Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality summary

Spirituality alone is not enough to develop our total capacity for maturity. What’s missing are emotional skills, which are primarily ignored within contemporary spirituality. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality gives us the tools and practices to fully develop ourselves spiritually and emotionally.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality notes & quotes

Here are my notes and quotes on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. My notes are casual and include what I believe are the essential concepts, ideas, and insights from the book, along with direct quotes from the author.

Recognizing Tip-Of-the Iceberg Spirituality

  • “It wasn’t until the pain exposed how much was hiding under my surface of being a “good Christian” that it hit me: whole layers of my emotional life had lain buried, untouched by God’s transforming power.
  • “emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable.”
  • “Very, very few people emerge out of their families of origin emotionally whole or mature.”
  • “Shame, secrets, lies, betrayals, relationship breakdowns, disappointments, and unresolved longings for unconditional love lie beneath the veneer of even the most respectable families.”
  • Because people experience beneficial spiritual experiences, it’s easy to think this “progress” means they are doing fine, even though their relational life and interior world are not in order.
  • Many are aware of a gap between their beliefs and experiences, creating conflict.
  • “Most people are either ‘stuffers’ or ‘inflictors’ of their anger. Some are both, stuffing it until they finally explode onto others.”
    Integrating emotional health and spirituality allows us to experience the beautiful promises of God.
  • Sadly, most of us won’t move forward until the pain of remaining where we are is unbearable.

The Top Ten Symptoms of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality

  • Using God to run from God
  • Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear. Many Christians believe anger, sadness, and fear are sins. They quote, pray, and memorize Scripture to inflate false confidence to keep from being overwhelmed by those feelings. “To feel is to be human.”
  • Dying to the wrong things. We are to die to defensiveness, detachment from others, arrogance, stubbornness, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, and a lack of vulnerability. But we should not die to healthy desires like friendships, joy, art, music, beauty, recreation, laughter, and nature.
  • Denying the past’s impact on the present. Our past experiences influence our current beliefs and behaviors.
  • Dividing our lives into “secular” and “sacred.” We tend to live compartmentalized, double lives.
  • Doing for God instead of being with God. In the west, we tend to value productivity highly. We need to be more “human beings” than “human doings.”
  • Spiritualizing away conflict. Few of us come from emotionally mature families where conflicts were resolved wisely. We learned to bury our tensions and move on. It’s easy to suppress these tensions as adults while calling them “spiritual.”
  • Covering brokenness, weakness, and failure. We feel pressured to present an image of ourselves as vital and spiritually “together.” It’s easy to witness people who perform extraordinarily and assume that somehow they are less broken than the rest of us. But they aren’t.
  • Living without limits. Being selfless and constantly giving is a common trait. But as Parker Palmer said, “Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
  • Judging other people’s spiritual journey. “The monk,” said one of the Desert Fathers, “must die to his neighbor and never judge him in any way whatever. If you are occupied with your faults, you have no time to see those of your neighbor.” Often we turn our differences into moral superiority. “Women are overly sensitive and emotional.”

The Radical Antidote: Emotional Health and Contemplative Spirituality

  • Spirituality alone is often not enough to change entrenched behavioral patterns.  
    Practicing contemplative spirituality can still leave us emotionally unaware and socially maladjusted.
  • People who practice spirituality often don’t integrate emotional health, and people who are committed to emotional health often don’t incorporate spirituality.
  • Combining spirituality and emotional health can be transformative.
  • Signs of emotional health:
  • Naming, recognizing, and managing our feelings.
  • Compassion for others.
  • Breaking free of self-destructive patterns.
  • Asking for what we need, want, or prefer directly and respectfully.
  • Distinguishing and appropriately expressing our sexuality and sensuality.
  • Accurately self-assess our strengths, limits, and weaknesses and freely share them with others.
  • Being aware of how our past impact our present.
  • Respecting and loving others without judgment.
  • Signs of contemplative spirituality:
  • Practicing silence, solitude, and prayer.
  • Understanding our earthly life as a journey of transformation.
  • Finding the true essence of who we are.
  • Developing a harmonious rhythm enables us to be aware of the sacred in all life.
  • Adapting ancient spiritual practices like meditation.
  • “Emotional health…concerns itself primarily with loving others well.”
  • Integrating activity with contemplation helps us find the beauty, harmony, and clarity that makes life straightforward and joyful.
  • It’s easy to keep busy and avoid our inner pain and disappointment. Still, we must explore our feelings and wrestle with difficult emotions like anger, shame, bitterness, grief, jealousy, fear, or depression. Journaling can help.
  • For many, our “feeling muscles” are weak, making it difficult to distinguish one feeling from another—anger from sadness from fear.
  • Beliefs we often carry from childhood into adulthood:
  • I am a mistake.
  • I am a burden.
  • I am stupid.
  • I am worthless.
  • I am not allowed to make mistakes.
Certain people must approve of me to feel okay.
  • I don’t have the right to experience joy and pleasure.
  • I don’t have the right to feel.
  • I am valued based on my intelligence, wealth, and what I do, not for who I am.
  • Beneficial adult beliefs:
  • I hold myself in high regard despite my imperfections and limits.
  • I am entitled to live.
  • It is good that I exist.
  • I have my own unique identity.
  • I am worthy of being valued and paid attention to.
  • I am entitled to joy and pleasure.
  • I am allowed to make mistakes and not be perfect.
  • Many are afraid to feel believing that once they get started, they won’t contain all the rage, hatred, sadness, self-doubt, anxiety, and shame.
  • Sometimes we think if we could get a few more words of praise from a few more important people, it would somehow be enough.
  • Personal transformation can occur when we combine contemplative spirituality and emotional health.

Know Yourself That You May Know God

  • Shedding the “false self” and reclaiming the “true self” is at the heart of spirituality.
  • “Almost all problems in the spiritual life stem from a lack of self-knowledge.” — St. Teresa of Avila
  • “The vast majority of us go to our graves without knowing who we are. We unconsciously live someone else’s life, or at least someone else’s expectations of us.”
  • Resolving our insecurities and understanding ourselves includes learning to feel, distinguishing between feeling and thinking, and having the courage to trust our inner directive rather than heeding others’ voices and demands.
  • “When we deny our pain, losses, and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.”
  • Allowing yourself to feel is the first step of genuine transformation to emotionally healthy spirituality.
  • Self-awareness requires feeling our feelings.
  • What the false self looks like:
  • I am what I do
  • I am what I have
  • I am what others think
  • Jesus was not selfless. At the same time, Jesus was not selfish.
  • Our false self can become who we think we are, causing us to be fearful, self-protective, territorial, manipulative, possessive, and self-destructive.
  • Reclaiming your authentic self
  • Pay attention to what’s happening inside you. What’s inside of you is accurate, whether you know it or not.
  • Find trusted companions. Friends can help us shed the layers of our false selves to reveal our true selves.
  • Go beyond your comfort zone. “Inside of you there’s an artist you don’t know about….If you are here unfaithfully with us, you’re causing terrible damage. If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love, you’re helping people you don’t know and have never seen.”

Going Back In Order to Go Forward

  • “Emotionally healthy spirituality is about reality, not denial or illusion.”
  • Many are accustomed to the excess psychic weight that we can’t imagine living any other way.
  • “True spirituality frees us to live joyfully in the present.”
  • Our family history lives within all of us, especially those who try to bury it.
  • Not until we’re older do we usually see the deep, unconscious beliefs imprinted on us by our family of origin.
  • Many know the feeling of approval for what we do, not the feeling of being loved for who we are.
  • “How many high-achieving, ‘successful’ people are driven by a deeply seated shame and feeling of abandonment, silently crying out, ‘Notice me!’?”
  • The more we understand ourselves and our families, the greater our freedom to decide how we want to live.
  • Spending more than three days with our parents tests our spiritual and emotional maturity.

Journey Through the Wall

  • Emotional and spiritual maturity requires going through the pain of the Wall—or, as the ancients called it, “the dark night of the soul.”
  • For most, the Wall appears through a crisis like a divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, cancer diagnosis, betrayal, or a car accident.
  • “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.” - St. Francis of Assisi
  • Non-attachment is the great secret of interior peace.
  • The Wall breaks our attachment to our false self where layers of our counterfeit self are shed.

Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss

  • “For some, a dull, low-level depression descends upon us, making us nearly unresponsive to all reality.”
  • Turning toward our pain may be counterintuitive, but it’s the only way out.
  • Common defenses:
  • Denial
  • Minimizing
  • Blaming others
  • Blaming yourself
  • Rationalizing
  • Intellectualizing
  • Distracting
  • Hostility
  • Practices for maturing:
  • Pay attention. “Grieving is not possible without paying attention to our anger and sadness.”
  • Wain in the confusing in-between.
  • Embrace the gifts of limits. These include the physical body, a family of origin, marital status, intellectual capacity, talents and skills, material wealth, raw material, time, work and relationships, and spiritual understanding.
  • “Getting off our thrones and joining the rest of humanity is a must for growing up.”
  • “One of the great tasks of parenting and leadership is to help others accept their limits.”
  • Climb the ladder of humility.

Discover the Rhythms of the Daily Office and Sabbath

  • Our lives tend to fall between full and overflowing between family and work.
  • “We admire people who are able to accomplish so much in so little time. They are our role models.”
  • But excessive focus on productivity eventually becomes counterproductive where our weekends are filled with more busyness and doing with no downtime.
  • Yet when we stop, we feel guilty as though we’re wasting time when we could be productive.
  • We need to slow down the pace of our lives and learn to balance activity with contemplating.
  • Daily practice: stopping, centering, silence, and scripture.
  • A good rule to follow when dealing with tools and techniques: If it helps, do it. If not, don’t do it.
  • Practicing Sabbath rest day: Stop, rest, delight, and contemplate.

Go the Next Step to Develop a “Rule of Life”

  • Prayer: Scripture, silence and solitude, prayer, and study
  • Rest: Sabbath, simplicity, play, and recreation
  • Work/Activity: Service and mission, care for the physical body
  • Relationships: Emotional health, family, community
  • “The one truth we must cling desperately to is love.”
  • “It is love that justifies our actions. Love must initiate all we do.”
  • “Live, love, let others invade you. It will never fail to teach you what you must do.”

Related Resources

Here is a list of resources, including authors, books, websites, podcasts, and concepts mentioned in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, which might be helpful for further learning.


  • Ignatius of Loyola
  • Thomas Merton
  • Murray Bowen
  • Rabbi Rusya
  • Richard Rohr
  • James Finley
  • Henri Nouwen
  • Eugene Peterson

Books and Publications

  • The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila
  • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  • The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allende and Tremper Longman
  • Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickenson
  • Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
  • A Grace Disguised by Gerald Sittser
  • Ordinary People by Judith Guest
  • A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer
  • Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  • The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle
  • Celtic Daily Prayer by Northumbria Community
  • A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God by Norman Shawchuck