ways we've changed

Three Ways We Know We’ve Changed

Turbulent times test our emotional and spiritual resources. We wonder why illness, loss of money, possessions, a job or a relationship is happening to us. The tendency is to hold on with all our might to what is passing away, which prolongs the pain.

The more resistant we are to change the more anxiety we feel. Losing what we believe we can’t live without provokes an automatic, unconscious effort to control the outcome, ranging from irrational to amusing.

We ignore signs a career, relationship or way of life is ending. Or we obsess about every birthday as if it’s the end of the world. And in a way, it is.

Living life as it comes means we are constantly dying and getting reborn into an authentic expression of ourselves. As Keats said, the world becomes “the vale of soul-making” that schools our hearts, the textbook from which we understand the lessons we are here to learn.

The internal shifts we experience throughout life may be subtle, even imperceptible to us. But those who “knew us when” may no longer recognize us.  Certainly, we do not recognize the person we are becoming until we look back in wonder at who we used to be.

Defenses That Block Change

Robert Firestone, psychotherapist and author of The Fantasy Bond, says the most effective defense against being fully alive is to numb the feelings. We live in the illusion time is not going by, we are not getting older, and we are not going to die someday. Sadly, we come to the end of our lives never having lived.

Waking up from self-imposed psychic slumber often begins with a crisis that shakes us to our core. Or we finally get tired of repeating the pain of past choices. Like the hero in fairy tales, we take up the sword of truth and go looking for the pearl of great price: the lost self.

The obstacles along the way are the defenses that once protected us from reality, since it was so painful. Removing the fears and faulty beliefs that surround the self’s castle needs to be done with care and compassion. Otherwise, the mind gets overwhelmed. After all, we can only handle so much honesty.

Often we need professional help to wake up the feelings we put to sleep so long ago. Self-support, such as daily exercise, plenty of sleep, meditation, prayer, and a healthy diet are crucial aids on the path to awareness.

As we get closer to the reunion between the mind and the heart, we notice three signs that tell us we are on track.

Sign #1: We Are Not as Anxious

Our overactive nervous system is finally calming down. In the past, we woke up every morning with a sense of dread, even though we were not in danger. Now, we are aware that differentiating between the past and the present is an ongoing process.

Before, our frozen feelings manifested through physical symptoms like gastrointestinal upsets and chronic illnesses. When we were not in pain, we were tormented by thoughts about what could go wrong.

Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle, the authors of Rewire Your Anxious Brain, say anxiety differs from fear in that fear comes from an identifiable threat, such as a car heading your way as you stand on the sidewalk. Anxiety is provoked by negative thoughts and emotional memories. Pittman and Karle say we can rewire the two pathways of the brain, the cortex and the amygdala, since the brain remains plastic throughout life.

Cortex induced anxiety can be relieved by becoming aware of and changing negative thoughts. For example, we think we’ve done something wrong when someone doesn’t return our phone call, guilt that reminds us of times in the past when we were punished for being “bad”.

To reduce the anxiety, we reframe our response by thinking the other person is probably busy, and that we can call if we don’t hear from him. In other words, we decide the other person’s lack of response has nothing to do with us.

When the amygdala is threatened by an event or person that reminds it of a past harmful outcome, Pittman and Karle say to use exercise, deep breathing, and mindfulness until we feel safe. Exposing ourselves to similar events and having a positive outcome will allow the amygdala to create a new neural pathway.

In addition, the body has to release the energy that got trapped during traumatic events for our nervous systems to reach equilibrium (homeostasis), according to Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

Levine says symptoms such as anxiety; chronic pain, psychosomatic illnesses, and sleeplessness are just a few signs of unresolved trauma. Freeing this trapped energy can only be done through the “felt sense”. he says, a proactive engagement with the animal instincts (the Tiger) in all of us.


Sign #2: We Are Aware of Our Feelings and We Deal With Them Effectively

In the past, we numbed the feelings with overwork, television, social media, food, drugs, alcohol, and entanglement in dysfunctional relationships. We did not know our needs, nor could we protect ourselves from those who crossed our boundaries.

Now that we are back in our bodies we know what we feel. It may take a while to know what the feelings tell us to say and do, but with practice, we are learning to act on instinct, at the right time and the right place.

When we are confused we know we are not being truthful with ourselves, or someone is not being truthful with us. We talk to someone or write about the situation to gain clarity, noticing how thoughts and feelings work as a team, rather than adversaries.

Sign #3: We Don’t Take On More Than We Can Handle

Taking on more than we could handle was the most common cause of our misery and defeat. This bad habit led to fatigue, irritability, and sloppy boundaries with money, work, and relationships.

We understand now that overextension is a collective as well as an individual phenomenon; witness the alarming rates of stress-related diseases, obesity, and debt.

We resist the influence of a highly extroverted society where the desire for more and more sensory stimulation sends countries and people over the cliff, where ruin waits at the bottom.

Given the condition of the world, we focus on righting the imbalance in our own lives, instead of adding to the world’s problems by doing more than we can do well.

Moderation is not glamorous, but it is the key to balance, collectively and individually. One person with firm boundaries may seem like a tiny step to world peace, but a self-contained individual affects everyone for the better, since we are all part of a larger whole.

Our Faith Is Rewarded

We searched our whole lives to figure out who we are, why we are here, and what we should do with our lives. Books, experts, and organizations had insights that were useful, some not so useful.

In the end, we discovered the goals we achieved were not as important as the strength and self-confidence acquired in getting there, and the emergence of a well-defined personality. Standing on the solid ground of hard-earned faith, we face the Unknown with an open heart, wiling to love deeply, and to be loved deeply in return.

As the prophet Jeremiah said about those who reach the Promised Land: “their souls shall be as a watered garden, and they shall not sorrow anymore.”

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Nancy’s website is workwithpassion.com.

you may also like

Recipes We