While on a walk with a friend, he was sharing with me this newfound discovery about himself and how he navigates connection in relationships with the underlying presence of fear fueling his way of connecting to others. In other words, out of fear of losing those close to him, he has a particular way of pushing real, authentic reactions within himself down within relationships to prevent the loss of them.
Some might call this a false self, wounded personality, a bent self, etc. Whatever you label it, he had expressed vulnerably and openly that he had become aware of this part of himself. I found it to be a very moving moment of self-discovery and felt excited for him at the new level awareness he developed, knowing that this was the start of change.
We all carry these personalities that have developed while we were young in order to stay in harmony with our loved ones, while inevitably shutting down the True Self and all the emotions tethered to the True Self. We have pushed these aspects down out of survival and the prevention of loss.
But False and True selves is not what this writing is about. It is about change and how we end up changing.
On the walk it became clearer to me the sequence or progression of change and I expressed to my friend in excitement over the expanded insight.
The words came to mind only because of my own experience with change, which has been wonderfully tumultuous. But I could map out a clear pattern with my own self-transformation and see the unique markings of growth in my journey.
When Things Get Frustrating
About three years ago, I began to grow restless and frustrated. I had no idea why. These feelings just showed up and made little sense. But they hardly let up. All I knew is that I was tired of feeling stuck in my life. My life stagnated, even thought I had finished grad school and was now in my internship on the path to becoming licensed.
But these rumblings going on within me were beyond my academics and training. This was deeply personal. Whatever was going on in my “soul” was done with the way I lived and navigated life.
Not that I didn’t take risks in my life, but I typically lived in a self-constructed security system, only wanting to move if I was certain of the outcome. If there was little to no certainty, I stayed put, sheltered within my safe corridors. I didn’t want to take risks in dating or friendships, or passions or traveling, but I dreamed and longed for changes in these areas.
Even in my spiritual connection, I had grown restless, hungry for something deeper and real, beyond the church services, worship gatherings, conferences, support groups, etc. I wanted an authentic encounter with the Divine.
This led to taking risks, beginning to connect genuinely with God, myself and others; being bold in the arena of dating, deepening my intimacy with friendships, and exploring more of life without the hinderances of judgment and shame.
But the frustration was about no longer living in the shadows, stifled or suffocated by fear and this internal voice of judgment or crippled by the reactions of others. Another way of saying this is, I WANTED TO BE FREE! Which is what True Religion is really about, freedom. But not in the sense of I can do whatever I want, but actually a love that expands and deepens, to indulge and stay connected to myself in the moment, to share this message of love to others through my own uniqueness and to continuously explore the mysteries of life. True religion is about living in the uncertainty and the paradoxes, while pursuing the mysteries, turning towards and not away, and living honestly and authentically.
And this was what my restlessness was about! I no longer wanted to be barricaded by the impediments of my childhood, the judgment/critical voice, the projected distortions onto God or to stay hidden, living in the shadows. I was chomping at the bit for something within to burst forth and illuminate this Divine Love that has always lived inside, but was obfuscated by the wounded self.
But I couldn’t fully understand this restlessness until I embraced and followed it, listening to the moments that pointed me to go somewhere, surrendering the illusory security of having to be certain. I was compelled to “go” and then “see”. And when I did, each moment was pivotal in the movement towards change.
And I am still on that journey.
The Rhythms of Change
Now, in looking back at all this, I was able to see the journey of transformation, which I want to share with you all.
So how do we change? It might seem nebulous at first, but once we go through the process, it begins to make sense. We can fight it all we want, but there is this unavoidable gravitational pull, I believe, that moves us towards authentic and deeply connected living.
First it starts with discomfort and discomfort manifests as restlessness. Something just doesn’t feel right in our life, relationships or specific circumstances. Things just stop working the way they once did. Or maybe I should say the way we connect, relate, respond or react to life loses its grip and effect.
But all we have in the beginning is this experience that things feel off. We are tired, burned out, frustrated, unsettled or discontent. The awareness has not yet kicked in. The language for why we are in this state is underdeveloped and missing.
And this leads us, possibly, to seek outside resources, someone who may be able to help us put language to our disturbance. At first our motive is to shed ourselves of this obnoxious presence in our lives, but eventually, if we fall into good hands, that other person will only inform us that they do not have the answer, but will join them in their search for it.
Too often, I have found that others, although well-intentioned, respond with feedback and giving people possible answers to their problems, instead of acknowledging the feeling and exploring with them the meaning within it. Doling out solutions to existential wrestling superficially scratch the surface and do very little to promote deeper change.
Someone wise in our lives does not give some shallow answer, but instead helps the individual embrace the present state and struggle, with the hunger for change and greater meaning. Such a person does bring clarity to the emotion and what it alludes to, but does not give solutions that disconnect the person from the state they are in. For example, if someone is beginning to connect with their anger they have never been allowed to feel towards a particular family member, the solution is not to spend time with that member they are angry at or find something they enjoy in common together (real advice I was given).
The best response is to assist that person in feeling and connecting to their anger and eventually sharing it with the individual they feel anger towards.
We need others to help us understand and explore ourselves, especially the groaning associated with change. This is a huge part of developing awareness. I don’t see awareness happening on our own. The beauty of relationship is we help one another change by reflecting, mirroring and putting words to the struggle, pain and other emotion. You could say that we are a light to their darkness.
So, what began as unconscious rumblings within us, led us to seek out help, where we began to “see” the truth of our struggle and toiling. Within the realms of relational intimacy, we can enter into self-exploration and discovery, learning about our pain, hurt, defenses and the wounded ways we have tried to connect to others that have only pushed down our honest and true selves.
From there, with our newfound self-consciousness, we enter into the next step, the ambivalence. It is in this stage that we feel the tension of defaulting to our old, impulsive, unconscious ways of safety and maintaining relationship with the decision to do something new, bold, more vulnerable, and unfamiliar to us. Instead of turning towards what reflexively we normally would have done, we blaze a different trail.
The conversation inside might sound like this, “normally I would cuss that person out to hurt them, but instead I am going to let them know that I feel hurt.”
A New Way of Living
We typically will find ourselves defaulting to the old way of reacting at times, but if we commit to learning, sharing, and growing, eventually we will start to take more risks and go a new route. Even frustration will surface in reaction to the intense vacillations within ourselves of going to the old versus attempting the new.
And when we venture into the new, things will not always reach a satisfying return or result, but because of the strengthening within, we push forward and learn from the experience for the next opportunity.
This is the process of change, the oscillating journey of growing towards fullness and deeper connection. We often try to alter our external worlds, missing the fact that it is our self that is shifting, for the better. But we must listen to it and allow ourselves to be seen by others to understand and commit to the unfolding development.
We all start with our objects of security (habits, addictions, rituals, etc.) that leads to disturbance or restlessness and then frustration, followed by seeking out help, developing awareness, and then making new moves that lend to the continual discovery and development of ourselves.
It is better in the end to allow the change to happen within you, for there is a natural pull or draw to grow and heal.
May you learn to embrace the restlessness growing inside that will lead you deeper into living life.