Episode 24. God Images and Self Images
July 13, 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 24, released on July 13, 2020 and it’s called God Images and Self Images.
Today we’re going to consolidate some of our learning to date, spiraling back to a few key concepts and then bringing those key concepts to life in a story. You may remember Richard and Susan from Episodes 17 and 19 when we were doing a three-episode series on grief – you long-time listeners that were with us six to eight weeks ago may remember. And you may have forgotten. No worries. Don’t worry if you don’t remember. We are going to review all the key concepts briefly here and I’ll catch you all up on the doings of Susan and Richard, as we begin this fifth installment on Catholic resilience. We’re also going to take a close, in-depth look at the negative God images that Richard and Susan struggle with, and how those God images impact how they feel about themselves and each other. Now if you are just joining us, Richard and Susan are made up – I created these characters to illustrate the concepts we’re discussing, buy they are realistic, and have issues common in our lives.
I said were going to review what a God image is, so let’s just go over that again briefly.
My God image is my emotional and subjective experience of God, who I feel God to be in the moment. May or may not correspond to who God really is.
Initially my God images are shaped by the relationship that I have with my parents. This is my experiential sense how my feelings and how my heart interpret God. My God images are heavily influenced by psychological factors, and different God images can be activated at different times, depending on my emotional states and what psychological mode I am in at a given time.
God images are always formed experientially. God images flow from our relational experiences and how we construe and make sense of those images when we are very young.
My God images can be and usually are radically different than my God concept.
My God concept What I profess about God. It is my more intellectual understanding of God, based on what one has been taught, but also based on what I have explored through reading. I decide to believe in my God concept. Reflected in the Creed, expanded in the Catechism, formal teaching.
This distinction between God image and God concept is so critical, I really want you to grip onto it, to really understand it a deep level. I hope you can really digest to the difference, not just at a conceptual level, but at a much deeper level in you, and hang onto it for the rest of your lives. I mean that. Remember the causal chain that we discussed last time?
Letting ourselves be taken in by our bad God images leads us to lose confidence in God, which in turn causes us to become much less resilient.
Allowing our problematic, heretical God images to dominate us, to exert influence on us in subtle but powerful ways. In the last episode, Episode 23, we discussed how the greatest sin against the First Commandment among us serious Catholics is defaulting to our negative God images, and letting them rule us, not resisting their pull on us, letting them draw us away from God.
The more we give into our negative, heretical God images, the more they color our God concepts, leading us to entertain doubts in our intellect about God’s love, his power, his mercy, his goodness. And once we abandon our God concept to the notions of our heretical God images, we are headed for major trouble.
Richard and Susan from Episodes 17 and 19 on Grief. We’re going to take a close look at Susan’s God images throughout her life to date in more detail, and in order to do that, we have to go back 100 years, and some generations.
Susan’s father Pawel-- Born 1919 in Pittsburgh to Polish immigrant parents, Pawel’s mother died shortly after he was born from Spanish influenza. Youngest of three brothers. Grew up in the 1920s with his father and two older brothers. No sisters, no experience of mother, no stepmother – some extended family but not really close. Pawel’s father (Susan’s grandfather) was a wheelwright, making wagon wheels. At age 10, Al experienced the stock market crash and the Great Depression, hard times, unemployment, and a rough house, with some alcoholism. So Pawel grew up in difficult economic circumstances, completed 8th grade, went to work as a printer’s apprentice and then to war in 1942 and fought in the American infantry in France under Pershing.
In 1945, return with some shellshock, not able to talk about war experiences. In 1951 six years after the war ended, 32 year old Pawel married Maja, an 18 year old Polish immigrant who had US shortly after WWII ended. He had known Maja’s family.
Maja was devoted to Pawel, very social, very outgoing, but with a history of unresolved war trauma from the German invasion of Poland when she was a little girl in the late 1930’s. Pawel and Maja had four children, three boys and then Zuzanna – which is Polish for Susan -- Zuzanna was the youngest of the four, born in 1960. Life was good for the family in the 1950s and 1960s.
§ Susan’s Father the good days
· Worked in a printing shop, a master printer, first shift
· High school education, funny, affectionate, a great story teller
· Susan was the youngest, and the only girl, three older brothers, everyone said she was her mother’s daughter, similar to Mom Maja in so many ways, both physically and in her personality
· Dad gave her lots of warmth and affection as a baby and toddler and little girl, all through grade school – he read to her and was like the coolest dad, because he would come to her tea parties with her dolls –
§ God image – Susan found it easy to pray – first communion, first confession. Warmth toward God, sunny days. Felt beloved.
§ Susan’s Father – the difficult days
· But when she turned 14, in 1974, it became a difficult relationship – she and her father did not see eye to eye.
o When Susan reached puberty, Dad withdrew emotionally – seemed to reject her hugs and kisses, told her those were “things little girls did” and “Susan, you’re a big girl now”
o She told him he had always said she’d be his little girl and didn’t understand when he said nothing in response
o She didn’t understand the tears in his eyes or why he’d turn away, leave her and watch TV alone in his den
o her heart ached for him. She tried to reconnect, but he seemed cold and distant, She tried for four years, all through high school – she’d look at the photo albums of how happy Dad was when he was with her – beaming, smiling, throwing her in the air and catching her. Up until 14. Maja didn’t really seem to notice how difficult the relationship was.
o Then in college, she rejected him, and went her own way, looking for the love from older boyfriends who were physically affectionate.
· Died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack in 40 years ago in 1980, at age 61. Susan Susan was 20, in college and it broke her heart. Grief. Guilt over rejecting him, guilt over the conflicts she had had with him, over her coldness and rejection of him.
· God image – felt abandoned, alone, God so distant. She must have done something wrong. And she had sexual partners.
· At Present:
o 60 years old
o Extroverted, very emotionally expressive
o Raised Catholic, drifted away in adolescence and young adulthood
o Reinvested in the faith about 27 years ago in 1993 with the birth of her first son, very conflicted about the miscarriage.
o Never really addressed the miscarriage of her baby daughter 20 years ago, whom she desperately wanted.
o Wide circle of friends and acquaintances, close friend Valerie
o Professional translator in Spanish and Italian
o Scare with breast cancer five years ago
o Mother Maja has recently died at age 87 in the nursing home from the coronavirus
· 61 years old
· Emotionally reserved, doesn’t talk about his feelings easily, has trouble naming them
· Cradle Catholic who attends Sunday Mass, not really that invested in religion.
· Engineer, had made it into middle management, but lost his position when his whole division was shut down due to some internal issues in his company
· Considering retirement, not sure what to do with himself
· Day trades stocks – has a system, has made some income from that
· Porn use
· Married in 1992. 28 years ago.
· Three sons aged 27, 25 (John) and 23 years old
· Susan troubled by emotional and physical distance in the marriage, over the last 25 years
· Susan very upset about discovering her husband’s porn use
Where they are right now. July 2020 – we’re picking up the story again. Will
· Fair degree of conflict right now – over the porn use
o Susan taking it hard – had assumed that her husband just wasn’t very interested in physical intimacy
§ Maybe low testosterone
§ Maybe focused on work, other things
§ Maybe a health issue – Richard hated going to the doctor, might have prostate trouble, won’t get it checked out.
§ Self image, body image issues. “He doesn’t want me.” “He hasn’t wanted me for 25 years now”
o He doesn’t want me
§ Activating some psychological issues with her Father
§ Never knew why…
So now let’s move into some new concepts: Self-concept and self-image -- Parallel to the God concept and God image
Self-concept: This what we intellectually believe about ourselves, who we profess ourselves to be, what we understand about ourselves, our mental construct of ourselves. The self-concept of a practicing Catholic, for example, may include being a beloved child of God. There’s a link between God concepts and Self-concepts – they go together, they harmonize. Loving Shepherd, little sheep.
Self concepts and God concepts interact, there reciprocal causal effects. Makes sense
Self-images on the other hand, are much more emotionally driven, much more intuitive, subjective, and they vary a lot more from moment to moment. These go together with God images – they impact each other
Self-images can flow from God images, they conform to God images. God is the reference point, not us. In spite of the Enlightenment’s attempts to make the individual human being the measure of all things, we still look outside of ourselves to define ourselves. But self-images can also impact God images.
Examples of Susan’s self-concept
Exercise God image in your dark place. Now look at your self image that corresponds .
Last Friday, July 10, Zoom meeting for RCCD community members to hang out and discuss together God images, and that is now up.
Bonding, really becoming the community. Connecting. Yearning to connect. 4 elements. Do not have to be anything like perfect – we are all wounded in various ways, we all have our struggles. Being real about God images, real about self-images, in the messiness, untidiness of these real issues. Because we want real healing.
Check it out. Contact information.
Patron and Patronness.