Spiritual Growth:

Identify feelings and behaviors that are holding you back

Depending upon what you are reading, people have different names for the feelings and behaviors that hold us back from growing spiritually. Some people call them sins. Some roadblocks. Others, character defects. I tend to like the term character defects or patterns of sin. The feelings and behaviors that hold us back are not one-offs, but usually patterns of behavior or emotional reactions that we have developed over time to make sense of life, cope with life, or get what we want. The important thing about character defects is that what once may have been helpful creates problems in our lives over time.

There are a number of ways to identify your character defects, but often we already have a keen sense of what they might be. Some of my own character defects include people-pleasing, worrying, perfectionism, and overachieving. Asking God to remove our defects of character is an important part of the process of overcoming them, but we must also understand why we have them and seek God’s guidance in understanding the actions we need to take to change the feeling or behavior. I am currently working on some of mine and have found this set of questions to be helpful.

  1. What is the feeling or behavior?

Ex. People-pleasing.

  1. Why is this feeling or behavior a problem in my life?

Ex. I often say yes to things I don’t want to do or have the time to do because I don’t want to disappoint the person asking. I’m afraid if I say no they will think less of me or judge me as unkind, incompetent, or unworthy of connection and relationship.

  1. How has this feeling or behavior hurt me or others in my life?

Ex. This behavior often leads me to overload my schedule causing me to feel anxious and overwhelmed and to be resentful at the person for having asked me. It hurts my spouse and children because I have either enabled them by doing something they should do themselves or I am too busy for them because I am helping others. I am also often too tired to do the things that bring me joy and I become resentful at others because of it.

  1. What power does this feeling or behavior have over me and my life?

Ex. This behavior feels like a compulsion and it is very powerful. I don’t even think before I say yes. Because I don’t think before I say yes, I often feel trapped in having to do things and become resentful.

  1. How might I change this feeling or behavior?

Ex. At this time I am unable to control this compulsion. Because I lack control in the moment, as a rule, for now, I should ask for time to think about any major request and potentially say no to most minor requests to provide me time to pray and discern God’s will for me, rather than responding out of compulsion. As I discern God’s will, some questions to ask myself might be: Is the person making the request honest and trustworthy? Is the other person burdened and asking out of need or are they trying to get out of meeting their own personal responsibilities? Is the request reasonable? Am I being asked because I have a unique quality or capability to meet a need? Will saying yes burden me, causing me to sin through not meeting my own responsibilities or acting out in stress or resentment? Are there any underlying reasons I might be tempted to say yes: insecurity, fear of rejection, needing connection?

  1. Acknowledge your heart and extend compassion to yourself.

Ex. I am a human being, and like all other human beings, I desire connection and belongingness. God also created me to be very sensitive to the needs and desires of others. Finally, I grew up in an environment of conflict avoidance. The combination of these two qualities and the experiences I have had related to conflict have led me to develop a habit of people-pleasing. In many ways this habit has kept me safe and helped me to function in my relationship. People pleasing has helped me to cope with difficult relationships and experiences. However, I can see now that people pleasing has also provided the means by which I have harbored resentments towards others, feelings of being underappreciated and taken advantage of, and deprived others of learning important lessons for their own life journey.

  1. Prayer.

Dear Lord, I lay before you my compulsion to people please. I pray that you would help me to release the fears and drive the need to people please. I pray that you would grant me strength to do your will even if your will requires that I make someone upset because I say no. In your name, Amen.

We all have stuff we need to work on. God knows what are issues are and why we have them, but sometimes we need a little clarity. I’m not sure if this process will work for you, but it is helping me to bring clarity to my past actions and guiding me to make new choices for a better future.

Contributed by Liz Hunt

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