Return to: Being in the Flow of Life

Want to Free Yourself & Shine Your Light?

Callie is a highly intelligent, hard-working researcher. She finished a PhD in biochemistry while and nursing her first child. In fact, her working hard is part of her problem, although she can’t see that yet. She gets in deeply and then wrestles everything to the ground. She has degrees and work to show for it, but she doesn’t see how she gets distracted by things that are not on her path.

The same goes for relationships. She is drawn to people with lots of problems, and then gets in the weeds trying to help them, while her needs go unrecognized and unmet until she gets to the end of her rope. Then she spends a long time analyzing what’s wrong with her. Not them. Her

Gerry is a likable, somewhat disheveled contractor from a family of professionals. He came to therapy because he was worried about his relationship with his children. He had lots of excuses why he wouldn’t practice new skills to help him connect better with himself, and with others. He was actually afraid to connect with himself. He secretly believed he didn’t have the right to feel better. He hid from his deeper issues by earnestly wondering why he was the way he was, and why he couldn’t change.

At work, he’d lose contracts because he couldn’t get around to writing estimates. His house was a mess and needed renovations, but he was busy on others’ properties. He’d bemoan his helplessness with his son’s difficult behavior; discuss new ways to respond; yet at home, he’d just get fed up and snap the boy’s head off.

There are a lot of issues in both of these cases. What I want to address here is the way that both of them have undermined themselves from feeling successful, whether in relationships or work. The question is, why? When you look at the underlying purpose of disruptive behavior, it can set you free.

Many clients describe feeling held back as if by a glass wall. When they can’t make headway, they retreat and criticize themselves mercilessly, yet with a certain quality of ritual. Some of them live somewhat chaotically. Some try to do everything as responsibly and perfectly as they can. They are afraid they are terrible, lazy, hopelessly inadequate. Realizing that having a block against acting on their own behalf had a protective purpose released them from the cycle of obstruction and self-flagellation. It is important to see what danger the block is designed keep you from. Understanding the connection between past trauma and their lack of a sense of agency gave them a more objective view.


What is agency? The APA Dictionary defines it as “the state of being active, usually in the service of a goal, or of having the power and capability to produce an effect or exert influence.” says, “The concept of agency as a psychological dimension refers to the process of behaving with intentionality. Human beings exercise agency when they intentionally influence their own functioning, environments, life circumstances, and destiny.” Having agency is having that sense that you have the right to act on your own behalf, to have power to recognize and use your abilities, that you have the right and ability to build your own future. Agency helps you maintain your sense of self during difficult times. It is part of being centered in your true self.

Blocked agency is due to the need to abort your natural urge to act in order to protect yourself from harm. It can affect every area of your life. If you have a history of enthusiastically beginning on projects only to stall because the obstacles feel too big; if you react to small obstacles or a stranger’s criticism by  believing that you are a failure and retreat into long periods of hiding in novels or in analysis of your shortcomings, endless workings-out of what you need to do to become acceptable, good enough, successful, this may be why.

Dr. Kelly McGonigal said, “The best predictor (of inner contempt) is that your experience with your caregiver or your parent was you were loved when you were performing according to certain standards and ideals, and that love was withdrawn or guilt was applied if you did not meet those standards. And it doesn’t even matter how good a job you did meeting those standards…They create this sort of pathological perfectionism where, no matter … how well you’re doing it, or whose standards you’re meeting – your own or others – there is a sense that it is actually never quite enough.”[1]

Once Carrie and Garry saw the wall more objectively, not as a sign of terrible shortcomings, but as a protection against the historical dangers in their histories, a gate opened. There was a sense of air and openness. They had compassion for their child selves who went through the trauma, and (this is harder) the adult who had lost so many opportunities and had held them in some toxic and limiting situations. Now they see the fear as it lurks behind curtains inside, and bring it out, take its hand, and play or comfort, refusing to judge. They exhale more completely. 


Both Callie and Gerry were able to stop blaming themselves for everything and investigate what acting on their own behalf brought up for them. Changing their patterns became easier. They had more compassion for themselves which freed them to take risks, try things for the fun of it, be both more accepting and more assertive in relationships, take on new challenges, and best, relax and enjoy themselves.

So, if you are harsh towards yourself when you’re trying to do something, look at when you assume failure or rejection will occur. Look at your assumptions that others will be cruel, attacking, demeaning, cold. 

Then look again. Look at how much that was because of an abusive relationship that no longer holds power in your life. See it for what it is – over and done with  - and allow the feelings up that need to be recognized and worked through. 

Then feel what agency feels like – what it’s like to dance in a field when no one is there but crows, some blue jays, squirrels, and a fox in the woods. Feel what it’d feel like to spread your arms to the wind at the beach. Imagine what giving a dynamite presentation at work would feel like. Imagine walking into a fabulous restaurant knowing you have every right to be there and that they are glad to have you and eager to serve you. Remember when someone looked at you with respect, with fondness, with caring. Feel that respect and caring for yourself. Feel that the issue of your moving forward on your own behalf about ANYTHING is a free, calm, natural way of being. Give yourself all the praise in the world for each success, each completion.  

And if you have trouble getting to that place, give yourself the love and respect of getting good help from a therapist well-versed in trauma, so that you can finally be the person you really are. The Earth needs your gifts.


[1] NICABM conference, “Core Beliefs of ‘Never Good Enough,” presentation entitled “One Fear that Fuels Inner Contempt” 2022 

(Photo by zana pq on Unsplash)