Christian marriage retreat couples retreats

 caring empathic therapist
30 years clinical experience
Masters degree in clinical psychology
accountable to a board of reference






Inner Healing

Ontario Retreats

American clients welcome.
 Office: suite 125
1454 Dundas St. East,
Mississauga, Ontario
Canada.  (416) 234-1850

Phone: 1 877 854-3990


Surviving a Life Crisis or Nervous Breakdown

© George Hartwell M.Sc. 2004, all rights reserved.

All the 'normal' people

The royal family reports adultery and marriage breakdown. Where is Camelot? Where are the 'normal' people?

Where are those 'normal' people who don't face financial crisis every month, who don't have ugly family scenes, who don't have mental breakdowns? Have we set up a false standard?

Do you believe in a world where there are lots of people who don't face life-shattering crisis every few years? When you look at other people does it look like they have their life all together? Could this be a fantasy?

Many of us think that there are 'normal' people for whom life is, if not perfect, at least smooth sailing. These 'normal' people don't have children with learning disabilities, or parents who forget who they are, or the people close to them dying off suddenly. These 'normal' people have it all together emotionally, socially, physically, financially and spiritually. And being 'normal' means that they have a career and life that is not interrupted by events that plunge them beyond their resources. Are there really such people?

We believe that these 'normal' people never have a life crisis. They don't get addicted to drugs, pornography, gambling, or alcohol. These 'normal' people don't ever need professional help with their children, their marriage, and their emotional or career adjustment. Research and reality checks discovers that such "normal" people are a fantasy and a false standard.

The rest of us

The rest of us do experience life crisis. We find that there comes a time when we cannot carry on. We cannot pretend anymore. We cannot hold things together. We cannot go on in the same pattern of life. The burden of live has become too much. Our life comes apart.

When this happens we feel we are cracking up. We feel like we are having a nervous breakdown. We are uncertain about our identity. Our central beliefs are shaken. We question all that we have striven to do.

Our inner motor runs down: whatever has driven us this far does not hold the same interest; the work we did gladly does not to bring us the same reward; the way we have always related to people does not work for us.

We loose are ability or desire to hide what we are feeling. Our hardness, our coldness, our reserve, our emotional control is gone - broken.

We find ourselves more in touch with our emotions. We cry easily. We are easily touched. Our heart is on the surface.

This is the rest of us. At times like this we need professional help even if we fail to get it.

If we fail to find the resources we need we may turn to things that hurt others or ourselves. The solutions we turn to, rather than getting professional help, often increase or problems. We begin to give up hope in life. We feel helpless to understand or change our lives. In other words, we could spiral downwards.

What is happening? What is the power and process of the experience that feels like a nervous breakdown? How can consulting a professional help prevent this crisis from spiraling out of control?

Let us look at the dynamics of a nervous breakdown.

A New Theory of a 'nervous breakdown' with reference to the Theory of Positive Breakdown by Kazimierz Dabrowski

Of course nerves do not break down. But it is a common observation that physical development is characterized by periods of consolidation followed by periods of disorganization then a higher level of consolidation. This process happens almost yearly for the first few years of life.

In cognitive development and in the model of Jean Piaget - a Swiss Psychologist - cognitive development passed through distinct stages. In his theory, the child develops a conception of the world called a schema. New information is incorporated into the existing scheme. He calls this assimilation.

In Piaget's rich thinking there are also times when the existing schema cannot adequately incorporate the new information. The schema needs to be dismantled and replaced with a new schema. This more revolutionary process he called: accommodation.

In science when the existing scientific models cannot hold the new data gracefully there comes a time when scientific models must change. This revolutionary change is called a Paradigm Shift.

My thesis is that our personality adjustment experiences similar periods when the old patterns break up so that a new more functional pattern can take their place. In my view a higher level of organization may follow a period of disorganization. Disintegration may be followed by integration and consolidation in a healthier place. I will, after Dabrowski, call such a process Positive Disintegration. See note below on Kazimierz Dabrowski MD, PhD.

What drives us into this period of personality disintegration? Is there an inner wisdom or destiny that insists on fulfillment in our life?

 We can posit an inner discontent that grows when our personality adjustment is not bringing us the rewards that we long for. When the divergence between our real inner needs and the feelings generated by our current personality adjustment is great, and when this short fall continues over a long time, this inner discontent grows in strength. I would posit that a high level of discontent results in a time of depression or a time of nervous breakdown.

What is happening to me?

Almost by definition when you experience a nervous breakdown you will not know what is going on. You will be confused and fearful as you ask: "What is happening to me?"

I like Dabrowski's insight that we can have times of personality confusion and disorganization that result in higher integration. This insight is positive and gives hope to those in such a time.

It will help if your counselor understands this process and is able to support you through it. It is reassuring when someone clearly understands what you are going through and are confident of the possibility of a positive outcome. In such times we need hope.

Anxiety, panic attacks, depression

My experience with such breakdowns leads me to posit two different types of personality adjustment that break down. In both cases the nervous breakdown will be characterized by anxiety, perhaps panic attacks, depression and identity confusion.

Identity confusion

The clinical indication of identity confusion is the repetitive use of the sentence: "I don't know." One use of that sentence is an immediate clue that there is identity confusion and repetitions confirm it. Usually a client will confirm my sense of this when I ask them if it is possible that they are going through a time of identity confusion.

At such times I reassure clients that I will be with them in this process and help them to clarify and consolidate their identity. With some clients this means that I need to point out that their attention is too much on the other people in their life and I am not hearing them talk about their own feelings, observation, thoughts and choices.

The people pleaser pattern

People pleasers as children learn or decide that their position in the family and the love they receive is dependent on their good behaviour. Some of the natural expressions of childhood are stifled in order to 'be a good boy' or 'be a nice girl.' Some pretending occurs. A false personality emerges that pleases the key people in the family and ensures continued love and avoids rejection and isolation.

As adults people pleasers continue to focus on others. Others define what is expected in each situation. Rather than developing an independent self with independent tastes, thoughts, feelings, needs, choices and personality, the adult continues to define life in terms of doing right, avoiding offending anyone, going along with what is expected, never getting angry, never being assertive or standing up for oneself.

To the extent that the People Pleaser adjustment fails to meet our real inner needs an inner discontent will build up. We will find ourselves dissatisfied with our life. If married we may come to the wrong belief that our marriage partner is why we are discontent when it is our own dysfunctional life pattern that must go. We can go up different blind alleys to find what is missing in our life and just cause pain for our loved ones and ourselves.

The over-responsible pattern

Have you been told that you are too serious? Have trouble having fun? Take on the cares of the world? You could be caught in the over-responsible personality pattern.

The over-responsible person may have been the oldest child in a large family and given much responsibility. Perhaps mother and father were not there to care for them or their siblings and that responsibility fell heavily upon their shoulders.

If either parent is emotionally immature, out of control, demanding of care, the child may become super-responsible. This includes situations where a parent is alcoholic and loosing control when drunk, when a parent is physically abusive or sexually abuses the child. In such situations the child tries to grow up too fast. We lose our childhood.

If the marriage looks unstable to the children or parents are physically or emotionally harming one another in ways that frighten the child. If there is a lot of arguing that scares the child. In each and any of these situations a child may react by developing the over-responsible pattern.

Adults who grow up with this pattern have trouble with boundaries and try to do too much. They have trouble co-operating with others and trusting that others will do their part.

Such adults are often very caring people and very attentive to the needs of others. They are very responsible and can be counted on to be the pillar of the family, church or business. They tend to feel to blame when anything goes wrong. They feel they must respond when anyone has a need. They feel guilty easily and live with a lot of self-condemnation.

The over-responsible pattern breaks down because the over-responsible does not take care of themselves. They do not see that their own needs are met. They may burn themselves out trying to help everyone. They may become depressed when it is clear they cannot rescue their family or save their marriage from collapse. They feel they have failed at their life calling, that they are a failure.

When professional help is needed!

I have already suggested that a counselor that understands, supports, gives hope and can support and encouraging a client's identity is helpful. In the midst of a life crisis support and strategic guidance is appreciated and helpful.

If the crisis is not too severe, and does not involve the breakdown of the marriage, it may be possible to provide core belief therapy. The personality adjustment is based on care beliefs that can be challenged and replaced with more positive beliefs.

Life Transformation Therapy

My own particular therapy for this is my own "Life Transformation Therapy" which involves a variety of strategies and techniques for healing the cognitive core of the personality. I make use of prayer and the imagination to discover core beliefs that were established during childhood and to successfully replace these with healthier beliefs. See: How Life Transformation Works.

For the People Pleaser just coming to an understanding of unconditional love can be life transforming. A belief in unconditional love is easily supported in Biblical texts such as "God so loved the world that He gave his own son" (John 3:16) and church theology of salvation by faith alone not by our works. I have seen a discussion of this with one in the Christian tradition be life changing.

Stop inner self-abuse

The over-responsible person may need encouragement for disengaging from carrying the weight of the world. There is a healthy place for learning to let go of the load and let God be God and carry more of the weight. Jesus call: "Come unto me you that are weary and heavy laden &ldots;" is worth meditating upon (Matthew 11:28).

I expose the pattern of inner abuse and condemnation and work to break that pattern and substitute healthy self-care. The use of a transactional analysis Parent-Adult-Child diagram to explain this has always been well received.

New beliefs for Old

The People Pleaser lives with the belief that I must do right to be loved. Unconditional love says that we have a right to be ourselves and that we are loved when we win and when we lose, when we are good and when we are naughty, when we laugh and when we cry, when we are sad and when we are mad. We have an identity worth discovering and expressing. We only know that we are loved when we take the risk of being real rather than pretending and putting on a show.

The Over-Responsible believes that the sky is falling and my job is to hold it up. Nobody else can be trusted to do their part I must do it all myself. They believe that their role in life is to keep the peace, to mediate, to keep the boat from rocking. They must learn to trust God and others to do their part; learn it is okay to share the load; that they are not responsible to save the world and they are not God.

Many therapists bring a growth mindset to therapy and make use of tools that bring about significant transformation in people's lives.   Christian counsellors may use "Listening Prayer Therapy" to deal with core beliefs in people's lives.  Such tools can change disaster into victory; hopeless breakdown into a process in which a new healthier identity can emerge.

G.C.H. <><

George may be contacted at (416) 234-1850. Long distance 1 877 854-3990. E-mail George.  More information about his practice and the use of "Listening Prayer Therapy" at For details about marital retreats at a Christian Retreat Center in Ontario look at

George Hartwell is a Christian counselor who provides: Christian counseling personal therapy retreats for individuals and Christian marriage counselling intensive retreat and couple retreats.  George's therapeutic retreats are for individual and couple work and are not the same as a marraige weekend for groups.

Notes on Kazimierz Dabrowski and Positive Disintegration

This article makes reference to the Theory of Positive Breakdown by Kazimierz Dabrowski.

Kazimierz Dabrowski MD, PhD. (1902 - 1980) was born in Klarowo, Lublin, Poland. I have adopted Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration to my own experience of people going through a life crisis such that they speak of a "nervous breakdown."

Dabrowski's theory describes a process of personality development - the creation of a unique, individual personality. In early development, a person begins to notice and to imagine 'higher possibilities' in life. One's perception of reality becomes differentiated into a hierarchy and all aspects of both external and internal life come to be evaluated on a vertical continuum of 'lower versus higher.' This experience creates a series of deep and painful conflicts between lower, 'habitual' perceptions and reactions based on one's heredity and environment (socialization) and higher, volitional 'possibilities.' In the developing individual, these conflicts lead to disintegrations and psychoneurosis, hallmarks of advanced growth. Eventually, through the processes of advanced development and positive disintegration one is able to develop control over one's reactions and actions. Eventually, development culminates in the extinction of lower levels of reality and behavior and their transcendence via the creation of a higher, autonomous and stable ideal self. For more see: A brief sketch of Dabrowski's theory by W. Tillier.

George Hartwell is a Christian counselor who provides: Christian counseling personal therapy retreats for individuals and Christian marriage counselling intensive retreat and couple retreats.  George's therapeutic retreats are for individual and couple work and are not the same as a marraige weekend for groups.

Christain Retreats for Depression   Personal Christian retreats retreat for individuals  Christian therapy retreats   Christian therapeutic retreat / retreats   emotional healing retreat / retreats


If you would like send an e-mail to the webmaster contact: Web Sites That Work.