Releasing the Need to Struggle

One of my biggest turning points came in the form of exhaustion. I found myself repeatedly exhausted–not the everyday exhaustion that comes from being busy or frazzled. It was a kind of existential exhaustion that seemed to permeate every cell of my physical and emotional being.

31red by federico infante

I realized I was exhausted because my underlying approach to life had been primarily formed by the energies of striving and struggle. Struggle, as in the expectation that things would be difficult, that I would have to brace myself for inevitable loss, that I must labor tirelessly for what I desired. Although it was always cloaked in optimism and enthusiasm,  I realized this approach to life was burning me out. I reflected on how striving and struggle had helped me achieve so much, however, it was no longer serving me the way it once did. I was against a wall–I saw that my life-force had been muscled into striving and I could not continue that way anymore.

I reached a point where I had basically achieved much of what I wanted in life, but I still felt this impulse to keep striving from a place of lack and a belief that I needed something else to complete me. It was like a motor running. I realized this motor of struggle had been running my whole life. I had an interesting realization: struggle and striving felt good to me, this mode of struggle felt normal and very safe. What felt odd and uncomfortable was to NOT strive, but to simply BE.

Wide Shut Mouth, oil on linen,174 x 195 cm, 2008- Arina Gordienko-

This led me on a journey to discover much about what was going on underneath the impulse to struggle.

Ultimately, I realized that struggle is based on a belief in inner deficiency. It reinforces shame and a feeling of “not good enough.” There is desperation in struggle, a sense of having to over-compensate for an inner lack. It implies that we are not safe, not OK right now. There’s a sense of “you have to,” a kind of agitation and chaos.

Struggle indicates a distrust in your self-worth. 

As children, most of us had to strive very hard to prove our worth, either through academics, sports, or some other kind of competitive effort.  However,  there is a deeper layer of struggle under the surface, the struggle to survive emotionally intact in our families. Children don’t have many resources as they are completely dependent on adults to survive. What helped many of us get through the challenges of childhood was sheer force of will; every cell of our little bodies unconsciously aimed at survival, which was always some form of pleasing the adults around us.

Detail of Mäda Primavesi by Gustav Klimt

A belief in struggle is a continuation of the early belief that we must struggle to earn the love of our parents, the love that was our very sustenance. 

The impulse to struggle is due to an innocent, heartbreaking belief that if we could just become good enough through effort and willpower, the  parent that we need will show up; that he or she is right around the corner, if we only can get it right.

Releasing the need to struggle comes with a deep reckoning that…this is it. There is nowhere to get to. Where you need to get to, you are on your way, and in fact you’re already there. 

To a child, striving for the parent’s love is a form of safety. It means that there is hope because you can always try harder or be better. It gives hope that you will one day be good enough to get the love and nurturing that you need. Thus, your own inferiority or need for improvement is like a north star, guiding you closer to the elusive goal of “OK.” For a child, struggling to improve yourself  is the only thing in your control.

32red by federico infante

One of the most enduring developmental beliefs is the child’s need to see the parent as all-powerful and perfect. The most terrifying thing for a child is to be utterly and completely alone, to feel how misattuned the parents are, how imperfect and dysfunctional. A belief in the parent’s perfection and benevolence allows the child to feel safe and to continue developing into an adult. For example, if a child comprehended how truly imperfect or neglectful the parent is, it would devestate the child, potentially enough to threaten it’s life.

There’s a belief within the impulse to struggle that you are not worthy of what you desire, so only through your suffering and effort can you hope to achieve it.

It is a belief that if you can only work harder, strive harder, work yourself to the bone, toil night and day, there is a chance that everything will be OK. As adults, this belief gets projected onto all kinds of people: the disapproving boss, the partner who won’t commit, the emotionally unavailable spouse, etc. It also gets projected onto things and situations: the new house, car, degree, any item that seems to promise to give you a sense of OK-ness.

As adults, in order to finally release the need to struggle, we need to allow ourselves to really grieve for the ways that struggle was necessary for us to survive as children.

Seated female nude by Pablo Picasso.

When we refuse to engage in struggle, we allow ourselves to feel the grief underneath it. And underneath the grief, is immense energy, creative flow, peace, and an inner source of inspiration and support.

Struggle is the illusion of a future “landing place” that will never come. 

When the impulse to struggle is operating, it means that we haven’t fully come to terms with our history. We are defending against the truth of our pain. Once mourned and accepted, we can move confidently into our power with ease and a quiet, undefended joy.

When we release the beliefs that we must “earn” happiness and that life is hard, we create a space to feel our true worth which cannot be earned. It’s already ours, by virtue of our Beingness.

If you accept that you need not struggle to be happy, you have accepted that you are fully worthy of it. Miraculously, life re-organizes itself differently around your bone-deep knowledge of your true worth. There’s a fullness, a pervasive sense of effortless harmony and natural abundance.
Brad Kunkle
Struggle implies that the outer world is more real than the inner, which is true for a child, who is still in the midst of development and dependent on the parents. When we become inner directed as integrated adults, struggle is released because you know that all that you desire unfolds naturally as a result of your inner focus and awareness; i.e., the quality of your consciousness. Life becomes trustworthy and friendly. Giving up the need for struggle is a form of growing up.
Sometimes we unconsciously express love to our families by the ways we maintain the family beliefs. If you grew up with the beliefs that life is a hard and life is meant to be a struggle, you may unconsciously feel guilty or that you are betraying your family by releasing those beliefs and forming new ones, those that declare that life can be full of ease and joy. This take courage because it is indeed possible that as your life changes based on your new, expansive beliefs, your family may indeed feel left behind or betrayed.

Terra Sheridan

As a parentified child, I had the belief that if only I supported my mother enough, she would one day be the mother I needed. I was striving for approval but didn’t want to be too good or successful that she would be threatened and withdraw. It was a double bind and I could never get it right. To realize this as a child would have been devastating. The unconscious belief was ‘If I stay small, mother will come’, meaning, if I keep myself attenuated and limited, that creates the space for mother to show up in the ways I need her to. I noticed that I hesitated and experienced sadness whenever on the verge of a major breakthrough in my life because I felt the gap of her absence. On a deep unconscious level, I was longing for my mother to show up in ways that I needed her to as a child. The child within me was still waiting. Still hoping.

Gustav Klimt

My life changed when I really took it in on a deep level–no matter how much I struggled and strived, now matter how much I achieved or succeeded, I would never be able to have the mother I needed. This allowed me to see that I no longer needed to struggle or suffer because it wasn’t leading me to anything. It also helped me to see that my mother’s struggles were not my fault or my problems to solve.

This reckoning opened me up to the existential depression and aloneness that striving protected me from feeling as a child, the aloneness that probably would have killed me. However, as an adult, with skillful support and presence of trusted others,  I was able to finally feel it thoroughly. To my surprise, underneath that awful sadness, something opened up. The utter despair opened up into joy, the joy of knowing the wealth and vastness of my Being, which has always been with me and could never leave me—because it is who I AM.

Josep Montcada

It’s worth mentioning that there is a difference between striving/struggling and having the focus to complete the necessary tasks to actualize your desires. The difference is that striving/struggling depletes you and taking centered-action energizes you. Striving is a form of contraction and taking centered-action is synonymous with Being, allowing, presence, resting and expansion.

In releasing the need for struggle, the body opens up immensely and becomes a trusted source of information. You become a living transmitter of the energies of expansion and embodiment that others can benefit from your presence.  Things manifest in your life with ease and Being becomes the primary mode of your existence. By being who and what you ARE, you automatically experience the abundance and harmony of your Being. This becomes more subtle and nuanced over time and the challenges that arise are there to assist in this refinement and greater attunement with your inner truth.

Underneath the struggle and the grief lies the beauty and power of your undiluted self.

meeresstille-by-ruth-shively

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I invite you to leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

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© Bethany Webster 2013

(art credits in order of appearance: 31 red by Federico Infante, Wide Shut Mouth by Arina Gordienko, Mada Primavesi by Gustav Klimt, 32 red by Federico Infante, Pablo Picasso, Brad Krunkle, Terra Sheridan, Gustav Klimt, Josep Montecada, Meerestille by Ruth Shively

21 thoughts on “Releasing the Need to Struggle

  1. Bethany, this is written so clearly. It is truly The Way. Thank you for using your gift of writing as a map pointing to what’s true.

    • Dear Kate, thanks so much for your comment and feedback that this is written clearly. This one took me a while to write! Helps to know it makes sense and resonates with you! It feels so satisfying to put this process into words. Again, thanks.

  2. This is so powerful! I recognize in myself so many of the actions you spoke of. Keeping myself in a place of pain, not realizing that I don’t have to earn happiness, but rather just step into and allow it to manifest.. thank you for your words!

  3. Oh my. I’m 53 and have been in this struggle my entire life. After reading this I can’t quit crying. I am terrified with the thought of no-one coming. But your right. Know one has ever showed up. And they aren’t coming now…What a empty dark lonely place…dear God…What now??

    • Dear Cheri, You are not alone. The tears you cry are of the child that needed to believe someone was coming in order to feel safe. Indeed, it can be very terrifying to see that there is no one coming. The good news, however, is that you are no longer a child. As a grown woman, you can now support and love the child within you–in fact, better than the adults that surrounded you as a child. This is a skill that can be learned. In the short-term, I would advise you to do things that are nurturing to you. Call a friend, take a bath, curl up in a blanket with tea, etc. Give yourself time to mourn in a safe place and ideally, talk to a safe person who loves you. In the long-term, I would advise finding a skilled therapist who can help you parse through the feelings that this has brought up and integrate them so that this new knowledge and insight can support a deeper transformation that ultimately empowers you to live without struggle, but with an inner sense of unconditional support. It can take some time and you are worth it. Sending you love and blessings on your journey. ~Bethany

  4. Dear Bethany, This resonates a lot for me…you wrote that “there is desperation in struggle…” , I relate this to my “fear-based doing”; like if I’m not struggling and striving then I won’t get to where I need or get what I need and want. And also when you wrote that struggling and striving felt good to you…That helped me to recognize that in myself, and yes, I too, have felt discomfort with just “being”…Thank you so much for your insightful words.

    • Dear Frances, Yes, fear-based doing, it makes sense that as children fear-based doing was a form of protection, safety and made things more predictable. However, as adults it keeps us away from true freedom. Thank you for articulating that: “If I’m not struggling” and striving, I won’t get what I need or want.” Knowing that and seeing it in yourself is so huge, because once you are aware of it, you can change it! Thank you, Frances!!

  5. this is speaking exactly to the healing process i’ve been within this past week. thank you for writing and articulating it so clearly—simply being does feel unfamiliar after a lifetime of striving. so good to feel the reflection and validation of your words!

    • Dear Kristen, thanks for your comment. Yes, so true, being does feel strange after so much striving. And it’s possible to change that so that it becomes your primary way of being in the world. How freeing!

  6. You had me from your observation on exhaustion all the way to the end. This rang exactly true for me, and so you eloquently explained a very complex system. Thank you for sharing your incredible insights into the ways in which we can heal.

  7. This has been a shock to my system. Not of pain, but of recognition of the face in the mirror. Through your post I saw myself in truth regarding this for the first time in my life. As I think about my whole life and experience with my parents (though I feel like my mother affected me more than i”m starting to realize), I’ve come to the end of the road. Where the truth of everything has been laid out and revealed for me to see. It is time to mourn a woman I never had as a mother, but as a wounded co-conspirator in my life. I remember asking many years after my mother kicked me out at 16, what was her reasoning behind it. She simply said, ” I knew you could handle it”. This post was like a door opening for me. I know I have struggled through sheer will to survive my childhood and adolescence. I didn’t know my mother would be watching me, waiting for the time she could use that observation as an excuse to do what she no longer cared to do. And for that, the real truth and beauty of who I am came out; I have been a mother to myself all along. And that’s wonderful.

    • Hi Raquel, Wow, it’s amazing reading your comment. Sounds like things are really becoming clear for you in such a powerful way, in which you can see yourself clearly, the real truth and beauty of who you are. So inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this. Wishing you love and blessings, Bethany

  8. This article has stayed with me all week. It was just perfect time, since I have felt I live life on a periphery (like watching people on the ice-rink, but have a feeling I am not allowed to try it myself), but never could break that invisible barrier. This article helped me see two facets (elements in my psyche from my mom, and from my emotionally absent dad). Now to figure out a way to grieve the parents I never had, and to let the child in me come out and play. I know this inner child is simply brilliant and has immense capabilities, but has not been allowed to come out due to the parenting I received. Looking forward to grow! Thank you for sharing your insights!

  9. Ever since menopause I have been aware of the exhaustion and felt it time it stop striving, but I never connected it with a feeling of safety, and a survival mechanism until reading this piece. I know that my strength is what gets in my way often, and this year am consciously working on releasing tension in my body, to allow feelings of ease – this piece clears up so much of the dynamic behind the ‘motor’ of struggle that keeps me over working, over trying to be worthy, and unable to receive the blessings I have. Mothering myself takes on a whole new meaning. My intuition says, feelings of being not worthy are underneath it. Being eldest in an alcoholic family, being little mother to siblings, carrying the desire to heal or fix my mother….it’s all too much for one little girl to carry. That striver is so tired, time to lay down her burden. Thank you for your clarity and wisdom. Xxxx

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