In Greek mythology, Medusa was a monster, often described as a winged human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair.
Those who gazed upon Medusa’s face would turn to stone.
In a similar way, people who go through hard experiences can turn to stone, emotionally.
As trauma expert Dr. Peter Levine has said, “It is how we respond to a traumatic event that determines whether trauma will be a cruel and punishing Medusa turning us into stone, or whether it will be a spiritual teacher taking us along vast and uncharted pathways.”
We’ve all experienced “trauma,” whether we think we have or not. According to Dr. Lisa Firestone (emphasis mine):
“A trauma can be defined as any significant negative event or incident that shaped us. It can emerge from any impactful instance that made us feel bad, scared, hurt or ashamed. By this definition, we have all experienced some degree of trauma in the process of growing up.
Having “suppressed emotions” is another way of saying we have unresolved trauma in our lives.
But what does this actually mean?
How people become emotionally stuck
If you’ve had a hard experience in your past where something negative happened, or where you failed miserably, you might never step far outside your comfort zone again.
In that case, you’ve become incredibly limited because of your past.
Your emotions own you, rather than you owning your emotions.
When this happens, your personality stops developing, and you become incredibly predictable as a person.
Your life becomes quite repetitive.
You may continue to develop mentally and cognitively, such as learning from books and school. You could have a head full of facts and knowledge, which are easily acquired in an information world. But emotionally, you are stone. You are frozen at the same level you were when you got hurt.
If we never resolve the emotional pain, then we are forever damaged and crippled in our lives. As a result, we begin avoiding situations that would make us vulnerable to experiencing similar pain again.
We become “frozen” in our development as a human being, unable to embrace and fully take-in new experiences.
An easy way to examine your level of emotional maturity is how often you step outside of your comfort zone. If it’s rare to put yourself into the vulnerable position of not knowing the answers or how things will turn out, then you likely have trauma from your past that is holding you hostage — emotionally — and stopping you from fully developing your potential as a person.
Research shows that the older people get, generally, the less open they are to having new experiences.
In this article, I’m going to break-down the science of how to overcome all emotional blocks and become emotionally-free.
When you become emotionally free and flexible, you become far more dynamic and fluid as a personality. Your ability to learn and adapt skyrocket.
Your lifestyle and interests will continually change because you have the freedom to take on new things. You’re no longer hostage to your emotions.
You’re not afraid of getting hurt.
You’re not afraid of being wrong.
In the words of Dr. Susan Jeffers, you know that regardless of what happens, “You can handle it.” Hence, she says we should, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
According to educator Sir Ken Robinson, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
One of the primary reasons many people don’t view themselves as creative is because art and creativity are emotional and vulnerable experiences. You have to put yourself out there. You have to try something that might fail.
As a result, many people discard the idea altogether, claiming that some inherent part of their personality or genetics is simply not “creative.”
This isn’t true.
Extreme creativity is available to anyone who is emotionally flexible and healthy.
In fact, creativity is often the doorway to emotional freedom, because, through art and creativity, a person can courageously put themselves “out there,” and that very act of courage shifts a person’s relationship with their emotions and their past.
Shifting your relationship with your emotions
It’s important to note that when it comes to healing suppressed pain or trauma, that you don’t have to sit on someone’s couch and re-hash the past.
Instead, you need to courageously move forward in your life.
As you step outside of your comfort zone, you will experience the stress-response — fight, flee or freeze. Being out of the comfort zone is a beautiful experience because it is entirely physical and emotional.
It’s a full-on sensory experience — something many people stop experiencing as they grow older.
The main reason this “somatic” experience arises is that when you’re out of your “comfort zone” — or in a new situation where you don’t fully know how things will turn out — you’re in a state of uncertainty.
Many psychologists argue that “uncertainty” is the foundation of all fears. This makes complete sense because our brains are actually designed to predict the outcomes of our behavior.
Therefore, when we’re in a new situation, all sorts of physical and emotional red lights start to signal — our stress response. What our brain is telling us is that we’re in uncharted territory.
It is your relationship with THIS EXPERIENCE — your stress response while dealing with new things — that reflects your level of emotional maturity.
When you re-establish this relationship, you actually change your memories of the past.
But you only change your memory of the past if you don’t freeze up. Because undoubtedly, the act of stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new may trigger negative emotions and memories from the past.
You’ll try to sabotage yourself.
But instead, you want to be “psychologically flexible,” which means you fully take in the experience, and move forward toward your goal anyway. In other words, you feel the fear and do it anyway.
What you’ll quickly realize is that you can do hard things. You can “handle it.”
Even if things fall apart or don’t work out the first time, you can figure out. You can commit to big things and you can keep those commitments, regardless of what you have to learn and become along the way.
You can do it.
This is how confidence is developed.
But there’s more.
This is also THE ONLY WAY a person can become fully self-actualized.
Breaking-down the process of self-actualization
According to Abraham Maslow, “self-actualization” is the emotional state of a person who is in a position to achieve their highest potential.
They have had all of their “base” needs — physical, emotional, and relational — met. They are a healthy, happy, and mature human being.
Having a healthy sense of self-esteem is great. But self-actualization is something totally different.
You need far more than self-esteem to become self-actualized.
There are lots of people out there who feel good about themselves but aren’t willing to pay the emotional price of expanding their personality.
You cannot become self-actualized if you’re comfortable where you are.
According to Maslow, a key requirement to becoming self-actualized is having what he calls, “peak experiences.” He defined peak experiences “as rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.”
Peak experiences are those moments that stretch and shift your perspective of yourself and reality.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
The only way to have your mind stretched is to step outside of your comfort zone and have a new experience. In other words, “peak experiences” are simply those moments where you go through deep experiential learning.
These moments of deep learning and transformation leave you in a state of awe, wonderment, and gratitude.
You need to have these experiences regularly in order to reach a state of self-actualization.
Actually, you need to make having soul-stretching experiences your “normal” way of life. Because once this becomes your way of life, then you are completely emotionally-free and flexible.
When you are emotionally free and flexible, then you as a person also become free and flexible.
This doesn’t mean that you no longer experience emotions or fears. Rather, it means that you are completely fine experiencing whatever is required to achieve what you believe you should, or what you believe is right.
You’re no longer constrained by your emotions, and thus, you’re no longer STONE. Instead, you’re highly fluid and flexible, even spontaneous.
Breaking the process down into bite-sized steps
“Courage is the Gateway. This is where you start to see life as challenging and exciting instead of overwhelming.” — Dr. David Hawkins
- Wherever you are in your life, it will require courage to get to the next level
- Courage means you proactively face risks and uncertainty in order to achieve a noble and worthwhile end
- Courage is ALWAYS the gateway to the “next level”
- As you courageously step into the unknown, you’ll experience the stress-response — flight, flee, freeze
- You experience the stress response because your brain is designed to predict the outcomes of your behavior, and when you’re in a totally new situation, you cannot fully predict what will happen
- Uncertainty is the foundation of all fears
- The only way to truly be “free” is to embrace the uncertainty of moving forward in your life — of not knowing exactly how things will turn out yet remaining committed to your values and purpose
- Becoming flexible and successful while outside of your comfort zone is known as emotional flexibility or having a tolerance for ambiguity
- As you step outside of your comfort zone and successfully move forward, you’ll have peak experiences which will stretch your perspective of yourself and even of reality
- The more peak experiences you have, the more emotionally flexible you will become
- As you have new experiences, your memory of the past will change
- You’ll no longer be bound by your past
- All “trauma” or “suppressed emotions” will be gone
- You’ll be healed
- You heal yourself not by going backward but going forward (hence: the best defense is offense)
- Once you get to the point where you are no longer in your own way, emotionally, then you are self-actualized
Self-actualized people are those people who are willing to be and do whatever must be done to live their values and fulfill their purpose. They act courageously regularly. Daily.
They are flexible and powerful.
They weren’t born that way. Instead, they proactively chose, over and over, to become who they are.
You can choose to become self-actualized yourself.
But one thing is certain. Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
You must be bold in your action.
You can’t be frozen to your past.
You have to move forward.
This will take courage.
It will involve failing a lot and learning a lot.
But with each step forward, you’ll have peak experiences. Those brief windows of time where you’re in awe of everything. Life will become more spiritual to you.
You’ll develop a sense of mission and purpose.
You’ll stop overly defining yourself and what you can become and what you can do.
Your potential will increasingly expand.
You’ll continuously watch yourself do things beyond what you previously thought was possible.
You’ll watch as your life continues to take on a new form, and as the goals you set are quickly realized.
Are you going to take the journey?
It’s not easy.
It never will be.
And the fear is never going to go away. But for this, you’re grateful. Because you know that this life is an educational experience. You have the emotional freedom and relational protection to go big.
So you’re going to go big — whatever that means to you.
Ready to upgrade?
I’ve created a cheat sheet for putting yourself into a PEAK-STATE, immediately. You follow this daily, your life will change very quickly.
This article first appeared on Medium.