We’re all the heroes of our own stories, but the heroes we admire in literature and on the screen find themselves undergoing spiritual and emotional transformations more often than they find themselves using the bathroom. If all of us are heroes, each going on a continuous, limitless, and recursive journey throughout the stages of our lives, then where are you in your journey? How does it relate to your current struggles? What lessons are here for you to learn?
Sometimes the journey appears so difficult and exhausting that it feels better off untraveled. I have a feeling that many of you might find it difficult to identify with this stage of your journey.
By its very nature, denial lingers in the shadows it casts.
It is a tender whisper in your ear telling you that it would be easier to do nothing at all. Denial is the tyrant that dare not claim their throne for fear of being held accountable for their missteps. You might act without thinking, like a plane on autopilot. Your goals may feel unfounded and not worth pursuing. Reaching out to others may start to feel like an impossible task without any potential positive outcome. When you see your life under the shadow of denial, it can start to look like a deep, dark, and inescapable pit.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
These are, fortunately, growing pains. Necessarily, you only found the strength to deny after you discovered the will to see, and although your growing consciousness has brought your imperfections, nagging doubts, and greatest needs into deeper focus, it is not responsible for your pain. When darkness surrounds you, it does not always mean that you are in a deep, dark, and inescapable pit. Sometimes the dark walls that close in on all sides are the barriers of your cocoon, and our newly discovered needs are the mile markers for your oncoming metamorphosis. What new challenges wait for you in the great unknown beyond the walls of your cocoon? And more importantly, what do you have to look forward to?
As you grow, your dark familiar places will become more and more cramped. The balance will tip, and remaining unchanged will be more frightening than the risk of loss. Your fear will give way to courage, your unhealthy attachments will loosen, and you will find a guide to walk your journey alongside you.
There is powerful despair in the depths of denial
Once we move past our imprisoning illusions, there is illuminating hope there too. At the bottom of your denial, you are Simba, recent orphan and inheritor of everything the light touches, denying his destiny to go eat bugs in the jungle. But no matter how long you deny it, you’re still responsible for becoming who you want to be, and it’s not your destiny to make the same mistakes over and over again.
But what are you supposed to do? If you’re struggling with accepting the necessity of change, it can be helpful to imagine what your emotional landscape would look like given a few years with no changes whatsoever. It can be hard to look back once you see stagnation’s potential for pain. Really pay attention to the things that cause you concern. Are these born of reasonable concern for your future, or your natural fear of change?
We can take formidable action when concerns arise over our future, but our lives will certainly change whether we want them to or not.
We can imagine very vividly the awful twists and turns our life might take, and find ourselves in a cage of fear, but we can also use that imagination to our advantage. By logically imagining the consequences of our least promising ideas, we can learn our lessons from them without making a catastrophic mistake.
If you feel hopeless and unmotivated when it comes to self-improvement, it can be gratifying to complete tasks that are easily within your reach. You might not be able to fix every single problem in your life right just now, but you can definitely do something about the dishes in your sink, or the laundry mountain accumulating in the corner of your bedroom. If you feel tired or used up, take the time for mindful self-care.
It’s deeply demoralizing to be at this stage of your journey, so be kind and patient with yourself by engaging your highest self recreationally. Draw something. Write something. Do something. As long as it’s not work, and reinforces the person you’re striving to become. If you feel too worn out for any of the above, or ache deeply for change, your best option is booking an appointment with your therapist.
If you’re looking for concepts to bring up with your therapist that might help you work through this phase of your journey, here are a few worth exploring:
It might seem counter-intuitive to use one form of denial to work through another, but this can be an invaluable tool for those struggling to make actionable steps on this leg of their journey. This is a DBT skill that focuses on reframing unwanted urges or impulses. By taking a desire such as “I want everything to stay the same”, and uncovering the unmet need that inspired your desire. If you’re saying that you want everything to stay the same, because deep down you’re seeking out comfort, stability, warmth, or more, then you can refocus your efforts to discover what it is that would really bring you what you want.
If you feel like breaking through the barriers of your denial is too complicated and difficult for you to ever make any progress, Successive Approximation might be for you. This is a CBT skill that will teach you how to break up big and seemingly insurmountable tasks into smaller achievable ones. Each step builds upon the last, and makes you more and more confident in your competence.
If the strenuous path of your journey has left you unmotivated, and unable to rely on their internal monologue to motivate them, then Opposite Action could be just the skill you need. This DBT skill is quite simple, and involves hearing what your emotions are telling you to do, and then doing the opposite. Feeling like laying in bed all day? Try making the bed and exercising instead. When our body is telling us to deny, sometimes our most powerful option is denying our denial.
The journey is long. So long that you’ll be traveling along its path for the rest of your life, maybe more than once. The pace can be grueling because we don’t choose when we need to grow, only if. The rewards are countless, endless, ceaseless, and priceless.
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Sunny Ebsary is a writer and singer-songwriter from Tampa, FL. When he’s not sing-songwriting or just regular writing, he’s probably drinking water with a lot of ice, having a staring contest with his cat, or giving people great ideas. You can listen to Sunny’s music here.