Discernment - It’s a Spiritual Thing
by Julie Matheson

By the nature of my work, I am honored to get to have meaningful, real life conversations every week with my clients. In sessions, we endeavor to untangle, understand, and to clear out genuinely complex misunderstandings. To be successful in this work I need to keep the focus on the client, their perspective, their thinking, and their beliefs about the situation at hand. However, there are times when we do need to consider the motivations that others bring to their relationship dynamics.

On these occasions, I often hear loving, spiritually-minded people start their sentences with, “I don’t want to sound judgmental, however… (and then proceed to say the truth about someone else’s behavior and motivations.)

Guys, you don’t sound judgmental. You sound honest, factual and reality based. Sometimes the best leverage we have is being observant about someone else’s intentions. Then with clear discernment we can respond appropriately, protect ourselves and not be taken advantage of. There is nothing spiritual about allowing low standards of treatment from others.

On one end of the spectrum, we become ready to own the mindsets we bring to some situation; we are ready for the liberation that only accountability, and dealing with something head-on, can bring. On the other far end is when someone wants to behave badly and get away with it.

A person can be in different places on this spectrum depending on the situation, their awareness and readiness to accurately see and to deal with their own life.

Bottom line: it is not only okay, it’s necessary to be discerning about where someone is coming from so we can make good choices about who is trustworthy, who is reality based and who isn’t. When we allow people to get away with misguided behavior (ourselves included) we don’t actually help them to be better.

Toward this goal of strengthening our discernment skills, here are a few suggestions for your consideration:

1.  Check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: (go to Google images) At the lowest level of this hierarchy, a person is primarily concerned with basic survival needs: food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. The second level is safety, followed by a sense of belonging, followed by self-esteem needs and feelings of accomplishment. At the highest level, if all the other levels are satisfied, a person is able to focus on the more refined aspects of self-actualization and fulfilling their highest potential. Someone in survival mode, who is perhaps struggling to make ends meet, understandably thinks differently than someone who is operating in the top three categories. Again, this isn’t being judgmental. It’s merely having compassion for where they are and noticing what motivates their behavior.

2. While everyone deserves our kindness and our respect, trust is earned: The double bind for the spiritually-inclined is that they want to see the good in everyone, yet not everyone has good intentions. Therefore, even spiritual people – especially spiritual people - need to discern who is and is not trustworthy. You can live life with an open heart and at the same time have excellent boundaries. You can give someone a first and even a second chance. Then, at some point, the only way to help them is to hold them accountable for their own actions, the same way you do for yourself.

3. Make discernment a spiritual practice: Start by discerning, does this person desire to be better and do better or do they, at any level, repeatedly deceive themselves? Again, strong boundaries, saying no, and clear communication are key. You can stop the cycle of disappointment by saying what you need to say. I am convinced you can say anything as long as you keep it simple, clear and kind. Discernment as a spiritual practice will both give you permission to be discerning and, when necessary, help you to practice communicating your observations.

People will tell you who they are, what you can expect from them and whether or not you should trust them. Further, people will treat you according to their picture of reality. It’s up to us to pay attention to these signs.

Discernment is how you know who is trustworthy. Discernment is how you help others help themselves. Discernment is how you create more peace and harmony in the world. And, that is a spiritual thing.

If you need help changing a habit pattern regarding saying no, being discerning or any other boundary setting behaviors, please reach out.


Julie Matheson is a holistic mental health counselor and author. Her new book is 
on Amazon in paperback, Kindle, Audible and in bookstores near you –
Lotus Flower Living: A Journaling Practice for Deep Discovery and
Lasting Peace: Untangle Your Mind and Heart Once and For All.
You may listen to the Introduction at LotusFlowerLiving.com/book.