A reader struggling with solipsism writes

I asked if I could share this exchange on the off chance it may be of help to other readers with similar struggles and the reader gave permission. He writes:

Dear Mark,

I hope I am not out of term emailing you out of the blue like this but I recently found both of your articles on Solipsism and, as the other reader that wrote to you, it really resonated with me. I am sorry again for the random email and I’m sorry if this message is particularly long. But like you this is a topic that I have struggled with for a long time and I’m not sure where else to turn. Maybe you can help. It seems like your struggle was similar to mine.

I have been struggling with this topic of Solipsism for years now. I actually didn’t even know there was a word for what I’ve been battling until only about a year ago. I found out that there was a name for this philosophy in an attempt to find answers to my problem and stumbled upon this concept of Solipsism. Until then I figured I was just going insane because I thought certainly no one else has struggled with this idea before. This of course adds to the isolation that Solipsism brings.

Some background. I have been a Christian my whole life. My family would go to church every Sunday. I was in our church’s Sunday school program, my parents taught me and my brother about the Bible and who God is, and I have always had a genuine belief in the God of the Bible. I was raised this way and it has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child I was always a deep thinker. My Mom even told me that my grandfather would always say, “That kid’s a deep thinker.” I could ponder life and it’s meaning and why things work the way they do on this Earth and not have any problems because if I ever had a question that couldn’t seem to be answered my answer was always, “Because that’s the way God made it.” As a kid my shield of faith was held high and all of these deep questions couldn’t penetrate into my mind. They were simply silly questions that were sort of fun to think about. My protection was knowing that God created everything and this is how he intended it to be. That everyone he created has free will. That I am not alone and that everyone else I see is real and that they can see me too.

As I grew up, as every human being eventually does, I lost my innocence. I won’t go into detail but there is a particular habitual sin that I developed when I was entering adolescence, around the age of 12 or 13. It is a sin that I still struggle with and something that I have wanted out of my life since it began. A few years after this started, I was in ninth grade, my grandmother had gotten sick and passed away. She had been battling breast cancer for a few years and the chemo had gotten to her immune system. I was very close with my grandparents. It was a devastating thing for me. I would go to my grandparents’ house every weekend. I never missed one weekend staying there. Friday after school hit and we were there. I am very family oriented person so this was a very difficult time. Not a year later my grandfather also passed away. He had been battling colon cancer. So now these two very important people in my life were gone and I wasn’t, and I guess I’m still not, sure how to handle it. Not having them here has made life feel like a dream. Like it’s not really happening. An illusion.

In between the death of my grandmother and grandfather something happened to me. One day, out of nowhere, some sort of depression hit me because of this sin that I kept committing. Now I think this was a way of God telling me that this thing that I am doing is not good for me and that it needed to stop. This depression stayed with me for a few years. It was the lowest I had ever felt in my life because I thought I was too far gone for God to forgive me which only added to the pain I felt everyday. Life felt “broken” and I felt as though I was alone because I didn’t think anyone else on the planet could understand was I was going through. I didn’t think anyone else had this particular sin in their life and it was horribly isolating. I believe this started to wear on my mind in some way.

A few years after this dark season began something else happened to me. Many would probably not think it a big deal but it was devastating to me, especially in the state that I was in. My brother saw one of those commercials for Ancestry.com and wanted to see what it was all about. My Mom helped us set up one of those free trials for it. We searched our parents to see what we could find. When my Mom’s name came up I noticed that she had two last names in the Ancestry records. My stomach was in knots. I asked her about it, and she said that she, as well as my Dad, were married and divorced before marrying each other. I started questioning everything. Literally everything. I wondered if I had other brothers or sisters somewhere in the world. I wondered if my Dad was my biological Dad. And this all greatly upset my Mom. I was never supposed to find out because it had no effect on me or my life. I don’t know much about what happened in my Dad’s first marriage but I know that my Mom’s first marriage was somewhat mentally abusive. This of course was not fair to her and this was something that both my parents wanted to keep secret because in reality it really didn’t affect me or who I am. But it really got to me. I grew up thinking that my parents were only married to each other and that’s it. And finding this out was like a punch in the stomach. Eventually I came to grips with it, forgiven my parents for not telling me, and moved on from it. But I think this was a huge thing that opened me up to this mental battle with Solipsism. Some crazy thoughts entered my mind when all of this was going on and they scared me. Things that wouldn’t have bothered me when I was younger.

So after all of these things happened this thought of Solipsism took root in my head. One day, just scrolling through the internet, I saw this video titled, “Is Your Red the Same as My Red?” I thought this was interesting because it was a question I regularly thought of when I was younger. Of course when I was a kid I knew the answer. Of course my red is the same as your red. I clicked on the video and watched it to the end, and at the end of the video the narrator said, “We are all alone in our minds.” I started spiraling. These were the words that set this whole battle in motion. I was completely in the dark. I tried to talk to my parents about it. My Mom is kind of a “no nonsense person” so she would regularly become frustrated with me when talking to her about this problem. I have talked to my parents about it multiple times and it’s always the same thing. I’m fine for a short time and then right back into the dark I go. The answer isn’t quite as simple for me as it is my parents. “We are here too, just be happy, you need to let it go.” But it isn’t quite that simple. Suddenly my protection, “Because that’s the way God made it.” wasn’t working anymore.

So I have talked to many people seeking advice. I have talked to my pastor, two of my college ministers, a few friends, my parents, and nothing seems to be able to break this “spell” as you have called it. I will go through months were the thought doesn’t bother me and I can carry on with life as normal. But I will also go through months where I can’t think of anything else but that nagging question of “How do you know it isn’t all a lie?” On and off, fine not fine, and it has been this way for years now. I am now 22 and I am exhausted from this war. I was actually doing very well with it only until a few days ago. I have been fine for about a year up until this past week. I believe Satan got me when I wasn’t looking and the whole thing started up again.

In my heart I know that these thoughts and feelings are only tools that the Devil and his army are using against me but my head is saying otherwise. Once I find myself clawing my way out of this hole, there is something else that pulls me right back down again. This struggle has really helped me to find out more about who God is, what Jesus did for me, and how the Devil can come against us and attack us. But knowing this doesn’t seem to break its power over me. At least not quite yet. “The Sacrament of Two English Muffins on the Floor” is helpful but my head doesn’t listen to logic and reason when I am in this state. Like you said, this has been a true taste of what Hell is like. It truly is a horrible, fiery furnace of yourself. It makes life feel broken, not real, and it seems like there is a black veil over me that I can’t seem to shake off. But I also know in my heart that one day God will break this curse and I will be totally free once again like I was when I was a kid.

I am sorry again for the lengthy and pretty deep message. Your articles really resonated with me as I said and I thought that you might be someone that could understand what I am going through and what this awful darkness feels like. I’m not really sure what else I can do but maybe you have some wisdom and knowledge to share. Thank you again for your articles, they have started pointing me in the right direction. Please pray for me and I hope to hear back from you.

God Bless,

Hello.  Sorry I’ve been so slow to reply.  I’ve published a book this year and a lot of my time and energy went to it.

I am neither a spiritual director nor any kind of psychological counselor, but I would *strongly* urge you to connect with one or both of these, as I have done myself in the throes of such spiritual struggles.

When it comes to the logic of solipsism, that is fairly easily dealt with.  The simple fact is, you are not the only thing in the universe and you are not alone.  You yourself have explained why in your story.  People you love have been lost and it was entirely outside your power to prevent that.  This painful fact has, all by itself, sufficient dynamite to destroy forever the lie of solipsism the devil has been telling you.  If you never had a grandmother or grandfather, why do their deaths grieve you so?  Because you they were real and they, like the rest of the universe, have an existence independent from yours.  It means that, whatever else is the case, solipsism is a lie.

Beyond this though, is the reality that the suffering you have endured is about something other than solipsism, I reckon.  Your depression, if it is anything like mine, is likely linked to anger about something.  Depression is, in my experience, a kind of frozen anger.  You are angry about something that you are afraid to confront, so you turn it against yourself and it becomes depression.  Often, being able to name that anger to God can be a release and the beginning of healing as he helps you forgive who ever you are angry at.

I think you may be the one who is punishing you, not God.  Finding somebody to talk to about all this, preferably somebody with some psychology training, is often of immense help.

I don’t know if you are Catholic.  I am.  If your are, one thing to avail yourself of is the sacrament of confession.  If not, at least trying to make a confession to God in prayer when any sins become apparent is always good.  But when you do, I would also urge you to say, out loud, “I hereby ask you, Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, to forgive the sin I have confessed and I accept, in the Name of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness that you have absolutely promised to give me in his Name.”  Then, make some physical gesture of handing that sin over into God’s hands and Let. It. Go.  One of the devil’s favorite strategies is to pester you with the fear that you are not really forgiven.  Here are two prayers I find very helpful at such times.

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

followed by:

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, And in our hearts take up thy rest; Come with thy grace and heavenly aid To fill the hearts which thou hast made.

One final thing: a wise priest once told me that the best thing to do is keep your eyes on Jesus and not on myself.  You can never get an answer to the question “Do I trust Jesus?” because you heart is a confusing maze.  But you can get a solid answer to the question, “Is Jesus trustworthy?” because he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

You are not alone.  The Blessed Trinity made you as he made all things.  You did not write this reply to yourself and your are not imagining it any more than you imagined your grandparents.  If it comes to it, you didn’t even imagine that Youtube video.  Somebody else made it and it came into your life from the outside because you live a real world of all sorts of people and things you can’t control and did not invent.  Satan is a liar.  Resist him (by focusing on Jesus, which is everything he is trying to prevent you from doing) and you will presently find yourself gaining light and strength from the Holy Spirit.  Try asking him to show you what step you should take and, whatever your hand finds to do, do it in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Your grandparents are in His care and you will see them again.  Meanwhile, you are not alone here, but are immersed in the love of God, who made not just you, but heaven and earth.  He knew your sins before ever you committed them and his love for you can no more be dimmed by them than the sun can be put out if you put on sunglasses.  Be at peace and tell God, “This is who I am and I will never do any better if you don’t help me, so please help.  Thank you for your mercy, Father.  Please tell me who I can love today so I can get my mind off myself because that is the devil’s favorite trick with me.”

And find that counselor/spiritual director/psychologist.  And if he tells you I gave you bad advice, listen to him and not me.  I’m just speaking from my experience, but my experience is not infallible.

God bless you!


32 Responses

  1. But, he doesn’t forget or forgive really, does he? According to what nearly every priest and Catholic i heard on the issue, he’ll still drag all those sins up once I’m dead and make me pay for every single one through torturing me in purgatory to make up for them.

    1. Any imagery we used to imagine purgatory is at best an analogy and we can only push it so far. Given that, forget about Dante and throw out the torture imagery. My favorite imagery of hell purgatory might work focuses on the idea of the refiners fire. You melt your precious metal, and the heat drives off impurities. When it’s ready, it gives back a mirror image of the refiner them self. When we are purified we reflect the Savior.

    2. I belong to my beloved and His desire is for me. Purgatory is the proof of this. It is the state of being where I am free to be that for which I was created. Don’t let the infernalists muddy the truth. Song of Songs 7:10 is truth not the jansinists. Peace

      1. Forgive me if I’m mistaken here, but is the main problem with what PR says not that sins are not forgiven, rather than what exactly the nature of purgatory is and what form purification takes?

  2. No place else to put it, Mark, but it is so deeeeeeelicious that I think you owe me a beer.

    The Independent reports:

    Bloomberg reporter William Turton captured the video — featuring a squat statue of a golden Trump garbed in a business suit and Rocky Balboa’s boxing shorts and red flip-flops, brandishing what appears to be a magic wand and a non-disclosure agreement, being wheeled through the event as attendees can be seen taking snapshots and cooing things like “Awesome!” and “That’s so cool!” and “Four more years.” — and posted it on Thursday night as part of a thread on CPAC happenings.

    I’m not a Qhristian, mark, so I really CAN’T ignore this. golden Calf! Golden bull! Golden bullbleep!


      1. People beset by evil have this uncanny habit to transgress precisely those bounds they *know* shouldn’t be crossed. This is why the Golden calf worshipers violated the FIRST command, and without any delay.

      1. @arteveide

        Not in the slightest. It doesn’t even surprise me that the obvious inferences about it seem to escape the people who are worshipping their Golden Bullscheiss.

        I Wrote a rather long essay about the election for private circulation among my friends. I have not made the slightest attention to publish it, and nobody is offered. But nevertheless, here is the relevant portion, or a portion of the portion.

        “My conclusion? Looking at what people do, rather than what they say they are doing, provides much better information about who they really are. His base just wants a con man, a sociopath, a criminal, a manipulator, and unfortunately, a strong man to guide them and embody their aspirations. That’s all there is to it, and nothing more. But how anyone could look at a venal, corrupt, dishonest, bullying, weak, lying narcissist like Trump, a self-confessed sexual abuser, and see strength, is beyond me.

        But therein lies the answer as to how we got to this point. Not to put too fine a point on it, but nearly half the this nation is ethically crippled, reality challenged, intellectually deranged, educationally debased, empathetically destitute, morally lazy at best and morally bankrupt at worst. No nation has ever survived this, nor can it, unless the other half stays vigilant and active.

        Why are they this way? I think the answer is found in ONE word: DESPITE. In his most Catholic books, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson writes about DESPITE for three very long, excellent novels. It is the essence of evil. Loosely defined: “I’m better than you, and so whatever I do, you simply don’t matter. I will make sure that you know it.” So, another word for it is CONTEMPT. It has a lot more meanings than just that, but that is what LBJ was talking about when he said: “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

  3. When it comes to many issues related to sexuality, not only do I think the Catholic Church is simply wrong, but I think its positions are actively harmful. The stigma it creates around things that are just ordinary and commonly occurring behavior, can induce a disproportionate amount of guilt, anxiety, fear and shame, especially for people who tend towards scrupulousness.

    And to be honest, I think the Church prefers it that way: they get to avoid admitting to the possibility of being wrong and they get to keep employing human sexuality as a tool for control. Its a very cynical take, but its not rooted in the Church being Catholic or even Christian; its on them being human, and humans seldom give up power willingly.

    Of course, you can’t just tell a religious person that their religion is just wrong on a particular issue, so I commend Mark for advising his reader to seek professional help and find somebody who might be better suited to square that circle and help bring about some much needed balance and perspective.

    I do, however worry about the recommendation to see a spiritual director. I say that because if the news we’ve been getting for a while are any indication, going to a religious authority figure for help with anything related, however tangential, to sexuality, is really rolling the dice. They might help, but they also might make the problem so much worse.

    As for Solipsism, I put the ideas that I might be inside the Matrix, or trapped within an Inception, or that I might be the proverbial “brain in the box” or simply that reality is an illusion, in the same category as God; meaning that its something that I ultimately don’t know, possibly can’t know and if true, is completely beyond my ability to influence or control. So why worry about it? I just deal with the here and now; that’s plenty enough already.

    Anyways, there is a recent article from the “A Tippling Philosopher” blog, over at the Patheos Non-Religious section, that touched on the subject:

    Its not about Solipsism per-se, but it tackles subjects closely related to it. If nothing else, it can maybe help expand and organize your thoughts on the whole mind-reality divide question.

      1. @Mark:
        Fair enough; I’ll defer to your greater experience and judgement on that matter and I sincerely hope your trust is not misplaced.

        Then again, while Catholic clergy and Catholic-affiliated institutions make the news on the regular for their oblivious lack of empathy in favor of “following the rules”, I don’t recall much being said specifically about spiritual directors, so I guess that can only be good.

      2. One of the fascinating dichotomies in Catholic life that nobody discusses is the striking divergence between the Catholic pastoral tradition, which is chockablock with wisdom, mercy, and a huge empathy for human frailty and the weird, rigid, pathological, legalistic subculture of rule-bound Reactionaries who see the Faith purely as a diagram and set of laws to be navigated so that the Righteous win the prize salvation (which they often define as the right to kick the rest of us out). For the former, the law is made for man. For the latter man is made for the law.

      3. @Mark:
        I think that part of the problem is that too much emphasis is placed into obeying the rules and not enough into understanding the rules; its the latter that allows you to put them in their proper context, make a judgement as to when to make an exception, and be able to follow the spirit of the law even if you break the letter of the law.

        That’s why I disagreed with an article you wrote a while back on your previous blog, where you were reacting to what some historical religious figure was saying about not just blindly latching on to new Church teaching, but to take the time to take it in. You interpreted it as some kind defiance to the Church and trying to be “his own pope”, whereas I saw it as simply building his obedience on a solid foundation of understanding. As one commenter (“Neko”, I believe?) put it, it was just a modest call for discernment.

        And its not just the RCC, Christianity or even religion in general. I think its a problem across the board, especially with those who promote continued oppression and injustice in the name of adhering to “law and order”.

      4. The combination of spiritual guidance and the help of a psychologist sounds like wise advice to me.

    1. @3vil

      Thanks for the reference. I went over and read that article, at least as far as I could before my head started to hurt. I read a lot of that stuff back in college, and wrote not just a few papers on the subject. After taking a lot of acid in my 20s, I also wrote a great deal on the subject. Nothing like acid to open your mind to new ways of thinking about things. Not too much acid, of course, Because too much acid just takes you in the other direction, which ever direction that might be.

      I came to some fairly simple conclusions, which relieved my philosophical headaches. First was “cogito, ergo sum.” If you can’t start with that, then you’re not going to get anywhere. If I didn’t exist, why would something try to convince me that I did, and how could it possibly happen? So I do. The Chinese philosophers – I can’t remember which one – dealt with the “brain in a vat issue“ by asking, “am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man, or a man dreaming that I’m a butterfly?“ There’s no way to answer the question, but it did convince me that the ultimate answers to ultimate questions ultimately didn’t matter.

      The final answer about the nature of reality came from my favorite professor at Northwestern, C. West churchman. an absolutely brilliant man. he had two things to say: “what is perceived as real is real in its consequences“, and its corollary, basically Shakespeare: “There is nothing so true in heaven or earth but wishing will make it so.“ The ultimate conclusion of my studies with West was simple: “reality is what works“. If it doesn’t work, it’s not reality.

      And that was why ultimate questions ultimately don’t matter.

    2. You’re right. This young man appears to be tormenting himself over the “sin” of masturbation, or possibly homosexuality. He’s only 22! Heartbreaking. Not to mention the sin of Onan was disobedience, not wasting precious seed. But the Church can never err in matters of faith and morals, so for ages young people whose brains are still developing have become wracked with guilt over a hormonal process that is perfectly natural. Masturbation was formally condemned by Pope Leo IX in 1054!

      Mark, depression is not simply related to “anger.” It can be chemical; that is why people take medication for it. But it’s no surprise that a young person grieving over the loss of beloved grandparents, shattered by revelations of his family history, guilt-ridden over sexuality, and terrified by isolation, is depressed. If indeed he is Catholic, the Church could certainly provide consolation, but Church teaching is part of the problem to begin with.

      1. Neko, Onan was doing more than disobeying. In the Jewish culture of the time, having a son was supremely important. I don’t really understand the thought process, but it was related to their memory being kept alive, and maybe even their immortality. It was extremely important to them. Onan was selfish and conniving in the ultimate, worst possible way. That was the point.

        Any Catholic priest worth his mettle will advise a young man delicately but forthrightly about masturbation to help him/(her) keep life in perspective. People who have suffered trauma are more likely to be accessing the drugs that the brain produces than the kid with the well-rounded, happy life. God certainly can tell the difference between degrees of malice and compulsions that involve no malice at all.The problem of *any* addiction is that they mess with brain chemistry. Meaningful relationships are harder to attain if a dream world full of empty calories and bogus highs are being obsessively sought. *This* is why the Catholic Church has a blinking red hand saying “don’t cross that street!” But as it is saying it, its ministers are fully aware that plenty of people are going to cross that street anyway, with varying degrees of malice–or none at all–and are ready to encourage them to live life in a more healthy,ordered way.

        I told you once about the very frank conversations I had with my priest-friend. I remember thinking “Good God! Why didn’t I ask him about this stuff sooner?” He said something very interesting which helped me to draw a few conclusions about what men are confessing out there in confessionland. It was something like: “It used to be that only Kings, noblemen, and those with money and power had access to the pornographic, but now, every man, woman and child has access to a veritable ocean of pornography, that exists right at their fingertips.”

        In his opinion, it wasn’t the images of human sex that were sinful at all –no. What is evil might be *how* those images were produced, and how people behaved when seeing them. to demonize what is beautiful is also evil. This is what evil wants–to appropriate, distort and usurp.

        As I give my own children advice when they come to me, I often wonder how the sex scandals in the Church have affected the advice that priests give. I wonder if my friend would have been less blunt about all of the advice he gave me. I was fully aware that had I been a brainwashed Traddy wife, I could have found a traddy priest that would have been scandalized by his honesty and utter lack of rigid legalism.

      2. @3vil striker,

        I watched the whole video. Nice guy, sensitive to people’s pain. I remember seeing the footage of that little boy. It was very moving.

        The problem lies with the blogger’s understanding of Papal Infallibility. Papal Infallibility is rarely invoked, and Francis has never once done so.

        Anyway, the Church has taught from the very beginning that there are many outside of the Church that will be saved. St. Paul refers to them as the “noble savage”. (My personal hunch is that all will be saved in the end.)

        The other thing that is troubling about what the blogger has to say is his idea that The Westboro Southern Baptists can’t be blamed for following the Bible–that’s the huge, glaring problem with fundamentalism, but of course even the fundamentalists are picking and choosing…you don’t meet a lot of guys who have cut off their body parts.

        Has there been a revolution in tone, and a new openness to kindness and inclusion? Yes. If you think about it, atheism is really a recent phenomenon in terms of the age of humanity. I can see why people have become atheists–Christians have done so many terrible things under the banner of the cross. It is incredibly disheartening for those who stick around, and of course information being traded at lightning speed, only increases the body of information about the crazies, racists, perverts and hoarders. How surprised they will be on the “last day”– Martin Luther and many other denominations claim that professing Christ is all that they need. Catholics say, “not so fast”to that. It is no wonder that Jesus spoke about the “gnashing of teeth” outside the wall. Some people are just going to need a hefty “time out” for their crimes. Justice demands it. We all “incarnate” what we believe in our hearts. I have no problem believing that Atheists who reflect the image of God in their hearts will “enter” first before many Christians who pi*sed away their name, and were in fact antichrists in their hearts, even if they showed up in their Sunday best. Flannery O’Connor does well in her take down of these characters.

        It is interesting to speak with an earnest Protestant. My son was able to convince his formerly fundamentalist girlfriend that there *must* be a place that is not heaven or hell. It is logical. In my opinion, once you can believe that such a state of being exists, the notion of an eternity of torture starts to fall apart. A priest once quipped to me: “this life IS purgatory!” He’s mostly right I suppose.

        Personally, I’m sceptical of anyone who claims to understand *exactly* how everything will go down.

  4. Good spiritual direction has been one of the biggest gifts in my life. I’m so grateful.

    Priests with their own personal psychological problems (in my experience) seem to wear their problem on their sleeve. The narcissists are the worst. In confession I have been able to discern who to steer clear of.

    I was listening to Hidden Brain a couple of months ago. I can’t remember the name of the episode but the researcher who was being interviewed had some really interesting observations about habitual thought processes/ habits that are destructive. In one study, they told a group of people that they were *not* to think about polar bears. They did okay until they had idle time on their hands and then–you guessed it–all they could think about was polar bears. Repeat thought processes literally carve a groove in the brain.

    Years ago, I used to have dreams fairly often, that were quite hellish (not in the Hollywood sense of the word but in the desolation and malevolence of hostile beings) so I relate a little bit to the fear and desolation your reader has experienced, –but not the solipsism. Now that I’m older, I still get the dreams, but not as often and not with the same intensity. It’s hard to think rationally when you are in a bad state. I ask God to take the dreams away, but I also know that if evil wants to mess with me, I can simply turn the canon around, so to speak, by offering the suffering up for others. It makes me feel less paralyzed and powerless. I think maybe the chink in my armor is that I know very clearly that God doesn’t have to save me, and I don’t merit being saved. If I really think about it, I prefer life this way because it’s not so easy to take God for granted –not like when I was a little kid and was totally confident that my salvation was a slam dunk. Gratitude is powerful. I don’t think God sends anyone to hell.

    Perhaps activities like taking drugs, drinking excessively or indulging in a bunch of porn messes with the chemistry of the brain by releasing all of the dopamine too quickly. I don’t know — the punishment is self inflicted–not sent by God who loves us completely and without interruption, no matter what we do. Destructive habits and easy dopamine take the place of meaningful interactions and relationships that feed the soul. A bunch of self loathing/guilt on top of some bad brain chemistry can make someone sick in their soul.

    1. @ taco

      I can’t speak about priests, for obvious reasons, but I have known a number of therapists over the years. My experience of most of them is that they had a fair amount of crazy going on. That’s why they were therapists. They had stuff to work out.

      The good ones can use their own crazy to help them understand other people. They know when their own issues start to intrude. That former friend I wrote of a week or two ago who had so much empathy, was a therapist. he was a very good therapist, and I think he did good work – except when his crazy came to the Fore. He lost his state license when that happened with one client. It wasn’t pretty.

      1. @Ben
        I can see how priests and therapists might share some of the same temptations.

        The priest that married my BIL and SIL on the beach, was a hire-a-minister. We were surprised to bump into each other again as he had been one of the priests at my Catholic school when I was in middle school. Funny, he told my 8th grade teacher that I wasn’t ready to be confirmed. At my “interview”he informed me that God is too perfect to love, and that love is a human emotion. I said “nope”. He didn’t like that. I was supposed to return for more counseling but he cancelled it and let me get confirmed anyway. Not much longer after that he ran off with some lady he met in confession.

        Yes, the crazy in some therapists is absolutely real. Someday I will tell you the story of “Cleopatra” the therapist on Chestnut Street. It sounds more fun than it was.

  5. Dear Mark Shea’s Reader,
    I’ve given some thought your dilemma and I hope I can be of some help. It’s hard, I know.
    I think Mark is right, that your solipsism may be a symptom of depression. It may be that the old “because God made it that way” kept you from asking questions that might have brought up uncomfortable feelings, and now it’s creating this feeling that nothing is real. The feeling of unreality often accomplishes depression, in my experience. And it may be also that you have the kind of physiological makeup that makes you prone to depression. There is no more shame in that than in having any other chronic condition.
    I think you need to find both a spiritual director and a psychiatric professional. The spiritual director won’t have the training to treat your depression, and the psychiatric professional won’t be of much help with your solipsism, so it’s best to have both. But find one who will be gentle with you, because you are hurting.
    You are not in the grip of Satan; you have a condition that can be treated, and you have spiritual questions that can be explored without fear with the help of a spiritual director who will treat you with gentleness and love. I’ve found that my depression gets only worse when I think about the devil. It’s better to keep your eyes on Christ and ask him to lovingly reveal to you what you need to better understand about yourself. God doesn’t want you to hurt, but you may find that your painful experience helps you better understand others too.
    I hope this has been at least a little helpful to you. God bless you.

  6. @seen

    From my own experience in both mental health and spirituality, i would have to say that i believe you have hit all of the nails possible very squarely on the head. I hope that marks correspondent follows your advice. It sounds like you’ve been there.

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