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?
Every traveller will inevitably be tested.
Along the path of your journey, you have given yourself a great many gifts. For each of your struggles, you have learned an equal and opposite lesson to enlighten and guide your path. Believe it or not, after all you’ve been through, you’ve become a very different person. It’s only through the trial you are about to undergo that you can fully realize it.
“To whom much is given, much is required.” – Luke 12:48
This step of your journey is inherently chaotic.
The tenacity of your ideal self is being tested, and no stone can be left unturned. You are starting to truly confront the consequences of your old habits, and your instincts might still be leading you astray despite your better judgment. Only by facing the shadows cast by your prior beliefs can you ever hope to rise to the challenge of this trial. This is the moment in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her friends discover that what they were searching for was within them all along.
One of the major tensions at this stage of your development is going to be the growing divide between who you were, and who you’re going to be.
The new beliefs and behaviours that you’ve fostered across the last few stages will be inevitably tested. You’ll need to either fully commit to your new principles, or risk backsliding into your old habits.
You might feel renewed guilt over the ways you used to think and behave; let this drive you to self-improvement instead of self-sabotage. The lure of regression can be extremely tempting as the difficulty of your journey reaches its zenith, so it behooves you to use all of the emotional muscles you’ve built up along your way. You might find it easier to take comfort in old familiar behaviors than to take a risk on something new. Just because it might appear easier in the moment to neglect all the fancy new tools you’ve acquired does not make it so. The longer you go without taking responsibility for coping with your own feelings, the longer you will have to fight your own conditioning. Do not despair. It is worth it.
You will be rewarded for surviving this trial with a renewed sense of Self.
Your impulses of guilt, temptation, and self-sabotage, will give way to feelings of pride, accomplishment, and self-love. After you have confronted our shadows, you can return to a place of normalcy and comfort that integrates all of the important lessons you learned.
While it is tempting to project worst case scenarios onto your future, you won’t achieve progress or gain perspective through catastrophizing or rumination. You have a guide. You have prepared. Now all that is required of you is the intense application of self-actualization and elbow grease.
If you feel that your trial is dragging and might go on forever, you have options! Once you are facing this step of your journey, you necessarily have a wealth of lessons to draw upon from the previous phases of your journey. It’s important to remember not only what you learned, but why. You can reach out to your mentor for guidance, but only you can do the really hard work. You are in the muck and the mire right now, so don’t panic just because it is difficult. However, if The Trial is relentlessly sapping away at your mental health, your best option is to book an appointment with a therapist.
As you rise to the challenge of your trial, you can try bringing up a few of these coping skills at your next appointment:
If your trial is taking a serious toll on your mental health and you find your emotions getting severe or unmanageable, then Self-Soothing is a DBT Skill that should be on your radar. Self-Soothing is about bringing yourself comfort by using as many of your physical senses as possible. Prominent examples of self-soothing include (but are not limited to): lighting an incense to make your room smell nice, eating a hard candy during a difficult exam, running your fingers through your hair, listening to a comforting piece of music, or going outside to look at the sky.
Our brains have needs, both logical and emotional. So, as visible owners of human brains, we tend to put our minds into different states depending on what type of need we’re trying to fulfill. If you had to solve a difficult problem at work, you can imagine that it could be extremely helpful to be in a state of Reasonable Mind, where you can access your logic or thoughtfulness more easily. If you were supporting a close friend during a challenging time, you can imagine that it could be extremely helpful to be in a state of Emotional Mind, where you’re accessing the deepest most torrential parts of your emotions. But using Wise Mind is about being mindful and integrating both Reasonable Mind and Emotional Mind together to take actions that serve both our logical and emotional needs. If you struggle with balancing logic with emotion, or making difficult choices as you undergo your trial, then try talking with your counselor about the best ways to act with a Wise Mind.
If you are struggling to act with a Wise Mind due to the temerity of your emotions, it could be useful to temporarily distract yourself and put some distance between yourself and your intense feelings. Much like Self-Soothing, ACCEPTS is a list of behaviors to help you weather the intensity of your emotional waves. If this is something that you’d like to work on, we have some lovely links.
Carl Jung famously outlined the concepts of the persona (the ideal mask we try to show to the world), and the shadow (the side of ourselves that we seek to hide and ignore). By neglecting our shadows through denial or ignorance, we only foster an environment where we surrender control to our most shameful impulses. If instead we investigate, question, and integrate our shadow selves, we can better meet our own needs and live without shame. If you are deeply struggling with reconciling your past values and present values, then try talking with your therapist about shadow work.
The journey is long. So long that you’ll be travelling 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.
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.