“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” ~Christine Caine
The phrase “personal growth” has always felt counterintuitive to me. Personal growth feels less like growth and more like stripping away—of peeling back the expectations, fears, and shame that we’ve been conditioned with since birth. Beneath these layers lies our truest nature—our inner divinity—our most aligned selves. I view my work on this Earth as getting as close to that aligned self as I can.
Despite the barrage of positive affirmations and uplifting memes encouraging us to “live our truth,” learning to live in alignment can be deeply uncomfortable. Hundreds of requisite growing pains accompany the process. We shed skins that no longer serve us, which at first leaves us raw and exposed.
Over the years, I’ve worked to break addictive patterns and speak my truth against enormous inner resistance. When I began to live in alignment, I experienced seismic discomforts. This new territory was entirely uncharted, and with it came bouts of newfound anxiety, fear, and hyper-sensitivity.
I worried that these unpleasant emotions were signs of “doing it wrong.” Of course, judging my reactions only exacerbated my discomfort—which eventually passed, on its own, in time.
At first, living in alignment is tough. It gets harder before it gets easier. Here are eight reminders to help you trust your gut and keep going.
1. It’s normal to break up with partners, friends, and acquaintances.
Living in alignment looks different for everyone. For me, it largely meant quitting drinking, changing careers, and setting firmer boundaries around my time, space, and body. The first thing I noticed was how many of my relationships—relationships that fit like puzzle pieces with the old me—now felt inauthentic, empty, or downright wrong.
One of the most important parts of my journey was leaving relationships that no longer served me. This meant “breaking up” with four to five friends over the course of a few months, a process that left me feeling guilty and lonesome at first.
The flipside? Now, relationships formed on the basis of people-pleasing, codependency, obligation, and guilt are not a part of my life. These “breakups” leave room for authentic, nourishing, reciprocal relationships to blossom. Be patient as they form.
2. It’s normal to feel a boatload of guilt.
For me, living in alignment meant giving up old people-pleasing behaviors. Suddenly, I wasn’t the person who others could count on to go along with the flow. I spoke up. I set boundaries. I stayed in when I wanted to stay in, cancelled plans when I needed to, and set non-negotiable expectations for my relationships.
In other words, I no longer prioritized other people’s comfort over my own feelings.
If you’re not used to putting your own needs first, doing so can spark an avalanche of guilt. You might feel unforgivably selfish. You might wonder if you’re a bad friend/mother/colleague/[insert role here].
Guilt in the early stage of living in alignment is totally normal. Understanding this helps you to notice and accept the guilt instead of reacting to it. Talk through it with trusted friends, a coach, or a therapist. Learn what it feels like in your body. Write about it in your journal. Over time, meeting your own needs will feel second-nature.
3. It’s normal to feel hyper-sensitive and/or need more solitude.
Giving credence to my feelings, emotions, and needs was like breaking a dam. Once they started flooding, they keptflooding. And flooding. And flooding.
By honoring my anger, I began to realize how painful certain relationships felt. By honoring my need for time and space, I began to realize how energetically draining some environments were. By honoring the ebbs and flows of my body, I began to notice when I needed more sleep or a change to my diet.
As a result of these sensitivities, I needed more time to myself, more naps, fewer plans, and more space to process my emotions via journaling and meditation. At first, this baffled me. I thought living in alignment with my inner self would make me feel more resilient…. not less!
Keep in mind that what feels like “hyper-sensitivity” may just be “sensitivity,” and it is a completely normal reaction. You are giving your feelings and needs space to surface, maybe for the first time ever. You might be surprised by how many feelings you have—or by how forcefully they arise—when they’re no longer under lock and key.
4. It’s normal to freak out after setting a boundary or speaking a difficult truth.
Once, shortly after I’d made the decision to quit drinking, a housemate of mine made a rude, taunting comment about my sobriety. Instead of brushing it off, I turned to him and said forcefully, “That was really inappropriate. I don’t appreciate it.”
I had never stood up for myself so confidently. I went upstairs to my bedroom with a grin, feeling righteous and strong. Five minutes later found me hunched over in a sobbing fit. Everything in my body screamed, “You are mean! You’re an *sshole! Take it back!”
In a frenzy, I ran down the stairs, threw open my housemate’s bedroom door, and gasped “I’m-so-sorry-I-said-that-I-got-out-of-hand-Please-forgive-me.” He accepted my apology, bewildered, and thirty minutes later, back in my bedroom, I threw up my hands in frustration.
Yes, I redacted an appropriate boundary. Yes, I confused the hell out of my housemate. And yes —it was progress.Baby steps, baby.
It’s totally normal to freak out after setting a boundary. If you grew up in an environment where you were punished or neglected when you expressed your true feelings, learning the art of honest expression is a radical act. In adulthood, your heart, mind, and nervous system is learning how to process, hold, and express difficult emotions. Fear may accompany this process, especially fear of retaliation or fear of abandonment.
Remember: the simple act of setting a boundary may feel like an enormous emotional upheaval. You’ve just done some serious emotional work. After setting a challenging boundary, hold yourself with compassion in those moments and give yourself permission to rest and recuperate. With time, your muscle of authentic expression will strengthen.
5. It’s normal to experience previously unaddressed trauma.
When I lived out of alignment, I drank too much, slept around, and chased the reckless highs of my compulsions. In hindsight, it’s easy to understand that, because my reality was so painful, I used any means possible to escape it. Unfortunately, when I began to live in alignment, I realized that the means I had used to numb my pain were painful, too.
My body and heart carried the scars of my compulsions gone awry. Living in alignment meant giving those buried pains and traumas voice. I was bewildered when my healing journey became home to unexpected triggers, panic attacks, and hypersensitivities. At first, I felt more broken than I’d felt before.
Little did I know that part of healing it was feeling it in the first place—something I’d never let myself do. As they say: it gets dark before the dawn.
Especially if you find yourself experiencing previously unaddressed trauma, seek support from your partner, friends, or a therapist. Letting your trauma surface and heal allows you to integrate the many parts of your story that may have been disparate and disconnected before. This is part of your journey to wholeness.
6. It’s normal to get angry AF.
For years, I shrunk myself for the sake of others’ comfort. I hid my voice. I settled for less. I participated in imbalanced relationships. I stomached unkindness.
When I began to live in alignment, I started to see with new eyes all the s%&# I’d settled for over the years. I became resentful and enraged. I felt white-hot anger toward the individuals who had taken advantage of me.
Like a captive animal released from her cage, I pounced with a vengeance. I vented to my friends. I shook my fist. I wrote searing poetry and wrathful songs. I let it out.
That anger was holy. It was the righteous indignation of my innermost self coming alive. Over time, feeling it and expressing it led me to an equilibrium: I could hold my anger while also understanding the part I’d played in subjecting myself to these toxic patterns.
Honor your anger. It will not annihilate you. The more familiar you become with your resentment, the more you can use it as a signpost to set boundaries in the future.
7. It’s normal for your dreams to shift rapidly.
As we strip away our conditioning and get in touch with our innermost selves, dreams that others have for us lose their glossy appeal. We may find ourselves bucking opportunities for fame, fortune, and legacy in favor of dreams that illuminate us from within. Our intrinsic desires become paramount.
That sounds awesome—in theory. But when it happened to me, I had a major identity crisis. I had spent countless hours, thousands of dollars, and a college education following a very specific dream of a career in politics. For years, I’d told anyone who would listen that my dream job was a seat in the Senate. Without this societally sanctioned goal, who would I become?
Especially for those of us who live out of touch with our innermost selves, we rely heavily on external roles and rewards to feel a sense of purpose and identity. As we begin to live in alignment, those external rewards begin to matter less. Sometimes, we realize we never really wanted them at all.
It’s normal if your dreams, desires, career, or values shift rapidly. It’s normal if your work suddenly feels deflating, boring, or downright awful. It’s normal if you suddenly feel the need to quit your venture or back out on your business plan. It’s normal to cease your involvement in organizations, boards, or volunteer roles that no longer resonate with you.
You’re not being impulsive. You’re not “wasting” anything. You’re not crazy. You are adjusting your external world to align with your newfound inner world — and that is an act of self-love and self-respect.
Despite my work as a life coach and my proclivity for collecting self-help books, the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten is, simply: You’re right where you’re supposed to be.
So often, we get in our own way by judging our (very valid) reactions to unfamiliar circumstances. In a culture that lauds the shiny, happy, green-smoothie version of personal growth, we forget that self-care can be fearful, anxious, and downright painful.
Keep going. That fear, anxiety, and pain is all part of your process. Hold it with compassion and watch who you become when you reach the other side.