cutting to the core

Pretty much for the most part almost everyone is doing it.

What’s “it”?

Hiding out from core issues.

It’s easy to do; once you’ve started to get into a bit of self-help, you make a few changes in your life and those changes feel good.

“Great!” you think. “Life feels better.”

If you haven’t dealt with core issues, after awhile you’ll notice something: while things are generally better on a day-to-day basis, when life’s circumstances are challenging enough, all of these intense feelings pour fourth. You feel the same old struggles that you’d been wading through, before. Then you say, “I thought I had dealt with this, already. Why is this coming up, again?”

Most of us have done just enough self-help work to understand that we aren’t “supposed to” be critical of ourselves. We think knowing better means doing better, and we drive the real issue further underground.


Cutting to the Core

If you are really going to make true changes, you’ve got to cut to the core. Because this can be complex, first I’ll share why core issues are tricky, and then I’ll lead you through an example.

Core issues include:

  • Feeling unworthy, not enough, perpetually lacking, unfulfilled, disconnected.
  • Not having forgiven pivotal people or experiences that did damage to our sense of self.
  • Trust or safety issues that lead people to patterns of control.


These are “core issues” because they are at the “core” of a whole host of other behaviors in a person’s life, and because they’re related to a person’s most basic sense of self.

Most self-help focuses on how to change the outer effects, the behaviors–recite some affirmations, use “I statements,” all of that. When someone decides to look at the core, to really understand how the issue is at work in their lives, they can make deeper, more lasting changes.


Here is what’s really tricky about core issues:

  • Usually, there’s some kind of identity or role that the person has adopted in order to function in their lives.
  • It’s very difficult for people to see the identities or roles that they have adopted; they’ve become “a way of life.”
  • The identity or role provides some sense of safety and has been practiced for a long time. Thus, it’s hard to see how to let it go, or to feel comfortable with changing behavior. (DingDing! This is exactly why change is so hard).
  • There are about a gazillion reasons we can come up with, all of which sound logical and justifiable, to avoid change. The #1 reason? People would prefer not to deal with a necessary change until they absolutely have to. As long as life is basically functioning, most people are happy to just not stir the pot.


I’m assuming you already see the inherent issue with this: life itself will inevitably stir the pot. No one escapes the challenges of death, relationship change, loss, economic challenges, illness, etc.

People who wait to avoid changing until absolutely necessary? They have a much, much harder time with change than those who are pro-active about looking honestly at themselves and the patterns at work in their lives.

Meanwhile, they also experience much less happiness and joy in their lives than they otherwise might, because the core issue is always at work in the background of their lives.

There’s also a lot of fear that working through a core issue will necessitate drudging up family history, childhood issues, etc. I’ll also share why that’s not necessarily true.


The Example

My own core issues were/are feeling like I was bad or not enough. (“Were/are, Kate?” Yes. I still see places in my life where they’re at work. I now have awesome tools and an amazing support system for working through it, each time that arises).

There was a lot of anger, and I didn’t trust in people or feel a basic sense of safety to be who I was, without consequences. I had not forgiven the people or pivotal experiences that contributed to that. Control was also part of the picture.

Somewhere along the way, I adopted the identity of “Over-Achiever! Please Validate How Good I Am.” Someone else might have adopted the identity of the “People Pleaser Who Just Wants Peace, Please Don’t Be Mad At Me.”

Most people can identify when they are being over-achievers or people-pleasers. Not everyone identifies why they chose that role, or sees how it’s dysfunctional in their lives, or why it’s so hard to stop. I’ll use the Over-Achiever and People-Pleaser identities as examples.


The Over-Achiever

The over-achiever seeks validation. If she gets validated for what she does, the logic goes that she doesn’t have to feel so unworthy. Taking on a new project, being motivated, doing flashy things…all perfect things for someone to do, to get approval, love, and validation.

That is, until it leads to burnout, or until she notices the hollow emptiness of achieving something and then it’s “on to the next thing.”

Seeking validation through over-achieving doesn’t work. But the over-achiever doesn’t see that, or–if she does see it–doesn’t want to let that pattern go, precisely because…it actually does give her some benefits. Over-achievers are “smart.” They can “do it all.”

This is why it’s so tricky! Over-achievers feel just a smidge safer, a smidge more in control as a result of their behavior. Who wants to give that up?

Most don’t, until it’s clear that the walls are closing in and that they must. One benefit of being an Over-Achiever? Some will not wait for the proverbial shit to hit the proverbial fan.


The People-Pleaser

The People-Pleaser also seeks validation. The People-Pleaser might resent the ways in which she compromises herself so that others can be happy, but at the same time…everybody likes the People-Pleasers. They get all of this validation for being “such nice people.”

Underneath it all, they feel suffocated by expectation and buried way, way, WAY down there, is the resentment. People-Pleasers control situations by giving up their control, in deference to what others want.

When they defer to others and they’re liked, they feel just a smidge safer, a smidge more in control as a result of their behavior. Who wants to give that up?

Most don’t…again, until it’s clear that this pattern is wreaking havoc.


Oh, And–By the Way

Over-Achievers and People-Pleasers, in particular, looooooove to shack up with one another.

The Over-Achiever has chosen someone who will let her control stuff, which is how she feels safe.

The People-Pleasers have chosen someone who will appreciate how they are such nice, accommodating people, which is how they feel safe.


You’re Not Alone

These are just two basic examples; there are many more identities. In my work with one-on-one clients, I find that it’s a universal fear to feel like change will be next to impossible.

Every over-achiever thinks, at least at the beginning, that she needs to keep achieving or else things will fall apart.

Every people-pleaser struggles, at least at the beginning, with learning the difference between people-pleasing and saying yes because it’s what she authentically wants.

How do they eventually change?

By dealing with what’s happening instead of sticking heads in the sand, starting with identifying what does, and does not work about the identity, and getting really clear about what patterns feed the identity.

Since a lack of safety and trust often fuel the dysfunctional patterns, people need time and support to build new patterns. This is why an impartial third-party who has experience with this (a coach, counselor, therapist) is so important.

Also sprinkled in there? Typically some forgiveness is needed. I always know that a client is really on her way when she’s willing to have some compassion for the person who caused the original wound.


A huge fear people have about doing this work is the fear that they’ll have to disrupt the family, leave marriages, confront family members about patterns, demand apologies so that they can be healed, etc.

Not true. The only person who needs to shift in this equation is the person who has identified that a pattern is at work in her life that isn’t feeling good. Other people don’t need to change in order for you to get the benefits of this work.

Focusing on others will only ever be a diversion from doing the real work, on yourself–that’s what it means to cut to the core. It’s not about what mom and dad did, back then. It’s not about anyone else.

At the core, it’s about you–and the best part is that you get to reap the huge benefits of that.


It’s not happening to you…it’s happening for you.

“Only something that loved you beyond measure, would create a world like this.” –Byron Katie

Cause and effect are how we are conditioned. It’s because you did this, that this happens over here. It’s because you were raised this way, that you have these belief patterns.

Play by the rules? You’ll get your just rewards. Screw around too much? You’ll eventually have to pay. This is how the world “works”–or so we’re told.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Some of us play by every rulebook we’ve ever run across, and the hurts still come.

And when things hurt, it’s only natural to ask ourselves, “What might I have done to avoid this pain?”

We want to control it. We want to think that we could have avoided pain, entirely, under all conditions, if we just did it right.

But–to think that you have done everything “right” and still not see life work out the way you’d hoped is the doorway to profound spiritual awakening.

Why? Because that’s when everyone else’s conditioning about the way things work falls away, and that’s when you see that it’s up to you.


Personal to Surrender

From that vantage point of wanting to control pain and not being able to, it can feel like an evolutionary leap just to go from “It’s not happening to me–it’s just happening.” It’s a revolution. It’s liberation from a lifetime of taking things way, way too seriously.

It’s not personal. It’s not happening to you. It’s just happening.

Try making this your mantra for even one week, and your entire world just might blow wide open.

But there’s another layer that you can add on to that, one that automatically squares the joy equation up to infinity:

It’s not happening to me; it’s happening FOR me.

Yes, FOR you.

For your benefit in the overall picture of things.

For you to see clearly.

For you to look within, where otherwise you might have been complacent.

For you to grow.

For you to outgrow something that no longer fits.

What a generous world you’re living in, if you choose to live from this place. Not only is it not personal, not your punishment for not being enough, but–even when it’s painful, it’s still a gift! What an astonishing concept!

To believe that it’s all happening for you is an act of courage. It’s both the truth of what the Universe wants for us, and a choice to make as to how you’re going to live.

Despite your best efforts, pain and suffering will happen. Trusting that they’re happening for you is some of the most difficult work I know, but it’s like lighting your own candle in a dark room, and trusting that that’s going to be enough for you to see what you need to see, until more light is available.

Shining that one little light, your eyes adjust and you realize that more light is always available. It’s coming.

Shine on.

maybe it’s just…biochemical

When you get into self-help, you can spend a lot of time (and money) sorting through your “issues.”

This is a worthy endeavor. It’s a gratifying part of this human experience to understand and accept the conditioning that was passed down to you, and to have a framework for understanding how, where, and why you pass along those same dynamics, yourself.

Especially in the San Francisco area and in other New Agey communities, there’s an emphasis on digging through your “blocks” from the past, and there’s a general ethos of eschewing anti-depressants, of seeing those little pills as “the easy way out” and “not really solving the problem,” all while propping up the Big Pharma.

Like so many things in life, there is usually some truth to all sides. Sometimes, for some people, anti-depressants are a form of avoidance from facing the core work that really needs to be done.

However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes anti-depressants are a lifeline back to feeling alive again, and sometimes the inner work just isn’t cutting it.

In all of our searching for an emotional breakthrough, we can resist that there’s the biochemical side–this chemical cocktail in your brain and endocrine system that swirls around so many hormones and chemical processes, and that is, yes–

–very much responsible for a significant part of how you feel, from day to day.

Maybe you don’t need more inner work. Maybe it’s just biochemical.


Biochemical Backlash

People resist this. I used to, too, when I was clinically depressed and on anti-depressants in my twenties. Taking them felt like giving up, like I was saying to the world that I was powerless to do anything about my happiness. I hated that feeling.

I hated that feeling so very much that I quit taking them, without consulting my doctor (something you are never supposed to do, by the way), and somehow, some way, I managed to survive without them.

But I would revisit that feeling of powerlessness in 2012, when I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. Things swirling around in the body were amuck, totally out of my control. I was exhausted, nearly all of the time. I was using every tool in my arsenal to live my life in integrity, and looking back–doing a pretty damned good job with the reality I was in, if I do say so myself.

It was the exhaustion, I thought, that contributed to those times when I was irritable and impatient, or when I had a long cry at the end of a long day, and thank goodness for all those years of “inner work,” which gave me a way of looking at my emotions that didn’t pathologize them (and which is, now, a big piece of what I teach others).

Maybe this is you, knowing deep down that things have gone awry, yet feeling a sense of deep resistance to “just popping a pill.” You believe in mind over matter. You know that you’re smart enough to figure this out. You know that you’re willing to do the work.

And still–maybe, just maybe…it’s biochemical.


Just the Facts

Here’s what I did to treat my auto-immune issue. These are just the facts, ma’am:

  • When I quit eating gluten and dairy, my energy levels noticeably lifted, and because I had energy, I felt happier. That’s biochemical.
  • When I started taking Armour thyroid medication, my energy levels lifted further, and because I had energy, I felt happier. Synthroid, it’s worth noting, did nothing for me. That’s biochemical.
  • When I started cutting down on caffeine (no longer needing it to help my sagging energy levels), I felt less anxious. That’s biochemical.
  • When my test results revealed that I was on the very low end of the Vitamin D range, I started supplementing with Vitamin D, and believe that it’s part of this picture. That’s biochemical.
  • When I started adding maca powder to my smoothies, my periods–which had gone haywire with the auto-immunity–got more regular. That’s biochemical.
  • When I let go of sugar, my sleep noticeably improved, which helps…everything. That’s biochemical.


Fact: a significant portion of how you feel every day is actually completely biochemical.

I lived then, and live now, a pretty amazing life. Like everyone else, though, there are pockets of my life where things are stressful or there’s a conflict to sort through, and those places are painful, or sad, or cause anxiety.

I figured that it was just a matter of doing more inner work to find patience in those places, calm when thinking about them caused anxiousness or anger, and reaching for hope when things felt sad.

Guess what? Not always. I can account for no new breakthroughs in my emotional understanding that seem to underpin the greater patience I have in those areas that formerly felt so reactive, or the greater ease with which I drop thinking anxiously or angrily about perceived wrongs, or the hope that I generally feel even when I’m sad.

Prior to the biochemical changes, I was always very committed to tools that helped my life, and I did see success with them. It’s not ALL biochemical.

But after the biochemical changes, it all just feels…simpler. More do-able. There’s less to “work on.”

“More inner work” isn’t always what we need. I thought that I was just treating my auto-immune issues, not my day-to-day emotional or psychological well-being.

Turns out, I was treating both.


Powerless to Powerful

You could see treating biochemistry as I once did–something that feels powerless.

Or, you could see it as a great gift.

It’s a gift that you are living in a time when, if you are suffering terribly from depression, there is a pill out there that can find you some relief, so that you can have enough strength to love yourself and others to get through your day.

It’s a gift that science understands some of what these chemicals in our brains do, and that we now know there is a wide range of things out there that you can do to boost them–more vitamin D, more Omega-3s, etc.

It’s a gift that you can probably choose from a huge, wide range of options for all of this–and they’re affordable. It doesn’t cost money to ditch sugar.

In fact, we’re not powerless when it comes to this biochemical cocktail. There is a wide range of options.


Ditch Holy Grail Thinking

And…sometimes, for reasons I haven’t figured out, my energy levels will still unexpectedly plummet.

Or I’m sailing along for weeks with patience and compassion, and then there’s an argument with someone. Who knows? Maybe it’s the triggering of a deep core wound, or maybe I accidentally had some sugar and my biochemistry has tilted in the wrong direction (because seriously, people, the sugar thing affects a lot).

It seems to me that the most dangerous thing about anti-depressants, or dietary changes, or deep inner work, is thinking that it’s some kind of Holy Grail that will solve all of your problems.

Underpinning that belief system is one tiny-big word that seems to cause a lot of our suffering: perfectionism. “If I just [eat right, live right, follow that plan, take that pill], I’ll be happy.”

It’s our dysfunctional attempts to avoid suffering, fear, sadness, anxiety…that really cause the suffering. Click to tweet:


You are a human being, and you’ll come up against challenges. When people say “it’s all about your choices,” they’re telling the truth.

It’s about the tools and perspectives you choose to adopt, the patience and compassion you choose to practice, and the mindset that you choose to be committed to.

It’s also–because we live in a biochemical world–about the choices you choose to make in regards to your individual biochemical cocktail. Your choice might include a prescription bottle that you rattle like maracas every morning before you pop one, or your choice might be more yoga, less caffeine.

I support whatever choice you make, actually, so now you know you’ve got at least one person on your side, extending compassion for whatever you decide.

I only ever just invite you to choose consciously, from a place of considering all options. That’s what true power looks like.