Holiness, healthiness, and feeling the feels

Recently I have been reading The Tao of Fully Feeling by Pete Walker.  In this book, Mr. Walker argues that in order to be fully human, we have to allow ourselves to feel and express the full range of human emotions.  We can’t, for example, decide that we are above feeling or expressing sadness or anger.  Repressing these emotions only causes psychological dysfunction.

Reading this and Mr. Walker’s newer book on CPTSD, I realized that anxiety is an almost constant state of being with me, and has been for about as long as I can remember.  I finally had a breakthrough when I realized that my anxiety is not actually warning me about danger in the world around me–it’s my repressed childhood emotions leaking out sideways, so to speak.  Dismissing this anxiety as something unreal and not productive gives me an astonishing–and unfamiliar–sense of clarity.  I guess that’s what normal feels like.

An interesting thing happened when I went to church in this state.  I felt that God wanted me to be free of anxiety because it was crippling my ability to live as a healthy human being.  I was surprised by the thought that being holy includes maintaining one’s mental health, since this is one part of pursuing what is good, rather than what is disordered, in all areas of life.

Interestingly, Mr. Walker’s words, “fully human,” have a deep significance in Catholicism–it’s been said that to become a saint means to become fully human.

But I didn’t realize this when I first returned to the Church at the age of 29.  When I wanted to know how to be a good Catholic, I looked back to my childhood and its distorted idea of what holiness meant–basically I thought that the more I denied myself, the holier I would become.  However, I came to realize that thwarting myself was not actually producing the fruits of the Spirit.  It seemed to me that I’d been living a healthier life before I returned to the Church, but I couldn’t justify returning to that way of living without any intellectual basis for it.  Finally, with Mr. Walker’s books, I realized that my concept of holiness was lacking in humanity.

Mr. Walker himself touches on religion and points out that my issues are not uncommon in the West–we seem to have lost some of our groundedness in the reality of what it means to be human, especially in terms of accepting our negative emotions.

In fact, it seems that sometimes we can’t even understand our own spiritual heritage because of this.  How many people have, like me, been perplexed by all the “complaining” in the Psalms?  Isn’t complaining a sin?  Reading the book, I had an “Aha!” moment where it finally made sense–they’re not complaining (which is non-productive), they’re engaging in healthy emoting (processing feelings)!  Mr. Walker even points out that Jesus’ words on the Cross–“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”–are also an example of this healthy expression of negative feelings.  Remember that the Church teaches us that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine!

One of the tools Mr. Walker suggests to rectify issues with healthy emotional expression is “reparenting.”  I think this is essentially what happened to me the first time I went to Japan.  Being a somewhat helpless foreigner encouraged grandmotherly types to dote on me anyway, and sitting in on the assemblies in the elementary schools where I worked was probably as educational for me as it was for the kids!  I can’t speak for the cities, but at least where I was, in the countryside, I feel there was still very much a holistic sense of what it means to be a healthy human being that included our emotional nature.  I often saw adults help children put words to what they were feeling, and gently suggest a healthy response.  Even adult society seemed to have more consideration for our emotional nature as human beings, lending it a charming, old-fashioned, pre-industrial feel.  I think absorbing these lessons helped me to heal from the truncation of my emotions.

It fascinates me how my experiences living in Japan, of all places, helped me to understand what Catholicism is really about.  Becoming a better Catholic requires embracing reality–something that the humble Japanese are very good at teaching.



11 comments on “Holiness, healthiness, and feeling the feels

  1. Bonsai says:

    It seems to me, RoseMarie, that we are to be fully present in our relationship with Christ and a full on pouring out of all of our pain and insecurity is admitting how much we need Him. God loves that admission. It is when we think too much “I’ve got this” that we seem a bit too smug for our britches. In really we need to give up our autonomy without Him and know “He’s got this”– whatever it is that has hurt us, affected us, and our own wrong doings.

    The Japanese taught me “no excuses” and to admit my mistakes. This is humility, humbleness yes. . . .but in this view I am alone, guilty and ashamed. This is part of the reason I could not accept Christ for so long.

    I love when you post by the way. It is helpful to have someone who knows both sides.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rose Marie says:

      Bonsai, it is a comfort to me, too, to know someone who understands both sides! In our relationship with God, as in any relationship, we can’t have intimacy without honesty, can we? I edited this post for length, but I was going to include a quote from the book that showed a connection between Zen Buddhism and Christianity that may have also been significant to my journey. Maybe next time!

      Liked by 1 person

    • “The Japanese taught me “no excuses” and to admit my mistakes.”

      Yes, that is what my narcissistic mother taught me as well. Every negative emotion, every failing, every unfortunate circumstance, had to be my fault, my mistake, and a “bad” thing that pointed to my “guilt”. This is such fodder for the creation of a bloated, insatiable Inner Critic. Abusive persons, cultures, systems and cults never want us to notice that we are not always to blame. Christ actually seeks to free us, not to accuse.

      I think my Inner Critic used to lurk in the back of my mind eating a huge pizza and smiling as I, in turn, made myself fodder for another narcissist’s supply. I am so grateful that I finally realized healthy spirituality is a balanced view of personal guilt and responsibility, not an extreme “trying to hard as if we can save ourselves” in one of two erroneous directions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rose Marie says:

        “I am so grateful that I finally realized healthy spirituality is a balanced view of personal guilt and responsibility, not an extreme “trying to hard as if we can save ourselves” in one of two erroneous directions.”

        I think that is exactly what I need to learn right now, and sometimes it terrifies me!


      • Rose Marie, one of the things I have noticed in my spiritual journey, is when my inner critic spoke in place of my conscience, even my reading of spiritual material was “colored” by its interpretation. I have subsequently learned so much from rereading some of the same material (after my unraveling) only now I know, it is better to keep things short and not compulsive, and try to be open to more positive interpretation.

        I’ll give you an example. “Set Your Heart Free” from the writings of St Francis de Sales:

        “Thank you for all the gifts of this day, for making haste slowly with my soul lest I stumble. For replacing my anxiety and preoccupation with care and solicitude. For reminding me that only one thing is necessary, trust in you.”

        If I had read the above years ago, I might not have understood that care and solicitude was to be applied to oneself. God wants us to have gentle care, love and solicitude for ourselves! And solicitude would have seemed like some insurmountable degree of intense concentration that I should study and meditate upon, or I wouldn’t get to heaven. (“Solicitude? What’s that? Oh nooooo! I don’t have solicitude!”) And “one thing is necessary, trust in you” would have inspired in me fear, because I would have been disproportionately aware of my lack of trust in God, as if my salvation depended upon me, and my degree of spiritual perfection now, rather than on Him and me simply submitting my will to His.I wouldn’t even have noticed the most significant and freeing expression: “only” one thing is necessary. Yes, the only one thing necessary is not even to believe in God but to simply accept that God is good and great and loving and merciful beyond our most wildest expectations and desires. We are supposed to be like happy and trusting little children, who, even when we misbehave know God will still love us. After all, He is our Father!

        One thing I can tell you is I freed myself from a lot of Inner Critic deceptions simply by accepting God at His word. Christ taught that anxiety is not of Him. Therefore, anxiety must be a lie, a trick or a deception to discourage you, and accuse you of something of which you are not guilty. Might I suggest, each time you hear yourself saying “I fear” (“I fear”letting go of an extreme religious scrupulosity or anything else) you realize this must be a trick. Reality asserts the opposite must be true, because satan lies. God must wish you to do exactly what you “fear”. In fact, doing what you fear will set you free from fear. The danger lies in the extreme, not in the simple, not in the trusting, not in the balance, the letting go and letting God.

        God likes you Rose Marie, just the way you are. In fact God loves you so passionately and so unconditionally it would break your heart with joy and spiritual giddiness if you could realize this reality as it is. And what God really wants more than He wants our faith, prayer, or perfection, is that you would see and trust Him for how good and fair and generous and loving that HE is. Yes, He is That Good, and it truly is that simple. HE will do the rest.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Rose Marie, may God bless you.

    You are much more insightful than the speaker I heard tonight at the Institute of Catholic Culture. A friend and I went to hear an academic talk on a system of prayer life and self examination, which is supposed to “infallibly” produce joy and peace as well as the accomplishment of one’s true vocation. How fitting I chanced upon the perfect rebuttal for it in your blog…

    Though the speaker’s method perhaps jump started his own spiritual progress from atheism, the presentation eventually left me – well, a bit cold. Perhaps it was his choice of only emotionless icons. Perhaps it was his choice of monotone for the chant. Perhaps it was that he hardly ever smiled. Perhaps it was when, unlike him, the emotion in my voice rose as I discussed my sociopathic mother (who physically assaulted me when I was only five) he looked me squarely in the eyes and judged that I felt sad about this situation because I “still have resentment.”

    Hmmm. Where did I last hear an accusation like that before?

    I think it was my inner critic.

    I ask myself when I’m tempted to place fear of being wrong over my God given instinct, who is my accuser?

    Satan. God doesn’t accuse. True conscience is just a quiet inner knowing.

    I asked the speaker: “Resentment? To whom? My mother?”

    He said, “No, to yourself.”

    That’s interesting. Even when I wrongly thought myself guilty of things of which I was not culpable, and felt bad about myself (because I mistook the voice of my inner critic for my conscience) I never resented myself. I do not even think I even ever resented my mother, although I have been angry with her. After all, although she was suffering severe psychosis from post abortion syndrome, she gave me life, and did the best she could.

    I suspect what was really going on was the speaker resented my own brave and open expression of emotions.

    “How can this joyful and confident woman boldly express pain when emotion is a “sin” ( when it is what, as a “man” scares me to death, and prevents ME from saving the world.) Let’s put a stop to this empathy and sorrow thing right now.”

    But the biggest red flag was when the speaker insisted publicly, “If you are sad or unhappy in your life it is because you still feel resentment.”

    It frightens me (whoopsie, maybe I shouldn’t say “fear” either, as unlike needless anxiety, fear is a valid emotion) that this man might be going around telling people with complex post traumatic stress disorder that they need to be “above” pain and sorrow, rather than having the bravery to embrace and examine their pain and suffering. Embracing pain is necessary to unravel the source of angst, grieve, offer it up, and finally move forward to also experience true joy. I voiced disagreement to his erroneous equating of “finally being emotionally void” with “finally being peaceful”. I referred to the undeniable fact that our Lord suffered sorrow on this earth. “How we are to imitate him if we are unwilling to feel sorrow?”

    The speaker cut me off, abruptly.

    “I believe we have reached an impasse.”

    I say, any man who is afraid of a little pain and sorrow now and then in his life has erected an impasse not only to a woman, but to God’s grace, and has placed a wrongful boundary to the intimacy Jesus wishes to share with him. He also dumps all the responsibility of feeling true compassion for others on women. If one cannot be intimate in one’s prayer life, recognizing that Christ excepts us as we are, full of joy, compassion, sorrow, anger, hurt and pain (Christ felt all these things and was not “resentful”) one will never experience passion spiritually, let alone be capable of true intimacy with a woman.

    Later, I also mused over the fact that the speaker also indicated disinterest when I emotionally credited our Lady, not a prayer system, for undoing the knots in my life, as if, as an intellectual man, spiritual perfection couldn’t be a job for an emotional woman like our Lady. It could never be “that simple”. Did I just imagine this? I think not.

    Emotionally void men objectifying women and placing them in double binds leads to the resentment of women towards men which leads to radical feminists aborting babies which leads to men resenting women which leads to emotionally void men objectifying women and placing them in double binds which leads to women resenting men which leads to radical feminists aborting babies…..need I go on? Shall we say it five times fast? Come on boys. Turn it into an emotionless ritual and maybe you’ll learn something new.

    And if you don’t believe me just notice how Trump leads to Hillary leads to Trump leads to Hillary leads to Trump.

    It takes one resentment and original sin free woman, filled instead with grace, love, joy and sorrow, to set the genders right, set all the equations right, and lead people to the truth that sets them free, as well as their true vocation in life and in marriage. It does not surprise me that Our Lady Undoer of Knots is also The Lady of Happy Meetings. The Truth of our lives that she leads us to is not magic formula, a method, or even our prayer life.

    Truth is a Person, fully God and fully Man.


    • Rose Marie says:

      Little Shepherd Girl, it sounds like you may have been able to help the speaker (and the audience) along his journey, too. Perhaps that’s why God wanted you to be there, even though it was a little upsetting for you to listen to. And maybe He knew you would be upset and that’s why He inspired me to write my first blog post in two months on this topic!


      • It was not upsetting until I realized the speaker’s errors… and the unfortunately “typical” blocking method response….which took me awhile to realize was happening. Earlier that morning I had pondered a quote from CS Lewis about artists, and how creative types (this man was a writer and artist like myself) are tempted to worship the telling, the very art form, over the God they tell about. I believe this is reference to that second stage of spiritual growth, the illuminative, when one is very aware of gifts and spiritual movement within one’s soul, so we get tempted with pride, as if we have all the answers now because we know God speaks to us. I loved what Jeanne de Arc said about “her voices” not being special – that God speaks to everyone (we are all special) only most are too deaf to hear it. But being aware of things is paradoxically a gift and a cross. I am very aware that if this gentlemen does not root out the error in his thinking now (as CS Lewis would say) to unravel his truth he cannot simply just go further, but only God can help him with that. I am very aware that this speaker also is suffering from some form of CPTSD still whether he knows it or not. Healthy spiritual masculinity and mental health is not a reactionary brute suppression of all emotions caused by the forces that would seek to feminize men, and God. True peace is that stage of the spiritual life when “fully human” we all experience emotion but use it with mindfulness to become closer to God. That is true Thomistic psychiatry, not, as he called it, “psycho babble”.


  3. If I might add one more comment regarding the speaker who could not see the spiritual value in experiencing sadness at times… Another red flag in his talk was that he did not stress enough that no matter how many patterns of prayer and self exam individuals undertake, they will not grow in grace without being fed by the Blessed Sacrament. His method, like art itself, no matter how beautiful it is, must never be confused for the God to which it is supposed to point. Our souls will naturally be restless until we attain Him (that’s why He gives us emotions ) and it is not beneficial to dull the angst He sends to draw us ever closer. After St George had slayed the dragon he became, as Chesterton quipped “heartily afraid of the princess.” Lol


  4. Living abroad indeed can have the effect of more intense self-exploration and awareness. I am a Westerner living in Japan too and the environment was / is in many ways inspirational and enriching.


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