It’s that point at which something in you decides the way you’ve been going is no longer going to work.
It can feel traumatic or easy, depending how attached you are to the way things are at present.
I’m writing about this process at the moment, and have had several years to ruminate over the different forms it can take. It all started with my own catharsis, which led me to examine my old ways of doing things in some serious detail.
I examined, and examined, and released and released and released…
What the process gave me was an opportunity to recognise the patterns around me that either lead to catharsis or look like a post-cathartic revelation.
It feels like the process of catharsis is akin to a microscope that hones in on your own stuff, so that you can let it go and feel the freedom of change. Then that lens gradually becomes wider, turning outwards so that the compassion and understanding you found (for yourself) through the process can be focussed on the world ‘outside.’
It’s a never-ending process, although the ‘big event’ catharses may only happen once (phew), and people learn to recognise when something needs to be let go. It doesn’t mean it necessarily gets easier, especially when it is something that is attached to feelings of security, identity or self-worth.
Self-worth is a tough one.
Sometimes people attach external value systems to their understandings of worthiness, and when those are gone, they feel completely without value in the world. Money is an obvious one; the sense that your intrinsic value comes from a random external figure declaring your capacity to earn or attract monetary wealth.
In this case, the loss of money would be an incredibly traumatic experience for someone with that attachment to the physical representation of wealth. Money, when broken down to its original intention, is nothing more or less than a tool to represent the exchange of energy.
The cyclical nature of the cathartic process is one of its most fascinating and important aspects.
It means that with each new experience of change or letting go, you can gain insight into what that powerful moment of transformation is teaching you. You can move forward to the next lesson knowing that you’re never perfect, never finished, but instead a work in progress.
You can allow yourself the freedom to make subsequent mistakes and gain a sense of presence in each encounter to identify how you might respond to it differently from the last time.
And next time, you can respond differently again.
If each time, you let go of one small block, old thought pattern or belief, you enter the next cycle lighter, freer and more conscious of the world around you and the connections that exist between you and the other beings that share our planet.
So what drives us to these moments of catharsis, and why can they feel so downright shitty?
My understanding of the process is mainly from my own experience and observations, and this is the root of what I’m after. Why, how, why now, why is it different for you and I?
Each person has their own point of no return. What feels like devastation to one person may feel like a sunny afternoon in the park to another, and vice versa. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has asked herself how it is that someone can end up on the streets drug-addled and selling their body for the next fix, and maybe in some small corner of her mind wondering if it would ever be possible for her to end up in the same position.
I used to say we’re all only two or three choices away from homeless and destitute. I still believe it’s true. Three decisions, especially ones made with the belief that your choices are severely limited, can be the three that change the course of your future.
Yet everyday there are stories of addicts who hit their rock-bottom, whatever it was for them at that moment and on that day, and kicked the habit, changing their lives and outlooks to more positive and forward-moving ones. In that moment, that rock bottom, what happens?
I believe people surrender to the pain they’ve been running from for so long, and in that surrender, instead of finding the weakness they most feared, they find their strength, and the source of their power.
The things people fear most are many and varied, and each person will find their own, but the one thing I know for sure is that no matter how scary you think it is, when you get there and face it, it is not nearly as bad as you thought it would be.
The fear of what you fear is there is far worse than the thing itself.
For me, I believed what I would find there was the truth that I was worthless and unlovable (the result of years of abuse). It was frightening because I already believed it to be true, beyond the shadow of a doubt, and if I ‘went there’ it would be proven to me. Who wants that?
Instead what I found, when I at last surrendered to the flow of emotion, was that I am worthy simply because I exist (!) and I have an infinite capacity to give and receive love. Wow! Humungous.
I got there through a string of relationships that looked very similar, but each time they became more extreme in one area so I finally had to sit up and listen.
I was always attracted to non-committal men. The less committed, the better.
I understand now that the pattern of non-commitment in a relationship is very much a two-way street. Someone who truly wants commitment would have no interest in someone who was not seeking the same. However, both parties believe what they want most is commitment, all the while sabotaging their own chances by believing somewhere they’re not worthy of the very thing they say they seek.
At the root of my own belief system was the idea of total worthlessness, as well as three favourite descriptors used every day to describe me: stupid, fat, and useless. It’s hard not to internalise the things you’re told daily as a child, and I grew to embody those as much as possible, despite all external appearances to the contrary.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that the things people saw in me did not mirror the ‘reality’ of my own existence. I often felt confused when I did well at school and was adept at sports and languages, and picked up new skills easily.
I fully accepted the labels my abuser gave to me, which sped up the process of redefining me as something I was not.
From the perspective I have now, I can see that I gradually grew to embody the things I hated most about myself and acted in ways which reflected my beliefs about myself, even when they weren’t true. Because I believed I had no worth, I sought out people in relationships who did not value me. I took jobs below my abilities and qualifications because I believed that’s where I belonged, and would stay.
I didn’t apply for scholarships when I eventually went to University because I believed they were for the smart people. Despite getting A grades, I assumed I was in the lower portion of students because I had normalised the experience of stupidity to such an extent that other people were always smarter than me, no matter what evidence there was to refute that.
The process of normalisation and acceptance was complete, yet I often felt frustration and confusion when I could grasp tasks others found difficult, or pass tests easily that others found challenging.
The ball was just not dropping.
As a teenager, I discovered alcohol, which I felt gave me the personality I was so sorely lacking. I had nothing interesting to add to a conversation, because everyone in the room was inevitably more intelligent and of more value than I was, according to my own beliefs. All through my twenties, I drank heavily, trying to turn the dullness of my own stupidity and worthlessness into some semblance of acceptable interaction.
There were flashes of understanding – the possibility of a different view – but I didn’t understand how to get there.
I’d become a victim of my own belief system, and in turn a victim of my circumstances. I can see now just how deeply I hated myself, or parts of me, or perhaps the struggle to get away from the pain of being two people at once. The alcohol was merely a tool for escape, and in turn a symptom of a much deeper need within me.
I don’t know if it’s true for everyone who grows up in an abusive household, but the worst part for me was not knowing what to expect. There were some days where you’d get the ‘nice’ version, and open yourself up to some trust and hope that things were turning around, only to then get the complete reversal of personality.
It was like having a rug constantly pulled out from under you, hoping one moment only to have your reality do a 180° turn to reveal a completely irrational, out-of-control monster version of your parent.
It wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and taught me to put myself aside to try to please whichever version presented itself.
As I went through the cathartic process of breaking down these old patterns and beliefs, I began to pinpoint the behaviours I’d adopted as self-protective mechanisms to keep the hurtful thoughts at bay.
I could see how I had shut off my ability to trust or to decipher who was trustworthy or not. It became obvious where I’d put everyone’s happiness ahead of my own and all authority outside of my personal knowing.
I had difficulty with the word no, for fear of offending people; accepting gifts or compliments was awkward because I didn’t feel deserving of them; I didn’t ask for help; I didn’t wish for good things because good things were for other people and not for me; so many ways I put myself last and others ahead of me.
Who would argue if I messed up job interviews or applications because I believed the other person deserved the position more than I did?
I sabotaged myself, so it wasn’t necessary for anyone else to do it for me. In the process, I reiterated the deeply-held beliefs that I’d always be less than, and always fail.
The way it played out in relationships was a slow stripping away of who I was to adopt a version of me I thought the other person wanted. It meant further suppression of my own needs and wants, and because that was how I had lived, it felt familiar, and it was easy. Crazy easy.
It’s sometimes the things most familiar to us that we believe are an intrinsic part of ourselves and the scariest to let go simply because of that familiarity.
It’s the fear of being without those things, which feel like old friends, that stops us from moving forward. ‘Who am I without this — ? I don’t know but it sounds frickin’ scary!’ The funny thing was in those relationships, the closer I got to who I thought they wanted, the further I got from the version of me they’d been attracted to in the first place. I consistently abandoned myself.
This is where catharsis comes in.
Life throws those familiar patterns in your face repeatedly and screams, ‘Look at this! Do you see what you’re doing/saying/thinking? Doesn’t it seem familiar? Wouldn’t you like to try something new?’
At first, you might start to notice there’s a repetitive pattern in your behaviour. If you’re deeply entrenched in the beliefs that got you to that point, you’ll likely feel it just IS, there’s no way to change it. So, the quality or quantity of the lessons is upped, bit by bit, becoming more and more extreme, obvious versions of what they’re there to teach you so they become harder to ignore.
At some point, something will drive you to the edge of your conscious understanding of the world and invite you to look over it.
What you find there is unique to you.
I found immense grief, associated with my father’s death and all the dreams I’d had and suppressed for others’ happiness. All the people I’d lost and pushed away, the potentials I’d ignored, the opportunities I felt I’d missed. I sobbed for months on end; the grief felt like it might never end, and I wondered if it would.
I took really long walks – three hours a day – which helped me reconnect through the Earth. I sought out a healing practitioner that could help me connect body, mind and spirit. What I needed was to reconnect with the parts of me I’d buried to survive in the situation I’d been born into.
What I learned was that the memories of things we hold in our minds, we also hold in our bodies and our consciousness. When we acknowledge and release them, healing can begin.
Once they’re gone, it’s not important what remains or what fills that space. The perspective is so incredibly different on the other side of catharsis that you never miss it.
It seems like choices open up all around you that never existed before, when in reality they were always there. With your limited perspective you were unable to see them.
In the depths of our darkness, we find the power to move forward. It has always been there, buried under layers of ‘should-a, could-a, would-a’s.
I know that the hardest thing to let go of is the fantasy of what could have been.
It’s the same with bereavement, with relationships, and with the things we believe about ourselves. In relationships, you want to hold on to the happy holidays or the beautiful sunsets you might have seen together. With bereavement, you wistfully consider the opportunities that person missed, or the chances you might have had to spend time watching them grow and enjoy life.
The act of surrendering means surrendering everything. This includes emotional attachment to the thing or memory itself (that’s the hard part). It hurts like crazy, but it’s so important, because ‘what if,’ and ‘what could have been,’ don’t exist. They never will.
Right now is the only moment that exists. Each breath in and out represents a new opportunity to embrace life to its fullest.
*I’d be honoured to work with you in finding the gifts in your own transformative experiences. If you’d like more information, contact me using the form below, or visit the Intuitive Mentoring page.*