Have you ever woken up one morning, looked in the mirror, and wondered, “What am I doing? Who am I? How did I get inside this life?”
Have you ever been standing at the sink, washing vegetables for dinner, and suddenly felt a bizarre sense of going through the motions without really being there?
This experience can be deeply upsetting. It can send you into a tailspin of angst, claustrophobia, alienation and fear. The good news is that these moments of saying ‘help, I’m living the wrong life’ are great opportunities for personal life transformation.
So, the next time you start to feel that sense of being a stranger in your own life, here are some tips to keep you calm…
1. Don’t panic.
Feeling like your life or even your own self does not fit you is a normal part of the human experience. While sometimes you may feel real connection in your marriage, congruence with your work, and a sense of ‘yes, this is me’ in terms of your body, heart, and mind, these feelings will generally cycle into times of feeling a serious lack of connection to your spouse, friends, work, or self. That is just how life goes. The best you can do is to remain calm and use the crisis as a time to reflect and possibly make some changes in yourself and your life.
2. Stop your all-or-nothing thinking.
At these times of feeling disconnected, it is easy to fall into the trap of an internal back-and-forth battle as you question whether your life fits you. This battle is unproductive because reality is much more complex. Work on catching yourself when you are thinking in all-or-nothing terms, and remind yourself that your life is complicated, with parts that fit as well as ones that don’t.
3. Grieve over paths not taken.
You, like all people, probably have multiple ‘paths not taken’ because you have had to make choices, which all have had pros and cons, among limited options. Your decision to focus on your career, for example, may mean you have lost out on valuable time with your family, or your decision to have children may mean you have lost your opportunity to pursue a career as a professional athlete. You might also be confronting the results of choices you made when you were younger (and less wise) and had different priorities.
Grieving allows you to move beyond guilt. It moves you beyond anger at yourself for past choices. It also allows you to get over anger toward people and situations that interfered with your hopes and dreams. By grieving, you can accept what has happened and move forward.
4. Ask yourself the hard questions.
When you stop thinking in all-or-nothing terms and free yourself from guilt and anger over paths not taken, you can begin to explore the hard and complicated questions about your life — such as whether your work, relationships, daily routines and the like are still a good fit for you now. You also can consider whether parts of yourself and your daily life activities have been neglected; whether you have new needs and preferences requiring attention; if your values and priorities ahve shifted; and what parts of your life you may have outgrown.
5. Try the big dreams/small steps approach.
Embrace the excitement of the potential to completely transform yourself and your life in a few fell swoops, like people seem to do in movies and books. Then allow that excitement to fuel your efforts to identify where and how you can begin to make changes in your life. These changes usually happen as small shifts and baby steps. Get support for this process and remind yourself that although progress may feel slow, the alternative is remaining stuck.
6. Consider inner transformation.
Internal change can make your experience of yourself and your life different even when everything on the outside is changing excruciatingly slowly. This kind of inner transformation is almost never as simple as changing your attitude or deciding to be happy; in fact, merely telling yourself to appreciate your life when you feel miserable usually just makes things worse.
Real inner transformation is truly difficult. It involves working through the web of ways you have become entangled in other people’s expectations, suppressed by your fears, and disconnected from yourself. The payoff for such hard work can be surprising and amazing. You may find a sense of fulfillment and peace that you could never have imagined experiencing in your ordinary and imperfect life.