Sept. 14, 2021

Counselling or Spiritual Direction (or both)?


EPISODE 30   

How familiar are you with the emotional and spiritual challenges of your interior journey? When and why should you consider getting counselling/therapy or spiritual direction? How are they different from each other and how do you know which one you need?

In this episode, I offer an introductory explanation to the questions above and offer a real illustration of how the emotional and spiritual dimensions of the interior journey are connected and how these resources can help through a sharing of my own story. 

Share this episode via this episode page.

Find out more about Counselling and Spiritual Direction
- Counselling & Therapy in Singapore (article by Sassy Mama)
- 21 Places to Get Counselling in Singapore to (article by The Smart Local)
-
Life Direction Singapore
- Lifesprings Spirituality Centre
- Kingsmead Spirituality Centre
- San Damiano Spirituality Centre

CHAPTER MARKERS
00:41 - Introduction
04:30 - Spiritual Direction vs Counselling
08:57 - Seeking God Because I Was Lonely
19:22 - Unfree to Love (Toxic Shame)
29:36 - Led to Seek Therapy
39:49 - How Counselling & Spiritual Direction Worked Together
44:37 - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act.
47:19 - Conclusion
Available here.

TRANSCRIPT
Available here.

REFLECTION PROMPT
Listen.
- As you listened to my sharing in this episode, what struck you?
- Notice how you felt at those parts that struck you.

Ponder.
- Have you availed yourself to the spiritual and psychological resources that could help you in your interior journey?
- If your answer is no, why not? What's holding you back?

Act.
- What is one step you can take towards finding a spiritual director or a counsellor that could give you much needed support in your interior journey?

For full details of this reflection prompt, please see transcript.

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Transcript

EP 30 | Counselling or Spiritual Direction (or both)?

[00:00:00]
Have you considered going for counselling or spiritual direction? Maybe both? 

[00:00:10] INTRODUCTION
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. 

[00:00:41]
Hello again, dear listeners! In the previous podcast episode, I made reference to the resources we can and should avail ourselves to so that we can be adequately supported in our interior journey. In today's episode, I want to share more about two of these resources so that you can understand a little more about what they are, and which of them might be beneficial for you.

[00:01:06]
The two resources that I will be talking about are counselling and spiritual direction. Now, in my accompaniment of others, I often meet people who struggle unnecessarily because they do not avail themselves to the incredible resource that both spiritual direction and counselling are. Now, of course I can only ever invite them to consider looking for a spiritual director or a counsellor.

[00:01:30]
I can try and explain to them how it might help, but you know, the onus – the choice is really up to them, right? So, the choice is really up to you who are listening to this podcast today. If you are one of these people who have been resisting going for either of these support resources, okay – and you are trying to make the interior journey on your own and you're struggling.
 
[00:01:55]
And maybe you share with people in your community, right? But this is more kind of like peer kind of sharing. And you're still somehow not open to looking for a spiritual director or a counsellor, I hope that today's episode might give you some new perspective. A large part of this episode is me telling you my story; specifically highlighting how the psychological components and the spiritual components come together.

[00:02:22]
So, some of these things you may have heard before, but you wouldn't have heard me talk about them all in one story and illustrate how they hang together. So that's why this episode is longer than my usual episode. Feel free to take the time you need, you know – however long it is for you to get through this episode.

[00:02:42]
If you need to pause and listen to it across multiple sessions, you know, feel free to do that because I do go a little deeper in my sharing and that might, bring some things up for you if it connects with your own life experiences. And I'm actually hoping that it would do that. Okay, so, find a time where you can be on your own to listen to this episode.

[00:03:05]
And I sincerely hope that you will enjoy it and that you will really be blessed by it. Okay, so, let's turn now to counselling and spiritual direction. Now, this is a very introductory sharing about each of these resources. And I want to stress that both counselling and spiritual direction – they have different modalities and traditions.

[00:03:26]
So, even just within counselling or therapy and within spiritual direction, there are many ways, many traditions, many different kinds of spiritual directors, for 

Example, right? Well, they are trained in different schools of thoughts. Even if that is within, just for example, the Catholic tradition – which is where I come from, right – so it's not like one kind, there are many different kinds.

[00:03:47]
But the purpose of today's sharing is not to go into all those differences here – it will be too much. I am just hoping to offer you enough information and some sharing on my part that would help you to become more aware of what these two very distinct, yet very complimentary kinds of support are, right.

[00:04:29]
So, counselling or therapy and on one hand, and spiritual direction on the other hand – how they can work together to support your journey. And hopefully by listening to my personal sharing later on, you might begin to pick out as to why you might want to consider looking for a counsellor or a spiritual director. 

[00:04:30] SPIRITUAL DIRECTION VS COUNSELLING
Okay, so first, a very short and incomplete version of the distinction between these two disciplines – or these two kinds of help. If what you're looking to focus on is to deepen and strengthen your relationship with God, right? – To explore ways of deepening your spiritual practice, then what you'd be looking for, or the person that you're looking for would be a spiritual director. 

[00:04:58]
A spiritual director can help you to explore and learn, for example, the best ways for you to pray or meditate – to guide you on how to recognize when God is speaking to you. You know, how He does it in a unique and personal way in your life. And a spiritual director can guide you to recognize the ways that God is at work in your daily life. 

[00:05:26]
A good spiritual director can also guide you on how to respond to your struggles in daily life; including your relationships with self and others – all within the context of your relationship with God. Okay, so, the focus – the primary focus in spiritual direction is the relationship between you and God. 

[00:05:43]
That's the area of expertise for spiritual directors. On the other hand, if what you're looking for is to deepen your understanding of, and improve your relationship with yourself, or with others. Okay, if that's the primary area of concern, and if you want to learn about why you're coping so poorly with the stresses in your life, right? 

[00:06:06]
Or if you're struggling with things like shame and co-dependency – any kinds of addiction with, you know, chronic, really low self-esteem or depression; if you know that you're in depression, then certainly what you need is a mental health professional. If you begin to recognize that there is a pattern in your life that is destructive, and especially if you have already been trying to respond to it through your spiritual practice, but you find that you keep coming back to the same problem – then you may really want to consider getting help in counselling or psychotherapy. 

[00:06:44]
Even as you hear me talk about these two different disciplines, you probably realize by now that they are interlinked, right? I mean, you can't really grow a relationship with God or, you know, become a more spiritually enlightened person by ignoring what's going on within yourself, or with other people – your relationship with the people. And at the same time, our relationships with ourselves and with other people are intimately tied to our spiritual wellbeing; our spiritual development. 

[00:07:20]
And for those of us who have faith, all these happen in the context of our relationship with God, right? So, we can't actually separate all of these, but you know, in terms of the kind of ways we can grow and the expertise that people have to support us in our interior growth, there is that distinction. 

[00:07:40]
So, both these disciplines support each other and having both kinds of assistance at some point of our journey will really make a difference in terms of just helping us to feel supported, and picking up the tools that we need instead of groping in the dark and trying to make it on our own. 

[00:07:59]
I am all of the kind of philosophy, or I personally believe that everyone can benefit from spiritual direction and from therapy or counselling at some point in our life. Okay, because there's just so much that we don't know, we're struggling and we're groping in the dark.

[00:08:19]
Those of us who are aware that we're struggling, want to learn how to thrive. We would like to grow towards a more fuller life, right? We can't do that without becoming more aware of what we're struggling against. And these are disciplines – two examples only – I mean, there are more, but today's focus is on spiritual direction and counselling, for example.

[00:08:41]
They are disciplines that can shed a lot of light, you know, for us so that we don't have to struggle unnecessarily. And so that we can have someone who can walk alongside us, and ask the right kinds of questions for us. 

[00:08:57] SEEKING GOD BECAUSE I WAS LONELY
So, let me illustrate what I mean by sharing how I came to incorporate both spiritual direction and psychotherapeutic work in my own healing journey. Okay, I'm just telling a story as a lay person, like you, so – like I'm coming from the perspective of someone on this journey. So, what led me to look for spiritual direction and what led me ultimately to also go for counselling, and how both of these disciplines have become necessary. I found them to be necessary in my journey to becoming more my true self.

[00:09:34]
Okay. So, I've spoken before in the much earlier episodes of this podcast, about how I've always struggled with feelings of abandonment and shame. And as far as I can remember, it goes back at least to my teenage years, okay. So, there's this feeling of abandonment and shame. I remember already, even then, that deep fear of disappointing others. Now, I was kind of like a – I was a student celebrity.

[00:10:00]
I was a student leader, so I was actually highly visible – I was often in the spotlight. But the irony was that even though I was in the spotlight, I felt unseen, unheard. And often, I felt very misunderstood. What people thought they knew about me was not me. And I felt like I didn't have an opportunity to actually be myself.  

[00:10:27]
I just had to live up to what was expected of me and just deal with what other people thought of me. On my – I think it was my 16th birthday – I went out with some classmates, you know, some of the classmates that I was closer with; some friends. It wasn't just for my birthday – it just happened to be on my birthday.

[00:10:48]

But because it was my birthday, you know, I was given a balloon by them. But throughout that time, I remember they were teasing me and, you know, probably just having fun – it wasn't anything malicious. But my teenage years was also a time of a lot of pain and suffering in my own life; in my own personal life. And my friends were not seeing me in my pain and my suffering.

[00:11:13]
I felt this – I felt like I was with friends, and I was out there; I was out at town with them actually, amidst all this traffic and a lot of people, and I felt completely alone. And on my way home – I was on the MRT – so that's like the subway in Singapore, right? – I started to tear, right.

[00:11:37]
I was holding a balloon in one hand and tears were starting to fall. And I was trying really hard to hold them in because I was in public. And I held them in as much as I could until I'd reached home. And I remembered the moment I stepped through my front door, I just broke down crying.

[00:11:58]
I felt abandoned – so lonely. And in that season of my life, my home had actually ceased to be an emotionally safe space for me. My home, my family was not the place where I could come to be at rest. It was a place of immense tension, immense stress; I never know what to expect. And so, during that difficult time, I really longed for understanding and connection from my friends, right? 

[00:12:31]
So, as a teenager, the only sources of support I had was; one family and the other one was friends. But they couldn't be that for me. I mean, realistically speaking, especially now looking back, I mean, they were all children, themselves. We were all kids, right, after all. And of course they couldn't be there for me the way that I needed someone to be there for me.

[00:12:52]
But on that particular day of my birthday, I actually had the thought that I felt that if I were to be in an accident that day, and if I had died – I felt like maybe I wouldn't even be missed. I actually had this thought, that I think the world will just keep going on, you know – and it wouldn't care. Nobody would miss me.

[00:13:17]
I just, I didn't feel loved at all. That day, I wrote letters or farewell to my friends. I mean, it wasn't – okay, I wasn't suicidal; I wasn't thinking about ending my life, but because I had the thought, like, what if I died? What if I just, you know, I stepped off the curb and I got hit by a car and I died, and no one would miss me.

[00:13:36]
And I wrote letters as if I would never see them again. So, I wrote two – I can’t remember – two, maybe two or three of my closest friends that I had at the time. And I wrote up my sadness, my disappointment, my grief, my loneliness. I wrote out how I felt that they were blind to all this, that they couldn't see me.

[00:13:58]
I never sent those letters out. I kept them. But I felt better after writing them, right? And I cried my heart out in the shower. And around that time, I think I kind of like gave up looking for connection with human beings – maybe I’m being very idealistic – but I kind of figured, you know, I think people just can't see me.

[00:14:23]
I don't know why, but I always feel like I'm the one left out, you know? And so, I decided around that time that the only safe space that I could have; the only person I can kind of put all my hopes on, to get me, to love me, to understand me would have to be God. Okay, so, it was kind of like a, by process of elimination, kind of a thing.

[00:14:46]
I was 16, right? – 15, 16. So, that kind of like began – was part of the, you know, not the only thing – but was part of the earnest beginning of my spiritual life; my relationship with God, of committing to building this relationship with God. But at the same time – so, as a Christian, I believe in the Trinitarian God, right?

[00:15:08]
I believe that God is – there's God, the father, and there’s God, the son; who is Jesus Christ, and there’s God, the Holy Spirit. And that, you know it’s a mystery, but there’s three persons in one God. But of the three persons, I couldn’t draw close to God the Father. He seemed – He always seemed like a distant kind of aloof figure to me, you know?

[00:15:29]
It didn't really give me comfort. I couldn't really come close to Him. But at the time, I mean, being a teenager, what I needed was a friend. And so, I felt drawn to God in the person of Jesus Christ. I became committed to growing this friendship with Him. You know, I decided at the time, it made perfect sense to make God my first love because no one else can see me and love me.

[00:15:51]
So, I turned my seeking to God. Now, if you realize – so my turning to God, so the spiritual seeking came from a very human, emotional need to be loved, to be seen – which I couldn't find anywhere else, right? So, I turned to Him. But the more that I experienced God’s love, the harder I felt, I could just, you know, be a recipient of that love without earning it.

[00:16:17]
So, the more I experienced God's love, the closer I drew to Christ, the more I felt that I was blessed by him – the harder I felt I needed to work in order to be worthy of that love. I genuinely experienced His love for me; I was very blessed, I had experiences of answered prayers, I had experiences of, you know, kind of like God speaking to my heart.

[00:16:40]
I knew He was there for me. But yet, although there were powerful experiences that I did have, that love could somehow never fully penetrate me. There was an armour around my heart that kept me from fully trusting God. There was something in me that prevented me from just delighting and God's love for me, you know? Because somehow with God's love came expectations too – at least that's how I felt.

[00:17:06]
I needed to be good, I needed to be holy, right? God has forgiven me, and He’s made me righteous and all of that. And so, I needed to – I felt like I have to be deserving of that. I needed to become good. And then I also needed to help others become good and holy too; that was my worldview, that was my philosophy. That was what I understood about being in relationship with God.

[00:17:31]
That I needed to continue to grow in righteousness and that it was also up to me somehow – I needed to earn that right to be loved. So, whenever I sinned, or whenever I fell short – so being a Christian, and especially being Catholic, I mean, and being quite informed in my faith for my age, even at that time – I was very aware of, you know, virtue and vice, and I was a perfectionist, right?

[00:17:59]
So, you know, really wanting to be holy. So, whenever I fell short, you know, it was terrible because shame kept me from believing that I was truly forgiven. I know in my head, right? – So, I believe cognitively because that's what was taught to me, that's what the church teaches. I believe that I am forgiven, but I don't think I can really receive that forgiveness from God, or even from myself.

[00:18:25]
I could not forgive myself. And this is especially the case when the sin has been grave. And in my life, I have committed grave wrong, okay. Some things that I've been having deeply ashamed of, and feared even, for my soul, right. And so, because of that, that shame made me unable to really experience the forgiveness that I believe God offered me because in my own eyes, I was an ungrateful wretch who returned God's love by letting Him down.

[00:19:05]
Like, He loved me and I clearly don't love Him enough because I – you know – I go and do all these things; I'm just bad, right. So, that's how I saw myself; I'm just unworthy, I’m bad, I’m a terrible person.

[00:19:22] UNFREE TO LOVE (TOXIC SHAME)
Many years later, okay – I mean, like many years after my teenage years; or even my early twenties, a priest I confided in, right – this was around my 30th birthday – he told me that my root problem was not the sins that I've committed, no matter how grave they were. Now, that itself was, you know, it was kind of like – it blew my mind a bit.

[00:19:42]
I never saw it that way before. But he said, you know, the reason I was struggling with all these sins, the main root of it was not what I was doing, you know, over and over again, or what I was doing wrong. He told me that what my root problem was; was that I was in emotional bondage to my mother, okay.

[00:19:59]
So, that was the exact phrased that he used: emotional bondage to my mother. And actually during that conversation, I remember thinking, okay, how is he so sharp? Because I didn't actually – I wasn't even talking really, about my relationship with either of my parents. But somehow, he brought that up. And I was at the point in my own journey where I had begun to realize that yes, something is not quite right.

[00:20:27]
I've always been very, very close to my mum, okay. And how could there be anything wrong with being so close to someone, right? – To a parent. But this priest said, you know, I could not love either my mother or even God freely; that I loved them only because I felt bound to – I love them because I had to, it was my duty.

[00:20:49]
I didn't truly love them because true love comes from freedom. And even as I heard him say all that I realized he was right, because I had no idea how to be free. He described it exactly – I felt like I have no choice but to love God – how can I not love God? He has been so good to me. How can I not love my parents?

[00:21:09]
They have been so good to me, you know? It's “I have no choice”. Do you know what I mean? I don't know if any of you experienced that. It's how could that even be a question? So, it's like, I have to. So then, this priest also taught me that my problem wasn't a lack of effort. It wasn't that I didn't want to love people, it wasn't that I didn't want to love my parents or God, but I didn't know how to, because I needed to learn to let myself be loved. 

[00:21:38]
Okay, so that was a hard moment for me as well. It never occurred to me that I needed to learn to let myself be loved. All along I just knew in my head, right? – That God loved me, that my parents loved me. I mean, they say it, so, I mean, they, you know, they also try and prove that they do. I know they're not perfect, but I know; I know God loves me, I know my parents love me. 

[00:22:01]
But you know what, guys? The sad truth was I never really felt that love. I mean, maybe passing by, yes. Sometimes fleetingly, but it was like there was this abyss in me, there's this bottomless pit in me. Whatever love could come my way just disappeared into that hole, and I still felt empty. And I still did not have that experience of being worthy of love. 

[00:22:36]
So, it hit me for the first time – I didn't know how to receive love in a way that fed that need in my heart to be loved. And I always thought that it must be because there's something wrong with me, right? Why else would this be the experience? What else would it be that even when people love me, I cannot feel loved?

[00:22:53]
So, I prayed for healing, right. It was spiritual prayer asking for spiritual healing, asking for God to fill that hole in my heart; to help me experience His love. That particular incident – the conversation with that priest and then, you know, a lot of things that happened in the week that followed that – it was a very powerful, spiritual conversion experience for me. 

[00:23:18]
Whereby suddenly, by really by supernatural grace, I felt freed from a lot of the emotional burdens that had been keeping me weighed down. And all of a sudden, I felt this new energy and purpose, but what didn't happen – and at that time, I didn't really realize, right – but what didn't happen was a real substantive change in the way that I saw myself or in my ability to receive an offer love freely. 

[00:23:44]
So, what do I mean? Now, I know there are other people who share this experience sometimes, especially if you're a spiritual person or religious person – maybe you go for a retreat or maybe, you know, sometimes out in ordinary living, which is how it usually happens for me. But we can be hit by grace and suddenly we feel lifted up from the sorrow, and the grief, and the burden, and the feeling of unworthiness. 

[00:24:10]
We can sometimes be hit by a powerful experience of, you know, the mighty love of the divine right? – of God. And it gives us hope. But that euphoria; that feeling of being high can sometimes mislead us because we think that, that means that we're healed already. It means we think that things should be different from this point on, and we get so disappointed when we realize that things haven't really changed, right? 

[00:24:35]
So, that's what I mean. I did experience a real lifting up – a new energy and hope. And it gave me a way to, to start again, but it didn't really change that foundation in me – that was something entirely different. And I didn't realize yet at that point. So, the same patterns that have plagued me my whole life continue to plague me. 

[00:25:00]
And a few years into this new season in my life where I had entered full-time church ministry – it was a completely new direction in my life. I discovered to my dismay that not only could I not love others freely, but I could not let people go when it was time to do so. I couldn’t love them with hands wide open, which I knew I needed to – I wanted to.

[00:25:19]
I knew that was the way I wanted to love, you know – not by holding on to people, not to want to claim credit for what I've done to help people. But because my worth rested so much on being loved back, because my worth rested so much on being acknowledged for the good that I have done – 

[00:25:40]
– I found that I could not let people go and that it really, really hurt me when I wasn't recognized, you know – when I wasn't affirmed and recognized. So, I knew this was a problem. But at the time, I could only still see this through a spiritual lens, okay. So, in spiritual language, this was idolatry, okay. 

[00:26:01]
Meaning that I am putting something else before God. So, in this case often for me, it was a relationship, or someone else or needing that recognition, you know, I needed. That was somehow more important to me than my relationship with God, but I couldn't help it. I knew the order wasn't right. And I wanted it to be different, but in all honesty, I realized I was helpless.

[00:26:27]
I couldn't, because this insecurity was so deeply rooted in my own personal history. And so, I, you know, it can be very discouraging and there were times that almost despaired, because even after so many powerful spiritual encounters with God, I still had this problem. And, and I know that some of you who are listening to this, know what I'm talking about, because this is quite common.

[00:26:49]
A lot of us who have all the best intentions and desire in the world find that we're helpless. And, and we don't know what we're doing wrong. We don't know what we're not doing enough. And so, we think there's something wrong with. Now, fortunately, by this point in my journey, I was aware that the problem that I had, had something to do with my family of origin.

[00:27:09]
It has something to do with the wounds in my family of origin. It wasn't clear what they were, but I just knew there was something there. Okay, I knew that the root lay in –  so like what the priest told me – emotional bondage. So, I knew that it had something to do with psychology, as well as spirituality.

[00:27:27]
Okay, so I took urgent leave from work one day and I went to see a religious sister whom I knew was trained in psycho-spirituality. And I told her about my emotional upheaval and my troubles. And I told her about how the fear in me was so great – that shame in me was so great when I feel that I've screwed up, and I feel that I've done something wrong.

[00:27:48]
Again, I just want it to run away – far, far away from anyone who knows me, you know? I wished that – I literally wish sometimes that the earth would open and swallow me up. I didn't know what to do. And that day, that sister introduced me to the concept of “toxic shame”. So, shame has been – I think, in the lingo; in the – you know – the general lingo of the world a lot more of late.

[00:28:14]
Also, I know a lot of people also are reading and listening to Brené Brown; who does a lot of research about shame, right. But this back then – when this happened for me, it was – I think it was around 2010, 2011-ish, kind of a thing. It was not in my vocabulary, it was not something I was coming across, you know, on social media, et cetera.

[00:28:38]
So, this sister recommended me a couple of books to read, which opened up in me an entire new world. So, she recommended me a book by John Bradshaw and the title was Healing the Shame that Binds You. And I recognized in those pages so many experiences that I had when I was growing up – I saw myself in those pages.

[00:28:59]
I recognized dynamics in my own family, in those pages. And I wept, you know – not just out of, sorrow or anything. I wept out of relief because for the first time I realized there was an explanation for why I always felt this deep unworthiness in my whole life. You know, it was the first time I saw an explanation as to, you know – this is what happens when this is what you lived through.

[00:29:24]
For example, you know, there's this thing called toxic shame. When you feel that there's something innately wrong with you. And I realized, oh, this is why I never felt good enough. I have an issue with shame. I have toxic shame. 

[00:29:36] LED TO SEEK THERAPY
And around this time as well, and other religious sister, whom I was going to for spiritual direction, suggested that I try some inner child healing work – some inner child healing exercises within the context of a personal retreat that I was doing with her.

[00:29:51]
So, I was doing an individual silent retreat away in a retreat centre. And she suggested, you know, if I was open to it – to incorporate some inner child work with God as well, even in my, you know, in my scripture readings and my prayer time.

[00:30:06]
And that's what we did. And that was another huge shift for me. So, meeting my inner child, helped me to see for the first time how disconnected I have been to my own emotions, to my own needs, and my wants. I never realized until I started doing some inner child work, that I am so cut off from myself that I had no sense of who I actually was.

[00:30:30]
That's why I was so reliant on what people thought of me. That was why I was so reliant on, you know, people's praise and so effected by people's criticisms, because I had no sense of who I was, unless somebody else reflected it back to me. 

[00:30:45]
There was no “I” to speak of – so how can there be a “me” to be loved by someone else, to be loved by God. And who was this “I” that is meant to love others, right? I realized, wow, I have no relationship with myself. And I also realized for the first time, hey, I think there's supposed to be a relationship between me and myself. You know, like I'm supposed to be connected with myself because if I am so disconnected with myself, then how can I be in relationship with God even?

[00:31:17]
So, that started, you know, in earnest for me, this awareness about the psychological aspect also, of my spiritual life. And although I started doing inner healing work, and I began to grow in self-awareness about my lack of boundaries – it was by that time too little and too late to keep me from suffering burnout.

[00:31:38]
And so, you guys would have heard my other stories in the other episodes before, about how I burnt out. Right, because my inability to say no out of fear of disappointing others, my compulsive need to help anyone who needed my help and to be their saviour, you know – my compulsive drive to grow in holiness, so that I can be well-regarded in church by people and by the authorities; all that created such great tension in me, as I became more aware that I was not free.

[00:32:09]
And that what I wanted more than anything was to become free so that I can love and be loved with peace and joy. So, while I continued to read and be assisted on the side by spiritual guides who had some knowledge of psychology – thank goodness, really – you know, in my interior journey, I eventually came, after a few years, to a point in my own walk with Christ when I realized that I was still not availing myself to all the help that I needed and that I could get.

[00:32:43]
So, an incident happened in the context of my larger extended family, which triggered deep anger and grief in me. And actually, what surfaced after the incident over months, was hatred. And I was afraid because, you know, as a good Christian, right – I know I'm not supposed to hate anyone.

[00:33:04]
But, I learned to be honest with myself, by then – I had learned to be honest about naming what I felt. And I realized that I was – there was a lot of anger and there was hatred. And I knew that there was a reason I was feeding these things. They have been bottled up for so many years.

[00:33:20]
I didn't even know they were there. And at the same time, my relationship with someone very close to me had become very difficult because I was trying to balance between being kind to them and my newfound conviction that I needed also to be kind to myself. Now, by that point, I realized that I'm part of an “enmeshed family system”. 

[00:33:41]
So, that's actually a bit of a technical term, okay. But I first learned that in John Bradshaw’s book: Healing the Shame that Binds You – that one of the models of dysfunctions in family systems would be where there would be no boundaries between members. So, there's no way of differentiating between my emotions and someone else's, and anybody's trouble is also my trouble. 

[00:34:00]
I took responsibility for someone else's issue, and I don't take responsibility for my kind of issues because I expect someone else to be responsible for me. So, I grew up with no emotional boundaries, right. And now, starting to learn how to put boundaries in place is so hard because it's brand new to me. 

[00:34:17]
And it's even harder when the other people that I'm in close contact with. For example, even my own family members, they still don't have boundaries. And they still believe that, you know, the loving thing to do as family – the way they understand and interpret love is by not having boundaries. So, that's when I decided I really needed expert help – I needed more help, more support to make this journey because I'm convinced that to become not just healthier for myself, but to become more truly loving, and not just loving people out of compulsion, out of duty – as you know, earlier; the priest had told me many years back – I needed to grow in freedom.

[00:35:01]
And so, I needed to be faithful to this interior work that I was doing. So, I signed up for counselling and I found that to be a huge support for me, especially during difficult periods when emotional stress levels were particularly high. I learned new ways differentiating – that's another term that psychologists also use – but you know, differentiation.

[00:35:24]
So, that's something very important, especially for someone who is very enmeshed. When I can't tell the distinction; the boundary between me and someone else – to grow in my ability to differentiate between my emotions, and that of someone else's, to differentiate between my personal identity and the identity of the group that I belong to – whether that group was family, whether that group was church, was community, was friends.

[00:35:49]
So, because previously when I had very poor or practically no boundaries, I was one with the group. Okay, so, and that was very unhealthy. So, as I deepened my inner child work and became more confident of my ability to take care of myself, I became more confident that I could, you know, look after the needs in myself, and at the same time also become a more loving person towards others, without having to cave into external expectations that actually harm me.

[00:36:25]
So, in the past, I would always cave, right? Because I didn't know how not to cave into external expectations, or I would try and run away and avoid having to deal with those expectations.

[00:36:36]
But as I grew in inner resilience, as I did all this inner work, I'd reached a point where I realized I can actually learn to stand my ground. It was difficult, but I could stand my ground. I could not run away and actually, kind of like repurpose or renegotiate a way to be in relationship with people in a way that didn't violate my own needs.

[00:37:00]
So, as that happened, each time I practiced it, I felt stronger. I felt more confident, right? I felt more confident in myself, more secure in my own ability to take care of myself. And you know, there were a few years where, I was seeing both the counsellor and spiritual director very regularly. And so, there were times when I saw them just a few days apart.

[00:37:23]
And while the things I talked about were very similar – because if I was seeing them within the space over the same week, you know; the kind of issues that I've encountered, the things that I was talking about were very similar – the kinds of questions that each of them asked me, and the kind of tools that they shared with me to help myself, were very different.

[00:37:41]
Even though they were different, they worked together so that I could see myself and my journey more holistically. So, for example, my spiritual director could point out to me where I was struggling in my relationship with God, during that season – in the context of my faith, my spirituality. But the work that I did with my counsellor helped me to see more clearly why I was having that particular struggle with God, especially if it was an area in which it’s a repeated struggle my whole life, right?

[00:38:11]
So, the work in psychology, for me – the inner work in psychology began to shed light for me, you know; why I struggled with my relationship with God. And then I could then specifically invite God into those spaces, right – and help come meet in those spaces that now I realize I need it.

[00:38:32]
Okay, so, from the perspective of someone of faith; so, for me, I see all these resources – all as ultimately coming from God. It's just the way he chooses to work in the world. That's just the way he chooses to work with me. It's my experience that He wants me to avail myself to all these different resources that He has blessed the world with, through other people, right – through the intelligence and gifts that He has given them in all its diversity.

[00:39:01]
So, as I grew in this awareness of how these two dimensions work together, I also began to understand why it was that I was always so anxious and fearful of losing God's love all my life. Right, that even as it became more important to me, I was always afraid that I would disappoint Him.

[00:39:21]
Right, and why is it that while I cognitively – in my head; intellectually, I believe, and know that His love for me is unconditional, why it is that I couldn't experience it as unconditional. And that the root of it is, well, my wounded heart, my wounded soul – it was my trauma; it was “attachment trauma”. So, just another term, that hopefully at some future point, I will help you unpack by talking to somebody; interviewing someone else who's an expert in that.

[00:39:49] HOW COUNSELLING & SPIRITUAL DIRECTION WORKED TOGETHER
Okay but, all these things work together for me, and the emotional and psychological work I did helped me to build a more intimate, healthy, and secure relationship with God.

[00:40:01]
And that was what I always wanted. On the other hand, as my spiritual life matured and deepened, my capacity for becoming more fearlessly who I was created to be, increased. So, the more my spiritual life deepened, the more resources I had to make the psychological interior journey. 

[00:40:20]
My relationship with God healed me and made me more secure through these other dimensions that I was learning – this knowledge that I was picking up; about how he designed me, how he designed the human being to love and be loved. And eventually, even my relationship with God, the father really changed. Remember at the start of this sharing, I said, I felt like God, the father was distant?

[00:40:46]
Okay, that was because I think for the longest time, you know, He was a projection of my own experience of fatherhood. And growing up in a Chinese culture, Asian culture – basically what I saw often in father figures were, they were distant. You know, it doesn't mean that they don't love you, because we know that, they look after us, they care for us.

[00:41:05]
But they are often emotionally remote. And so, my relationship with God, the father was also, I thought, emotionally remote. But as I healed these attachment wounds within me, I found that I could trust God, the father. I felt that, oh, He's very different from what I expected. He delights in me, you know?

[00:41:27]
And the more courage that I had to draw closer to him and to, you know, really become the person that He created me to be. Even though that person seems to be so different from the person I always felt I needed to be, okay? So, that's kind of – that's my story. I tried, you know, to just share this story in a way that reflects how both the emotional, you know – emotional/psychological – and the spiritual aspects of my being and my life; how they all work together, how they are entwined together.

[00:42:05]
Right, and how getting support in one dimension really helped my growth in the other dimension. And that together, both these dimensions really, really lifted me up in becoming more fully alive, in embracing my humanity, and even transcending, actually, the weaknesses in my humanity – finding that hope.

[00:42:29]
Because faith gives us access to resources that just purely human resources cannot avail. But in our wounded humanity, in my own wounded humanity, there was a limit to which I could grow my faith. So, I believe that's just the way that – well, that's just the way that God designed us to be.

[00:42:49]
So, I hope that my story has helped you to begin to recognize the ways in which your own interior journey might be helped by either spiritual direction, or counselling, or both, you know? And if you wish to find out more about resources in this area, there are so many different options for both kinds of support – both disciplines.

[00:43:08]
I will share a couple of links in the show notes in today's episode for you to start reading about what, you know – what's out there. But do note that what I'm sharing are kind of more general, kind of links for you to read up about and see where these services may be provided. These are not my personal recommendations, okay? 

[00:43:27]
Because there is a lot more that needs to go into making a personal recommendation. And it's something that I do for, let's say, for example, my clients, right? Because I need to know a lot more about a person's situation and unique needs before I can make a good recommendation. Right, so, I can’t cover that in the podcast, but you're free to begin reading, in general. 

[00:43:50]
Okay, but if you would like to talk to me about making a recommendation for you in these areas, I need to talk to you first, okay? So, that's a service I provide for my integrative life consultation clients – which is; integrated by consultation – it’s one of the services I provide, it’s a paid service. 

[00:44:11]
Okay, so, if you are interested in finding more about booking a consultation appointment with me, then you can email me at ann@parrhesia.sg – that’s ann@parrhesia.sg, or fill in the contact form on the Becoming Me Podcast website. Or you could message me via my Instagram or Facebook account. Okay, so, there are different ways that you could reach me.

[00:44:37] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT.
So, for now then, let's turn to the praxis prompts for today's episode. One – Listen; as you listened to my sharing in this episode, what struck you? Notice how you felt at those parts that struck you. Two – Ponder; ask yourself this question: Have you availed yourself to the spiritual and psychological resources that could help you in your interior journey? If your answer is no, why not? What's holding you back? 

[00:45:24]
Three – Act; what is one step you can take towards finding a spiritual director or a counsellor that could give you much needed support in your interior journey. Have you, for example, searched Google? Have you done a web search? Have you maybe spoken to some trusted friends? There is a lot out there that fits different needs and different budgets.

[00:45:55]
Really – the range is huge. There are subsidized help that you can get, so budget is not a reason not to approach looking for a counsellor or a spiritual director, okay? So, I invite you to take one action today to begin finding out. If you have already been researching on your own, right? – So, you've been reading up and finding out what the options are, but you have been procrastinating in making an appointment, then I invite you to book that first appointment.

[00:46:25]
It's not a lifelong commitment, okay? And you don't even have to stay with the same spiritual director or counsellor if you don't feel safe with them, or you don't feel that they are the right person for you, right. Because the chemistry needs to be right, the fit has to be right.

[00:46:39]
And it's okay – you're not expected to, you know, like make a booking and then stick with that person. Okay, it’s perfectly legitimate to try before you settle in for a longer journey with someone. And it is also perfectly fine to make a change when you outgrow a spiritual director or a counsellor. In fact – it's highly recommended that you do make a change when you outgrow a spiritual director or counsellor.

[00:47:03]
It doesn't say anything about them or you – you are growing, you're changing your needs change. Our journey is dynamic, right? And sometimes we just need somebody else with different gifts, a different toolbox, or just somebody that's just appropriate for that new season for us in our life, okay. But before we get to all that, you have to take action first, just get started first. 

[00:47:19] CONCLUSION
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. 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 poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingmepodcast.com and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!