Why we get stuck… and what to do about it
Try as we might, sometimes we’re blocked from doing what we want to do in life. It’s as though there are invisible constraints holding us back. These invisible constraints might prevent us from saying what we really want to say to someone, or from accomplishing an important piece of work, or from being intimate with a partner, or from a whole variety of things. It's maddening, because we know what we want but we just can’t seem to do it! We can go round in circles for years, decades and lifetimes like this, slowing driving ourselves crazy! So, how can we solve this crippling problem?
Well, to solve any problem it’s best to understand the root cause first. And the root cause is fear. And more specifically, the fear of being rejected, abandoned and alone. Deep down we all fear that we’re not enough… that there’s something wrong with us… and that we need to hide who we really are or people won’t like us and they’ll leave us. And so because of this we wear masks. And we have rules that determine how we show up in the world. For example, if we fear that we’re stupid, then we pretend to be smart. Of it we fear that we’re horrible, then we pretend to be nice. And it’s this pretending that becomes so draining, so limiting, so destructive and so obstructive. Perhaps we want to assert ourselves because our personal boundaries are being compromised - but we can’t because we feel an invisible constraint within us. Well, that invisible constraint is really just the fear of being exposed. You see if we wear a “I’m a nice person” mask because we’re afraid people will discover that we’re horrible (and will therefore reject and abandon us) we can’t justify asserting ourselves because that would mean dropping the “nice person” facade for a moment. And then we’d be exposed! Not only as the horrible person we think we truly are underneath, but also as a fraud - having pretended all this time to be nice! So, because of this very confusing, scary and largely subconscious situation we get stuck.
So, how do we solve this problem? Well, that’s quite tricky. But it IS possible. To begin with we need to examine things logically… are we really a horrible person or was that simply an incorrect childhood assumption that got lodged in very deeply? Perhaps, really, the truth about who we are isn’t actually that black and white! Perhaps who we really are is actually something wonderfully mysterious… and possibly even beautiful! Examining the truth behind our false beliefs is indeed freeing and can help tremendously. But, unfortunately, even if we discover that we’re not horrible - and that we’re actually rather more than that - our problem generally doesn’t go away. When the moment comes, the invisible constraint still kicks in, and we’re still stuck. If we’ve done a lot of work on ourselves we can feel particularly exasperated by this. We feel we’ve done the necessary work and we should now be healed! But alas, there’s more...
The issue is that while we may have resolved things psychologically, we haven’t yet resolved things emotionally. And that’s where the real healing is done because that’s where the real wounding was done. As you might expect, it goes back to childhood… When we’re born we arrive in a state of complete oneness with the world and we’re enfolded - ideally - within a pure, unconditional mother-love. But sooner or later that beautifully safe and nurturing bond is destroyed and we are forced out of our symbiotic oneness into an isolating separation. Whilst this is part and parcel of being a human being, it is still a deeply traumatic process we all have to pass through; a kind of initiation into the world. If there has been enough love, enough nurture and enough safety - and for long enough - we can progress through this stage of separation with relative ease and arrive on the other side a healthy, separate individual. But if there wasn’t enough love prior to this, or worse still if we were abused, neglected or bullied, then we incur horrific emotional wounding. It’s a pain so profound it cripples us and we find ourselves engulfed in a profound panic. We realise we’re not protected, we’re not looked after, we’re alone in this place and that other people are dangerous and untrustworthy. As little children we’re deeply scarred by this unbearable experience which plunges us into what feels like an eternal aloneness. And so we create our masks and hide our true selves away from people. Because we assume the problem lies with us, that we’re at fault, that something must be wrong with us. Otherwise, why would this have happened to us? And so we make up these terribly destructive beliefs about ourselves: that we’re unlovable, worthless, broken, bad, disgusting, horrible, etc. It’s just the conclusion a child’s mind jumps to. It’s so, so sad.
And so years later we find ourselves as adults getting stuck and looking for answers. It's because deep down we're still afraid of the eternal aloneness, we’re still believing there’s something wrong with us, we’re still hiding ourselves away because, ultimately, we still can’t trust people. And therein lies the fundamental problem, within which lies the fundamental answer. It’s about trust. Deep down, because we were abandoned in our most vulnerable moment, we stopped trusting others. We closed ourselves off, shut ourselves away and built a mask to hide behind. Our mask was designed to make us attractive and to draw people towards us - but people can’t get all the way in. They can only get as far as the mask because we're crouching down behind it, hiding. And so we don’t get to drink the true elixir of life: pure human connection… the very antidote to the eternal aloneness we fear most.
And so, true healing is a two-stage process.It’s as difficult as it is beautiful. It cannot be done in the mind, or by working things out logically, or by reading a book... it has to be real. We have to actually do it...
Firstly we must reestablish trust with ourselves. We have to understand that there is a little child inside of us who is seriously hurt and needs attention. Whilst we’re busy trying to push through life there is an innocent child we’re dragging around with us who we're scolding and punishing as we go. We have to see that we have been an abuser to ourselves and that it has to stop. Not just so we can get on with our lives - but because what we’ve been doing is wrong. Seriously wrong - and we have to mend our ways. Just because the child isn’t visible doesn’t mean the child isn’t there. The child's there alright… angry, upset, fed up, wounded and dragging his or her heels while we try and push through life. We have to finally grow up and learn the true meaning of responsibility. We have to see that it won’t do anymore to push ourselves down, to put ourselves second, to forget about ourselves. It won’t do to scold and blame ourselves. We have to finally do the right thing: stop abandoning ourselves and start looking after ourselves. When we actually do this, when we stop making excuses and just start doing it, the most extraordinary transformation occurs. It’s as though a light switches on inside and we become strong, wise and full of love.
And from there - once we’ve reestablished trust with ourselves - we can reestablish trust with others. Very slowly, and very gently, we must decide to stop crouching down behind our masks and start to come out. To begin with that means finding others who we believe are likely to be trustworthy. At first, perhaps, we stretch out just a finger. And if our finger is met by another finger, then perhaps a hand. And if our hand is met by another hand, then perhaps an eye. And if our eye is met by another eye, then perhaps a word. And eventually, when we can come right out and be seen, with no mask and in the full vulnerability of who we truly are, we’re set free. The relief and exhilaration is indescribable as we finally wake up to the realisation that we’re not alone in this place. That although we’re all separate, we’re also all together. That we’re all in the same crazy situation, and the answer all along was just to stop hiding from each other and start finding each other.