I’m Susan and I’m a workaholic. My life has become unmanageable and exceeds the bounds of moderation.
I don’t think I’m alone, especially in the Baha’i community.
I’m driven to complete my goals. I’m driven to please others. I’m driven to being the best Baha’i I can be. I’m driven to participate in the community building process.
The thesaurus lists the following synonyms related to being driven:
The problem with this addiction is that it’s praised in our materialistic society, and with employers more interested in the bottom line and maximizing profits at the expense of their employees, many of us are unwittingly caught up in this behaviour.
At the root of being driven is a mistaken belief that:
- No one will love me for who I am. I have to earn their love
- Someone always has something better and I have to have what they have, and more
- I have to find a solution to all my own problems
- I have to take responsibility for things that aren’t mine to take on
- I did something to deserve abuse, bullying, humiliation, rejection, disapproval etc.
- I have to do everything right, all the time, to be number 1. Nothing else is acceptable.
- I have to be a “somebody” to be accepted.
- The only way to survive a broken heart is to get busy.
Fear is at the root of it all. In my case, it’s:
- Fear of letting go – who will I be if I’m not driven?
- Fear of poverty – who will I be if I’m fired or take time off for disability, or declare bankruptcy?
- An overwhelming disappointment in this life and wanting to do everything in my power to earn “spiritual brownie points” so I can secure a better place in the next world
- Feeling guilty for not doing enough for the Faith and being judged by the Institutions
I had to learn that being asked by representatives of the Institutions to do something is not necessarily the voice of God. I could be driven towards people pleasing, wanting to be seen and judged by others as a “good Baha’i”.
God doesn’t want us to seek the approval of others, though. ‘Abdu’l-Baha is reported to have said:
To be approved of God alone should be one’s aim. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)
. . . at all times seeking the approval of men is many times the cause of imperiling the approval of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, June 24, 1915)
Even if we let go of the need to seek the approval of others, there are pressures coming from the goals of the 5-Year plan, especially at a time when the workers are so few and we’re being called on to make a “herculean effort.”
I wonder if being driven is from God, though. Somehow I doubt it.
Bahá’u’lláh tells us:
In all circumstances they should conduct themselves with moderation. (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 294)
Overstep not the bounds of moderation. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 235)
Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 216)
So what is moderation and how do we achieve it? This is a question I’ve taken to the Writings. Come along with me as I see what I can learn.
What I’ve Learned About Being Driven:
First of all, this quote got my attention!
Ambitions are an abomination before the Lord. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West – 4)
So not only are we NOT to push ourselves towards our goals, we aren’t to have ambitions in the first place!
Drivenness is a lack of awareness of God in that moment, and a belief that I have to push on with a task, regardless of the cost to self and family. It’s easy in the Faith, at this period in history when the workers are so few and the tasks requiring a “herculean effort”, to give everything we’ve got and more, and to believe we can’t say no, when an Institution asks us to give even more. Instead of asking God what He wants us to do, we assume we know the answer from reading the recent letters of the House of Justice. The problem is, we may be applying the wrong remedy! Although insulin and penicillin are both valuable medications, each has to be applied to the right ailment at the right time.
Many workaholics do tasks that are not necessarily theirs to do. They may feel absolutely responsible for something, but inadequate to do it and/or unwilling or unable to delegate or ask for help. They can be hard on themselves for not being able to do it all, or as well as they would like. They blame themselves and feel guilty and ashamed and don’t know why, because in their minds, they believe they are doing all the right things.
The paradox is that we’re hard on ourselves because we know we have to follow the current guidance from the House of Justice, and when others aren’t stepping up to the plate, we do more and more and eventually burn out.
For example, here’s something I wrote about 3 years ago:
I totally understand and see the vision of the House of Justice, in which we do the core activities in our own neighborhoods as a way to build communities. I want to be part of the process but my passion lies in researching the practical application of the Writings to everyday problems, and making this information available to others through books and my blog. Even though I’m having several devotional gatherings with others over the phone; and tutoring 3 Ruhi Books over the phone, and supporting others who are animators and children’s class teachers, over the phone, I feel hugely guilty that I’m not doing it in my own cluster. Surely God sees my efforts as “enough”, yet my guilt has driven me to do more.
Recently, a member of the Institute Board told me that community building was the role of the Institutions and not the responsibility of the individual. It was a huge relief!
Also, God never asks us to carry anyone else’s responsibilities. As the House of Justice said in its Ridvan Message of 2014: “Everyone has a share in this enterprise; the contribution of each serves to enrich the whole.”
If I’m trying to fill someone else’s role because they are inactive, I don’t have time to fill my own.
Finding this quote really got my attention!
No good but only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of the clear texts and our own limitations. It is His Cause. He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant.’ (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 119)
YIKES! “only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of our own limitations”! That’s exactly what I was doing!
But as a workaholic, it was one thing to leave the community building to the institutions and another to know what moderation looked like. I had to ask myself – when working full time on my business, is tutoring 3 study circles; holding devotional gatherings and accompanying others excessive? Or is it applying a “herculean effort”? I didn’t know, until I carefully studied the second half of this quote: my job is to “cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions.”
Recently, I joined Workaholics Anonymous who gave me the 3 R’s as a standard: In addition to working (and service), I need to spend equal amounts of time on Rest, Relaxation and Relationship Building.
So which “revealed word” can help shed some light on my need for rest, relaxation and relationship building?
Recently at a Baha’i Conference, we looked at this quote, where Shoghi Effendi told us:
…you should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It — the body . . . should be well cared for so it can do its work! You should certainly safeguard your nerves, and force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer and meditation, but for real rest and relaxation. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)
It was a real “aha” moment for me. I felt that Shoghi Effendi really understood me, when he said I should “force myself to take time for real rest and relaxation”! That’s what it will take! A force of willpower and a herculean effort, because I don’t know when or how to stop the work and service I enjoy doing.
That takes care of 2 of the 3 R’s right there! That’s a quote I can cling to tenaciously.
But how does an introvert like me go about building relationships when I have no ties to my biological family or a spouse? Home visits and elevated conversations with like-minded people seem to be clues, but only if these activities aren’t coming from a place of “should” and only if they lead to real rest and relaxation. I think that’s a topic for another day!
The good news is, even with a society that promotes workaholism, we can overcome it and not live in drivenness, constantly trying to measure up to someone else’s standard. God knows what we need and will provide everything we need, if only we remember to ask.
What’s your experience with drivenness? Post your comments below.
Recently I was following a discussion on self-esteem on a Baha’i forum. As someone who suffers from low self-esteem, I was particularly interested in the discussion, hoping to find a Baha’i-inspired way to overcome this problem. I was disappointed to see the tone of the discussion, which was largely dismissive.
One contributor said:
The first thing that came to mind was ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s breakdown of the four different kinds of love:
- God’s love for us
- our love for God
- God’s love towards Her Self
- our love for our fellow human beings
At no time does The Master mention the spiritual validity or even the existence of a fifth kind of love, namely a human being’s love for oneself. Nonetheless, self-love has become an insanely successful commodity. Why?
This certainly made me think!
In the Secret of Divine Civilization (p.96-97), ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us both:
…self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man ….
The heart is a divine trust; cleanse it from the stain of self-love.
All of this made me start to meditate on this question: Is there a healthy form of “self-love” from a Baha’i perspective?
Contributor 2 suggested:
- There’s wisdom in knowing ourselves. And not just the Eternal, the Perfect, but also our flaws and foibles.
It reminded me of this quote:
The first Taraz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 34)
Contributor 3 suggested:
- One theory is that individuals who have been abused – particularly by someone in a position of authority – have a deep mistrust of this parent-like God who resides outside them. These abuses need not even be direct; simple exposure to the dysfunction of the crumbling Age may lead to the same kinds of fears. Arguably, in this Day of corrupt governments, sexually predatory clergy members and vile human rights abuses, it may be unrealistic to expect the majority of people not to be deeply suspicious of an authoritative God who expresses Her will via Institutions and Laws, no matter how lovingly She is characterised. Perhaps at this point in the process, self-esteem aids serve a vital purpose for those individuals who have been so damaged that their healing requires they learn how to love the God within before they can even conceive of obeying a God without.
This article elaborates on this theme a little more:
The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient
Contributor 4 suggested:
- It would seem to me that the Baha’i Faith is encouraging us to focus on “God love” rather than “self-love”. The most effective and safest way to love ourselves is to love the image of God that is potentially reflected in the reality of our true identity which is the soul.
This reminded me of the Hidden Word which says:
All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words, 27)
Contributor 5 suggested:
- The self-esteem industry consists of two broad streams: self-healing and self-improvement. Though it occasionally touches on notions of surrender and service, the latter tends to revolve around the cult of more; how to get more rich, more attractive, more employable, more…more. It’s the saddest kind of irony as studies upon studies have disproved the myth that acquiring more things equals acquiring more happiness – or as the ads imply, more ‘self-esteem.’ The first stream though, that of purchasable ‘healing,’ is the one that I believe offers the most insight to a Baha’i looking to assist a struggling brother or sister. What we need to ask ourselves is why. Why is this route so popular? Why do people feel more comfortable paying thousands of hard-earned dollars for guidance on how to commune with the Divine within, rather than acquiescing to a God found outside themselves (for example, in Holy Writings and Institutions), as well as within?
This got me thinking about our purpose of life, which is to know and worship God (not ourselves), and the best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.
Contributor 6 suggested:
- We really are powerless! In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”. This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.
Contributor 7 suggested:
- My experience of America culture is that we are now living under a “self-esteem” regime where “feeling good” has become more important than “doing good”. The line between self-love and selfishness is not a bright and well-lit highway, but is more like a spider’s web in a dark attic.It reminded me of these quotes:
If man be imbued with all good qualities but be selfish, all the other virtues will fade or pass away and eventually he will grow worse. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 136)
But if he show the slightest taint of selfish desires and self-love, his efforts will lead to nothing and he will be destroyed and left hopeless at the last. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 71)
It may be helpful to understand the two ways that “self” or “ego” is understood in the Baha’i Writings as explained by Shoghi Effendi.
Regarding the questions you asked: self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá’í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as “he hath known God who hath known himself”, etc. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.
Contributor 8 suggested:
- I’ve also noticed that having an ongoing negative mental conversation about one’s flaws, faults, and failings doesn’t seem to be conducive towards joy, kindness, appreciation, and treating others with love and serving humanity. Consequently, I’m starting to let go of excessive criticism of my own failures. And that seems to be leading towards an improvement in my overall ability to “live the life”.
It reminds me of this quote:
He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to Me. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 457)
Contributor 9 suggested:
- I find it helpful to think of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha was. For Baha’is He is the perfect Exemplar of how we should be and live. His whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.
According to the Bahá’í Writings, self-love is kneaded into the very clay of our beings and we need to cleanse our hearts from its stain. In order to do it we need to know ourselves well enough to recognize what leads us to loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. The easiest way to do this is to make the love of God so strong in our hearts, that there is no room for anything else.
The negative mental conversations we have about our flaws, faults, and failings leads to our abasement. If we want to be happy and joyful servants and teachers of the Faith, we need to treat ourselves with as much kindness, appreciation, and love as we would treat other people. We need to turn our back on our failings and our face to God.
How do we do it?
- We remember that our purpose of life is to know and worship God (not ourselves). The best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.
- Our parents have a role in educating us spiritually, but if we’ve been abused, it may be more difficult. Nevertheless, we remember we are all powerless. In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”. This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.
- We follow the example of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, whose whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.
If we aren’t able to do this, our efforts will lead to nothing and we will be destroyed and left hopeless.
How has this helped you in your understanding of raising your self-esteem? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please post below.
By Linda O’Neil
Mental health advocate and member of the Ottawa Baha’i Community
As someone diagnosed in 1980 with a mood disorder – and not very happy about it – developing a stronger spiritual orientation and relationship to God has been an important way of dealing with the effects of a mood disorder and stigma in my life. At the same time, I have to admit that my beliefs and my sense of faith, as well as my sense of self, have at times taken a beating from the challenge of living with a mental health problem. I call this condition “spiritual depression”.
What has helped me spiritually though the ups and downs of a mood disorder? Reducing the sense of isolation through involvement with a mental health support group, many of whose members have a profound understanding of human suffering and are deeply spiritual, has been essential. As well, being a Baha’i with an examined, chosen and evolving set of beliefs, a diverse spiritual community, and like-minded friends with whom to share my beliefs and values has been a wonderful gift. Using spiritual practices such as prayer or meditation, drawing inspiration from scriptures and other spiritual writings, sharing insights with others, attending spiritual gatherings and celebrations, and exploring spiritual concepts or challenges with others, have all been a source of spiritual growth and strengthening.
But as precious as this spiritual dimension of life is, it has been virtually out of reach whenever I’ve been clinically depressed and overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. This is a time when few people are able to pray or meditate, feel close to, or trust in God. It seems as though our spiritual senses have been deadened along with the physical ones, a time when sacred writings fail to inspire, or when the thought of going to services or gatherings and being more than a piece of deadwood seems impossible.
Serious depressions that have arisen between long periods of relative stability in my own life have at times given rise to fundamental and difficult spiritual questions and even doubts. If God really loved me, would He permit me to suffer in this way? Is there meaning and purpose in what I’m going through? Am I intended to experience this and grow by this experience, or is it simply bad luck, or the “changes and chances of this world?” How can I grow when I feel diminished? Should I set these questions aside till I feel better, and aim at simply getting through these rough times with as much dignity as I can muster, accepting the love and support of others as graciously as I can? Though no one can answer these questions for another person, I’ve found it helpful to talk them over with trusted friends. While I feel I have some answers, I find I keep revisiting them from time to time, in conversations with others, with my own heart, and with the Creator.
Just as surviving a serious depression requires patience and a belief that our emotions and lives will eventually get back to normal, surviving spiritual depression requires patience with our own souls, and faith that our spiritual susceptibilities will eventually be restored. It’s a time to ask for understanding, acceptance and support when we feel most vulnerable around other people and often least able to accept help. What are some of the things I’ve asked of friends? To pray for me, or even to come over to read to me when I felt unable to do this myself. To be patient with me and to try to understand how the wretchedness I feel overwhelms every aspect of my life, seemingly turning strengths into weaknesses, at least temporarily.
In my experience, a period of spiritual depression is not a time to conclude that one has lost one’s faith, or that God has vanished from one’s life. It may, however, be a time to acknowledge that under extraordinary circumstances it is natural, even predictable, to have spiritual doubts or painful questions for the Creator. Such doubts may be a sign that some spiritual development or evolution is needed on our part – a good project for when we feel better. But in my experience, spiritual doubts and worries often simply go away when I feel better, just as the anguish and despair at the centre of severe depression eventually fades away. I have found that I must simply make room for these experiences in my spiritual life, accept them, and accept myself when I’m going through them. I’ve come to see them as spiritual symptoms that affect me but are not my reality, just as the painful manifestations of clinical depression obscure my identity but do not destroy it, and eventually fade away, leaving me depleted but intact. And nothing can compare with the spiritual joy, as a friend described it, of “finding my faith secure in my heart again” and “being able to embrace it as an old friend.”
Presented at a panel discussion at the International Mental Health and Spirituality Conference, Ottawa, 2004.
By Linda O’Neil,
Mental health advocate and member of the Ottawa Baha’i Community
The recent creation of the Canadian Mental Health Commission, an increasing number of well-researched articles and broadcasts on mental illness, celebrities speaking out about mental illness, ordinary people and their family members “coming out of the closet” to share personal experiences, more effective medical treatments, and the new focus on the concept of “recovery” – all are helping to raise the profile and reduce the stigma of mental illness. Almost everyone knows someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, a mood disorder, schizophrenia or other mental illness, who has gone on sick leave, or has sought some form of treatment, including counselling, medication, or other therapies.
What is stigma? When people are seen in a negative or stereotyped manner they are said to be stigmatized. Stigma is a reality for people with a mental illness, who report that how others judge them is one of their greatest barriers to a complete and satisfying life. Society still feels uncomfortable about mental illness. It is not seen like other illnesses such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes. Inaccuracies and misunderstandings have led many people to believe those who have mental illness have a weak character or may be dangerous. Although some symptoms are mental illness may be apparent at some stages in some disorders, mental illness has also been called an invisible illness. Often, the only way to know whether someone has been diagnosed with a mental illness is if they tell you. Most people are unaware of how many mentally ill people they know and encounter every day. Some statistics:
- One in three people will experience some kind of emotional difficulty in their lives
- One in five people in Ontario will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime.
- Mental illness affects people of all ages, in all kinds of jobs and at all educational levels.1
Mental illnesses are present in the Baha’i community in the same proportion as in the community at large. The Baha’i teachings give us insight into how Baha’is should think about mental illness, and can help us share in the “stigma busting” efforts of mental health professionals, community mental health organizations, support groups and individuals. These include: .
- To visit and pray for those who are ill
- To be compassionate towards those who have a mental illness2
- To remember that mental illness does not affect the spirit3
- If we have a mental illness:
- To seek medical treatment
- To have faith that our difficulties can be overcome
- To assist in our own recovery through prayer and personal effort4
- To serve others
- To teach the Faith5
- Based on a fact sheet from the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario division http://www.ontario.cmha.ca, “About Mental Health” section.
- Letters written on behalf of the Guardian stated that “his heart goes out to you in your fear and suffering…”, and acknowledged that “it is very hard to be subject to any illness, particularly a mental one”, and that “such illness is truly a heavy burden to bear”
- “…these illnesses have nothing to do with our spirit or our inner relation to God. No matter how much you or others may be afflicted with mental troubles…know that your spirit is healthy, near to our Beloved, and will in the next world enjoy a happy and normal state of soul…” (Letter written on behalf of the Guardian)
- “Such hindrances (i.e., illness and outer difficulties), no matter how severe and insuperable they may at first seem, can and should be effectively overcome through the combined and sustained power of prayer and of determined and continued effort.” (Letter written on behalf of the Guardian)
- “That effort can include the counsel of wise and experienced physicians, including psychiatrists. Working for the Faith, serving others who may need you, and giving of yourself can aid you in your struggle to overcome your sufferings. One helpful activity is, of course striving to teach the Cause in spite of personal feelings of shortcomings, thus allowing the healing words of the Cause to flood your mind with their grace and positive power.” (The Universal House of Justice).
These and other quotations on mental illness can be found in Lights of Guidance, sections 947-957.
One of my readers asked:
Do you have any suggestions how to function with one or more people in a Baha’i community who have Borderline Personality Disorder? People are avoiding Baha’i meetings now. Just wondering if you have any coping skills suggestions?
I often think that every Bahá’í community should be issued with a checklist of things that could go wrong, so that when it does, we can just see that’s it’s another “thing” we have to go through! 🙂
This is a really tough problem to deal with! And since we know we’ll never be given a test we can’t handle, your community surely has the capacity to handle this one!
The thing that makes Borderline so difficult is that the person’s symptoms of high conflict or destructive behaviors are at odds with the teachings of our Faith.
I would recommend a 3-pronged approach:
1. If they are at risk to themselves or others (e.g., suicidal ideation, domestic violence, or criminal) it makes sense to immediately seek help from agencies in your community who deal with these issues.
Articles which you might find helpful include:
When Marriage Becomes Abusive
2. Give them the space they need to be heard by listening to and validating their feelings. Remember, God gave us 2 ears and one mouth! J If someone in your community has got some training from the Virtues Project, they will know how to spiritually companion people; and affirm their virtues. This can be really helpful for helping someone with Borderline feel heard and validated.
And a readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception, will be invaluable in identifying obstacles…(Universal House of Justice, 28th of December 2010 to the Continental Board of Counsellors)
3. Step back from the conflict so you can start processing the hurt or resentment that you are feeling, either alone or with help from your Assembly – but not including the person with the disorder.
It can be very draining to interact with people with this disorder, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself so you have the energy available to deal with them.
The 19 Day Feast is a place of spiritual rejuvenation that can benefit both the person with borderline as well as the community around them:
Give ye great weight to the Nineteen Day gatherings, so that on these occasions the beloved of the Lord and the handmaids of the Merciful may turn their faces toward the Kingdom, chant the communes, beseech God’s help, become joyfully enamored each of the other, and grow in purity and holiness, and in the fear of God, and in the resistance to passion and self. Thus will they separate themselves from this elemental world, and immerse themselves in the ardors of the spirit.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities, Section 9.16)
When done properly, it gives us the spiritual rejuvenation we need to get through the next 19 days!
If this feast be held in the proper fashion,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “the friends will, once in nineteen days, find themselves spiritually restored, and endued with a power that is not of this world.” To ensure this glorious outcome the concept of the Feast must be adequately understood by all the friends. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 419)
This article might be helpful:
The Importance of Good Self Care
Know that many people with this disorder learn to adapt and control the worst of their behavior, except when stress pushes them past their ability to control and manage. Anything you can do to help them minimize their stress will be beneficial for everyone.
Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder
It’s important to understand the causes of Borderline. The person may be dealing with a broad range of things that look a lot like:
- short term mental illness (e.g., depression),
- substance induced illness (e.g., alcoholism),
- a mood disorder (e.g., bipolar),
- an anxiety disorder (e.g., PTSD),
- a personality disorder (e.g., BPD, NPD, 8 others),
- a neurodevelopmental disorder (e.g., ADHD, Aspergers), or
- any combination of the above.
This means you could be dealing with someone who is lying, ego driven, defensive, out of control or socially inept. Each of these will have a different set of solutions:
Immaturity: can be handled with deepening them in topics such as consultation; lying; ego, self and/or whatever seems to be causing problems in the moment.
This can be an issue for both you and the person with the illness:
One of the greatest problems in the Cause is the relation of the believers to each other; for their immaturity (shared with the rest of humanity) and imperfections retard the work, create complications, and discourage each other. And yet we must put up with these things and try and combat them through love, patience and forgiveness individually, and proper administrative action collectively. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 449)
Love, patience and forgiveness are called for but how do you do it? You might find this article helpful:
Showing Kindness to a Liar, Traitor or Thief
Depression: when we see it as self-pity or “poor me”, we see that there is a story in the person’s past which they need to work through. Understanding what their story is, and helping them problem solve, if necessary, or even just providing a listening ear, can be very helpful.
My book: Darkness into Light – Overcoming Depression might be really helpful. It’s a free download
As can these articles:
On Managing Depression
Substance abuse: often requires intervention and inpatient detoxification. If the person is not clean and sober, it will be almost impossible to talk with them rationally. You could encourage them to get help and invite them to attend gatherings when they are clean and sober.
You might find these articles helpful:
The 12 Steps (with Baha’i Quotes)
12 Step Slogans (with Baha’i Quotes)
Dealing with Addictions
Bahá’ís using Drugs
A mood disorder (e.g., bipolar): may be helped by a referral to a competent physician, and ensuring that prescribed medication is being taken.
You might find these helpful:
How Do We Find a Competent Physician?
Why People Aren’t Getting Better
Spiritual Causes of Disease
Account of 70 Years of My Experience With Bipolar Disorder
An anxiety disorder (e.g., PTSD): is also caused by a “story” which has produced a lot of fear. The person with an anxiety disorder is not living in the present, but in the future, in a constant state of “what if”. This can be their gift to the community, to consider all the “what if’s” – once they have gotten them all out on the table, and been validated for their contribution to the consultation; they can be encouraged to come back into the present and deal with “what is” in this moment.
My book: Fear into Faith: Overcoming Anxiety might be really helpful. It’s a free download
As will this article:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
A personality disorder (e.g., BPD, NPD)
The Bahá’í Association of Mental Health Professionals have said that while some mental illnesses have a genetic and biological basis, it is well-known that the following situations compromise mental health:
- prolonged and severe stress
- violence, trauma, and abuse
- addictions and substance abuse
- family dissolution
- inequality between women and men
- racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice
- internalized oppression
- inadequate education
- materialism and its preoccupation with the acquisition of power, wealth, and celebrity
- inter-group conflict
- absence of moral leadership
Any or all of these things may be contributing factors which make the person’s symptoms more problematic.
A neurodevelopmental disorder (e.g., ADHD, Aspergers) means that the person may have a reduced ability to sit still for long meetings; and/or not have very good social skills. Understanding the person’s limitations will help your community look at ways to include them and meet their needs.
Spiritual Principles to Consider:
You don’t have to go through this alone! The Concourse on High stands ready to help, but they can’t intervene without being asked! Prevent unemployment in the next world, by calling on them for help.
These articles might be helpful;
Understanding the Power in the Long Healing Prayer
Dealing with Depression though the Fire Tablet
Using the Names of God for Healing
Love and Forgive
As an individual, it’s our role to be loving and forgiving; and the Assembly’s role to take care of justice. When we learn how to interact spiritually with those who have mental illness, we develop our capacity to be more loving and forgiving.
It should be realized that there is a distinction drawn in the Faith between the attitudes which should characterize individuals in their relationship to other people, namely, loving forgiveness, forbearance, and concern with one’s own sins, not the sins of others, and those attitudes which should be shown by the Spiritual Assemblies, whose duty is to administer the law of God with Justice.
(Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 110)
Often our greatest tests come from other Bahá’ís, and when they do, the only remedy is love:
Often our severest tests come from each other. Certainly the believers should try to avert such things, and if they happen, remedy them through love. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
At the Feast, we develop the capacity to see everyone (especially those who challenge us!) as greater than ourselves; and to find ways to make them happy:
Each one of you must think how to make happy and pleased the other members of your Assembly, and each one must consider all those who are present as better and greater than himself, and each one must consider himself less than the rest. Know their station as high, and think of your own station as low. Should you act and live according to these behests, know verily, of a certainty, that that Feast is the Heavenly Food. That Supper is the “Lord’s Supper”! I am the Servant of that gathering. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 429)
Home visits are a way to get to know people in a neutral setting, without the pressure of Bahá’í activities. The more we know about people, the better able we are to be loving and forgiving.
We should all visit the sick. When they are in sorrow and suffering, it is a real help and benefit to have a friend come. Happiness is a great healer to those who are ill. In the East it is the custom to call upon the patient often and meet him individually. The people in the East show the utmost kindness and compassion to the sick and suffering. This has greater effect than the remedy itself. You must always have this thought of love and affection when you visit the ailing and afflicted. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 204).
Now is the time to cheer and refresh the down-cast through the invigorating breeze of love and fellowship, and the living waters of friendliness and charity. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 7)
Indeed the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to fully draw on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 8)
Let go of ego:
When interacting with those who have a mental illness, it’s easy to feel condemning, superior and judgemental; and to take offence at behaviours which we feel are inappropriate. Learning how to let go is part of our spiritual growth!
You might find my book “Letting Go of Fault-Finding, Blame and Accusation” to be of assistance. It’s a free download.
Our Bahá’í communities were never meant to be so small! In a larger community there will be more people with more skills and patience to deal with those who have mental illness.
Forsake every commemoration and thought in the cell of oblivion (i.e., forget everything) and confine thy days and time in preaching the Kingdom of God, spreading the teachings of God and igniting the lights of guidance in the hearts which are awaiting the Kingdom of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 607-609)
As hard as it is to interact with someone with a mental illness, it’s even more difficult for the individual.
Guidelines for Assemblies
Avoid suggesting that there might be a mental problem:
If the Assembly becomes aware of a problem that might be an indicator of mental illness or other disorder it should avoid suggesting that there might be a mental problem, as it is not qualified to make such a determination. Depending on the circumstances, it may wish to suggest that the person undergo a medical evaluation through his or her primary care physician or other health care practitioner. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Appoint a liaison with a capacity to listen, to interact with the individual:
If individuals with mental disorders are repeatedly writing letters or making phone calls to the Assembly, it may wish to appoint a liaison with a capacity to listen to interact with the individual. It may be helpful to assist people to clarify and focus their thinking by asking, “Why are you telling me that?” It is also possible to politely interrupt a flow of monologue that is unproductive. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Consider the welfare of the whole community first, when making decisions; and then find resources for the individual:
In cases of mental disorders, the Assembly should make its decisions first in consideration of the benefit and welfare of the whole community and then in finding resources for the individual. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Safeguard the rights of the individual provided they do not seriously affect the welfare of the group as a whole:
It is the responsibility of Baha’i Assemblies to decide when individual interests should be subordinated to those affecting the collective welfare of the community. But, as already stated, the interest of the individual should always be safeguarded within certain limits, and provided they do not seriously affect the welfare of the group as a whole. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, no. 411)
Seek advice from local mental health professionals:
Assemblies are encouraged to seek advice from local mental health professionals, including social service agencies, and qualified non-profit organizations concerning specific situations and to draw upon these resources in deciding upon any course of action. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Establish clear boundaries with the individual regarding their behavior, with explicit consequences for violating the boundaries:
If the person’s problems are affecting the community, the Assembly may wish to establish clear boundaries regarding his or her behavior in relation to itself, the community and, if necessary, to particular individuals within the community, with explicit consequences for violating the boundaries. If that approach is used: Care should be taken to establish boundaries that are reasonable and consequences that are appropriate. If possible, this should be done in consultation and cooperation with the individual involved. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Put the boundaries and consequences in the form of a written contract:
The Assembly may find it helpful to put the boundaries and consequences for violating them in the form of a written contract at the time of the agreement so that both the individual and the Assembly will have a copy. If possible, the actual wording should be agreed upon by both the individual and the Assembly. This will help to reduce confusion and minimize individual differences of perception in recalling what was decided when referring to the agreement in the future. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
If the predetermined boundaries are violated, the Assembly must act to impose the consequences:
Once consequences are specified, if the predetermined boundaries are violated, the Assembly must act to impose the consequences. If need for a therapist is indicated, the Assembly may wish to suggest that the person get a referral from his or her primary physician, if they do not already have someone they are seeing or would like to see. If the individual’s behavior seems to be so extreme that immediate assistance is required, the Assembly or its liaison may wish to contact a mental health crisis intervention unit or the police, as seems appropriate to the situation. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Limited sanctions (i.e., restrictions on one’s eligibility to serve on institutions or participate in community events) are usually imposed in cases where the individual disrupts the unity of the community, or is mentally unfit and unable to exercise judgment or behave responsibly:
Limited sanctions (i.e., restrictions on one’s eligibility to serve on institutions or participate in community events) are usually imposed in cases where the individual disrupts the unity of the community, or is mentally unfit and unable to exercise judgment or behave responsibly. The Universal House of Justice has clearly indicated that a National Spiritual Assembly may debar an individual from serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly without removing his administrative rights. (Universal House of Justice, USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 11, p.32)
Withdrawal of administrative rights is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer’s condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights:
The withdrawal of administrative rights from a person who is suffering from a mental illness is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer’s condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights. From this you will see that the mental incapacity must be very serious for this step to be taken, and would normally be dependent upon a certification of insanity by medical authorities or confinement in a mental hospital. Again, depending upon the kind of mental illness, such suspension of voting rights may or may not involve non-receipt of Baha’i newsletters, inability to attend Nineteen Day Feasts, etc. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, no. 195)
Additional advice and insight may be found in:
Some Guidance for Spiritual Assemblies Related to Mental Illness and Its Treatment
Available through the Bahá’í Distribution Service at (800) 999-9019
For more information on Mental Illness from a Baha’i Perspective:
Borderline Personality Disorder
Mental Health is at Risk when Love and Justice are Absent
Does Becoming a Bahá’í Make People Crazy?
Are Mental Disorders Diseases
The Bahá’í Community and Mental Health
Bahá’í Association of Mental Health Professionals Position Paper on Mental Health
How I Learned to Love the Mentally Ill
No Less Noble: Mental Illness, Addiction and the Soul
On Maintaining Mental Health
Preliminary Analysis of the Baha’i Concept of Mental Health
Further References on Borderline Personality Disorder
Additional articles which will help you better understand someone with Borderline Personality Disorder:
Facing the Facts
How to Live with a Narcissist
Living with a Narcissist
7 Steps to Deal with Someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder
With particular assistance when helping couples with a year of patience, when one partner has Borderline:
Borderline Women, And Men Who Love Them
Divorce a Spouse with Borderline Personality Disorder
Leaving a Partner with Borderline Personality
Separating and Divorcing
Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Those are some of my thoughts. I’m not someone who has borderline; nor have I lived with someone. I’d love to hear from those who have! How has this been helpful? What would you add? Post your comments below!
Since at least the early 1990’s the House of Justice has been encouraging us to encourage, and I hear this concept mentioned over and over again, but what exactly does it mean, and how do we do it? Let’s look at what the Bahá’í Writings have to teach us!
Whose Responsibility is Encouragement?
Individuals must support each other in a strong effort to suppress every critical thought and every harsh word, in order to let the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh flow into the entire community:
When we see the condition the world is in today, we must surely forget these utterly insignificant internal disturbances, and rush, unitedly, to the rescue of humanity. You should urge your fellow- Bahá’ís to take this point of view, and to support you in a strong effort to suppress every critical thought and every harsh word, in order to let the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh flow into the entire community, and unite it in His love and in His service. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 91)
Assemblies must master the art of making use of the talents of individuals and rousing the mass of the friends to action:
Although Spiritual Assemblies are good at specifying goals, they have not yet mastered the art of making use of the talents of individuals and rousing the mass of the friends to action in fulfilment of such goals. Removing this deficiency would be a mark of the maturation of these institutions. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
The community as a whole should be involved in efforts to encourage:
The community as a whole should be involved in efforts to resolve such issues. A single answer would, of course, be inadequate, there being so many diverse elements and interests in the community. These matters require not only your own independent consultation but consultation with the Counsellors as well. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
Who Needs Particular Encouragement?
We all need encouragement!
The friends everywhere need encouragement. (Universal House of Justice, 1998 Apr, Training Institutes)
Assemblies must give unlimited encouragement to women:
The members of the House of Spirituality must give unlimited encouragement to women. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 336)
Special encouragement should be given to believers of unusual capacity:
Special encouragement should therefore be given to believers of unusual capacity to consecrate their abilities to the service of the Cause through the unique contribution they can make to this rapidly developing field of Bahá’í endeavour. (Universal House of Justice, Scholarship, p. 13)
Inactive and unresponsive believers especially need encouragement, love and assistance:
It is very discouraging to find inactive and unresponsive believers; on the other hand we must always realize that some souls are weak and immature and not capable of carrying on an active administrative burden. They need encouragement, the love of their fellow Bahá’ís and assistance. To blame them for not doing more for the Cause is useless, and they may actually have a very firm belief in Bahá’u’lláh which with care could be fanned into flame. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 84)
Those who are attracted to the Cause are in need of encouragement while they strive toward recognizing and accepting Bahá’u’lláh:
As the teaching intensifies, all believes can anticipate being surrounded by an increasing number of people who are attracted to the Cause but in need of encouragement while they strive toward the recognition and acceptance of Bahá’u’lláh. (International Teaching Centre, 1992 May 09, Inviting Seekers to Embrace the Cause)
Why do We Encourage?
Because our teachings call on us to encourage each other:
Related to this is the tendency of the friends to criticize each other at the slightest provocation, whereas the Teachings call upon them to encourage each other. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
So that we can win victories for the Faith in our own spheres of life:
At this exact time in history when the peoples of the world are weighed down with soul-crushing difficulties and the shadow of despair threatens to eclipse the light of hope, there must be revived among the individual believers a sense of mission, a feeling of empowerment to minister to the urgent need of humanity for guidance and thus to win victories for the Faith in their own sphere of life. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
So we don’t stunt the growth and development of the community:
But human beings are not perfect. The Local Assemblies and the friends must be helped through your example and through loving counsel to refrain from such a pattern of criticism, which stunts the growth and development of the community. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
Because more beneficial results are achieved by encouragement than by threats or the imposition of sanctions:
At the present stage . . . far more beneficial results are likely to be achieved by encouragement of the believers and by their education in the principles and significance of Bahá’í administration than by the threat or imposition of sanctions. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
In order to nourish a culture of growth:
Training alone, of course, does not necessarily lead to an upsurge in teaching activity. In every avenue of service, the friends need sustained encouragement. Our expectation is that the Auxiliary Board members, together with their assistants, will give special thought to how individual initiative can be cultivated, particularly as it relates to teaching. When training and encouragement are effective, a culture of growth is nourished in which the believers see their duty to teach as a natural consequence of having accepted Bahá’u’lláh. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 158, 2001 01 09, to the Conference of the Continental Counsellors)
Encouragement is the secret of universal participation:
The real secret of universal participation lies in the Master’s oft expressed wish that the friends should love each other, constantly encourage each other, work together, be as one soul in one body, and in so doing become a true, organic, healthy body animated and illumined by the spirit. (Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 43)
An upsurge in teaching activity depends on “sustained encouragement”:
In the same message, the House of Justice also stated that an upsurge in teaching activity depends on “sustained encouragement.” (ITC, 2003 Apr 23, Building Momentum, p. 13)
Without encouragement, families cannot prosper nor women advance:
Parents have responsibility toward their children, and children toward their parents, but beyond responsibility, the emphasis is on love, respect, courtesy, kindness and encouragement, without which families cannot prosper nor women advance. (Baha’i International Community, 1990 Sept 06, Women Development in Pacific)
What prevents us from being encouraging?
Our deep love for the Faith means we want to see it free of any flaw:
Such tendencies are of course motivated by a deep love for the Faith, a desire to see it free of any flaw. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
What actions are not encouraging?
An accumulated impression of institutional disapproval and a fear of criticism inhibits our initiative:
Even if you are doing nothing deliberately to discourage such freedom, their accumulated impression of institutional disapproval, however derived, and their fear of criticism are, to a considerable extent, inhibiting their exercise of initiative. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
When we lay down too many rules and regulations:
You should also be fearful of laying down too many rules and regulations. The Cause is not so fragile that a degree of mistakes cannot be tolerated. When you feel that certain actions may become trends with harmful consequences, you may, instead of making a new rule, discuss the matter with the Counsellors, enlisting their support in educating the friends in a manner that will improve their understanding and their conduct. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
Criticism prevents any decision from being enforced:
It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 88)
What Actions are Encouraging?
We ignore the bad qualities and search for the good ones:
If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 83)
We put the past behind and refrain from mentioning subjects which have led to misunderstanding and inharmony:
When criticism and harsh words arise within a Bahá’í community there is no remedy except to put the past behind one and persuade all concerned to turn over a new leaf, and, for the sake of God and His Faith, refrain from mentioning the subjects which have led to misunderstanding and inharmony. (Shoghi Effendi, Directives of the Guardian, pp. 17-18)
We help each other overcome our problems, deepen in the Faith, and increase their unity and love for each other, our work will go ahead speedily:
The friends should be helped to overcome their problems, deepen in the Faith, and increase their unity and their love for each other. In this way you will find that your work goes ahead speedily, and that the National Body is like the beating of a healthy heart in the midst of the Community, pumping spiritual love, energy and encouragement out to all the members. (Shoghi Effendi, Unlocking the Power of Action)
We appreciate the nature of the power of action which they possess:
As to your worry about over-controlling the friends: by appreciating the nature of the power of action which they possess, you will be able to gauge how best to guide and direct them. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
We give people a wide latitude for action and a large margin for mistakes:
A wide latitude for action must be allowed them, which means that a large margin for mistakes must also be allowed. Your National Assembly and the Local Assemblies must not react automatically to every mistake, but distinguish between those that are self-correcting with the passage of time and do no particular harm to the community and those which require Assembly intervention. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
We help people feel a greater sense of freedom to engage in a wide range of activities originating with themselves:
A new burst of energy would accrue to the operation of the Three Year Plan if the friends, both individually and collectively, could feel a greater sense of freedom to engage in a wide range of activities originating with themselves. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
We recognize that each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing:
A unity in diversity of actions is called for, a condition in which different individuals will concentrate on different activities, appreciating the salutary effect of the aggregate on the growth and development of the Faith, because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing. This understanding is important to the maturity which, by the many demands being made upon it, the community is being forced to attain. (The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 80)
In every interaction, we ask: Would ‘Abdu’l-Bahá behave like this?
The people of the world today, whether Bahá’ís or non-Bahá’ís — no matter how desperately they need everything in the Bahá’í administration — are not going to benefit by being banged on the head by rules and regulations; they need love and encouragement. They need the spirit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showered upon all men, the reason He is our Exemplar. A good question for every one of us to ask our own selves is ‘Would the Master behave like this? (Ruhiyyih Khanum, A Manual for Pioneers, p. 19)
From this we see the following actions are helpful:
- ignore the bad qualities and search for the good ones
- put the past behind and refrain from mentioning subjects which have led to misunderstanding and inharmony
- help each other overcome our problems
- help each other deepen in the Faith
- appreciating the nature of the power of action which they possess
- give people a wide latitude for action and a large margin for mistakes
- give people a greater sense of freedom to initiate a wide range of activities
- recognize that each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing
- in every interaction, ask: Would ‘Abdu’l-Bahá behave like this?
In spite of all the loving encouragement we may give, not all Bahá’ís will become active in the work of the community:
In spite of loving encouragement given by their Assemblies, not all Bahá’ís are active in the work of the community. This does not, of course, necessarily indicate withdrawal. An Assembly should carefully distinguish between those who are not active but still identify themselves with the Faith, and those whose inactivity indicates complete lack of interest and a wish to have nothing more to do with the Cause. (Universal House of Justice, Withdrawal from the Faith, 4 April 2001)
For more information, you might want to read:
The Theory of the Big Toenail
Encouraging Universal Participation
Why Do People Resign?
How has this helped your understanding of encouragement? What’s been your experiences good and bad? Post your comments below!