When It's Time to Wo/Man Up

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This blog post contains excerpts from my new book, Own Your Self, now available for pre-order.

Do you have Victim Stories being told in your life right now? Ways that things consistently suck, are unfair, or are part of a string of bad luck that won’t give you a break?

Are you a martyr? Doing doing doing for others, frustrated, and irritated that they haven’t acknowledge, appreciated, or reciprocated?

What about hopelessness? Gotten close to that? Like real hopelessness where you just can’t see a way out of the pile of everything wrong that is stacked on top of you?

Tania had been in the Dark Night for about 4 months. Finalizing her divorce from Zoloft after 16 years, the final 10mg were spiritually decimating. Not physically, thanks to her compliance and commitment to the protocol, but psychologically, emotionally, and existentially. She moved through a period of tears that fell so consistently, I don’t think I saw her cheeks dry for 8 weeks straight. Then came rage that lead this formerly placid lake of a woman to kick furniture and punch pillows. Then came the big oceanic well of childhood pain that was so intense, it left her feeling disconnected, numb, flat, and apart with her heart on lockdown. During this time, she didn’t shower, she didn’t do the dishes, her inbox was a runaway pile up, and she stopped being able to interact with old friends and family. She felt suicidal and terrified.

Feeling the Wound

This terror, I would remind her, is the terror of your child self. Fear this big is what we experience as children. It’s life or death fear. It’s so big that we build complex patterns of behavior around attempts to never feel it again. Those complex patterns become our personalities and we live thinking that we are defined by these patterns. But what happens when your entire life is built around a personality that is simply an adaptation to feelings of unsafety and inadequacy? A life built this way can never truly fulfill us because part of us is locked in the closet tantruming and screaming while we are forever rearranging the furniture and wondering why our home just doesn’t feel right.

So, thank God for the Dark Night. For the opportunity to get real, get well, and get free. It’s never too late to drop the mask and become yourself, liberated from the conditioning that is keeping your fear at a white noise hum in the background of your seemingly normal life.

In this phase, the imperative is to simply Let. It. Hurt.

I remind my patients that this is what change feels like. The confusion, disorientation, and terror is the melting down of the caterpillar inside the dark chrysalis. This is simply the nature of self-initiation.

When You’re In the Sh*t

I tell my patients:

  • Don’t make any decisions now – no divorces, no quitting jobs, no selling houses
  • Surround yourself with empowerment – consume media and interact with people who send you the message that you’ve got this, not that they’re “concerned”
  • Just let the feelings happen – scream into pillows, dance to loud emotionally-synced music, journal your darkest darkness and then burn it

Your personality was your defense, so obviously, your personality is going to fight to stay in place. It’s going to scare you into proceeding, even when there is no where to go but forward. And that’s because it’s about to die – the false you is crumbling. And the most common sentiment I hear at this stage is, I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Time to Get Buildin’

We’ve demolished the old building, the dust is still rising from the pile of broken bricks, so when is it time to build a new one?

There comes a moment in every awakening process when it’s time to take the wheel again. Not the you that you were, but the real, adult you that is now being born. You need to become the Boss of your experience, because, in the quantum reality that you are now aligned with, you create what you want, with your beliefs and intention.

When you have moved through the feeling experience of letting those powerful forces move through you (this usually takes weeks to months), then you can begin to relate to your childself from a place of adult authority. You begin the lifelong process of parenting yourself in ways that you were likely never parented.

Otherwise, we run around life as grown children… entitled, reactive, and playing out dynamics that should have been left in the distant past. That’s where our Victim Stories come from – because we were belittled, diminished, shamed, hurt, and neglected at a time when we needed protection and unconditional love… at a time when we needed to be told, as Fred Rogers attempted to, that we are “just fine the way we are.”

When we begin to heal these wounds, we must leave the Victim mindset behind. Remember, that’s how conventional medicine gets its hooks in us – it reinforces that Victim mentality that we are powerless to do anything but fill a prescription. It feels good and validating, but it ultimately keeps us arrested as children, never to become empowered and initiated adults.

In order to reclaim agency and to become an adult, you must assume responsibility for all of your responses, and even for the challenges that come your way. Sounds like blaming the victim, I know. But you must understand your power to create your reality which means that you can’t ever take the bait of the Victim posture. It’s soooooo tempting because we want to feel validated in our experience, but it’s a trap.

The balance we are going for is between radical responsibility and nurturance of the inner child. You can reorganize, optimize, and transform your body, your relationship, your friendships, your family dynamics, and your job. None of that is set in stone. None of it is fixed on a permanent track. There is harmony that you can generate even from the most dysfunctional spaces. And you can feel agency and authority over your life experience that you will be able to use to turn towards your reactivity and triggered emotions and treat them compassionately like the small child-you that they are. And then they dissipate and transform.

Owning Your Flow

When I began my adultification process, my family therapist told me to sit down and pen my ideal schedule in life. What?! But what about the ten thousand variables I was trying to accommodate and the logistics and the finances and the… Just sit down and create it, she said. And I did – it was way harder than one would imagine because we focus most of our energy on what we don’t want, not on what could be. Once I did, it manifested into reality with impossible family dynamics lining up and a flow unfolding to usher me into my best life, that I exercised the authority to create.

My best friend and soul sage said to me, if you don’t have something in your life, it means you don’t really want it. Think about that. Are you ready to get clear on what you want and to shed the limiting beliefs that you’ve been toting around since you were 7?

I think it’s time.

We begin the process of Wo/Man-ing up with some essential guidelines:

  • Put your Victim Story into words so that you can start to see patterns of disempowerment. Our lives are defined by patterns. Is there a way in which you struggle and suffer at the hands of others, over and over again? Something that keeps happening to you? Put that into one sentence, write them down and see what themes emerge. Are you left out? Do you feel invisible? Do you feel always unlucky? Are people always taking advantage of you? Odds are, the origin of these stories is very early in your life when you developed this belief about yourself as a way to make sense out of your childhood experience.
  • Get intimate with your emotional states. When you are in peak struggle, label the emotion to yourself. As Robert Masters says:Reframe the triggering situation as an opportunity to feel what is already in there, and to set it free. You’ll know that you’re in a triggering situation when you need to be right about being wronged. That has shadow written all over it. Instead, get vulnerable and learn more about the emotion. Personify it as your childself – even use pictures of yourself when you were 4-7 years old. THAT is who is feeling this. You are caring for that child, as the adult.
  • Stop projecting your parents all over the place. When you are triggered – feel put upon, taken advantage of, misunderstood, disrespected, judged, maligned – understand that what you are feeling has almost NOTHING to do with the actual content of the scenario. You are triggered because someone has tripped your wire. They have set off an alarm that has recruited your shadow and now you are re-acting the same old pattern that is keeping you stuck. Do your best to keep this an inside job, an intimate personal dialogue with yourself, without expecting those who are seemingly responsible for your suffering to make you feel better.
  • Start setting boundaries. When others bring up feelings of discomfort, acknowledge that internally and then calmly and dispassionately explain why things will be different in the future – why there is a need for new rules of engagement. This makes your inner child feel seen, heard, and protected. Boundary setting is some of the hardest work because we imagine that we will invoke rage, rejection, or worse, that we will have to feel the pain we have the power to inflict on others. And, boundaries set us free while serving others who actually want to know where they end and you begin.
  • Work with your romantic relationship. Most of the time, it is not appropriate to get your childhood needs met in platonic or professional adult relationships. You have every right to begin to set the parameters that define safe relationships in your life (see boundaries above). But your boss, your colleagues, and your therapist are not actually here to heal your childhood wounds. You have to first meet your own needs, parent yourself, and navigate the world with clarity around your projections and manipulative patterns (we all do this). The exception being your romantic relationship and the container of a sacred dyad. Imago therapy visionary Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen Lakelly Hunt and other enlightened truth-tellers like Kim Anami and David Deida believe that romantic relationships are meant to complete our childhood. Specifically, that we attract the person who is the least able to meet our most primary need because of the complementarity of our respective wounds. But in a safe container, we have an opportunity to grow, change, and heal that wound in a way that serves the other, and ourselves. In a romantic dyad, we can be wanted, loved, respected, and honored even when we are seen naked – literally and figuratively – with all of our dark parts, wounds, and flaws on the table.
  • Remember that your body is showing you what’s inside. When we are surfing emotional tectonic plates, it’s not uncommon to get sick, get injured, or develop new physical symptoms seemingly out of nowhere. It can be tempting, once again, to hop on the patient train, settling into the surprisingly comfortable generic gown of the infirm with a labelable problem and a pill-bottle solution with your name on it. Got a UTI after a screaming match with your boyfriend? Throw out your left hip trying to do it all? Have a stye on your eye when family dynamics you’d rather not see are bubbling to the surface? Our body translates these energies for us to attend to, nurture, and transform. Don’t get lost in the labyrinth of patient-hood and over-identifying with disease labels and disempowering fear-mongering from the establishement. You’re finally ready to reunite with your body and walk your path, inhabiting this incredible teaching vessel.
  • Stay committed to the discipline of self care. I call the chopping wood and carrying water of spiritual awakening. Self care, and specifically daily meditationhigh integrity nutrition, and detox are your devotional path. Commit to this and all else will become clear.

Practicing these techniques, this is what Tania had to say as she emerged from the chrysalis, her own butterfly:

There are myriad manifestation practices out there for developing the life you deserve, and for having an experience of yourself liberated from old patterns, conditioning, and the role that you played as a child meeting your parents (and other authority’s) needs. Law of AttractionReality Transurfing, and other methods all tell the same story – get clear on the inside, and the outside will show you how the impossible is indeed possible. All you need to do is claim it.

Interested in more insights and tools to help you Own Your Self?

My brand new book, Own Your Self, helps you discover the meaning behind your symptoms and your struggle as a way to reclaim your health and your Self. Click below to claim your copy!

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More