Does Emotional Suffering Hinder Spiritual Growth?

Dear Dan, since many people may suffer from some level of emotional immaturity due to childhood experiences, what effect does this have on becoming spiritually mature?

for post on emotional sufferingProblems such as shyness, depression, lack of self-confidence, sensitivity to criticism, etc. affect trust in God and being able to benefit from spiritual direction. What advice would you give those are in such a situation who are seeking spiritual direction but are finding it difficult to make that phone call or to feel comfortable confiding in another person (assuming, of course, that they already pray and are frequenting the sacraments)? What encouragement for those who are presently in spiritual direction? Any words of wisdom for (or from) spiritual directors who work with them?

And for those who are thinking of some type of mental health counseling or therapy in addition to SD, what should they look for in a therapist? Probably not someone who identifies himself as a ‘former Catholic’? Thanks for considering these questions from someone who’s a bit burdened but still hopeful.

Dear friend, I couldn’t sleep last night and so I opened your question at a time when all was quiet. It seems the Lord desired to remind me of my former challenges and His grace and deliverance. A few decades ago, I struggled a great deal with profound wounds from my youth. I was moved to pray for you with a sense of joy because I know that the Lord has plans for you for good, for freedom. It is true that emotional challenges can have a significant influence on spiritual growth. That said, they can and will be overcome if you can muster the courage to fully engage with the work He desires to do in and through you. My most basic recommendation is that you meditate on the repeated Gospel admonitions against fear. Many times Jesus says to us, “Do not be afraid…” He is trustworthy. He will will only give you what you can handle. He is the embodiment of perfect gentleness and love. Rest in His care and entrust your healing to Him.

Specific recommendations for you:

The first thing I would recommend you do is pick up a book entitled Unbound by Neal Lozano. Pray that the Lord would reveal to you the ways in which he desires to see you healed and then engage in the reading. I promise you will be changed by it.

You obviously see spiritual direction as a huge leap for you. This is normal for those who truly understand the serious nature of these relationships and the commitment required to make them successful. In my book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God you will find some measure of comfort through a deeper understanding of the entire process of spiritual direction. I wrote it for people like you, and me. It will help demystify the entire process and will also provide you with good direction between now and when you do engage with a director.

Thirdly, I would recommend that you pursue spiritual friendship with another woman who takes their faith seriously and is working hard at it. See if she might be willing to get together monthly or even better, weekly. The best approach with these relationships is to engage with a spiritual reading program. You could pick your own book or join our book club and follow Vicky’s lead. The best way to do this is simply to agree to read a portion for each designated period and then share what the Lord has revealed to each of you through the readings. The approach should be very gentle and non-judgemental. The goal is to simply get used to the idea of reading with the Lord, listening to His voice, and sharing what is on your heart.

If you can do these things over the next year or so, you will find the next step to be fairly natural and without as much stress. I have also asked Becky to engage in the com-box of this post. You might even consider contacting her. She knows much about overcoming emotional wounds and working through the specifics of the challenges you mention.

Wisdom for Directors in Dealing With People Who Have Suffered a Great Deal of Emotional Trauma:

The best book written on this topic for Spiritual Directors is Through Wind and Waves – On Being a Spiritual Guide by Fr. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal. Fr. Francis has a deep understanding of the need to be gentle and patient with those under his care. His advice is outstanding.

Catholic Counseling or Therapy:

These can be very helpful but I would recommend you stick with solid Catholics (as you suggest). You can find them through an organization called Catholic Therapists. In my book I also provide a guide for choosing a spiritual director – you can use that same guide to find a good therapist that you can trust. Therapists who do not share are faith are very limited in their ability to understand and aid the healing process. The ultimate power and source of true healing come from Christ. Without Him, we are not likely to find anything beyond temporal coping mechanisms that can help but are far less than all that God has for us as we seek Him.

Thank you for your question and for persisting in your journey to God. Be at peace. He will heal each wound with the greatest care and love. Be assured of my prayers.


Art for this post on emotional suffering: There’s not only old people in markets. Here’s one shy, sweet and a little bit curious girl from Ravangla market, photographed by Sukanto Debnath, 13 May 2007, CCA-2.0 Generic, Wikimedia Commons.

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