Written by: Shawn van der Linden, IDDM Master Mentor & CatholicPsych International Programs Consultant
Let's embark on a fascinating journey, weaving together the threads of psychology and spirituality. Our focus? Unearthing the influence of the "inner spiritualizer" and understanding the impact it can have in our daily lives.
With the God Image (Imago Dei) within us - a divine essence that should cultivate love and unity etched into our beings - Christians are often faced with a confounding paradox. At its heart Christianity is all about love: the love of God for us and our response, which is to love others as we have been loved. Why then does the word 'hate' crop up when describing Christians? A complex issue indeed. One possible culprit could be an overactive inner spiritualizer: a part of our psyche that, despite its well-meaning intent, can end up sowing seeds of division and disharmony.
A really helpful way to understand and navigate the complexity of our interior experiences is to understand ourselves as having different “parts.” In the same way that we can feel influenced by an inner critic or an adventurer, worrier, or joker part within us, so too with an inner spiritualizer part of us. For Catholic Christians though, this part can sometimes be rather elusive, hiding in plain sight as it were!
The inner spiritualizer can blur our genuine connection to God.
It can lead us to believe we're on a quest for holiness and righteousness when, in fact, we might just be sidestepping the path of authentic faith and personal growth. For instance, when the inner spiritualizer kicks in, we might find ourselves knee-deep in religious activities, seeking God's approval or a safe haven from feelings of inadequacy, hoping to cover our imperfections. But this quest often morphs into a stage performance, creating a hollow imitation of true spirituality.
The spiritualizer part can be recognized by an agenda-driven approach to interactions, unreachable standards, and a righteousness-cloaked judgmental attitude. Much like a defense mechanism, this part navigates us away from the complexity of human experiences and emotions, steering us towards a seemingly comforting spiritual retreat.
However charming it might seem, the inner spiritualizer subtly guides us away from truth and disconnects us from our feelings. It clouds our vision of the larger picture and tends to act as an escape route rather than a path to self-awareness. In essence, it pushes us to grasp towards an idea of spirituality rather than fostering gratitude, concentrating on destinations rather than the journey, and avoiding rather than accepting our emotions.
It's a way of using spiritual practices as a fortress to suppress emotions, usually due to our struggle to process these feelings or our belief that we shouldn't be feeling them at all.
Consider Lisa, a 19-year-old university student struggling with ongoing depression. Despite advice to seek professional help, she immerses herself in prayer, spiritual introspection, retreats, and religious texts. When her depressive symptoms persist and spiritual guides suggest psychological support, she becomes disheartened. Lisa's inclination to view her issues as purely spiritual indicates her inner spiritualizer might be dominating, impacting her overall wellbeing.
Spotting the inner spiritualizer is crucial as it can lead to a detached life, full of denial of our feelings and experiences. But how do we spot these behaviors? What should we be on the lookout for?
A few to watch out for include:
- an exaggerated emphasis on positivity,
- a tendency to underplay negative emotions and/or
- a judgmental attitude towards others expressing these emotions.
If you find yourself brushing aside personal problems with platitudes like "everything happens for a reason," or if your spirituality feels more like a well-rehearsed act than a genuine, heartfelt experience, these could be tell-tale signs.
Now, let's consider the crucial question: What do we do about it?
Self-awareness is the first step. It's important to be able to identify when your 'inner spiritualizer' is overpowering your spiritual journey. Consider practicing mindful awareness of behavioral, emotional, or thought patterns that point towards these tendencies.
Secondly, be honest about your emotions. Embrace the natural human experience of anger, grief, or fear. Spirituality isn't about escaping these feelings; it's about understanding and integrating them into our wholeness. Reflect on your emotions, identify their roots, and permit yourself to experience them.
Next, strive for balance. Spirituality isn't about denying our human traits, but harmonizing our human and spiritual identities. As St. Thomas Aquinas beautifully stated, “Grace does not destroy nature but fulfills its potential.”
Balancing spiritual aspirations with psychological needs paves the way for a more authentic and satisfying life.
Finally, don't hesitate to seek help when needed. Opt for an integrated approach like the one provided at CatholicPsych in IDDM. Therapists, counselors, or spiritual directors open to this vision of integration can offer invaluable insights and strategies on how to handle your inner spiritualizer and its impact in your life.
Remember: the path to authentic spirituality is a marathon, not a sprint. It demands patience, understanding, and self-compassion. By being aware and mindful of our inner spiritualizer, we can navigate this journey with greater assurance and authenticity.
Experiencing emotional distress or simply looking for support grounded in sound Catholic spirituality? We can help. We offer accompaniment grounded in both the truth of our Catholic Faith and solid psychological research using a model of care that’s integrated into your daily life.