Identity, affectivity and the ABC's of human and spiritual formation (I)

Psychological and spiritual maturity, Wenceslao Vial

ABC's for spiritual accompaniment

(1st part)


Accompanying someone in their spiritual growth and self-awareness is exciting and difficult. In this article, divided into two parts, we will cover some spiritual and psychological aspect, linked to that process.

We will consider the context of personal spiritual accompaniment, in which the ABC's of “emergency medicine” can be useful. A doctor in an emergency room, when receiving a patient, in order to arrive at a quick diagnosis soon and take the necessary measures, pays his attention to three factors:

  • Airway
  • Breath
  • Circulation

Continuing in the medical analogy, when a person asks for help, the first thing to do is to check that the airway is free, that nothing obstructs the entrance of God's grace, of the spirit that He wants for the person: the keys here are identity and faith, who I am and who I want to be.

The second step is to observe if the person is breathing; if the air flows freely, it enters and leaves, with increasing serenity and naturalness: it is the peace of one who lives with coherence. They have make the project their own, and the keys are autonomy and hope.

Then we must confirm that oxygen that is entering the airway and reaching the blood in the lungs, that if it’s circulating throughout the whole organism. This oxygen is knowing that you are loved by God as his child. The heart, enlightened by this conviction, which has been long thought out and meditated upon, pumps with a constant, persevering, rhythmic beat in any external activity or mental process. The key is self-esteem.

The ABC's of spiritual accompaniment, in order to be effective, start from the assumption that the person wants to be helped, wants to breathe and that his heart continues to beat. Logically, the one who helps must also examine his own ABCs. It will be necessary to consider one's own knowledge, which is derived from what one knows about oneself, what others tell us and what God gives us to understand with his grace. This includes:

  • a) the knowledge of one's own identity: it is not good to go around in life, perhaps with intense activity, without stopping to see how the desires or actions I have relate with my life project; the risk is to suffer a heart attack of the soul.
  • b) the knowledge of one's own affectivity: one must go beyond "I am very sad" or "very happy", and try to discover the reason for my emotions or feelings and what the appropriate reactions are, so as not to live with a stranger inside of us.

The important difficulties of life, related - in the analogy of the ABC of emergencies - with the entrance of air, breathing and heartbeat, are more apparent in the affective dimension. These people suffer and can make other suffer, even without knowing what is happening to them or controlling it. In the face of this suffering, one must react quickly, without letting time pass, just like what happens with physical pain: we put the ABCs into practice by observing and listening to those who ask for help.

A simple question often sheds light on this: What do you think about and what happens to you when you are alone? In the calm and silence, comes out more easily if we are happy and satisfied with our life project. Sustained negative emotions such as sadness, fear, pessimism, anger or despair need urgent analysis, because they are an alarm signal from our organism: something is not right in the circulatory system.

Emotional reactions such as anxiety or sadness without cause should not fill the days. After two weeks or earlier - and no more - it is advisable to look for alternative solutions, which usually include a medical consultation. Something similar must be said about other psychological symptoms such as obsession. Any reaction that seems out of the ordinary is worth being examined by a specialist.

Reaching a more detailed diagnosis of the situation a person is going through takes time. From the beginning, one must look at identity and affectivity. In this first part we will focus on identity. How can we grow in strengthening our own identity? What elements are a priority to achieve this?

In the dialogue of personal accompaniment it is good to verify that some essential elements are lived out as something proper, habitual and serene, in the way of breathing or of the heartbeat:

  • a) To live from the encounter with Jesus Christ. To live habitually from this encounter and to experience it as real and as an authentic gift. This step is indispensable for living one's identity in the present and in the first person, first on the intellectual level and then on the experiential level. Those who have truly "seen", "heard" and "touched" Jesus, remain in a relationship of life that continually renews them; on the contrary, those who live from fictitious encounters with the Lord, sow a future without living roots.
  • b) Cultivate the awareness that life is a personal project. The person grows according to his identity when he travels through his life by taking the lead. He senses the directs of his own existence and that no one can substitute him in being who he is. God makes all things new (cf. Rev 21:5) and with each person he has a unique project.
  • c) Directing one's life from deep convictions. This consists in reflecting on the motivations of one's actions and feelings, on preferences, desires and hopes. The idea is that, with the passing of time, one lives based on a sincere inner freedom, with decisions integrated personally from one's own identity, and in dialogue with God. It is good to ask oneself questions like: where do I want to go?, what I’m doing now or with what I aspire to?, why do I want this or that for myself?, is the binomial “being and doing” united in my life?, is my life inspired mainly by the Gospel, by love of God and by charity? It is even more essential to ask these questions when making important decisions.
  • d) Discover the ordering force of love. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry used to say: “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”. In order to awaken and begin to build an identity that will support the different dimensions of life, an anthropological principle that saves a lot of effort is that of "the ordering force of love". People who fall in love understand this very well: all the elements of their life are put at the service of this ideal, they integrate themselves with a curious ease. That is why detecting a goal or sub-goal of a certain length (e.g. 5, 10 or 15 years from now... or for life) allows one to invest forces intelligently in the long term and, in daily life, leads to finding wood, cutting boards and distributing work with love.
  • e) Living with a conscious identity. Understanding daily life as a clear expression of one's own identity; knowing how to explain the relationship between the different elements of life (work, rest, relationships, choices) with one's own identity, and living them out with the awareness that they really fertilize and strengthen it.
  • f) Help to live "free from". To detect and guide possible restrictions, external coercion; disordered impulses, vices, wounds that generate tension and prevent the peaceful living of one's identity. When there’s a great tension, the priority to face it. In resolving it, it is striking how it has a positive impact on other dimensions of life. Freedom is a pre-requisite for continuing to live; it is transformed into living "free for".
  • g) Facilitating people to put themselves in their rightful place, according to their gifts or skills. Discovering and understanding life from one's own talents strengthens our trust in God and in ourselves, and helps to center our life on the Lord, since we perceive that our way of living out our vocation is in the concrete from the gifts we’ve received. Talents are a motor that push us to contribute to the world and to society; as natural gifts, there will always be some. Experiencing a correspondence between one's own possibilities and the real configuration of one's life leads to the development of identity with satisfaction.
  • h) Help to grow in the different areas of life. In addition to the great projects of life, it is worthwhile to have some clear vital and professional challenges (e.g. from year to year, or every few years), which give a horizon to personal development and help to grow humanly and spiritually. Assuming weight and responsibility in life also entails greater growth according to one's own identity.

In the second part we will continue with the affective universe and its processes, anchored in our inherited temperament. The objective is the same: to breathe the air of grace at the top of our lungs.


Gerard Jiménez
Wenceslao Vial
   August, 2020

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