There are aspects of our journey, self-investigation, and its narrow paths that we can only walk alone. We want to share ourselves so completely with our friends and partners that, at times, we try to take them with us to the tough, dark places that it’s appropriate for only us to go.
We make our toughest journeys inward by ourselves
Certain legs of the journey have to be coursed solo and generate tales and adventures that can’t be told or shared. It’s important to summon courage and go inward in times when those who love us can’t journey with us and can’t even hold the map for us. Good friends can certainly accompany us to the edge, the waiting room, the airport tarmac, but not farther. And yet, they will of course see how we embody our adventure and manifest our new sense of self as we return to refuel — and in that way, they’re still an observer, even if at a necessary remove.
It may sound lonely to do deep inner work alone. Indeed. It is. It’s particularly frightening for adult children of rigid, alcoholic, or otherwise dysfunctional childhoods because to go inward means to trust yourself. To work on yourself means to believe your sense of right is right, and to decide to care less about convincing others. To go inward means not seeking approval, none but your own. And we’re not sure if our own approval is enough. We habitually crave the approval of others (from small smiles and nods to verbal praise and applause) to know that we’re safe and liked, a behavior characteristic of being an adult child.
I wait at the threshold, the path’s entry
What I’m astounded by most when talking with the people I’m doing life + spirit coaching work with is the feeling of privilege, the privilege of bearing witness to a person’s self-discovery. (The threshold is as close as one can realistically get!) When I was first asked to coach someone, in the beginning, I mistakenly thought my value to people was as someone who supports a person’s goal-setting and goal-achievement. And while that’s certainly part of the recipe, setting and reaching goals is a result that comes, but it comes along with many additional, important rewards — one of which is an impulse to uphold personal boundaries in one’s daily life.
The desire to uphold personal boundaries arises naturally
Something that I’ve witnessed people do as part of their self-discovery work, whether it was on their list of life + spirit coaching goals or not (and it’s usually not), is speaking up about personal boundaries. This just seems to arise! It seems to come organically from doing their self-cultivation work — as if through the practice of self-reflection and tuning-in to what’s under our surfaces that we start to feel repelled by the usual boundary violations.
Why? It’s all about the focus of our hearts and minds. In shifting our focus to knowing ourselves more deeply, through the process of studying ourselves, we feel it much more palpably when something isn’t OK with us.
We didn’t feel the usual boundary violations so sharply when we were living focused on other people and their needs. We didn’t sense that our body-mind was signaling us to say No Thanks, No Way, or Another Time, because we were prioritizing survival above feeling our feelings. When we begin to feel more like our true selves, we have a center point or compass that we can, at last, navigate by. That’s when we start to notice that the usual gossip, drama, and offers to dance with toxicity are less and less enticing — we’re just not into it, it doesn’t pull us in. We’re onto something more engrossing – becoming someone who can participate in our lives, others’ lives, and the community as ourselves.
It’s as if we learn good physical posture and, after sitting with a straight back and neck for a week, notice that slouching feels like sinking and as if it’s crippling.
The desire to show up authentically becomes very strong
It’s impossible to cultivate your self-worth and still allow continuous attacks upon it.
I’ve witnessed a client saying no to dinner out with her spouse when it felt like keeping up appearances, though it was usual and expected of her to go. I’ve witnessed a client holding her elderly, alcoholic father to adult-grade behavior for possibly the first time in their lives. I’ve listened to someone admit that her husband is afraid of how she’ll change in the process of cultivating her true self (that she’s afraid of the impact of her self-work on the relationship, too); for now, agreeing that it’s scary is the best, most honest approach possible to addressing the fear of the unknown. They’ve found that talking about the fear openly is enough.
I have so much gratitude for being able to witness the journeys of others, the people I do coaching with. I admire their courage, their fiery will to heal, see new perspectives, make personal discoveries, trust their intuition, and frankly, feel more like themselves more often. I learn so much from them, and I’m grateful for that, too.
Your mind can stop walls from closing in
An example of the gift of just one conversation came on a recent morning when a client was telling me about workplace and career challenges. She has felt on and off for quite some time (two decades actually) that she was in the wrong career but couldn’t ever think what the right one was. Her sense was of being trapped in a role she wasn’t meant for – as if thumbing here nose at fate, yet wanting fate to talk back.
She reflected deeply on her feelings. She came to realize that she was behaving in the job according to certain rules, and decided to look at what those rules were. That inquiry led her to notice that her perspective was limiting, if not a vice tightening around a panicked sense of displacement. After some more reflection and taking the time and space to listen to and analyze her thoughts, she had a brilliant breakthrough: she hadn’t yet tried to make the job her own. The very though of making her job her own caused the walls to halt, to stop closing in around her.
Her thoughts opened up the space around her!
Her thoughts contained hope and were feather-light because they weren’t burdened with history or “shoulds.”
We talked about the scene in Star Wars in which the characters are trapped in the garbage compactor, which was tricky enough, but then the walls begin to close in. It’s a frightening scenario anyone can relate to!
What’s more, it’s a metaphor for life: When we think only certain, limiting thoughts, the walls move in closer. When we alter our assumptions, the walls stop. When we think something outside the bargain in our mind (how we’re “supposed” to behave, how we’re “supposed” to feel, how one behaves at jobs, what were supposed to expect of our jobs, whether we allow ourselves to challenge our bosses, or fear them), we can stop the walls that are threatening to squeeze us tight because we can’t perceive options.
Seeing options opens walls
It’s not only thinking “limiting” thoughts that makes the walls close in, but inactive, passive thoughts, too. It’s no coincidence that the same type of thinking that stops panic and anxiety also stops the walls of possibility from encroaching: Taking action. The thoughts that move us from being squeezed to feeling we have room to move and options, possibilities, and hope are thoughts of action.
Fear is inactive, passive.
And the antidote for it is active, expansive thoughts, perceptions, and actions.
Options is a central idea. My life was changed when I understood how the perception that I had options, actually had options, in situations in which I saw nothing but dead-ends — underscored this for me: Those moving walls that compact our spirits are a operated by our minds!
A sense of options comes naturally as we become aware of our habits of thought. It comes as part of creating a time and place to do work that will allow us those life-altering, heart-inflating insights. It comes with our self-parenting work, our work on our stuff. It comes and pleasantly surprises us by being not half as scary as the journey once seemed.
We’re not trapped.
Unless our mind says we’re trapped. Even then, that’s something we can work with.
- be kind to yourself
Amy Eden is the author of The Kind Self-Healing Book