“I’m just SO tired of having to overcome one challenge after another! When can I finally rest and enjoy life?”
My client, let’s call her Katie (not her real name), is a true blue survivor. From an abusive father to a string of narcissistic boyfriends to a long battle with depression and a failed suicide attempt, she survived it all. She climbed and clawed her way out of each challenge, one by one, bloody knuckled, bruised and bleeding. But she made it.
The fierce determination inside her reminds me of a mother lion surrounded by callous poachers all aiming their loaded guns at her and her cubs. Only, in Katie’s case, she’s not fighting for her own survival or that of her cubs, she’s fighting for the survival of the only life left in her… her soul.
That light inside her, that quiet knowing that life’s not supposed to be this hard. Life’s supposed to be beautiful and light and joyous. If she stops fighting for that light, she just might become another senseless victim in the tragedy of a pointless life in a cruel, meaningless world.
And so, day after day, month after month, year after year, she faces each setback, betrayal and adversity as it’s thrown at her, and she becomes better and better at swatting them away or processing and working through them.
But it’s tiring.
And she’s exhausted.
Just when she thinks she’s overcome one challenge and can finally stop working so hard on herself, BAM, another one slaps her in the face. And she has to do it all. Over. Again.
WHEN SURVIVING IS NOT ENOUGH
In my Four Stages of Empathic Awakening, Katie’s in the second stage, a Survivor. She’s learned how to rise out of Identifier mode by paying attention to her thoughts and reactions to circumstances. She’s gained a better sense of control over herself and her life by learning how to identify when she’s stuck in an old story and she has practical tools and techniques she can use to guide herself back to her center. And because she’s overcome so much, she feels stronger and more resilient than she used to.
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She’s made great progress from her Identifier days, when she was stuck in stage one of victimhood and helplessness. She’s no longer thrashing about in the water drowning without a life vest. She has a life vest now, with all the self-help techniques she’s learned, she can turn to them at any given time when the waters get choppy and keep her head above water to survive the waves.
And yet, at some point, surviving gets old. It’s not enough to merely survive anymore.
Katie yearns to thrive, to be free, light and playful. Surviving is serious business and she’s had it with serious. She wants laughter and silliness and joy.
But there’s something blocking her and she has no idea what it is. In total frustration and with absolute conviction, she tells me if she could just figure it out, she could break free from whatever subconscious block is holding her back from a life of ease and happiness.
So I tell her what I think it is.
And she doesn’t like it.
When Katie talks about her past, she displays her emotional battle scars like a valiant war hero displays her medals. And while she absolutely should be proud of her growth, her identity is wound tightly in her past and what she’s overcome that the bright and free future she yearns for can’t be reached.
Who would Katie be without her past? All of the strength and resilience she has, everything she is and everything she’s become, she argues, is because of her fighting and clawing and overcoming.
She’s an overcomer, she cries through defiant tears, “don’t take that away from me.”
THE FLIP SIDE OF THE VICTIM COIN
As long as Katie clings to her overcomer identity, the Universe will continue to provide her with more opportunities to overcome. The Universe is reliable like that. It shows you evidence to prove what you believe.
Says the Universe:
“Oh, you’re an overcomer? Great! Here’s another challenge to overcome. You’re welcome.”
“Oh, you’re a survivor? Here, survive this wave.” BAM! “Yep, you’re right. What a wonderful survivor you are!”
“Oh, you have a pattern with narcissists? Noted. Here’s another one for you.”
Gotta love that Universe!
But the truth is it’s only giving you more of what you believe, not what is true.
In the Identifier stage, your identity is wrapped around being a victim. “They did this to me.”
In the Survivor stage, your identity is wrapped around being a survivor. “They did this to me, but I survived.”
These are flip sides of the same coin. Granted, life’s a little better on the Survivor side but it’s still the same coin and you’re forever stuck with the other side, following you around ominously and as faithfully as your shadow.
That’s why Survivors fear that the next big challenge that shows up just might devastate them and knock them back into their old ways, their old helpless lives. The victim side of the coin is just a flip away, one adversity, one hardship, one challenge away. The fear of “going back” propels them to keep fighting, keep trying, keep pushing, all the while they take two steps forward and three steps back as the other side of the coin continues to pull them back, like a rubber band being stretched tight.
In order to be a survivor, you must have had something to survive. And to keep your survivor identity, you must carry that something, that heavy hardship, with you no matter where you go. They go hand in hand. The moment you let go of “the thing you survived,” the moment you’re no longer a survivor.
And then who are you?
DISCOVERING WHO YOU REALLY ARE
I asked Katie who she was and almost every description was tied to a hardship she had survived. “I know there must be love, beauty and joy up ahead,” she said, “I just don’t know how to get there. It feels like I keep hitting a wall every time I think I’m making progress.”
I tell her it’s not that she’s hitting a wall, it’s that she’s trying to drag her old, painful past into her new, happy future, and she keeps bumping up against the resistance of it.
Only when Katie learns to let go of the past – truly let go – along with her attachments to who she is now as a result of her triumphs over the past, can she be free to move into the beautiful, bright and happy life ahead. It doesn’t mean she has to forget about what happened to her, nor does it mean she has to discredit or dismiss the incredible amount of inner and outer work she’s done to overcome those hardships.
It simply means that she stops identifying with them and stops being defined by them. They’re no longer seen as hardships that she’s overcome, but instead they’re experiences that she’s had.
They didn’t make her who she is. They made her who she thinks she is.
Her true self is that light inside, that soul she’d been fiercely fighting for all along, that wanted nothing more than to be expressed, acknowledged and lived, no matter what experiences she was having.
This is the key to moving through the stages quickly. To stop identifying with who you think you are and start identifying with who you really are.
You’re a soul.
Katie no longer wants to be an overcomer or survivor. While that was good for a while, and a necessary step, she’s ready to let that identity go in favor of a truer, more powerful identity.
How about you?
Are you ready to meet your true self?
In my next post, I’ll give you a glimpse of who you really are, when I write about the third stage, the Observer.
Until then, if you haven’t downloaded the Empathic Awakening Roadmap where I explain the four stages of Empathic Awakening, you can get it free by filling in your info below.
To read an example of stage 1, the Identifier, see my previous post.
To read an example of stage 3, the Observer, see my next post.