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Stepping Out of the Shadows/[Re]Connecting With
Your Life's Journey

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Awakening the Soul

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Come out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there.
-Eric Hofer

Just what is it that our souls have been buried under? What has so anesthetized our soul? What is it that leaves us disconnected from the very essence of who we are?

Well, there are volumes of books written on the subject, so it would be hard to distill all of that into a mere chapter, but let me see if you recognize this about yourself.

Paula’s story is one of the classic ugly duckling who turned into a swan. We shared a couple of classes together in grad school. We would often work on projects together,  so we spent a lot of time with each other. One night over coffee, Paula told me about herself and the obstacles that had shaped her into who she was today.

“Knowing me now, you would have never guessed what it was like for me growing up. I was short and chubby until I was fourteen. My mom made me cut my hair really short. I wore a pair of glasses that were from hell.”

“Ech!” we laughed together.

“Need I tell you that I was the object of everybody’s ridicule? It was really merciless.”

“I had only one seemingly saving grace, how well I did at school. Now, that was the only thing that saved me from being totally ostracized by the kids my age.

“Don’t get me wrong. I never kidded myself. I knew what few friends I did have liked me only so that I could help them with their homework.”

“Well, how did all of that change for you?” I asked, not able to match the person I knew today with the person in the scenario from back then.

“A funny thing happened to me. I don’t know what it was, maybe my hormones finally kicked in. I grew some, shed my baby fat, convinced my mom to let me change my hair style and get contacts.

“Overnight, the very people who had taunted me began to embrace me. The only problem with dating became who  was I going to choose. I continued to excel in school. I had gone from being the butt of everyone’s joke, having my name painted on the bathroom walls, being shunned by everybody because of my physical appearance to the homecoming queen.”

"Wow, that must have been sweet revenge,” I said. The odd thing was, she didn’t agree with me. In fact, she started sobbing.

“I can’t tell you how much hell all of that was for me. And it haunts me to this very day.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, feeling somewhat embarrassed for not understanding any of this at all.

“Don’t you see? Look, when everyone was making fun of me, it was because of how I looked. The only reason anyone liked me at all was because of what I could do.

“Then all of a sudden my looks became more acceptable and people liked me for what I looked like as well as what I could do.

“The point is I never was liked or disliked for who I was. Me on the inside never impacted anybody. I never learned to know me much less value me. When I was too ugly, I hated me because of my appearance. When I became attractive in everyone’s mind, well there you had it, it just reinforced that my value was derived from my physical appearance.

“But all along, there was a whole me buried deep inside  myself. Never coming out, never daring to show her face. This part of me stayed hidden from myself and the world. 

I tried putting this together. “So you never really built your life based upon who you were, you just figured that people would like you for what you could do and how you looked?”

"Sorta. I mean I put doing and achieving above all else, above just being. I viewed everything as a competition where if I didn’t win, I was a loser. I never had any satisfaction from what I accomplished. It was like there was a black hole inside of me that never could be filled.”

“What would happen to you if you were to become less achievement oriented?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. What pops into my head is, I would lose myself. I would be totally lost, I would have no sense of myself.”

We sat quietly for awhile trying to absorb all that we had just discussed. Looking at Paula’s face, I could see that she had reopened some painful memories.

          For me, I was more confused than anything. I just couldn’t connect the person I knew today with the person Paula was describing. I somehow felt responsible for not being sensitive enough to what Paula was going through.

After a few more moments, Paula wiped her eyes, then gently layed her hand upon mine, as if to say she understood how hard this was for me to see her so upset.

Then she continued, “The moral of the story is I had built my life on a never ending treadmill chasing affirmation, acceptance, and self-worth through other people’s recognition of my appearance as well as my accomplishments. But the point is, I had never found a way to provide love and affirmation for myself about myself. I was completely estranged from myself, unable to ever do enough or be enough to fill that void.”

We all recognize the pact that Paula made with herself. It sounds something like this, “In order for me to be accepted, in order for me to fit in, I will forfeit all of who I am.”

Do you understand what I mean by forfeiting who we are? We shut off, tune out, disconnect from who we really are. The sense of importance we place upon other people accepting us becomes so out of proportion that we lose ourselves.

Just what is it that we lose when we make this kind of pact? Inevitably, we sacrifice our whole emotional being. In order to conform, in order to please, in order to pursue what others deem important for us to be, we have only one choice: we disconnect from our emotions.    

Why is this divorce, the divorcing of our emotions from our soul, such an inevitable outcome? Quite simply, our emotions, our feelings are little more than the manifestation of our passions, our passions being the manifestation of what is important to us.

Our emotions are a sign post. They are an affirmation of the path we are on, the people we are with, the destiny we are chasing. When things are clicking, when things are in sync, we know it by what our feelings are telling us. When things are present in our life in a way that does not honor who we are, our emotions tell us that as well.

To sustain a life in which our soul is not connected to what we’re doing, who we’re becoming, means that we must learn to ignore our whole emotional-self.

Our emotions will let us know whether something is right or wrong for us. When we choose to ignore what our emotions are telling us, then we set ourselves up to be hurt. Think about the person who stays in an abusive relationship. Or how about the person stuck in a job that may be financially rewarding but not a reflection of that person’s interests and talents? What about the people who forsake their personal life by burying themselves in their work? In order to sustain a life with that many contradictions between who we genuinely are and what we have in our lives, we must learn to ignore our emotions or deaden them in any variety of ways.

The second part that we disconnect from ourselves is the little voice inside of us. The voice that guides us as we make choices. The voice that is connected to our soul. Some people may think of it as intuition.

Now don’t be put off by my choice of words. I don’t mean to insinuate that there is some para-normal experience taking place. I am only describing a phenomena that we all experience. Our little voice is the guide we learn to trust, to listen to when we are living our lives from inside of ourselves. You see, that little voice is the direct link between who we are and how who we are gets injected into our lives.

When we are [re]connected to our life’s journey, our little voice is honored as we clean out the parts of our life that do not match who we are. Our little voice is followed when we make decisions on what direction our life should take.

However, when we make the kind of pact that puts other people’s opinions and judgments ahead of ourselves, then we stop heeding our little voice inside or we shut it off all together.

But let’s slow things down for a moment. This would be a good time to stop and reflect upon what I’ve just gone over. Does anything I have just examined hold any relevance for you?

Have you made any pacts that have led to you disconnecting from your soul? If so what are the pacts?

What have you had to sacrifice about who you are in order to make and sustain these pacts?

We not only lose ourselves by forfeiting who we are or disconnecting from the little voice inside, we often times become overwhelmed to the point of being paralyzed by the wounds that we carry around inside of us. What is it that paralyzes us, paralyzes us to the point that we hide? We hide who we are, we hide what we feel. We hide what matters to us.

Johnny is a close friend of mine. I’ve watched Johnny wrestle with himself over the years. His life was out of control because he wasn’t connected to his soul. He had abandoned his soul at a very early age. Abandoned it so he wouldn’t have to feel the pain of betrayal. Abandoned it so that he wouldn’t feel so consumed by the confusion he felt. Abandoned it in order that he may simply survive.

Johnny survived by building a shell. A shell around his wounds. A shell that separated the world from himself. Sadly, a shell that separated Johnny from Johnny.

Johnny has fought long and hard to awaken the parts of himself that he had buried out of sight. As a result of his courageous work, he has found a way to be present in his life. Present to the people he knows and the circumstances he faces. Today he enjoys a life free from panic and fear. Panic that he would be found out for who he feared that he was.

You see, Johnny lived in fear of anybody finding out, finding him out. And the way he coped with that fear was by deadening his soul by totally disconnecting.

He learned at a very early age how to finesse the people in his life. For him, it was a matter of survival. He didn’t see it any other way. Survival to him meant never letting anybody find out. Never letting them find out his secret.

So how could he possibly let the world get close? How could he run the risk of anybody getting close enough to see? See his doubts. See his confusion. See the guilt that paralyzed him. How could he possibly share the doubts he carried around about himself?

No, the only way for him to cope was to create pseudo-intimacy with the people in his life. He knew all the right things to say. He knew when to say them. He knew as long as he kept feeding them what they wanted to hear, they would never go looking for who he truly was.

The only problem was the longer he hid who he was, the more shame he felt about who he was. The cycle became more and more vicious. The more shame he felt about who he was, the more he drank. The more he slid into his private world, a world racked with shame, fear, confusion, and secrecy.

Now, not only was he running from his past, he had to hide his present as well. But, he convinced himself that was the only way to survive.

Afterall, that’s how he survived throughout his whole childhood. Unable to trust anybody. Unable to feel cared about by anybody. Unable to feel safe with another person. He just invented a new life. A life that was separate from what was going on inside of him.

And at the age of thirty, he was still doing the same thing. Living a double life. A life where he played at being whole. He played at being involved. He played at being connected with the people in his life.

But the longer this double life went on, the worse his drinking and drugging became. The worse his acting-out became. The more shame he felt about his secret life, the more out of control his public life became.

Women. They would leave just as quickly as they came. Jobs. He had been fired from three in the last two years. He would go through periods of being estranged from his family. There were times when he was one step ahead of the bill collector, but that didn’t keep him from getting more credit cards and maxing them out. His friendships seemed to end abruptly in fits of anger and disappointment, never to be repaired.

But he could fool you. From the outside looking in, you would never have guessed. You would never have guessed at the emotional swirl that was going on within him. You would have never guessed how fear consumed his every waking moment.

You would have never guessed how much pure panic permeated his emotional world. And it all got acted out so that he could hide, hide from himself and the world around him.

In fact, it seemed that initiating a new relationship was the precipitant of the cycle repeating itself, always ending in tears and accusations. The more women he brought into his life, the more he acted-out. Everything became out of control as he had to maintain this double life until finally he went to get help for himself, finally reconnecting to his soul by shedding the shell he had created to hide his wounds.

For many of us, disconnecting from our soul has been a means of coping. Coping with the well of pain, coping with the well of fear that has consumed us our whole lives. The cause of the fear and pain may differ from person to person, but the means of coping looks the same. We all have secrets. We all have our ways of hiding what we don’t want the world to know about us. We all inevitably hide parts of our soul so that we aren’t found out.

We believe we have to hide ourselves from ourselves and the world. The solution: invent a new person. So we go about the business of divorcing ourselves from who we are by creating somebody we believe the world wants us to be. The more we crawl into this shell, the more convinced we become about how unacceptable the core of who we are actually is.

This just keeps the cycle going. The paradox is what allowed us to initially survive becomes the means by which our soul becomes emotionally and spiritually deadened. After awhile, we’re no longer hiding the pain and shame that we feel about ourselves, we’re only hiding the fact of how empty we feel inside, how empty our lives have become.

The solution to ending this cycle is the courage we all possess, the courage to discard the shell we have created. The act of discarding our outer shell will make room for the emergence of our awakening soul. As we make room for those parts of ourselves that have lived in slumber our whole lives, we will experience our lives taking a new direction, a direction that enables us to step out of the shadows.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about the parts of yourself that you leave buried deep inside of you. For example, there may be a part of you hungering to be loved by somebody special but too afraid to let anyone else know that part exists inside of you. Or there may be a part of you who feels very angry for always being taken advantage of by other people, but too scared to let anyone know how angry you are. Or a part of you that is kind and gentle but doesn’t feel safe expressing that kindness for fear that your kindness will be taken advantaged of. Or a creative part of you may want to be an actor but is frightened of disappointing your parents if you don’t become the executive that they want you to be.

Whatever the part(s) that you are aware of that are hidden away, let’s see if you can first identify what they are.

Next, for each part you have identified, what is so frightening about bringing that part more consistently into your life?

The point is we all have good reasons for disconnecting from our souls. The means by which we disconnect may differ but the result is the same. We bury alive essential parts of who we are. Without these essential parts, we are less than whole. In burying any part of who we are, we have chosen to keep part of ourselves in the shadows. By  [re]connecting to our life’s journey, we will discover ways to escape the shadows by bringing all of who we are to the table.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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