The Path to Your True Self: Moving Out of Chaos

5 min read

This post is part six of a series.

It’s easy to feel out of control, considering what may seem like unremitting life stressors. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, almost 40 percent of Americans feel they are barely able to make ends meet, a 50 percent increase from 2021 (SSTI Report, 2023). Add global tensions and concerns about climate change on top of a pre-existing stress crisis in the U.S. (APA Report, 2020), and it’s as if we’re popcorn kernels ready to explode. And some of us are living in war- or climate-torn regions where living conditions are unimaginable.

This may not be the first time that we’ve felt ready to burst. A frequent burster myself, I have learned that this sense of powder keg stress can either be handled constructively or destructively, just like any situation where we feel relatively powerless to create change. My previous manner of coping with chaos and change had been unintentionally destructive. I tried to manage chaos through control strategies like perfectionism, which only made things worse for myself and others.

Unfortunately, it took me years to realize that the strategy of control was doing more harm than good. Other strategies, such as feeling like a martyr or victim, self-medicating, avoidance, repression, depression or anxiety, or directing anger or rage at others, are likely to be just as ineffective. Today, I’m more peaceful and empowered in the face of chaos. Here’s what was missing from my chaos-management toolbox.


A major revelation was that the thoughts in my head are mostly garbage (judgmental and fearful) yet nevertheless drive my feelings when left unchecked. Realizing that those thoughts are not the unequivocal truth enabled me to notice and challenge the beliefs that make things worse than necessary. For example, spending excessive energy on what should be instead of what is has tended to put me in an endless cycle of frustration and despair. When I focus on the reality of the current situation and my locus of control, then I can find a more empowering and effective path forward.


In addition to redirecting my focus, I find that it is helpful to notice and challenge unrealistic expectations, judgments, and rigid beliefs (i.e., garbage thoughts). For example, the subconscious belief that I needed to be perfect to feel OK was a combination of all three. Perfection is an unrealistic goal based on a judgment that I was not going to get what I need if I was just “average.” There was no flexibility in that assessment because I did not take the time to surface the belief to the point where I could question it. When I finally recognized this belief and saw how stressful and destructive it was to myself and others, I began to also see the benefits of having more realistic and achievable expectations.

This practice of noticing and challenging beliefs has been useful in reducing rigidity and challenging unrealistic and unfair expectations and judgments. As a result of more flexible thinking, I’ve enjoyed better problem-solving and less worry and stress. Indeed, better self-awareness has been shown to enhance well-being and success (Eurich, 2018) and enable one to choose more adaptive strategies.

What garbage thoughts are you finding, and what impact are they having on your ability to move powerfully through the powder keg?

Do the inner work.

Both examples above point to the benefit of attending to the habits and beliefs that are preventing constructive and beneficial approaches to managing stress and chaos.

The required inner work can be hard. On some level, I was afraid that I would find myself to be irredeemable if I went deep enough. Though great courage may be required to venture into such unknown territories, I’ve also found that for every inner wound or fear I’ve uncovered, there were many people struggling with the same issue. Like the monster under the bed, I experienced that fear loses power once viewed through the light of day.

Working through the fear—allowing myself to turn inside-out—enabled me to restore the part of myself that I was rejecting, ultimately enabling me to feel more whole. That’s the nature of heat and pressure: They enable a hard kernel to transform into fluffy yumminess.

I don’t generally recommend waiting for the internal temperature to get so high that we burst in an uncontrolled way. There were times when there was no other option for me to learn but to discover it the hard way. Now, I prefer to have regular and proactive explorations into that inner space so that the overall inversion process feels less like an explosion and more like evolution and expansion.

Pass the butter and salt, please.

Note: Enlisting professional help to guide the process can also help make the more difficult forays feel manageable. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours