Dismantling the Dam That Holds Back Your Well-Being
One of my favorite ways to describe how the energy of well-being works is that it is the water that carves a canyon. Think about how that works. Gravity pulls the water downhill and the water’s action is the force that creates the multitude of curves and scoops and amazing forms of the canyon’s floor and walls.
The canyon doesn’t have to decide what form it will take. It doesn’t have to conform to some ideal or research what that should be. It doesn’t have to dictate where the water should flow or control it. It doesn’t have to try to be perfect or strive for anyone’s approval. It doesn’t have to work hard at chiseling away one grain of rock. All it has to do to become its gorgeous self is let the water carve and sculpt. That’s how well-being should be able to work in your life, also.
Well-being is the core of who you are, what some might call essence or higher self. Well-being is not only feeling good physically, mentally, and emotionally, but it is the source of your creativity and uniqueness. It is the energy that enables you to fulfill your soul’s purpose in the world. And, it is meant to be the automatic, generating force behind all of your life’s moments—just like the water flowing downhill.
Assuming that well-being is something that you can trust completely (which it is), it sounds pretty good, right? Just let well-being flow and things are good. But, unfortunately, we all have a big dam at the head of the canyon made of what I call Learned Distress. It’s the feeling we absorbed early in life that “there’s something wrong with me being just the way I am.” This negative feeling rises in intensity over the years and builds a higher and higher block to the natural flow of well-being. Instead of the canyon of our life being carved effortlessly, we have to go chisel away at the walls to try and make things in our lives go the way we want them to.
It’s not only the negative feelings (I’m not good enough, I don’t fit, I don’t matter, I can’t succeed, etc.) that make up the dam. Our ways of controlling, coping with, or trying to overcome Learned Distress are also constantly piling on more blocks. Whether you work hard to make things the way the ideal way, try to control everything, work to get others’ approval, strive to overcome the next crisis, or dictate that things need to be your way, your mechanisms for trying to get things to go well for you are constantly building a higher wall to prevent the easy flow of well-being. So, you have to work even harder to get things to go well. . .which piles on more blocks. . .you see where this is going.
People show up at my door when the dam has gotten so high that even their trusty coping or control mechanisms are failing. We start dismantling the dam by pulling off layers of Learned Distress, allowing their well-being to flow more and more freely. One of the things they find out is that no matter how carefully they were chiseling, once well-being flows, the canyon that is their life starts to develop in ways that are better than anything they could have imagined or constructed themselves. So, surprise is one of the elements that tells me this change process is really at work.
One of my clients has been dismantling the dam that had prevented her from being in a good relationship. As she described how things were going with the man she is dating, she said, “I didn’t even know this kind of relationship was available to me! No one has ever treated me this well.” Another client who had been working towards a big promotion at work said that things had developed in a way he never even imagined, and at the same time, issues in his family life took a surprising turn for the better.
Do you have a sense of what your own dam is? Does it feel like it’s getting taller as time goes on? Listening to what the negative voices in your head say, as well as noticing the ways you try to control or overcome those voices and what they lead to, can give you a good clue. No matter the shape of the dam, though, what it holds back is all good for you and something you can trust entirely, once it is allowed to flow freely.
Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.