Life is Beautiful Beyond Fear (pt. 1 of 2)

Taking the journey inward will set you free.

Life is Beautiful Beyond Fear (pt. 1 of 2)

My own lived experiences, copious research, and 20+ years in therapy inform my writing on this matter. I am not a healthcare provider nor a licensed mental health professional. Therapy is for everyone though it can be challenging to find a good match. If you cannot afford or do not have access to a therapist, these resources may be a good place to start. If you are in crisis, seek help from a friend or loved one, and if you are having suicidal thoughts, confidential help is available in the United States and for US and non-US residents.

Introduction: Setting the Stage

You don't know why, but you just can't shake the feeling that something is off. The unspoken knowing within your heart whispers softly to take care of yourself. You choose to ignore the whispers until they become a roar. The roar comes in the form of a mental health crisis or burnout and often includes physical illness from continued exhaustion. Our advanced warning system is our internal voice when we are in the practice of listening.

That feeling that something just ain’t right.

At this point, a well-meaning friend may suggest self-care as the cure, but let us define terms before we continue.

Self-work is distinct from self-care, though both are essential for personal well-being. Self-work, or personal development, involves deliberate actions aimed at self-improvement and growth. It encompasses mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical activities that help individuals understand themselves better, address their limitations, and cultivate a more fulfilling life.

Both self-care and self-work are healing and help repair a long pattern of self-abandonment (e.g., not listening to the whispers of your internal voice pleading for rest).

Self-care without self-work when there is a clear pattern of self-abandonment is akin to putting hand lotion on a burn to keep your skin moist when the burn is the more pressing problem.

Self-work involves reflecting on past experiences and identifying patterns that may hinder personal growth. Our learned behavior patterns show themselves via our social mask or persona when interacting with the world. When the external persona is out of alignment with our values and inner truth, we become disconnected from the True Self.

The True Self cannot be seen in any mirror.

Your True Self is already within you. We must reflect inward to reveal the brilliant core that lies beneath the guard, defenses, and false persona of our unawakened selves. The sooner one embarks upon the journey of integration, the better, as there will (generally) be fewer layers of false identity built up over time and exposure.

Before: The World Without Self-Work

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts."

As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7

As the quote above from the Bard illustrates, we all have personas. These personas are essential to societal cooperation and interactions with the external world. Shaped by trauma, neglect, abandonment, and societal pressure, a false persona forms early in our lives as a defensive mechanism. Though the persona shaped by external pressures may have protected us in childhood, misalignment between our internal and external reality will cause myriad, highly destructive symptoms in adulthood.

It is important to note that the false self is not a conscious process but an unconscious one, living deep below awareness. Furthermore, these unconscious patterns formed long before we possessed the rational adult mind when we were children and for our survival (as we perceived our situation through our undeveloped awareness).

Symptoms of living within the confines of a false self

  • Persistent Feelings of Worthlessness and Inadequacy

    • Having a pervasive sense of being flawed, defective, or not good enough.

    • Engaging in constant negative self-talk and self-criticism, believing one is unlovable or unworthy.

  • Difficulty Accepting Praise or Positive Feedback

    • Struggling to internalize compliments or kind words from others, dismissing them as inaccurate or insincere.

    • Feeling like an impostor or fraud, unable to acknowledge one's accomplishments or positive qualities.

  • Perfectionism and Fear of Failure

    • Setting unrealistically high standards for oneself and being overly critical of perceived flaws or mistakes.

    • Avoiding challenges or new experiences due to fear of failure could reinforce feelings of inadequacy.

  • Social Withdrawal and Isolation

    • Avoiding social situations or intimate relationships due to believing one is unworthy of love or connection.

    • Feeling anxious about revealing one's true self to others, fearing judgment or rejection.

  • Emotional Dysregulation and Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

    • Experiencing intense emotional reactions, such as anger, sadness, or anxiety, in response to perceived shame triggers.

    • Engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse, self-harm, or disordered eating to numb or escape feelings of shame.

  • Physical Symptoms

    • Experiencing physical manifestations of shame, such as headaches, muscle tension, or gastrointestinal issues.

    • Chronic stress and emotional turmoil can lead to physical symptoms due to the mind-body connection.

  • Difficulty Making Decisions

    • Struggling with decision-making due to a lack of trust in one's judgment or worth.

    • Constantly second-guessing oneself or seeking external validation for choices.

  • Defensive Behavior and Difficulty Accepting Criticism

    • Reacting defensively or with anger when receiving constructive feedback or criticism, even from trusted sources.

    • Perceiving criticism as a confirmation of one's inherent flaws or inadequacies.

You will likely recognize something of yourself in one or more patterns resulting from the false self.

Raised by families who were doing the best they could, most of us will have developed a protective self in childhood nevertheless. Our families carried shame and trauma from their own upbringings into raising children. Most of us were not born to parents who had done "The Work" before we came along. Most of us will not choose to do the work ourselves, and thus, we will play our part in continuing the cycle.

The first step is not so bad should you feel inclined. Before any work happens, awareness brings the need to begin into focus.

The process is akin to working through a series of concentric circles of protective layers to the core. The path is unknown, and the duration is also a question mark. Nevertheless, by creating healthy patterns, an awakening to your True Self begins.

Your path is waiting for you to begin.

My first awareness arrived in the unsettling form of a childish response to an overly aggressive, ego-centric senior leader who was intimidated by my knowledge (and his lack of knowledge) around a technical project. Having built the project, I knew the tech stack well. When the senior leader in question, uninformed as he was, kicked off his transformation plan based upon an erroneous notion of the technology involved, as the technical lead, I corrected his error.

Beware the insecure egotist.

I was swiftly and rather publicly put in my place (so to speak) in a meeting across the country from my home; I pushed back from the conference table as this man berated me in front of my colleagues. For the remainder of the project kickoff, I silently seethed in rage, unable to think and speak— I was in a freeze state. I did not begin the work immediately.

At the homeowners association (HOA) meeting a few weeks later, an older man on the Zoom call did not like my millennial openness to our neighborhood allowing solar plans. Once again, a mans aggressive behavior had me in a freeze state, sweating palms, seething anger, and completely silent. I found a mentor and started on the path.

The first step on this journey often results from externally triggered negative behavior impacting a career or close relationship.

After: The Transformation Through Self-Work

My journey is ongoing, and it seems I am meeting a new dragon to slay within myself, just as I think there is no more to uncover. My voice is slowly becoming clearer, but this journey is not without ups and downs. It is certainly not to be underestimated how intensely world-altering meeting yourself will be.

For one, I am no longer a corporate software engineer but a startup founder. The leap to here was directly related to the first steps on my journey toward my truth.

In fact, I decided to write this article because I am in the midst of unearthing a deep and painful wound that has led me to shame, toxic self-criticism, and irrational fear.

Depression and anxiety are no friend to a founder who is currently fund-raising and planning the marketing strategy for the next two quarters of the year. Who has time for that?

My inner child believes that I do, and so do I — the intensity of the emotions sidelined me. If you do not listen to your inner child, she will take you down physically and mentally.

I find that you must pass through each of your layers in a particular order— particular to the intensity and the point in life when you develop the maladaptive behavior.

I have come to believe the purpose of life is to take the journey toward self-awareness and integration. As each layer reveals another, we are simultaneously gifted new ways of seeing and being that transform us and prepare us for each consecutive step, bringing us closer to our enlightened Self.

Read Part Two 👉

Yes, the journey is the destination. Read Pt. 2 for action steps 🚀

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Thank you for reading, — Sonia, a.k.a SuperSonic 

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