Have you ever felt like you were regressing in your journey? It is a common experience among many who have started to take their interior life in earnest to feel discouraged when it seems they have stopped moving forwards and started back-sliding.
In this episode I share why regressing is normal for pilgrims of the interior journey, why the usual "goal-setting" mindset doesn't really apply in this journey, and how we can let these seasons of regression help us rather than hinder us.
Share this episode via this episode page.
00:10 - Introduction
05:21 - What Regression Looks and Feels Like
07:06 - Regression in the Interior Journey is Normal
12:44 - Regression Can Be Helpful
21:31 - A Season for Everything
24:44 - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act.
27:14 - Conclusion
- When you find yourself feeling like you're regressing, take note of how you're feeling. What is the emotion? Name it
- Be curious about your felt regression. Why do you think or feel that you're regressing? What are the markers that are making you think that you're going backwards?
- Carve out some time for solitude and read some of your old journal entries. Maybe you want to jot down some main milestones of your personal journey as you can remember them.
- Look at how all those turning points in your life have led you here.
- Close the exercise by writing a list of what you're grateful for in your journey thus far. Keep the list close where you can review whenever you feel discouraged for regressing.
For full details of this reflection prompt, please see transcript.
Blog: "When Growth Feels Like Backsliding"
Other episodes that would help you understand and apply the lessons in this episode:
- Ep 4 Living from the Inside Out (Part 1)
- Ep 5 Living from the Inside Out (Part 2)
- Ep 7 Be Curious, Courageous & Compassionate with Yourself.
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EP 12 | AM I REGRESSING?
Do you ever feel like you're regressing instead of progressing in your journey?
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.
Hello again, dear listeners, and welcome to the first episode of a brand new year. Here's wishing you all a hope and grace-filled 2021. Before I forget, I just wanted to announce that the publishing schedule for this podcast will no longer be weekly, but on every first and third Wednesday of the month. Here's hoping that this new schedule will allow for more space and time for me to create and also for you to listen and digest.
For many of us this time of the year, when we cross from one year to the next is a time of introspection and reflection, a time of reviewing the old year and thinking about what we wish to accomplish in the new year. While some kind of reflection and review of our life is an excellent practice, what we may not realize is that the methods and assumptions we tend to use for goal setting may not work that well for the interior journey into authenticity and wholeness.
What do I mean? First, I need you to remember the three layers of our lives: the outermost layer of situation circumstances, and the activities that we do; the middle layer of our emotions, thoughts and physical sensations; and the inner most layer, our core, our deepest self, which is also our soul.
If what I just said does not ring a bell, or if you need to refresh your memory, then please pause at this point and go and listen to episodes four and five on living from the inside out before coming back to this episode, otherwise you wouldn't be able to get the most out of what I'm trying to share here.
This journey of becoming more ourselves is a journey of learning how to live from the inside out more habitually. It is a process of becoming more integrated in these three layers of our lives such that we are rooted in our core through listening to our emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations. And from that place of rootedness, we can then let our interactions with the exterior world become a clearer reflection of who we truly are.
Many of the practices we are familiar with about goal-setting tend to take place in the outermost layer of our lives. We set fitness goals or learning goals, maybe professional goals that we hope to meet. Some of us may also have spiritual goals that we try to set such as dedicating a certain amount of time for prayer or setting a rule of life that allows us to keep to a certain discipline of spiritual practice.
All of this in terms of what we do is part of what happens on the outermost layer of our lives. And when we only have this dimension of living in mind, we tend to see progress in a rather linear fashion. That is, there are just two directions that we think we can move in - forwards, which we tend to think of as progress towards our goals and therefore positive. And backwards, which we think of as regression away from our goals and therefore negative.
When we set action goals on this outermost layer, we also can sometimes get a bit tunnel visioned. A necessary aspect of accomplishing goals is to focus and get things done. And in focusing, we need to let other things that are less important of course, fall by the wayside.
This is a really good thing when we need to get tasks done. But when we are working on our interior journey, tunnel vision can keep us trapped in our blind spots instead. So the usual kind of goal setting mindset, which can work very well for tasks may actually work against us in our interior journey.
So if you have ever felt like you've been trying hard to grow in your interior journey and you're feeling discouraged because you feel like you have regressed after a previous period of growth, listen up because today's episode might just give you a fresh perspective on that.
So today I'm going to talk about one, what regression may look and feel like. Two, why times of regression in the interior journey are actually normal and three, how and why these times of regression are actually necessary for us and helpful for us to make real progress in the interior journey.
[00:05:21] WHAT REGRESSION LOOKS AND FEELS LIKE
So let's begin by looking at what regression may look and feel like. Usually people who feel like they are regressing have felt like they had been making progress at some earlier point. Things have been improving. It could be any area of life that you have been working on, perhaps weight loss and getting fitter, or it could be the area of spiritual growth. For example, after experiencing a powerful conversion experience, you might have committed to new spiritual disciplines with, you know, with vigor and excitement and even committed to changing your lifestyle.
Either way for a while you make progress and you see the behavioral changes that you were aiming for, and you're getting the results that you wanted and you're encouraged. But then after some time you may find that your initial enthusiasm and energy begin to wane, or perhaps something happens to set you back.
Perhaps a physical injury while you're working out in the case of a physical goals or in the case of a spiritual renewal, you find that after a while you don't experience the same energizing high and you lose motivation. Eventually you may find that you slip back into old habits and then you feel that you have failed.
You may feel ashamed, discouraged, and guilty. Some of us would have gone through more than one cycle of this kind of, um, improvement and then regression. And with each cycle, when we find ourselves slipping backwards, we may feel even more discouraged. So that's what regression can look like and feel like.
[00:07:06] REGRESSION IN THE INTERIOR JOURNEY IS NORMAL
Now let's look at why times of regression in the interior journey are normal. Our usual goal setting mindset is usually coming from an assumption that we know what it is that we lack. And we have a clear concrete destination in mind, which we can break down what we need to do in order to get there. We can do some research and learn to fill our knowledge gaps, and then we just need to buckle down and get it done.
When it is a concrete task that we need to get done, this paradigm works beautifully. That's a process I went through when I decided to start this podcast. Right. I researched, I planned, I broke down the goal of launching a podcast into smaller intermediate steps, and I buckled down and got it done. Sure. There were some unexpected things that happened along the way, which I needed to handle, but by and large, the process was linear and simple. And if there was a setback, it can usually be solved by troubleshooting and just more research online.
But when we are speaking, not of, um, you know, a simple task that we're trying to accomplish, but when we're talking about our lives and about our authentic identities and the process of becoming a more whole and more integrated person, this is a journey of an entirely different nature.
Different rules apply. This is a journey into the unknown. It is a journey of unlearning the scripts that have defined our lives before we realized we did not know who we were. It is a journey of detaching our identities from the roles that we play to discover who we actually are in our essence.
In this journey, we don't know what we don't know. It is useless to set goals because we can't possibly research ahead of time to know what our destination should look like. We are trying to learn how to be in a genuine intimate relationship. A Relationship with whom? Well with ourselves and also with God and with others.
But living from the inside out. Means that we first need to learn how to be in relationship with ourselves before we can be in relationship with others. And for those of us who desire to grow our relationship with God, that relationship is also greatly affected by the relationship that we have with ourselves, knowledge of self and knowledge of God grow together. Love of God and a healthy love and acceptance of ourselves also grow together.
So, since we are embarking on a journey into the unknown, we will be learning more about both the nature of the journey itself and about our destination. As we go along, we don't know this in advance. How do we come to know about this journey? Well, largely by trial and error. We try and grow according to what we already know, using the methods that we're familiar with, that we have been taught, or we have observed. And then we observe the fruits. Sometimes we go through periods of growth and we realize, okay, something is working.
And then other times we may find ourselves plateauing. Sometimes we find ourselves regressing. Perhaps even at times, ending in state worse then when we first began. And then that's when we can often feel alarmed. Where did we go wrong? Right. And is there hope for me? Can I actually make this journey into authenticity and wholeness?
[00:10:55] INTERIOR JOURNEY IS NOT LINEAR
Now the point is that this interior journey, it is not linear. It's not about getting from point A to point B and knowing what to do and just doing it. Um, there are things we can learn, but our healing is not linear. Learning to listen to our live speak, learning to live from the inside out - all these they're not linear processes. Take for example, our healing. Sometimes we seek healing because there is one aspect of our lives that we recognize which we are wounded. But as we tend to that part of ourselves, that we are aware of that we need healing, we often stumble across some other deeper wounds that we had not realized that we had.
And such a discovery can sometimes force us to revisit parts of ourselves from even further back from our childhood or our youth in order to heal. And often doing so will feel in part like we are regressing in our life. But it is only because we are going back in order to continue to move forwards. We are going back and revisiting younger parts of ourselves that were broken so that we can continue to move forwards and healing and integration to become a more authentic self here and now today.
So in the interior journey, it is normal to sometimes feel like we are walking a bit in circles only because we may revisit certain parts of our past at different times at different levels of depth, which are also sometimes at deeper levels of healing.
[00:12:44] REGRESSION CAN BE HELPFUL
Okay. So regressing or sometimes the feeling of going backwards when we're talking about the interior journey is normal. Now why do I say that these times of progression are actually necessary for us to make real progress in the interior journey, and that these times of regression could even be helpful for us in making our interior journey?
To illustrate this point I will share something from my own personal story. In 2016, after about seven years of what had felt like steady spiritual growth, I reached a point where I suddenly felt like I was going backwards. Okay. So in, in the prior seven years, I had been growing stronger in my prayer life. I had been building spiritual disciplines.
My connection with God felt like it had been getting stronger. I have been going for regular spiritual direction every month, going for annual personal retreats. And also availing myself to intellectual formation about the faith. And also I had begun some inner child work as I came to recognize during spiritual direction that I had a wounded inner child.
Now, there were very many challenging aspects of my life that I was going through, but the one area that felt like it was going from strength to strength was my spiritual life. And all that came to a head during a week-long silent retreat that I had in Chiang Mai Thailand. During one of my prayer times during the retreat, I received an image in prayer of a cathedral under construction.
There was scaffolding all around it. A lot of the walls had already come up. So there was a lot of work above ground that was visible. It was coming along nicely. But there was not yet any ceiling or roof.
Okay. And as I looked at this half finished cathedral, I heard in my heart this message, "Ann, we're not going to be able to complete building this cathedral because there is something wrong in its foundation. If you want to finish building it, we're going to have to first undo everything that has been done up to this point.
We will need to tear down all the walls brick by brick. And not only that we're going to have to go underground, excavate the foundations and start again. But this time we will do it right. Now I knew that I was the cathedral in question. I knew that that cathedral was a symbol for my entire person, that I was this work that was in progress.
And I understood what the message was about because I had felt for a while that I had plateaued in my spiritual growth. And now what I was hearing is, well, you've plateaued because you know, you can't continue because something about your foundations is, is not right, and it's not going to be able to support further work until you have righted what's wrong in the foundation. And during that week of retreat, what was actually later revealed to me after this, uh, this image that comes to me in prayer was that the tremendous growth that I had experienced in the previous seven years while it had been real and graced, had been motivated in large part by my ego.
What I mean is that I was motivated by my desire to succeed spiritually. Okay. I was driven by my own will and strength, by my desire to be seen as good and holy by God and by other people, I was driven by my fear of failing ,by my need to do the right and responsible thing. So as you can hear it was still all about me.
And to my humiliation, because it really did feel quite humiliating, I realized during the retreat that probably 95% or more of my drive to deepen my spiritual life was not out of love for God at all, but all of these other factors that was about how I did about whether I succeeded and whether I could be holy and whether I was worthy of, of leading and forming others.
But why had God waited until I had grown this much? Right. Why had he allowed the seven years of work to happen before telling me that everything had to be torn down and started up again? I realized that there was a reason for that too. It had taken me this much growth in my relationship with God to truly be secure enough in his love for me, his unconditional love for me, that I can hear and accept this difficult message and to not feel despair or shame at having to go back all the way back to the beginning and start again. And this time to let God build me on his terms and not my terms.
In the months that followed, I truly felt like I regressed in so many ways in terms of behavior. My prayer, which had been built up to be very robust and very structured, became a lot less structured. And sometimes I missed my prayer times altogether. I realized that if I were to attend to where I was actually acting out of free will, out of love and not out of pride or ego, my, my actual behavior was a lot less holy or spiritually mature than I would like to appear to be.
Right. So I realized that if, if I was really honest about what I wanted to do from my heart, uh, not to look good or not to try and please God impress God. Or impress other people, well then actually I was a lot less disciplined and prayerful than I thought I had been. In reality, I was ready now to accept that I was much more a beginner than I wanted to be.
Okay. So while I realized that I wasn't as holy as I thought I was, at the same time, I found that I was growing in humility because now I was ready to accept that, well, I was a really a beginner. And that humility that I, I learned made me joyful because I didn't have to pretend to be more than I really was.
I stepped off the pedestal of being some kind of role model. And instead became more aware of who I simply was before God's loving gaze. I was just myself and I could just be myself. And for the first time in my life, I guess I, I could really just see myself as I was and accept myself.
That love grounded me. Because I knew I was loved where I was, that I didn't have to try and impress anyone or impress God. And that allowed me to grow, not just in appearance, but in truth and truth continued to set me free to grow in wisdom to see reality as it is, and to meet it with compassion.
So reality, both in myself where I really was, but also reality in the world around me, reality in the people that I meet, the people that I have to encounter, I could see more clearly where they were, and I was able to accept where they were with a lot more compassion compared to in the past.
That season of regression revealed to me new areas of my life, which needed healing. During that season old wounds were surfaced and revealed to me. And I went through a very raw and painful time, not just emotionally, but also physically. During that season, my body was very sensitive to emotional stress and I would fall ill very easily. And I fell ill so often whenever I felt emotionally stressed that at some point I became aware I needed all the help I could get to continue my journey of healing and integration. And that's when I decided to seek counseling to help me process and understand how to companion myself better in this journey. I wanted to further understand what was the inner work that I needed to do.
[00:21:31] A SEASON FOR EVERYTHING
Doing interior work takes a lot of energy and time and commitment. It was during that season of deep interior work that I recognized that there is such wisdom to the notion of seasons, such as the four seasons, that temperate countries experience, which unfortunately, here in Singapore, we don't. There is a season for growth, a season for harvest, a season for letting go and dying. A season for rest and hibernation.
There's a season for everything. Right? One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Ecclesiastes 3, where it says "For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to build up, the time to break down; a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. A time to seek and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away, a time to rend and a time to sew, a time to keep silence and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace."
There is so much wisdom in that passage. And those of us who make the interior journey will find that it is very true, that there are different seasons. There are seasons of growth and there are seasons of death. There are seasons where we feel like we're going backwards, but somehow there is a purpose. And they all have a place.
So my friends, if you find yourself feeling that you are regressing, don't jump straight to judging yourself or becoming discouraged. Often these times of our regressing actually yield the most important and crucial information about ourselves that we need to learn. Because these times of regressing can give us clues as to what our wounds are.
What's keeping us handicapped without our, our realizing. It can reveal the kind of traps that we keep falling into that rob us of our self-worth. Our times of regression can be a sign that we are learning to honor the seasons God gives us, and that we're learning how to be more fully human instead of holding ourselves to impossible standards out of some misplaced sense of pride.
And if not anything else, our seasons of regression often teach us the great virtue of humility. Humility is the virtue of being able to see ourselves as we really are. No more and no less. And to accept and be grateful for being exactly where we are at each present moment. And that alone is such a tremendous gift.
[00:24:44] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT
So that's today's episode and here are the practice prompts for you to be nourished more deeply by what you have heard. One, listen. When you find yourself feeling like you're regressing, take note of how you're feeling. What is the emotion? Name it. Taste it. And really allow yourself to feel it. Is it disappointment? Is it shame?
Is it guilt? What's the emotion that accompany that sense you have been regressing? Two, ponder. Be curious about your felt regression. Why do you think or feel that you're regressing? What are the markers that are making you think that you're going backwards?
What unspoken expectations did you have for yourself? Where did those expectations come from? Is it possible that those expectations are part of an old script that may be impeding your continued growth in the present time? You may wish to journal your responses as you consider these questions.
Three, act. Carve out some time for solitude and read some of your old journal entries. Maybe you want to jot down some main milestones of your personal journey as you can remember them. Then look at the big picture and remember how far you've come to be where you are right now. It may not have been a linear path. In fact, it probably almost definitely is not a linear path, but try and notice how each turn in the path of your life, even the turns which were negative have contributed to your commitment now to grow in authenticity and wholeness.
Many of us really launch into this journey after having experienced some painful setback or failure. So look at how all those turning points in your life have led you here. Close the exercise by writing a list of what you're grateful for in your journey thus far, and then keep that list of things that you're grateful for where you can look at it often, especially when you feel discouraged.
Okay. So that's today's episode. Remember the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction. No matter how small those steps might be, and no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin. The world would be a poor place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast until the next episode.