.
That’s a brief review of God images and self-images, but if you want more of a conceptual background for God images, check out episodes 22, 23, and 24 where I much more in-depth explanation of them.
So what is the connection between problematic God images and resilience? Because remember, we are in a sequence in this podcast that is all about resilience. Here is where we get right down to it. We need a deep and abiding confidence in God, especially in God’s Providence in order to be resilient. That resilience is an effect – it’s a consequence of the deep, abiding confidence in God, especially in God’s Providential care for us, His love for us. If you have a deep, abiding, childlike confidence in God and His providential love for you, for you specifically, you will be resilient. Period. Full Stop. Let me say that again, this is absolutely critical to understand. If you have a deep, abiding, childlike confidence in God and His providential love for you, for you specifically, you will be resilient.
Let’s keep in mind how the main psychological reason why we don’t have that deep abiding confidence in God is because we don’t know Him as He truly is. We have problematic God images. We give into those problematic God images, we default to them, we let them dominate us. And these distorted God images lie to us about who God is. They whisper half-truths to us and they draw us away from the real God when we give in to them, when we don’t resist them.
These distorted God images also lie to us about who we are, leading to distorted self-images. Note please don’t misunderstand me. There usually are at least some elements of truth even in the most distorted God images and the most warped self-images. The messages from these distorted God-images and these inaccurate self images aren’t purely false. The messages actually have some kernel of truth in them, which can make it confusing for us.
So here is the causal chain:
We have distorted God images à we give in to those God images, we let them dominate us à our self-image deteriorates à we drift away from God or we flee from him à we lose peace, joy, well-being à we become symptomatic – anxious, depressed, apathetic, hopeless, whatever our symptoms are.
Too often, we tried to intervene at the end of the causal chain. We want to intervene at the symptomatic level. For example, we may take antidepressants to try to knock out our depressive symptoms. Or we might use progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery or grounding techniques to reduce our anxiety. I’m not condemning these practices, they can be helpful for symptom management. But no medication in the world is going to correct a dysfunctional, distorted God image on its own. Have you ever heard of any psychotropic drug that in its slick advertising promises to improve your relationship with God?
Symptom-focused approaches don’t get at the root causes of our psychological distress. They can create some space with symptom relief for us to more effectively address the root causes, but symptom focused approaches don’t heal those root causes on their own.
It’s also important to note that just because we have anxiety or sadness doesn’t mean we have a distorted God image driving it. Our Lord experienced intense grief. He experienced anxiety in the garden of Gethsemane. This was not a psychological disorder. Our Lady was anxious when searching for 12-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem. This was not because she had some kind of anxiety disorder or emotional dysfunction. So it’s important to note that not all negative emotional experiences or all psychological distress are an effect of problematic God images.
So we had a great meeting last Friday night there were 13 of us from the Resilient Catholics: Carpe Diem! Community in that meeting for a question-and-answer session about God images. It was an excellent discussion. This message came through clearly: Dr. Peter, Dr. Peter, help us resolve are problematic God images help us to work through them help us to heal from these burdensome distorted God images that drag us down. I get it. I hear you. I’m with you. I am working on how to present solutions to you.
I am going ask for little patience. I have nearly 2 decades of experience helping people one-on-one to work through their God images, and while I have a lot left to learn, I do know some things about it. I am still very much sorting through how best to address God images in a podcast format, and how best to assist people with their problematic God images in the RCCD community. Together, we are going to go through some trial and error with that.
Right now, we are really focused on identifying different types of God images. Identification of God images is an essential prerequisite to actually doing the God image work. So I’m excited that people want to work on their God images.
I’ve started having people sign up on the interest list for a course on God images that would focus specifically on resolving them. If you’re interested in getting on that list let me know at email@example.com
or at 317.567.9594. If you are already a member of the RCCD community, you can reach me by private messaging me on our app -- that is actually the fastest way to get in touch with me. If you are in RCCD member already, and you are not on the app please let me know, we’d love to have you join us on that format. We’re really moving most of our interactions to the app.
If you are not yet a member of the RCCD community and you’ve been thinking about it – and I know some of you have been thinking about it – take the leap. It’s free for the first 30 days, $25 per month after that, and there is a whole host of resources available to you there, too many to list now. Go to soulsandhearts.com, click on the tab that says all courses and shows and register for the Resilient Catholics Carpe Diem Community. If you can’t find it, let me know and I will personally help you through the registration.
The RCCD community brings together people like you, people that are really interested in growing more and more resilient, both in the natural realm and in the psychological realm, and who are seizing this day, this moment as an opportunity for great spiritual and psychological growth. And we are doing it together, we are growing together in relationship, so friendships are forming in our community, connections are being made, and there is a lot of sharing and support. Could you use more support from like minded Catholics – could you benefit from more connection with people like you who are interested in psychology, Catholicism, resilience and breaking free from whatever is holding us back?
If you’ve got everything you need right now in that department, I’m happy for you, that’s great. Keep doing what you’re doing. But if you are missing something, especially around relational connections, then maybe, just maybe, our community may be a good fit for you.
All right, enough with the marketing now, let’s get back to content. Today, we are diving into three new problematic God images: the Pushy Salesman God, the Outtogetcha Police Detective God, and the Heartbreaker God. Bill and Kristi Gaultiere discuss these God images in their 1989 book Mistaken Identities, and I’m adding much more color and background to them, to make them come even more alive for us Catholics in our present day with the challenges of the coronavirus.
Outtogetcha Police Detective God: this God is caught up in demanding perfection from me. It definitely sees me, he watches me carefully, he’s looking for when I make mistakes, and he holds my sins against me. He is legalistic, and his vigilance never ceases. He spies on me, I can feel his eyes on me, and this Outtogetcha Police Detective God loves to catch me in the exact moment moment of sinning. He never misses my smallest error or imperfection, and he tallies all of them, great and small in his book. He is stingy with forgiveness, my offenses are never blotted out, no erasures are ever made in his book. He focuses on an exacting justice, carefully measured out. He wants to put me in the dock and condemn me, but to do it in a way that is justified and ordered so that he can meet out punishment to me and be satisfied. In his Muppet characters Statler and Waldorf, who set up in their balcony with negative running commentary about the rest of the cast, delighting in all the cast members’ mistakes.
Bible verse: Job 10:5-7 Are your days like the days of a mortal, and are your years like a human lifetime, That you seek for guilt in me and search after my sins, Even though you know that I am not wicked, and that none can deliver me out of your hand?
Self-image: when my Outtogetcha Police Detective God image is activated, I get very nervous about making mistakes. I become cautious. I don’t expect second chances. I don’t feel accepted if I am imperfect. I am constantly monitoring myself. I have difficulties being spontaneous. It’s easy for me to slip into scrupulosity, to consider my imperfections as sins. I mistake my overly demanding conscience as the voice of God. I may secretly believe that others are soft and morally lax, content with lukewarmness. I am like a hamster on a wheel of moral perfection, striving toward faultlessness and perfect virtue, but I never make it, no matter how fast I make the wheel spin. I’m caught up in the heresy of Pelagianism, believing that I have to earn God’s love through a process of self-perfection. I feel like God picks on me.
Attachment history: Individuals who develop an Outtogetcha Police Detective God image frequently were raised in homes where the parents were very invested in upright and proper moral behavior. These parents often saw the children as extensions of themselves, and were preoccupied with how their children’s actions reflected on them. Parents like this and needed their children to behave well in order to feel better about themselves. Sometimes, the opposite type of parenting can also generate an Outtogetcha Police Detective God image. When children have parents who are absent and disengaged, they can impose their own rigid moral codes on themselves, untempered by mature reasoning, and unbuffered by compassion.
Coronavirus crisis: when things seem very difficult for me in the coronavirus era, and my Outtogetcha Police Detective God image is activated, I might initially run faster and faster on my hamster will, but then I become exhausted, and and then I can then act out in various ways. Binging on food, alcohol, movies, video games, shopping, pornography – all of those behaviors are not uncommon with this kind of God image. My attitude can become, “If I’m going to be bad, I’m going to be bad. I can’t please God anyway.” The harder I try, the further I fall behind. And God just keeps making it harder and harder for me. Sometimes, people with this Outtogetcha Police Detective God image can become more demanding of others when they are stressed by all of the effects of the coronavirus. Thus, you might experience an uptick in criticism from a supervisor or superior with this God image activated, who is stressed in the current environment.
Vignette: Sarah felt that you never measured up to her father’s expectations. In grade school, when she brought home a 98% on a spelling test, he would grill her about the one word she missed, having her spell it repeatedly at supper. He always discussed how he had such high expectations for Sarah because he loved her, and wanted what was best for her. Sarah’s father saw so much potential in Sarah -- she could have the world, if she just put her mind to it. Sarah was the oldest of five children. Academically, intellectually, she was the most gifted of all her siblings. Her father put together a demanding regimen, designed to “bring out the best in her.” When she protested, when she pushed back as a child, he told her how when she was older, she would thank him for challenging her to be her best.
When she was a teenager, Sarah’s father read her diary. He snooped around and he would eavesdrop on her conversations. He had a way of ferreting information out of her friends and their parents. He always referred to Sarah as “my girl” and “the girl after my heart.” He held success tantalizingly just out of Sarah’s reach. When she won her high school sectionals the 400 meters, her father didn’t celebrate her success – rather, he immediately went to discussing the level of competition at regionals, and her possibilities for making it to the state. She feared making mistakes. She didn’t expect to be accepted. When her boyfriend Jason was also critical of her, there was some comfort in that, because it was familiar. Her father zeroed in on the Jason’s imperfections, categorizing them, and offering suggestions for how we could improve himself. Neither Sarah nor her boyfriend Jason felt comfortable at her house.
When she didn’t get in to Swarthmore College, her father was furious. He demanded to see her essays again, and nitpicked at them, even though he had reviewed them before. He harped on how she must have underperformed during the interview with admissions staff and reviewed other ways in which she might not have measured up.
Sarah had little connection with a merciful, compassionate God. She saw God is someone she always had to work hard to please, but she would never succeed. Never succeed. She was very dominated by an Outtogetcha Police Detective God image. Having been raised Catholic, primarily by her retiring and dominated mother, she said prayers, but they seemed really flat and fruitless. She received the sacraments and said the right things in CCD class to complete the program, but after confirmation, she left religion behind. She just wanted God to leave her alone.
So Sarah went off to Vassar for college, not far away from where her maternal grandparents lived in upstate New York. She heard her father’s voice in her head, with his incessant demands. She longed for relief from all this internal pressure. She needed some kind of spirituality, but she didn’t know what she was looking for.
Pushy Salesman God: So the pushy salesman God, this God is ill-mannered, he’s demanding, he wants to force me to do things his way. He wants to shape me into mold he has made for me. He doesn’t really respect my boundaries or limits. He will try to subtly trick me with his glittering, dazzling smile and a veneer of friendliness. If that doesn’t work, he is willing to force me to get what he wants from me. There’s no collaboration or cooperation with this God. It’s his way or the highway. The demand is all for conformity. If I want to be a good Catholic, if I want to be in relationship with him, I’ve got to buy what he’s selling, I’ve got to play the role he’s chosen for me. My desires, my opinions, my preferences, my ideas, my individuality, none of this makes any difference to the Pushy Salesman God. This is a God who takes advantage of my human weakness, he tries to manipulate me, he uses heavy-handed tactics to get what he wants from me. If I do what the Pushy Salesman God wants, sometimes I get meager rewards, but sometimes I don’t. He’s not reliable.
Bible verse: The Bible verse the Gaultieres chose for the Pushy Salesman God image is again from Job, chapter 14, verses 19 to 20. God, you destroy the hope of man. You forever overpower him, and he departs. You change his appearance and send him away.
So here you can see the deep power differential, how God is forcing me, overpowering me, and then sending me away, hopeless. There’s no sense of mutuality, of collaboration.
Self-image: When my Pushy Salesman God image is activated, I feel like I have no value unless I’m dancing the steps that God has laid out for me. I feel used when I follow this Pushy Salesman God. I feel bereft and rejected if I don’t follow him. I can’t set any limits or boundaries with God. I have to be vigilant to keep him from manipulating me. It’s not safe to be close to him, but I can’t do without him. I am distrustful and suspicious of him, I have to keep one eye on him at all times, because he’s a sneak. I wonder why he treats me this way, what’s wrong with me that I deserve such maltreatment. Maybe I am really worthless and deserving of being used and even abused. Many years ago, a client told me about male exotic dancer who went by the moniker “Moist Towelette” -- that was his stage name, “Moist Towelette.” That self-given name captures a real sense of being used and thrown away, and it captures a sense of the self-image that goes with the Pushy Salesman God image.
Attachment history: Not surprisingly, the history of people with a frequent Pushy Salesman God image is often characterized by relationships in which more powerful others took advantage of the person, usually when the person was vulnerable because he or she was young, or in difficult circumstances. Often, people with this God image are very ambivalent, very conflicted about whether to trust or not. Trusting others means losing my sense of integrity. Keeping my sense of integrity means I will be isolated, alone, rejected.
Often, people with this God image have greater than average innate needs for relationship and connection. These are people who need people, they want to be in relationship. Issues around trust, safety and security are most prominent. They do feel seen by powerful others, including God, but often as objects of desire to be used and discarded. Childhood sexual abuse can freely give rise to a Pushy Salesman God image, particularly if the abuser was frequently around, and the abuse went on over time, and there was a mix of punishments and rewards that went with the experience of abuse.
Coronavirus crisis: So let’s bring this into the coronavirus era. How does the coronavirus impact the Pushy Salesman God image. Right now, people are experiencing a sense of loss in many different areas. It’s not uncommon for this to be tied to an assumption that I have not been pleasing the Pushy Salesman God. Or alternatively, it may mean that I haven’t pleased him, and now I’m suffering is consequences. I didn’t fit into his mold. Maybe I tried to and failed. Or maybe I have just rejected him. Maybe the losses I’ve experienced have push me over the edge, and I have had it, I am so over this Pushy Salesman God. I’d rather go it alone.
Vignette: Let’s follow up with Sarah where we left off. She is in her freshman year at Vassar and doing well academically, but really stressed. After a semester, Jason transferred to join her at Vassar, to be closer to her. Jason had recently gotten into some esoteric, New Age beliefs, and was experimenting with “finding himself” and now interested in “exploring his sexual potential”. He began to push Sarah’s boundaries around physical intimacy. Initially, he wheedled and cajoled, joked and teased, but as she continued to resist, he stepped up his pressure. In high school, she is seen as a refuge, and as an alternative support figure to her father. However, she was increasingly uncomfortable with the ways that he was trying to manipulate her. Jason knew that Sarah had some dependency on him, and was trying to exploit that. He worked to increase her vulnerability, trying to cut her off from friends she had made in her first semester that recognized some of the manipulative dynamics. One of Sarah’s friends, Aurora, a radical feminist, pointed out all the problems she saw ins Sarah’s relationship with Jason. Aurora hated Jason, and viewed him with deep suspicion, and also was jealous of him. Sarah desperately wanted a relational connection with someone. Jason it seemed to offer that connection in high school, but now he seems more and more focused on physical contact.
As the problems continued to mount with Jason, Sarah reconnected with some of her friends from her first semester. One of them, Emily, was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, and was warm and kind to her. Sarah tried to pray with Emily. Sarah experienced God now is still demanding, but in a different way. He still wanted her to conform to his desires, but now he seemed more greasy, more slick, and more manipulative. Emily encouraged Sarah to bring these impressions of God to God in prayer, and prayed with her. Emily was really patient with her, and brought her into a Bible study where she had the support of other Christian college students.
Jason sensed that his hold on Sarah was slipping away, and he upped the pressure. One Friday night, after he had been drinking, he lashed out at her verbally, and then physically, slapping her, and tearing at her blouse. This is the first time that he had been physically violent with her, and Sarah was stunned and speechless, freezing. Just then, Aurora knocked at the door, and when Sarah opened it, Aurora immediately understood what was happening. She roared at Jason, and pointed her pepper spray at him and Jason fled. Aurora put her arm around Sarah and comforted her as Sarah spilled out the whole story of what had just happened.
Sarah continued to pray with Emily and work on a relationship with Jesus, she realized how much her relationship with Jason had impacted how she saw God. She saw how she believed that a core level that God just wanted her to conform into do whatever he wanted, to have her meet his arbitrary demands, like Jason wanted her to meet his sexual demands. She appreciated how Aurora and Emily, both in their individual ways had supported her, and helped her limit Jason’s intrusions. She was also able to successfully break off the relationship with Jason.
So there is the Pushy Salesman God. Now we’re moving on.
Heartbreaker God: This God breaks promises to me. He raises my hopes high, and then dashes them back down to the earth. He draws me in to trust him, and then when I need him and seek him, he is nowhere to be found. I put my fragile self in his hands, and he treats me casually, carelessly, thoughtlessly. And I get hurt, wounded.
Bible verse: Psalm 60:10. Have you not rejected us O God? You do not go forth, O God, with our armies. Can you hear the lament, in which the psalmist feels like God has abandoned him, broken his word, gone back on his promises to be with Israel always?
Self-image: With this God image, I feel like Charlie Brown, running up to the football. The Heartbreaker God is like Lucy, who yanks the ball away at the last second, and I wind up on my back wondering why ever trusted God again. Why does God treat me this way? Why does he not have mercy on me? Why does he not care for me? Am I not worth his consistent and unfailing care? Why will he not let me depend on him? Why doesn’t he follow through on his promises to me? What’s wrong with me?
Attachment history: This Heartbreaker God image can develop in childhood when I have experienced a deep disappointments and intense grief with little opportunity to process through their losses. This could happen for example to children whose parents divorce. In this situation, children are always aware at some level of the degree of conflict between their parents. They desperately yearn for their parents’ marriage to improve, and cling to any signs of hope, any indicator that things are getting better. So many children pray with great intensity for their quarreling parents, longing for peace and stability in their homes. They ride the emotional roller coaster up and down up and down, with its gut-wrenching intensity. They hear that all things are possible with God, but in the end, it feels like God just breaks their hearts too.
The Heartbreaker God image can also emerge when parents die from illnesses, or in war. It could happen when there is financial ruin. Heartbreaker God images are known to emerge during and after the breakup of romantic relationships, especially when my romantic partner ends the relationship unilaterally or has an affair. The Heartbreaker God image can also develop later in life if a spouse is abandoned in her marriage, especially if the divorce seemed to come out of nowhere.
Coronavirus crisis: During the era of the coronavirus, there are no shortage of losses in people’s lives. It’s the losses that are not seen through a Providential lens that can activate a Heartbreaker God image. Losses in the present can trigger unresolved losses from the past, with all their emotional intensity. When the churches were shuttered, and access to the sacraments was denied, many people described feeling heartbroken, and some may have wondered where God was? Why did he allow himself to be lost to us in the Mass, in the Eucharist, in confession? The coronavirus is also stressing marriages. According to nolo.com which provides free legal help, the search term spiked up 32% from March to May of 2020, as the lockdowns initially took hold. From March to May of 2019, a year ago, there was a decrease of 6% in nolo.com searches for help with divorce.
Vignette: so now, Sarah is in the second semester of her sophomore year at Vassar. She is continue to deepen her relationship with Emily and with Aurora. It troubles Sarah that Emily and Aurora don’t get along. Emily is nice enough to Aurora, but Aurora seems to dislike Emily, and somehow be in competition with her. Sarah is continuing to develop her prayer life, really working on an intimate relationship with Jesus, and now attending a nondenominational Christian church. While she finds some of the Campus Crusade coeds a little rigid and moralistic, she feels part of a community that feels wholesome and uplifting.
Sarah also like spending time with Aurora, and she finds kind of edgy, raw, witty, and earthy. Aurora has a take no prisoners approach to life, and Sarah is attracted to her apparent strength. One night, as the two of them were drinking in Aurora’s apartment, Aurora sat close to her, and then burst into tears, confessing to Sarah how much she loved her, how she had loved her since she first met her. Aurora told Sarah how she wanted to spend the rest of her life with her, and how she yearned to be with her as more than a friend. Aurora reached out to touch Sarah’s face and then she saw Sarah’s expression.
Sarah was shocked. It had never occurred in Sarah’s wildest dreams that Aurora might be romantically interested in her. Sarah jumped up, backed away and burst into tears. She fled from the apartment while Aurora wailed in the foyer and begged Sarah not to go, not to leave, to stay and talk it out. Sarah was nearly overwhelmed with a sense of betrayal and loss, and she experienced a major revivification of all the hurt and intrusion from her relationship with Jason.
Sarah realized how much she had invested emotionally in Aurora and how she had been blindsided by her. She felt a deep sense of betrayal, and she understood Aurora’s relationship with her in an entirely different light, and she felt waves of sorrow, loss, and fear wash over her.
Sarah found Emily, and laid out the whole story. She was afraid that Emily might judge her or think that she somehow had led Aurora on, that she might be same-sex attracted. Emily continued to be patient, listening with a compassionate, gentle presence, not trying to fix anything or give advice. Sarah realized in her prayer that she was now blaming God for the loss of her relationships with Jason and Aurora. She was surprised at how emotionally entangled she had become with Aurora.
Sarah was struggling with a Heartbreaker God image. As she had before, Emily encouraged Sarah to bring all of this anger and disappointment she had in Jesus to Jesus. With Emily’s encouragement and presence, Sarah could be more real with Jesus. One evening, she laid it all out in great detail, recounting the stories of her experiences of Jason and Aurora in great detail, with all of her feelings. It took most of Emily’s large box of Kleenex for Sarah to get through both stories. It was messy, but Sarah was able to tell Jesus how she really felt about him, about the betrayal and disappointment and the heartbreak and the losses. But when she did, she felt a huge sense of relief in being able to put this all into words and share it with her Lord. And in the midst of the pain, she felt the beginnings of peace. Both Emily and Sarah recognized the moment as a breakthrough in her journey with God.
All right, so there we have them – three God images, the Outtogetcha Police Detective God, Pushy Salesmen God, and Heartbreaker God. And we’ve seen how they can weave though the life of one person.
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