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About Guilt, Fear & Negative Thinking

Counseling Session
By Family Editorial Board
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You Ask, Dr. Bachmeier Answers
Online Counseling Session

Read the complete questions and answers of the counseling session with Dr. Maryam Bachmeier about the following issues:

  • Guilt and Fear About Zina & Losing Virginity
  • Joining the military of a Non-Muslim Country
  • Negative thinking and feeling worthless
  • Being afraid of getting harmed

Question 1:  Joining the military of a Non-Muslim Country

Assalam. My wife and I have a son in his early 20’s; he is a practicing Muslim although we wish he was a bit more devout. He studied engineering and after a year working in the mining industry he will be joining the military full time as an aviation engineering officer. He has always wanted to work with helicopters. We are very concerned about this as our country is still engaged in wars in Muslim majority country like Afghanistan. We tried to plead with not too join but he is quite adamant about this. This is putting a great deal of strain between us. He is a grown man so we will respect his decision but as parents we are very worried about him and how our local Bengali community will react to our family. Can you please give us any thoughts and advice about Muslim youths joining the military? Thanks

Answer 1:

Assalam Alaykum Brother,

This is a very difficult issue to tackle.  Indeed, the real work for you will be about coming to terms with the existential issues of faith and the state of affairs in the world. If you are able to navigate the inner waters of your own being and the emotions and questions, which flow from there, you will be strong enough and wise enough to handle the reaction of your Bengali community.

For the practical issue, of the possibility of your son finding himself in a war zone against other people who may share the same faith as himself, at least on a technical level, I am wondering if it is possible for him to request that he not be stationed in areas where he will be in combat situations with fellow Muslims.

With that said, we do not know the workings of Allah. We do not know what your son will learn from this experience. If you hold a position on war in general and you are against human beings going to war against other human beings, you might be able to appeal to him on this issue.

Often young men sign up for the military because they imagine it to be very different than it is in real life.  Young men are seeking an identity and a way to express masculinity and a rite of passage into manhood.  Perhaps you can talk to him about these issues and find other ways to express this transition from youth to young adulthood.  He may also be seeking what he feels will be a clear and easy career path.  But the military life is not any easier than civilian life, and it can be even more difficult.  Perhaps you can appeal to him with this reasoning and show him alternative ways to find a vocation that will suit him.

In the USA I have watched the recruiter’s commercials and the way they appeal to young people.  They present military life as if you will become a hero in other people’s eyes.  Yet, when I have provided post-traumatic stress therapy to soldiers, I came face to face with the sad truth about the lives many of these men had to endure, and a society that doesn’t really even give them any notice at all.  It is likely that your son believes what he is told by the recruiters.  Here in the USA we even have a very active recruitment going on for the CIA.  It makes it seem like you will be the hero of the century for your country if you join. But the reality might be experienced differently. So, if you want to try one last time to talk your son out of joining, you can try to first develop rapport with your son-go to the movies, take him out to dinner, etc.  Then have a heart to heart talk with him. If he has not already joined the military, you can try to talk to him.

See if he is feeling unappreciated by the family.  Make sure he is aware of how important he is to you, and find a way for him to feel as if he has a vital part to play within your family system, and then simply ask him not to join if he is willing to change his mind.

Keep in mind, however, that there may be merit in protecting the safety of your country, and that may be the motive of your son, in which case, you might have to relax your stand. If your son remains adamant, then pray to Allah for wisdom and to help you understand His purpose.

Do all that you can to keep your relationship with your son positive.  He will need your support.  We do not know how the story will play out or why the story is unfolding as it is.  Trust that Allah’s hand is guiding and steering the ship, and we simply cannot see beyond the horizon.  And this is exactly what you will say to your community if they question why your son is joining the military. Everyone serves Allah in his or her own unique way.  We are all instruments of His will.  We do not know what wisdom your son will gain as a result of his experiences, or how Allah intends to use him.

Finally, stay close to your prayers.  Keep your son in your prayers.  When you pray for the guidance and protection of your son, Allah will draw near to him.  We are all connected.  In time, Allah might reveal “why this, and not that?” but even revelation depends up on Allah.

With that said, work on keeping your relationship with your son and the lines of communication with your son healthy and open, so that whatever does happen, you will be there for him.  This is most important.

I continue to pray for the day when the whole body of humanity will understand that in reality we are so connected that when we are at war with one another, we are at war with our own self—war is a reflection of our collective soul.  But this too may take some time, and only Allah can know what must transpire before this awareness can be achieved.  And so, the story of humanity will unfold, and Allah’s hand is near.

Salaam


Question 2:  Trapped in a Vicious Circle of Negative Thinking

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Aslaam Alaikum, I have a lot of issues - one of my main issues is low self-esteem, I never feel worth anything. Always low confidence; never think I will achieve anything. No matter how much I pray and try to get closer to Allah - I always feel low. I have a persistent habit of thinking negative, my mind has no rest. Always thinking the worse of every situation, I try and try praying, reading Qur’an, read the Sunnah, but I’m trapped in a vicious circle of negative thinking. I’m blessed with everything and yet still I feel sad from inside. What am I doing wrong? Please help.

Answer 2:

Assalam Alaykum Sister,

It is possible that you are suffering from either a mood disorder, or depression.  Depression and negative thinking can be compared to the “chicken egg” theory in many cases.  It can be difficult to determine if the depression is a result of the cognitive behavior of the mind and its cycle of negative thinking, or if the negative thinking is triggered by depression.  So, here is what we will do.

First, commend yourself and give yourself credit for being aware of the thoughts that are habitually taking over your mind.  You sound like a person who can get control of the thoughts in your mind with some assistance. We also know, that regardless of which came first, the cycle of negative thinking or the depression, once we are able to get some control over our thoughts, we will begin to feel better.

Before we focus on the cycle of negative thinking, I want to encourage you to get a good physical examination.  Some people can be feeling physically unwell without being aware of it.  Sometimes we realize that we have some physical ailments or pain and that when we clear up any physical problems we feel a lot better.  We can then focus even more effectively on changing our thoughts and behaviors and work toward obtaining a sense and feeling of well-being.

Since you are already aware of the fact that your thoughts are negative and you understand how thoughts are connected to feelings, I would like you to begin keeping a journal.  Try to write in it several times a day.  If you schedule three specific times, perhaps just before prayer time, you will be more successful with this.  Don’t worry if you miss a time, you can catch up.  In this journal try to write down the specific negative thoughts that you remember yourself to be thinking of.  Do this for a few days.

Once you have identified a basic theme or some patterns, try to understand what event might have triggered the thought.  For example, a particular person doing or saying something can trigger a thought response.  Something not working out the way you expected might trigger a thought response. Whatever happens just before you think the negative though is the trigger?

Once you become aware of the triggers, you can train yourself to think a more positive thought when you are triggered.  Do this for at least a week.  Once you have an idea of both the triggers and the thought response you will write counter affirmations.  These counter affirmations will be the actual truth about the situation, even if you are not feeling this way yet.  For example, if you forget your keys and are going to be late for a meeting, (TRIGGER), and you think to yourself “That’s it, I will never amount to anything!”  (Cognitive Behavioral Response/negative thought)-then you know that you just told yourself something that is absolutely NOT true!  So, the remedy is to tell yourself the TRUTH as quickly and as effectively as you can.

For example, in this case the truth is “Allah will use me as His Instrument-He has a plan for me -His will reign supreme-I cannot fail!”  Indeed, you cannot fail to express His will for you if you seek to be the instrument of his will. Say this to yourself daily, “Allah created my soul perfect in every way; the light that Allah put in me will express His Perfect will”. By doing this, you are submitting your will to Allah.

Once you know exactly what your negative thoughts are, you can write scripts to specifically cancel the negative thoughts out.  You will learn to say them to yourself several times once you notice a trigger.  Also, you will put the affirmations that you feel are most important on a wall, or a mirror, or the refrigerator and say them many times daily.

Finally, you can even record these affirmations to your favorite music.  You can even include Surahs that you find especially comforting or empowering.  Listen to this tape as you fall asleep at night.  For example, if you find yourself feeling unlovable, you might want to say things to yourself that were not said to you as you were growing up, on this recording.  It seems silly, but it works. Say your name (this will wake up your subconscious and make it pay attention and record the rest of your “new tape”) then say, “I love you, you are a beautiful and perfect creation of Allah”; “I am a beautiful and perfect creation of ALLAH”.   Keep making statements with first speaking to yourself by making these “you” statements, and beginning the sentence with your name, and then follow up with the I statements.

Your mind will record this.  Just like the old fashioned tape recorders, your mind is a tape recorder, and you can record new material over the old stuff. This will weaken the hold that your current cycle of negative thinking has on you.  One day, you will have a beautiful awakening and wonder, who is this that actually changed the recording in this mind and changed the entire experience of “my” life?  Now, we are getting closer to who this pure and perfect being created by Allah is, and we are learning about the mystery of the soul and her connection to Allah, but we will walk this journey one step at a time.

Salaam


Question 3:  Afraid of Being Harmed

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As Salamu Alaykum, may Allah reward you. I have paranoia about harm. I want to rely on Allah and go round smiling but I am scared if I show weakness someone may harm me. Especially as I wear hijab in UK as a revert. I feel I have to look tough to stop people accusing me of becoming a traitor etc. The other day one man was being racist and hitting walls. It was not towards me personally. I Felt scared and didn’t know at what point I should got to be defensive or calm down.

Answer 3:

Wa Alaykum Assalam,

I am not able to provide scholarly advice as a scholar of Islamic Law; however, I do not feel that Allah would require a woman to put herself in harm’s way.  With that said, if you are in an area where there is likely to be violence against a woman who looks “Islamic” you might consider covering your head in a manner that blends in with your culture.

There are practical and spiritual benefits to covering the head. There is no prohibition as far as I am aware of covering your head in a culturally congruent fashion.  Likewise, you can often find clothing that is long sleeve, rather loose, also.  If you pair up a western long skirt or even jeans, with a loose long tunic, will be fully covered with a loose fitting top that is sharia compliant, yet you will not draw attention to yourself.  I find these clothes on line.  They usually cannot be found in a western department store.  However, the good news is that they are usually less expensive that the clothing you find in a department store.  Also, you can wear your hair pulled back in a ponytail and find a scarf to go under it with a hat, and then cover your neck with a scarf.  I don’t know if this meets the criteria perfectly, but for the most part, you will be pretty covered.  If you feel that even with these adjustments, you are not safe; my recommendation is always safety first.

Unfortunately, we are living in very chaotic and unpredictable times.  The world is spinning out of control.  The prayer is that if we draw close to Allah, we will be strong and stable on the inside and withstand the chaos that is going on around us on the outside.

With that said, it is ok to use the good sense that Allah put in your mind.  Understanding the purpose of hijab will help you to always practice the principle. Once you are practicing the principles of modesty and preservation, you will likely find creative ways to protect yourself.

Salaam


 

Question 4:  Guilt and Fear About Zina & Loosing Virginity

Assalamu Alaikum. Though born into a Muslim family, my family and the people in my surroundings were Muslims in name only, hardly conforming to Islamic laws and ethics. As a result, I grew up to be someone similar. I have lived quite a godless life for years and years and done things bitterly scorned in Islam. I found my beliefs after a near death experience. And I was helped with it by an Egyptian boy I was in love with. Now, Alhamdolillah, I am a practicing Muslimah. I wear my hijab and abayah and pray five times. However, though my "boyfriend" helped me gain my beliefs, we still fell into fitnah and committed zina. I feel very terrible about that and I feel guilty for doing something so despicable in the eyes of Allah. At first, it was not a big issue to me, since we were determined to marry. But now I am a student of Islamic Online University, and the more I study my deen, the guiltier I feel. Moreover, I am scared about my future as a Muslim. Because, I was having difficulty getting rid of certain unislamic practices (talking to my old friends, several of whom are male), my boyfriend decided to not marry me. Now, I am scared that what will happen, since I am pretty sure no Muslim man would want to marry a woman with this history. Even the so-called Muslim men in my country who brag proudly about their own promiscuity would not want a deflowered wife. I am terribly scared. Please help .P.S. My periods are irregular (I get them once every three months), and my mother thinks that's a disorder and is urging me to go to a doctor. I am very scared to do that since the doctor might just tell my mother of my non-virgin condition. I feel awful. Please help.

Answer 4:

Assalam Alaykum Sister,

Keep trusting Allah, the Magnificent, and the Merciful.  The purpose of guilt is only to wake us up.  Guilt feeling, when healthy, are actually a gift from Allah because they are a message to us telling us to self-correct (repent).  This is so that we can learn how to operate from the core of our Soul, and be the being, in purity, that Allah created.

Many converts like to use the term “revert” when they identify themselves as Muslim.  This is because to revert, is to find your original state.  There is absolutely no reason why a person who is born in a Muslim family, in culture only, cannot also contemplate this term.  In fact, any time we stray from our original state of being, and then return to it, we are reverts.  I mention this, because this is the actual state of repentance.  If we change our behaviors, and change the environment that has caused us to live falsely, then we can be more authentic and spiritual beings, which will make submitting to the will of Allah a natural way of living for us.

I am heartbroken to hear that this boy was teaching you to turn back to Islam, but also put you in a position where you would satisfy his carnal needs.  You were in a vulnerable situation, putting your faith in this boy.  So, what you have learned from this is how to be stronger in your faith and to believe in yourself even more.  If you continue to grow in faith and continue to believe in your own work and value, and to know that Allah is with you on this path, you will become attractive to a spiritually inclined individual.

It is the light that you are developing within yourself, you Iman.  This is much more important than the physical condition of your body.  Your body is a vessel for this light, for your soul.  And now you know how to protect it from assault so that you can nurture your soul, and the light within.  The right man will come along.  He will be a man who is more interested in who you are as a human being, and who is this woman that he will be sharing his own heart, soul and life with, than the condition of your body.  What matters is now, is who you are now, not who you were or the mistakes you made in the past are.

I am not familiar with what might transpire if your mother were to find out about the condition of your body and that you are no longer a virgin. Are there any doctors who will guarantee confidentiality?  I am, worried about your periods being irregular.  This is not normal for a woman your age, and you should have a medical doctor determine if your health is ok.  Perhaps you can ask the doctors if they are willing to be confidential before you consent to see them.  If they refuse, then perhaps you can tell your mother yourself, so that she is not surprised, but only if you will not compromise your own safety.

Again, I do not know all about the culture in Bangladesh. Do not put yourself in a position where you might suffer harm from your family.  If at all possible, proactively ask the doctor if your condition can be kept confidential, and if not, consider talking to you mother about everything you told me here.  When you have decided what you will do, you can write in if you feel you can benefit from further advice.

Salaam

Related Links:
About Gambling, Depression and Bad Marriages
Dr. Bachmeier on Dreams Interpretations
Disclosing One's Past to Potential Spouse: Yes/No?

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