You’ve figured out what would fix everything–
I vote no.
I vote that life is more nuanced than that.
Yes, there are those cases where one’s life needs a demo and rebuild, not an update. Funny thing, though–usually when someone’s life needs to come crashing down, that tends to happen far beyond their control.
Life is more nuanced than “If this, then that.”
Here is what I know for sure about people: you will take yourself with you, wherever you go.
That means: you will take yourself with you when you leave the marriage (so be very careful about fantasizing that life beyond this marriage will be better, and use this time to discover all that you can about who YOU are, within the context of this relationship).
You will take yourself with you when you leave the job (and project all of the same annoyances onto your new profession, whatever that will be).
You will take yourself with you when you leave that friendship (the part where you give anyone the power to “suck” your energy, for instance).
And of course–you’ll still be you, regardless of the proportions of your thighs.
As a path to happiness, both cutting things out of our lives (people, jobs) and attaining some new shiny thing (money, career, sexier people) is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.
You will always take yourself with you. You can’t swap out for a slimmer pair of pants to get to the fulfillment you crave, and bypass the necessary, and sometimes painful, initiation of truly seeing yourself.
Seeing ourselves is about telling the truth, and telling it clean. This is actually a skill that (I and) most people have needed to learn.
You’ve got to get down to examining the belief systems–because those belief systems are what inform the daily habits, which are then what inform the patterns, which are then what create…the marriage that isn’t working, the job you hate, the relationships that seemingly suck you dry.
The fact that your life does not need a complete overhaul? This is actually the good news (though it can, for some, carry with it a whisper of devastation–no new project? no exciting new self-help plan to map out? you mean it just comes down to me being with me?).
It’s the good news because the skill we most need to learn is how to be with ourselves, fully. It requires courage (of course) and a willingness to get a bit uncomfortable.
Really, the moment that you’re willing to get a bit uncomfortable is the moment that your “entire life” will change.
That’s really where all of this spiritual stuff leads–not to perfect marriages, or perfect careers, or perfect friends, or perfect bodies.
It all leads to feeling a greater sense of happiness because, paradoxically, there’s less resistance to life’s discomforts.
So: want to be liberated from all the stuff that “weighs you down”?
True liberation is when you realize that you take yourself with you, wherever you go–and you’re excited enough about who you are, that you’re happy to have all of you along for the ride.
Pretty much for the most part almost everyone is doing 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:
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:
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.
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 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 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.
“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.