April 20, 2021

Why Things Get Worse Before They Get Better

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Why is it that we often wait until things get worse, sometimes until we hit bottom, before we really try to address the destructive patterns in our lives? Why is it that we have so much inertia to seek help or address our issues even when we are in pain?

In this episode, I share 3 reasons based on my own life experience and observations why this happens more often that we would like to admit. 

Share this episode via this episode page.

(00:09:39) - 1st Reason: It's Too Hard
(00:11:26) - 2nd Reason: It's How We Learn
(00:13:38) - 3rd Reason: Intense Pain Wakes Us Up
Available here.

Available here.

Blog Post: 
How much do you desire to be your True Self?

Other episodes that would help you understand and apply the lessons in this episode:
- Ep 7 Be Curious, Courageous & Compassionate with Yourself

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Do you ever wonder why things often need to get worse before you have the motivation to make the changes you need to make?

Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host, Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.

Hello again, dear listeners! This is episode 20. I just wanted to acknowledge that number because one part of me can't believe I've made it to 20, and I'm still surviving even while the overachiever part of me is saying you're only at 20 – that's slow. So, as you can clearly tell, I am still in the process of making peace with the different parts of myself and learning to be kind to myself.

Today, I want to talk about some reasons why, when it comes to making this interior journey into authenticity and wholeness, so many of us find that things only start to get better after they have gotten worse. Perhaps, there are some of you listening who know exactly what I'm talking about because you have already lived through cycles of things getting worse before they get better.

And maybe there are some of you who have no idea yet, what I'm talking about and you're starting to get worried. So, don't be worried. Keep listening. In fact, this episode should make you feel encouraged if you're still at a part of your journey where things are getting worse, and you don't really know how to make it better. Or you find that you're still not resolved sufficiently to be committed into making changes.

Okay. So, you may be at the stage where you have come to an awareness that life, as you know it, as you're living, it is not good. It's not the kind of life that allows you to flourish. And you know you want something more, but you don't quite know how to get there. And at the same time, maybe certain aspects of your life are continuing to hit downhill.

And so this episode is for you – especially if that's where you are right now. So, all of us, because we are wounded in some way, we tend to have self-destructive patterns in our life, whether we are aware of them or not. It could be some form of addiction such as substance abuse, pornography, or workaholism, or a repeated pattern of being in unhealthy – even abusive relationships.

Chances are, we all know somebody in our life whom we can see is having this kind of trouble – okay, some sort of trouble. And we may even wonder why do they do this to themselves? Don't they realize that they are harming themselves? It is far, far easier to see the same issues in someone else than to see the problems we have in our own life.

I, for one, grew up with a great desire to help others who are in emotional pain. And I always thought it was just because I'm wired to want to help others. And that is true – I do find joy in helping others. But what I didn't realize for so much of my life was that, much of the motivation I had to help others in pain was actually a compulsion to avoid my own deep, emotional pain.

It often was the case that it didn't even feel to me like I had a choice not to help someone when I realized that they are in pain. It felt cruel to just stand by and let him or her suffer. Coming alongside them to help them with something that I had to do. I had already previously shared that I had little to no boundaries.

Now, bear in mind that growing up, I did not know what a healthy, emotional boundary looked or felt like. I mirrored what I knew. I thought loving someone meant rescuing them and that getting lost in their pain was a sign of how much I love them. This co-dependent streak in me brought me a lot of heartbreak; not only in personal life, but even in my work life.

And that was because I felt personally responsible for other people's happiness. I was so hyper aware of how other people felt, that I was constantly picking up on tension, stress, anxiety, sadness – when they were not my own. So much of my energy went into trying to regulate my anxiety after picking up on other people's emotional pain, that I eventually realized I had to draw some boundaries, right?

Just purely out of necessity because I couldn't keep functioning that way. But here's the thing: even when I started to realize that I needed to draw some kind of boundary, I would find that I cannot help myself. I just can't do it. Like, when I realized that I was driving myself to the ground with overwork, I still couldn't stop myself. For some reason it's only when I crash and burn in some way, that I come to a stop.

In fact, that was a recurring pattern in my life. I came to a point where I realized that I needed to let myself run out of steam, and sometimes even crash into a wall before I could stop. There were times when I wasn't able to put on the brakes – whether it was with work or with maybe, a relationship or a friendship that I realized was going into maybe, an unhealthy zone.

I just cannot help myself. I don't know how to change things because my fear of losing that friendship just blinded me to everything else. And eventually, it was almost like a sense of resignation that I knew something bad would probably happen, and that friendship would probably crash and burn. But I needed that point to come in order to extricate myself from it.

So one of the most painful, but significant ways that I crash and burn in my life is exactly in the area of intimate relationships – often friendships. And it is little wonder to me now that I understand my own issues better and have begun healing. But back then, I had no idea why it kept happening.

And worst of all, I couldn't seem to prevent the same pattern from repeating itself again in a few years' time. And each time it repeated itself, it would hurt even more. And I found that I was finding it harder and harder to trust myself because I kept getting back into the situations that ended with heartbreak and injury.

So imagine how it is for me, that over a matter of a couple of decades, I kept wondering why, but I didn't know who to go to, to find the answers. On hindsight, one of the reasons it was so hard for me to find a way out was because the people I was closest to had also not yet made this interior journey – they were unaware of their handicaps.

They were unaware of their own dysfunctional patterns. In fact, one of my main confidants had this exact same kind of wound as I did. Right. Sometimes like attracts like. We were co-dependent in our relationship as well. So, of course, the advice that I received couldn't shed light on the root of the problem that I kept having.

If you've been listening to the earlier episodes of this podcast, you will be familiar with my story; with how I had a turning point after hitting one of the lowest points of my life. I told the story in episode seven on being Curious, Courageous, and Compassionate with ourselves. I had a moment of grace that finally made me brave enough to look into the depths of my heart and recognize that I had this need to be needed.

And that a fear of being abandoned by others, subconsciously fuelled all my important relationships. It was a deep and ugly truth. In a sense, it was like something was wrong with me. But at the same time, when I saw that truth, it set me free because now I finally understood why I kept repeating this pattern.

Here's the thing that I want to add to the story that I've already told in episode seven. I don't believe I would have been ready for that grace to look within myself if I was not at rock bottom at that time. In fact, when I look back at my healing journey, it is often after I have hit some kind of wall or hit the bottom, that I begin to make real discoveries about myself.

Hitting bottom often preceded a season of deep healing, and sometimes, rapid interior growth. This pattern holds true beyond my own personal story and journey. I've accompanied many people on their journeys. And I reached a point some years ago where I could recognize when someone was not yet ready for real change, even if they were already in great suffering – and that's because they're not yet at rock bottom. I want to offer three reasons why I think this might be the case – just from my own personal experience and observation of other people's journeys.

[00:09:39] 1ST REASON: IT’S TOO HARD
So, the first reason is this: making the interior journey, doing this kind of inner work, is hard. It's hard work. And if you have begun to do this work, you will know exactly what I mean. It requires confronting our demons, revisiting painful memories we prefer to suppress, acknowledging the harm that had been done to us by those who love us. It also requires us to acknowledge the harm that we have done to ourselves – something that is perhaps the hardest to recognize and accept.

And oftentimes, it is only when we can recognize the harm that we've allowed to happen to us and the harm that we do to us, that we are more ready to take responsibility for the harm that we do unto others. Since all of us naturally wish to avoid discomfort and pain, we often choose to remain with the devil we know; which is the dysfunction that we are living in, rather than risk meeting the devil that we don't know, right?

Which is this; whatever it is that our issues are, whatever is the root cause of the kind of patterns that we keep repeating – there’s a lot of unknown in there, and it's scary to look into the unknown.

And like, for me, it was very scary to even have the thought of finding out what's wrong with me, because I was afraid that if I were to look within myself, that I would find concrete proof that there really is something wrong with me. And that, that's the reason I cannot, or do not deserve to, be happy.

And so, because we would rather often stay in the pain that we know until we cannot tolerate it anymore – that's one reason we tend to wait until things cannot get any worse before we find the conviction to finally grab the bull by its horns. 

The second reason I can think of why things often get worse before they get better is a matter of learning. Like I have mentioned earlier, it isn't like I hit rock bottom just once in my life and then figured out my problem and started an upward trend and healing and integration. Not at all. I wish that was the case, right? But in my life, I went through these painful cycles – several times! Each time I hit a rock bottom, I call a timeout.

I often withdraw for a while and I become afraid of being hurt or of hurting others again. And eventually I find myself returning again, you know – revisiting the same pattern. But here's the thing: each time I go through a full cycle of going downhill, and then hitting bottom and coming back out again – even during those times when I didn't have real insight yet about what was wrong, I was collecting important life experience, and life experience is raw data for learning.

I have said before that, as long as we know how to be curious about our failures and our falls, we can always learn something new about ourselves. And while the lesson that I learned in each cycle of hitting bottom may not be very significant on its own, like it was just one, maybe one thing that I noticed or learnt, when you add them all up, they become very significant.

I don't regret living through those cycles of pain and the mistakes that I made. As terribly difficult as they were, because it was through those cycles that I slowly gained the traction I needed to make the big breakthrough that propelled me into this interior journey of healing and integration. So, my second point is that sometimes things have to get worse over the longer term, right.

Revisiting multiple cycles that we tend to go through before we can make a breakthrough because we learn best from our mistakes. Sometimes, we just need to wait until that moment of grace comes. And oftentimes that moment of grace comes only when we are ready to receive it. 

The third and final reason I will offer today is that intense pain is sometimes what we need to begin to see our condition clearly. There is a saying that pain is God’s loud hailer or pain is God's microphone, right? There is nothing quite like emotional pain to get our attention that something is not right in our life. And sometimes, things need to go really wrong before we finally say enough is enough. And there are many people whose coping mechanisms to avoid the pain they live with have become so reinforced that they are trapped within themselves.

It isn't that they don't want to get better, but they really can't find a way out. And sometimes, they don't even have enough strength of will to make that choice for change because over years of abuse or trauma, that will has been eroded until they have no self-confidence anymore, and they may not even believe that they are worth fighting for. Sometimes that rock bottom comes when a pain is intense enough because we come to see how our inaction, our refusal to do something about our situation, leads to the suffering of someone that we love.

Sometimes we have become so used to our own suffering, that it is only the power of our love for someone else in our care, perhaps a child, for example, that awakens us to the fact that we do harm to the one we love, even when that is the very last thing that we want. And unless we can get out of the self-destructive cycle that we are in, we won't be able to help, but continue to hurt the people that we love.

For me, it was this last point that led me to seek psychological help. My faith had always been an anchor in my life, and I believe every step of my healing journey is made possible by divine grace. But like many people of faith, I always assumed that therapy or counselling was reserved for those who were in real crisis, right?

And I never thought of my situation as critical because I thought I can deal with it with prayer and surrendering to God – I always find that I have the strength to continue to go on. And I have also always valued the insights that psychology offers in human dynamics and relationships. But I suppose I thought there was no real need for urgency for myself, especially since I was already making discoveries about the origins of my emotional wounds.

You know, it was not like I was not learning about myself. I was. And I was crystal clear even about my desire not to inflict the kind of wounds that I've received on others, right? So, I thought I would be in control and that I knew what was going on, and I would be able to not pass on my hurts to other people.

I don't have children of my own, but there were young people that I cared a great deal for, especially during the years when I was in full-time ministry. And I really wanted to help them achieve their potential and I wanted what was best for them. But what I didn't realize was that I overstepped boundaries and employed methods of emotional, and even spiritual manipulation to get them to make progress.

Right. I love them so I had the right intentions. I had good intentions and it's almost like without me consciously realizing, I was operating on the maxim that the end justified the means. I was completely blind to what I was actually doing. I was not conscious of it until one of the young people that I care deeply about called me out on it.

And I was horrified. I remember that conversation so clearly. I was horrified that the knowledge I had about my wounds and even my very careful attempts to not repeat what had wounded me, did not actually prevent me from repeating the same damage to someone that I loved. And that wakeup call – it was brutal.

That was when I realized that the wounds that bound me went beyond what I could consciously control. It was that moment of recognition that I cannot help myself; I will continue to hurt people without my knowing if I don't do something about the wounds that I bear. And that led me to make an appointment with a religious sister who was formed in psycho-spirituality.

And that sister introduced me to family dynamics and inner-child healing. And that was what began my active seeking of psychological help until the day came – quite many years later after that point, actually, that I realized I really wanted to do everything I could to help my own healing. And that meant adding formal therapy sessions, right – with a mental health professional, alongside with the spiritual support and resources that I already had.

And therapy eventually showed me how many of my spiritual struggles were rooted in my emotional wounds. So, I can honestly say that emotional healing really helped me deepen my spiritual life and relationship with God too.

In fact, for me, these two dimensions are so intertwined that I cannot believe we can fully attend to either one of these dimensions without also addressing the other. And that's because this whole journey about becoming ourselves; becoming me, right? – In our fullness, is in all the capacities, right? We are we're physical beings, but we are also emotional beings, intellectual beings, and we're spiritual beings as well.

So it's all of these, and how they come together and integrate together, that makes us who we are. So, I hope my sharing in this episode brings encouragement and hope to those of you who might still be stuck in the downward part of a cycle, or who may be wondering why it is that you can't seem to get out of repeating these destructive patterns of behaviour in your life.

Only you will know when you are ready to grab the bull by its horns or bite the bullet and find help for yourself. I can't stress enough how important it is to have support on this journey. And it must be the right kind of support. You need people who understand the nature of this interior journey and who have the right resources to help you heal.

In fact, you need people who are already on this journey to support you, right? Because it's really – if they haven't made this journey for themselves, they will not be able to understand or hold the right kind of space for you. In my experience, we need ideally more than one person to support us on this journey.

But it is wonderful to begin even with just one. If there is someone in your life who is already on this interior journey, ask them if they can accompany you, even if it's an informal thing; if they're a friend. If you're a person for whom faith is important, seek out a good spiritual guide or director. But please note too that you need a spiritual director or a spiritual guide who also has a good appreciation of the dynamics of how emotional health affects spirituality.

And the reason I say this is because sometimes, very unfortunately, spiritual guides and mentors can unknowingly make our emotional wounds worse. If they themselves have not become aware of their own wounds or are not making this healing journey themselves. And I know this from my own experience, both from having received such wounds and having inflicted wounds to others, even while I was only seeking to love.

Finally, please don't hesitate to arrange a meeting with a counsellor or a therapist if you are ready to learn more for your own emotional healing. That is such an investment that is worthy because it is for you, and it's not just even for you; it's for those that are close to you, those who live with you, your nearest and dearest ones.

When you tend to yourself in this way, you become a more life-giving person. Okay, so you can see it as doing it for the people that you love – if that's going to get you the help that you need. But I also want you to remember, you are really worth it. You are worth fighting for. And maybe it is going to take some time in your journey to come to even believe that about yourself.

And when you do find the people to journey with you, remember to also always check in with yourself, whether you feel emotionally safe with them. Know that you're always free to change your mind, right. Whoever it is that may be accompanying you, whether it's a friend, a mentor, a therapist, or spiritual director – when you feel unsafe or you feel that you're no longer making progress with them, you can always change. You can always step back and look for someone else.

I'm not going to give the usual praxis prompts for this episode, but I simply invite you to be gentle and compassionate to yourself. As you notice any emotions that may be coming up for you while listening to this episode, you may wish to journal them down.

I want you to know that while this interior journey is challenging, you are worth every bit of that challenge. And I hope – I truly hope that you will come to believe that and fight for your own heart, because never forget this: you are worth becoming.

[00:23:28] CONCLUSION
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction no matter how small those steps might be. And no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin. 

The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!