Life can be blissful, euphoric, fascinating and infinitely rewarding—or messy, unpredictable, confusing, and sometimes downright painful and terrifying. Your worst nightmares can erupt in the blink of an eye, making you feel as though you’ve been flattened by a ten ton truck.
Sometimes it’s a gradual accumulation of stressful, confusing experiences, or the dawning realization that you’ve become disillusioned with expectations you’ve built your life around. Maybe doors to opportunities that were wide open, have suddenly slammed shut.
And we thought navigating puberty was tough! How do we survive life altering experiences like these? How do we find the strength to face the next day and ride the roller coaster of thoughts and emotions left in their wake? And we do—all the time.
Could it be that there’s a dormant hero(ine) hiding inside?
Could it be that sometimes, like a caterpillar’s metamorphosis from a wriggly 12-legged, worm-like, tree bound creature to a delicate, soaring butterfly, painful transformation processes are necessary to increase our level of self awareness and give birth to that hero(ine)? BTW the transformation process is pretty gruesome for a caterpillar too. It digests itself before dormant cells (similar to stem cells) grow into the body parts of the butterfly—ouch! But once they’ve accomplished this miraculous transformation, Monarch butterflies for instance, can soar on air currents and thermals as far as 3,000 miles.
Although you may not feel like a hero or heroine right now (or a soaring butterfly for that matter) dramatic changes in life direction are capable of ultimately manifesting a life rich with meaning. This transmutation theme is as old as time.
Maybe it’s a way to comfort ourselves when we’re devastated, confused, terrified, outraged, alone, or powerless.
Maybe as Gregg Braden explains it is that point where you feel overwhelmed by circumstances you cannot control and therefore have to accept what you couldn’t conceive of before.
Let’s look at the emotions that stress triggers. Like so many traditionally “negative” emotions they often get a bad rap. Yes, there’s no doubt it can feel like a DIY amputation at the time, but they’re incredibly powerful emotions to have. What if the key is how we use them?
What if we reconsider stress as a catalyst capable of enabling us to discover our hero or heroine?
We know that destabilizing life traumas can create powerful bonds, because when the pain gets bad enough it makes us yell help; to reach out and seek comfort.
So if stress forces you to connect deeply with people, strange as it sounds, it ultimately becomes a critical component of happiness—through self awareness. Stress captures your attention and causes you to evaluate your emotions and what’s causing them.
It makes you look inward to figure out why you feel so frighteningly out of control.
It was stress that set me on this journey of self-awareness twenty years ago. For the first time in my life I really became conscious of my fears, thoughts, and behaviors, and found the courage to own them. And it was this ownership that brought about (way overdue) quantum leaps in behavioral change.
So, those dramatic shifts in our careers, our finances, our health, partnerships, families and even our homes can speed up a vital self awareness process. This sudden loss of the old, while stumbling blindly in the dark towards an unknown new can be a lot like the grieving process—stressful and disorientating. Like the stages of grief you may:
• Slip into denial to cope with the shock
• Be overwhelmed with anger for having to abandon strategies that were comforting and familiar
• There may be bargaining too, hoping it’s all just a bad dream
• There may be guilt over what you could have done differently that may have caused a different outcome
• A fog of intense sadness may make you withdraw into depression, feeling empty and full of fear because you know there’s no going back
Then finally there’s acceptance of a new reality.
This enforced shift in awareness extends an invitation (okay, demand) for us to reach deep inside, and draw out something way more powerful than we believed was possible. It could be courage, confidence, faith, surrender, forgiveness, flexibility, responsibility, compassion, determination, or a blinding flash of clarity.
You can read every productivity tip, adapt the strategies of geniuses, and devour every personal growth theory you can find, but you won’t be able to implement them properly if they’re not combined with self awareness.
Stressful experiences can fast-forward the self awareness process.
And while self awareness won’t fix all your problems, it is the first step; the foundation, without which you won’t be able to progress.
Here are 13 ways stressful experiences can fast-forward the birth of your hero or heroine:
1. Just like prenatal classes prepare you for childbirth, learning to manage stress triggers self awareness, which facilitates the hero-birthing process.
2. Since pain and discomfort are meant to grab your attention, if you want it to stop, pay attention—don’t ignore, suppress or avoid it.
3. Just as it is with physical pain, your shock and pain levels need to be reduced before you can think clearly or move forward.
4. To do this, practice extreme self compassion to help you cope. Nurture yourself in every way you can, just as you would a confused, scared and traumatized child that needs comfort, and reassurance.
5. Once the pain is manageable you will be able to move into the transformation phase.
6. Just as it is with the physical birthing process, your internal hero can only emerge once the umbilical cord with the past has been severed and a commitment made to move on in a new direction.
7. The more rigid your beliefs, the more stressed you will be. Cultivate the habit of questioning your automatic beliefs to develop flexibility. Ask am I really powerless to influence or change this experience? Is there a less stressful strategy? Who has had a similar experience and can therefore help me feel better?
8. Cultivate the habit of seeking and accepting constructive criticism. If you told a caterpillar it was a butterfly, it would probably deny it too.
9. Push your limits regularly through embracing skills and experiences outside your comfort zone. It builds self awareness and gives you more choices.
10. Identify and leverage your unique strengths (hero/heroine qualities).
11. Identify your weaknesses (caterpillar qualities), so they don’t keep tripping you up and causing unnecessary suffering.
12. Unplug regularly. Learn to be quiet. Give your senses respite from constant stimulation. You can’t build an intimate relationship with anyone in public. In silence and solitude you can.
13. Practice reaching out to a support and intervention team. Don’t try to handle this tricky birthing process alone.
A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles – Christopher Reeve
Stressful experiences can be a powerful catalyst for self awareness. And it is through self awareness that we give birth to our hero.
If you’re tired of being a stressed out caterpillar, I can help you set your butterfly free.