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:
- 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.
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.