321 – Soul Care for the Overly Responsible

This Week on Soul Talks

When we feel overly-responsible for our own emotions and needs, we often carry anxiety, shame, or self-condemnation. It can be difficult to treat ourselves with the gentleness and kindness of Christ as we work through our struggles. But the truth is that our Risen Lord offers us patience and compassion in his presence and through soul relationships.

Tune into this episode of Soul Talks where Bill and Kristi unpack how we can both experience and offer healing soul care work through our relationships.You’ll be encouraged with tangible tools and practices that can help you feel seen and offer this empathy to others in an open and compassionate way.

Resources for this episode: 

Soul Care for the Overly Responsible Transcript

Bill & Kristi Gaultiere

Kristi 

Hi friends. Thanks for joining us for another Soul Talk. 

We’re inviting you into our home. 

Bill, usually you and I, at the end of the day, kind of check in with each other. 

How was your day? 

What was your peak? 

What was your pit? 

Where did you sense God today? 

And today when you came back from a meeting with a pastor, you said, “Oh, I just am so blessed that I get to do this. I just love being a part of a pastor’s life and how I got to be in a holy moment there and be used by the Lord in a really fulfilling way.”

Normally, I would kind of have unpacked that with you and kind of asked, “Well, tell me more!” 

But we couldn’t because we had an appointment we needed to get with and we didn’t have time to talk like we normally would and would want to. 

So we decided, we’ll have the conversation that we didn’t get to have, now, and share it with our listeners. 

So tell me more, Bill. 

Tell me more about what you’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing in relation to your appointment today.

Bill 

I just think it’s amazing how God pairs people up in ministry.

And how I get to help someone, so often, who I really relate to their story and I get to be that wounded healer. 

So one of the common themes along these lines is that I talk with people who are overly responsible and need help with their personal soul care. 

This conversation was like that— this pastor just felt like I’d been reading his mail. 

I understood his personality, and his struggle, and even his childhood so well that I was able to put words to what he was experiencing. 

The stress, anxiety, and self condemnation that go with how overly responsible he is.

Kristi 

So as you listened to him, you heard the things.

And you felt empathy for him because you know how he feels, because you were relating, you were feeling like you’re similar.

Bill 

Yeah. And like so many of the people I talked to, he hasn’t had experiences in counseling, therapy, or spiritual direction before.

And he probably wouldn’t be meeting with somebody for that, but he is meeting with me because of the pastor-to-pastor way that we do it in our ministry of Soul Shepherding.

And the way it feels organic also made it feel accessible to him.

Kristi 

So I’m wondering, it sounds like you felt some fulfillment. 

In that, the inner-work that you have done personally, you were able to give him some benefit of your experience.

Bill 

Yeah, because I’ve been on a long journey with my own recovery from being overly responsible.

And that’s still probably true of me, but I’ve experienced significant healing and freedom. 

Kristi 

You had empathy for him, but you also had vision and hope for him, it sounds like.

Bill 

Yeah. I know the lay of the land. 

Where he is coming from and where he can go. 

So I was able to, as we say, give him language for his feelings, his faith, and how to integrate those in his discipleship to Jesus and in his ministry.

Kristi 

What were some examples of some of the ways that you were able to offer him help and hope?

We Can Get Caught up in Our Over-Responsibility Without Realizing

Bill 

I typically will ask people, “So tell me about your childhood?” 

Or, “So I know this has a long story for you and the same sort of burdens that you’re feeling now go back to how you were raised and your early formation.” 

Or I’m listening to him and I’m realizing, “You know, I’m hearing a lot of self-judgment in your voice and you’re frustrated with yourself, really you’re even angry with yourself.” 

“You’re impatient that you’re not more capable in this area.”

Kristi 

Was he surprised that you saw that and that you would highlight that?

Bill 

Yeah, because he didn’t even realize at that moment — this is what happens to all of us; we get caught in our personality, unconsciously. 

And we don’t know what’s happening. 

And so when I pointed that out, I said, 

“Well, hold it there. Let’s just pay attention to your tone of voice there. 

Do you hear how you were talking there? 

Can you hear the anger towards yourself, your needs, and your emotion? 

Can you hear the impatience that you have with yourself there? The criticism?”

I said, “I feel sad for you about that.” 

Kristi 

How did he respond?

Bill 

He was caught almost like a deer in headlights, but in a good way, because he…

Kristi 

He was seeing something he needed to see.

Bill 

And he felt me seeing him.

Kristi 

Felt seen by you.

Bill 

In an understanding and compassionate way. 

And he said, “Oh, I didn’t even realize that.” 

Then he was sort of like, “Oh, here we go again. This is what you keep helping me to see.” 

And that is because it’s a journey.

Kristi 

Yeah. So was he discouraged that it’s a journey?

Bill 

Well, there’s some of that, because as perfectionists, we’re like that. 

We wanna be further along than we are. 

So he’s very much struggling with that part of it. 

But I said to him, “You can’t be anywhere other than where you are.”

And of course, “This is who you are and this is how your personality’s been shaped. 

And so really the good news is that you’re realizing this and you’re starting to catch yourself.”

So even though at that moment, in the conversation with me, he didn’t see what I saw. 

There was something else that he shared with me, where he was realizing what was happening in the moment and that he was slipping into that path of over-responsibility. 

It was weighing on him,depressing him, and depleting him. 

Because we’ve been talking about that over the months, during different times that he and I have talked.

Kristi 

So he’s waking up to that, it sounds like.

Bill 

Yes, he’s waking up to that. 

Then what I said to him — and these are recurring themes, there have been a number of conversations I’ve had with different leaders that are very similar to this one. 

So I said to him, “You know, what you need to celebrate here is you’re growing in self-awareness and you’re growing and developing your “observing ego.”

That’s what we call it, as a psychologist. 

More than ever before you’re now able to watch yourself, not in a judgmental way, like a cop going after you, but with gentleness and compassion.

Kristi 

Or like a coach that’s trying to help a golfer with their swing?

Bill 

Yeah. Because the coach is with you, watching you, and experiencing the game with you. 

And then maybe, after the swing, the coach will pull you to the side and say, “How’d you feel about it and what did you notice about it?” 

And “Well, here’s what I noticed.” 

Then that helps us to adjust our swing, adjust what we’re doing on the field.

Kristi 

So you’ve been seeing his eyes become more open to his “over-responsibility” and to what it’s costing him, it sounds like.

Bill 

Yes. And over the course of these conversations, he’s internalizing my voice and my care. 

And see, this is what happens when we talk with the spiritual director. 

The posture of empathy, the curious questions, the patience, the gentleness.

Kristi 

Presence…

Bill 

The sense of presence, mediating God’s presence, because it’s a prayerful empathy. 

We’re drawing people to Jesus. 

This is how we train our spiritual directors. 

And so when you talk with someone like this, you have a good opportunity to experience God’s presence through that. 

Then you internalize that, so that you develop that more compassionate, observing ego (internalized parent) that begins to watch yourself in life as your personality unfolds or reacts.

But then to have compassion for yourself. 

So that now what was unconscious and you were reacting to, now you’re seeing and you can make different choices.

A Relational Process is Crucial

Kristi 

So are you able to treat yourself with the gentleness and kindness of Christ when you’re in that over-responsibility? 

The way that you are able to treat him and other pastors that you meet with in that situation?

Bill 

Well, sometimes no. 

And that’s the hard thing. 

It’s easier to be gracious with somebody else than with my own self. 

And I’m sure many of our listeners can relate to that. 

But oftentimes, yes. 

I am able to agree with God’s grace and have a self-awareness that’s calm, relaxed, gentle and gracious.

Kristi 

It seems like some of those times when you’re awakened to it and you’re able to be in God’s grace, you’ll even come to me and process it with me, which is always a gift to me.

Bill 

I especially do that when I’m not giving myself patience, compassion and kindness.

Kristi 

You need it from me.

Bill 

Yeah. And I know the Lord has that for me. 

Often, I can recalibrate around a prayer or scripture meditation or just knowing this is not the voice of Jesus.

Kristi 

But over the years I’ve seen you grow in being able to be more gracious to yourself.

Bill 

Yes. And that that’s come through the discipleship process, that’s in a soulful, soul care way and integrating relationships with that.

Talking with my spiritual director or a friend or talking with you, and then receiving that empathy and that grace. 

Until that gets internalized inside me.

That’s how it works, that sort of a relational process. 

And a lot of people don’t realize that. 

That’s why it’s normally not enough to read a book or listen to a talk to change. 

That’s very helpful, probably an important part of the process to get some insights and have some things modeled to us. 

But the way the work really happens in a deepening, freeing, healing way is when we engage in a relationship and deal with our trust issues.

And sort of allow our personality dysfunctions to manifest in that relationship. 

And then as our friend or our spiritual director is experiencing that, then they can help us make some changes and some shifts with that. 

But that’s a vulnerable thing.

Memories of Early Love Can Help Us Understand God’s Love

Kristi 

Yeah. So were there any triggers in you, while listening to him today?

Bill 

Well, I probably wouldn’t use the word “triggers” because that implies it was a trauma or something like that, but there were definitely memories that surfaced in me. 

This was a really blessed experience, in that the memories that triggered in me were positive. 

For example, I often will ask people “So when you…” because I like to help them to get out of this self-judgment, self-criticism, this internalizing of anger in the overly-responsible mode. 

I’ll try to help them connect with their inner child. 

I like to refer to this as the child of their history and of their heart today. 

One way I’ll do that is to say, 

“Well, do you have any pictures of yourself as a child that you like? 

Well, why don’t you get one of those and look into your eyes as a boy there or as a girl.

What do you see and what do you feel? 

Was there a nickname that somebody used for you? 

What is that?” 

And it’s very interesting how people answer that question. 

Sometimes there’s some painful things that they were called by somebody but oftentimes there’s a special name that somebody had given them and they haven’t thought about for a long time. 

Sometimes when they tell me this, they cry because they felt so loved. 

It’s like they’re introducing me to a memory and a relationship with that memory, a parent,  a mentor, or a coach. 

But also to that part of themself today, that little boy or little girl today. 

It is a very sacred moment, very bonding and intimate. 

So in this particular conversation, that part of it spontaneously reminded me of my mom and my grandma and one of my coaches that called me “Billy” when I was a boy.

And how I just felt loved.

It was an affectionate name when my coach used it, maybe as affectionate as it was encouraging.

And all of his energy and confidence in me, and his exhortation of me, was behind that “Billy.”

So that was my football coach. 

My mom had called me “Billy” oftentimes when she was pleased with me.

And my grandma, when she was spoiling me in lots of different ways, she would use that. 

So yeah, that just put my shoulders back, my head up and put a smile on my face. 

And so that spontaneously occurred to me as I was listening to him. 

And this is one of the gifts of being a spiritual director or a soul friend, the work is so personal and so deep. 

Even when we’re focused on the other person, because we’re giving them empathy and we’re helping them.

It still is very personal to us and it reminds us of experiences. 

That’s why what you’re doing is so helpful, Kristi. 

To ask me “So how did that feel for you?”

And “Well, tell me more about that?” 

And “What does this remind you of from your own life?” 

Because in this very personal work of soul care, we’re investing in ourselves. 

The opportunity to then unpack that experience while, of course, protecting the confidentiality of our friend or our client can be a further bonding for us and healing for us. 

So we don’t get backlogged, especially when we are triggered with something that is traumatic or upsetting. 

Because that will happen too, when we’re very close and listening to somebody who’s vulnerable with us.

Kristi 

You had a picture of little Billy on your desk for quite a while and you were working on this very thing.

Bill 

Yes. And I worked it into a prayer. 

It was a derivative of Brennan Manning’s prayer “Abba, I belonged to you.” 

It’s in his book, Abba’s Child

And that breath prayer really impacted me. 

This was maybe 20 years ago, the early years of learning breath prayers and practicing that as a spiritual discipline. 

During a retreat that I was on many years ago, I was praying that prayer.

And I wanted to make it more Jesus centered because Jesus helps me to tangibly see and experience God’s fatherly love. 

So I developed the prayer that’s in Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke, and it’s a very special prayer to me.

It’s, “Jesus embraces me in Abba’s love” — just breathing those words in and out. 

“Jesus embraces me in Abba’s love.”

Jesus Embraces Me in Abba’s Love

Bill 

When I pray that prayer, I see the Gospel stories of Jesus and the children come to life in me.

I put myself in that story and see Jesus smile. 

I see his affection and his arms open.

And I receive that in the same way as my dad was with me as a little boy and we’re wrestling.

Or he’s saying, “Hey Bill, you wanna go to the hardware store with me?” 

Or, “Hey, let’s go play catch.” 

That feeling of being wanted and being seen. 

Seeing that’s the way Jesus was with people in the Gospels and especially with the children, that’s the way he’s with me now. 

And so receiving that smile and then smiling as I pray.

Because even if I don’t feel happy yet, I have a reason to be happy. 

That prayer has meant so much to me over the years. 

And so I get to share that with people. 

That’s another example of this ministry where, when you get to overflow…

Kristi 

Yeah. You’ve experienced the power of that and how helpful that’s been to you. 

And now you’re getting to serve and invite somebody else to do that, to share that with somebody else because you know it’s gonna be helpful for them too.

Bill 

Yeah. So just as God’s grace has reached into my heart and personality and brought healing and growth, so I can then also overflow that to others. 

That’s the honor and the joy of being a wounded healer for people.

A Vision and a Hope For Growth

Kristi 

Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing with me and processing with me your experiences there.

Anything else that you wanna share?

Bill 

I think I just want to encourage our listeners that in your relationships — whether it’s with someone in your church that you’re discipling or teaching about the Christian life, or in your home with your kids or other family member,s or in a small group or in mission work, so many different aspects of ministry — it’s about relationship. 

As we are caring for people, leading people, focusing in on opportunities for lingering conversations where we lean-in with empathy. 

And we ask questions, and we draw people out. 

Especially if you’re a spiritual director or a coach, boy, the opportunities that we have for this more intimate relating, this more prayerful listening, and this soulful way of discipling people.

It’s such an important ministry and it can be so fulfilling. 

Because, “Wow, it’s like God’s repurposing my life, my spiritual formation journey. Including my mess ups, dysfunction, brokenness, and wounds and ways that God has been working in my life to reshape me and to bring healing that’s present when I’m with other people, even if I don’t tell them the story.”

So in this particular conversation, I didn’t share any of my story with him because I was the listener, but my story was very present for me and for the Lord. 

And the Lord used that to help me ask the right questions, to understand what he might be feeling. 

I was able to very readily put myself in his shoes, not assuming I knew just what he felt, and I didn’t wanna make the mistake of sympathy. 

Like we teach our Spiritual Directors that were training in our Certificate Program. 

“You wanna stay with empathy. Don’t go into sympathy.” 

Sympathy would’ve been “Oh, I know just how you feel. When I was a kid, this is what happened to me.”

It’s like, well, it might not be just how he felt.

And it’s taking the focus off of him and putting it on me. 

And so my story is present for me, I don’t need to bring it into the conversation. 

Sometimes, I might, if the Lord leads.

But always bring the focus back to the person that I’m supporting.

But I didn’t need to do that.

Kristi 

It seems like your experience was informing your empathy for him and your ability to be able to validate his experience and his emotion. 

And also, it seems like your experience was giving him a vision and hope for growth that you’ve experienced and freedom.

Bill 

Well, yeah, because I’m standing inside my life, my person, and my growing maturity in Christlikeness. 

That’s where we all are in life. 

Maybe we don’t realize or think about it that way, but I’m standing inside this self that I’m becoming, in Christ. 

And from that place, I’m just continually asking, 

“How would I feel if I was him?” 

“What would I be feeling right now?” 

“What would my experience be?” 

“What would I be needing?” 

And then I’m asking the Lord, quietly, prayerfully, just now and again, shooting up a little prayer.

Even beyond words just in a disposition of trust and listening to God as I’m listening to my client, in this case. 

And the Lord helps me to hear what somebody might be feeling or needing or see what they’re missing. 

What I need to ask them or suggest, or sort of what pathway of conversation might be most helpful for them.

And so that’s really rewarding. I do that. 

Then it helps me to not only empathize, but as you say, to have a hope or a vision for what’s possible. 

Because I’ve experienced some growth in this area.

I’m still on the journey myself, but I’ve had enough freedom and healing and growth in gentleness and grace.

And not being crushed by responsibility, that it really enables me to lead people into that. 

“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of Dawn shining, ever brighter to the full light of day.” [Proverbs 4:18-19] the Proverbs says. And so holding out that hope for people.

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