Are You REALLY Working on Yourself or Just in Denial?

I attended an experiential seminar a few weeks ago called Hearts of the Courageous, which explored decision-making based on fear, anger, and confidence.

A friend invited me and I agreed to go along for the experience.

I was planning on learning what I could and taking away any wisdom and value that was provided, however, what I got was an entire paradigm shift related to how I process my emotions and feelings.

To be frank I didn’t think I had much work to do related to anger and fear, but when I walked away from the seminar after the second day of experiential exercises a door opened to my emotions that had been closed my entire adult life.

I had been repressing my negative feelings out of shame and guilt. I was unconsciously avoiding dealing with my problems.

Over the last few weeks I began really feeling my emotions. Until I started to do this I didn’t realize how much I intellectualized my pain and problems. I was stifled from making spiritual and emotional progress because of this.

It was a blind spot that I simply needed to be made aware of, and once I became aware of it I was able to embrace what I needed to work on and what would really improve my life.

We all have personal “junk” to deal with.

We may not want to acknowledge it, or we may tend to blame others for our problems, but we all have work to do on ourselves whether we want to accept or not. We can always better ourselves and develop greater awareness and self-compassion.

Unfortunately, we can’t change or fix what we don’t acknowledge, and often we do everything we can to avoid admitting our weaknesses.

When we don’t acknowledge the personal “junk” we could work on, we make excuses for why we can’t change or we blame others that it’s their fault and not ours.

We limit our true capacity for tranquility, peace of mind, and contentment because we feel ashamed we’re not already there.

Learning to change this perspective is freeing. Weaknesses are not a bad thing but are a powerful teacher.

What do you do with your junk?

When you encounter an emotionally painful experience do you try to avoid it? Or, do you fully embrace the feelings as a lesson and teacher about what we still may need to work on?

Sometimes when we confront our weaknesses or emotional pain we shut-down and don’t want to deal with it.

We may try to block our feelings or even make them worse by telling ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way!” “This is a bad feeling!”

This will lead us to experience shame and guilt and make us feel even worse. If we can embrace and experience our feelings, we can begin to utilize this energy more effectively.

What blind spots do you have?

As we begin to practice being aware of our habits and dysfunctional behavior we will start to notice more and more moments where we don’t handle ourselves well or where we give into our emotional urges.

Don’t be discouraged. This is a wonderful thing because it means we are coming to terms with what we can work on.

We may give into urges to use drugs and alcohol.

We may give into urges to slander and yell at others.

We may give into our urges to physically harm another.

We may give into our urges of sexual desire.

Regardless of what urge or craving you succumb to, it’s crucial to forgive yourself for this weakness. For one thing, if you have been living without awareness of this you probably didn’t even recognize it as a problem, and further more you may not know anything different.

Forgive yourself and recognize these weaknesses as blessings to teach you what you still need to work on.

How to forgive yourself?

Psychologist Everett Worthington Jr., a pioneer researcher in the field of forgiveness, constructed a 5-step model to facilitate the process of forgiveness.

Worthington’s 5-step technique of forgiveness is based on the acronym REACH, which stands for the following:

Recall the hurt,
Empathize with the one who hurt you, or with yourself,
Altruistic gift of forgiveness, offer
Commitment to forgive, take
Hold on to the forgiveness

Become aware and accept the faults and weaknesses that you try to even hide from yourself. Be aware of what you may be trying to cover-up on the surface.

What is really at the core of your challenges and issues?

Whatever it may be, work to acknowledge this and remain kind and compassionate toward yourself.

Recognizing and acknowledging our weaknesses is something to be grateful for. We are all works in progress and recognition is the first step.

To really make a difference in the world, work on yourself first

When we are able to deal with personal suffering we can then begin to deal with the suffering of others. I believe self-compassion and self-love is a crucial starting place before we are able to fully invest and be compassionate toward others.

Practice mediation as a way to develop greater awareness. Take ten to fifteen minutes of quiet time daily to spend in prayer or meditation. This changes brain waves and creates a sense of peace and calm.

As we slowly gain awareness of our thinking, emotions, and behavior and we can start improving and developing ourselves in order to make a greater difference in the world.

The deeper we dig the more we can uncover and begin to heal from and work on. Think of it as your preparation and training for your bigger purpose. You must be prepared to take on great things before they will arrive.

Photo credit: Lel4nd

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  • Alex Blackwell

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom Joe.

    Just like we are asked to put on the oxygen mask first before helping others, we must also give self care to ourselves to be in a position to help others.

    As for my junk? I dumped it in the garbage pit years ago and it makes me feel so free!


  • Roy Wendt

    Another great article. Thanks again.

  • rob

    Wow Joe. Sounds like an incredible breakthrough. I applaud your honesty at acknowledging your own barriers to overcome. Indeed, we all have them and can be quite blind until we are jolted awake. In my life I am continually awakened to new challenges of spiritual growth and development. 

    I’ve recently uncovered that fear of dying is probably the biggest area in my life that is awaiting a breakthrough (actually, it is fear of suffering before dying). What would have me fear this? Perhaps the 60,000 NO’s I heard from the Catholic church (I was born and raised Catholic). Because of this fear, I missed saying goodbye to a few dear family members and friends. How foolish of me. Just when we think we know it all :)  we realize there is so much more to discover about ourselves.

  • Joe – Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Rob,

    I really appreciate your honesty here and sharing your experience. I agree completely that just when we think we know something or are aware and enlightened we realize how little we truly know and how imperfections are simply a part of life. We all have work to do and when we can uncover our personal limitations we can finally make progress, even when it’s one little small step at a time. Though with big breakthoughs comes big progress, so I say be open for these breakthoughs. 

  • Joe – Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Roy,

    Great to hear from you! I really appreciate the comment. Thanks so much and hope to hear from you again.

  • Joe – Shakeoffthegrind


    Yes, starting with ourselves first is how change in any aspect of life will come about. It has taken me a long time to accept this, but now that I have, there is an entirely new avenue for personal growth that I can engage in. No more excuses. We all have junk and it’s what we do with it that matters.

  • Angela Artemis

    Hi Joe,
    This was fantastic.It wonderful to have you share more about yourself Joe.
    I truly understand what you went through! I too would intellectualize my feelings instead of feeling them. I grew up in a home where there was a lot emotional pain all the time so I learned to do this to survive. The trouble is that it shuts down your ability to feel after awhile. So, not only don’t you feel pain you don’t feel joy either. It’s all in your head!

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Angela,

    Glad to hear from you! I became focused on cultivating more positive emotions and trying to increase my happiness by doing what I enjoyed, using my strengths, being creative, developing spiritually, however all of this was overshadowed by neglecting my junk. I was going about it the wrong way. I was trying to ignore it instead of dealing with it. Now that I am willing to embrace negativity and can deal with it when it emerges, it’s immensely more naturally to be open to positivity. Thanks for the comment!

  • Ken Wert

    This struck a note with me, Joe: “As we begin to practice being aware of our habits and dysfunctional
    behavior we will start to notice more and more moments where we don’t
    handle ourselves well or where we give into our emotional urges.” I clearly remember when I first started my personal growth journey back in my late teens. At first, before I started, I thought I was a pretty good guy. Then once I started, I realized there was a whole lot of blind spots lurking around inside.

    Thanks for the awesome post, Joe! Glad you had the experience at the seminar and felt you could share it with us.

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind


    Having these moments where we don’t act in line with our values can start to reveal these blind spots. Sometimes it takes other people in our life to open our eyes to certain tendencies but however we get there, and as long as work on the issue, we are in a great position to really transform ourselves. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  • Justin

    Hey Joe,
    I really like the idea of holding onto forgiveness instead of holding onto pain, guilt, shame and fear. I don’t know if we will ever be able to get rid of all of our junk but we can definitely get rid of what we are willing to deal with in the moment. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • farouk

    that’s an amazing post Joe
    many people get stuck in the cycle of denial while believing that they are doing their post
    thank you for writing it :)

  • joe @ Shakeoffthegrind


    I agree that our feelings of shame, guilt, and antger will resurface throught life. When this junk surfaces being ready to experience it, learn from it, and not avoid it is key to dealing with it. I work everyday at being aware of my thoughts and actions and growing from moments of weakness. Thanks so much!

  • joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi farouk,

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting! When we can admit our faults we are much closer to becoming the person we are meant to be. The first step is acknowledging what we can work on!

  • Tess The Bold Life

    Like Dr. Phil says if you can’t face it you can’t erase it. Thanks for an inspiring and honest post. I’m currently working on a healthy diet. I went to try on a dress for my daughters wedding and it doesn’t fit. I was in denial until that moment. Sigh. Aging is difficult because my body doesn’t burn calories like it used too. Not even with running four miles a day.

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind

    Hi Tess,

    I like the ring to Dr. Phil’s saying and it’s so true. An important piece for me is to begin viewing our challenges as blessings to help us grow as opposed to something to be ashamed of. When we feel shamed we are going to deny our problems and lose determination. Getting through this is a powerful step. Thanks for sharing!

  • John Sherry

    Joe, we seem to live in a world that worships youth and dreams and success whilst denying growing old and having more difficult emotions. The world itself has a shadow side but to move away from this it starts with all of us individually to not deny our pain, hurt, anger, and what is often called ‘our rubbish’. It must not be hidden or buried or suppressed but understood, faced, and accepted within ourselves as a whole. Self-enquiry may well be the most liberating and positive experience of our lives but it’s viewed like a horror film is in a dark cinema; scary, full of made up fear, and all too real. See it for what it is and it can begin to go away.

  • Joe @ Shakeoffthegrind


    Thanks for stopping by! We do all have a shadow side, and neglecting this natural dichotomy will only lead us to live with blind spots. When we can start to accept and understand these darker attributes within us, we can actually begin to make progress on them. It’s a wonderful thing to start making progress on those weaknesses that inhibit our happiness.

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