Updated: Oct 26
As good as it may initially feel, our final growth destination isn’t always the opposite of where we started – sometimes it’s somewhere in the 'Middle Zone'. But we're far better ‘equipped’.
As we grow and heal from past wounds, we often ‘swing wide’ to completely opposite behaviors and opposite dogmas, often surrounding ourselves with completely opposite types of people than we used to hang out with. I get it.
When we finally get sick and tired of the lifestyle we’re living, many of us practically RUN in the opposite direction, eager to shed any remains of our old life. It’s part of our human nature. And it reflects how entrenched our brains can become in habitual patterns. We’re exhausted. We don’t have the needed skills yet. And we have no idea where to begin. So ‘opposite’ seems… logical. And for some of our more destructive pattens, ‘YANKing’ ourselves out of them… may be exactly what’s needed to get started.
Many personal growth guides who specialize in this ‘first stop’ enthusiastically encourage us to ‘do opposite’, surround ourselves with ‘like-minded’ people and develop a ‘positive mindset’ because of their nurturing and soothing effects. Which IS what we need in the beginning. Some just forget to tell you it may only be the first ‘stop’ in our overall development and growth, and not necessarily the final destination. Or maybe they're still realizing it themselves, or have found a way to make their life work here. But there is more, a lot more - if you want it, and when you’re ready.
I understand that timing can vary from person to person. There's no rush. Just be mindful of how long you linger. This ‘rest and recover’ zone can become VERY comfortable. And it can be tempting to…..well, just hang out there indefinitely. And some do. But for others, setting up prolonged and exclusive 'camp' here can start to feel... limiting.
In my own recovery experience, I initially welcomed the relief that came with getting a break from constantly dealing with inner conflict and ‘different’. When shit was really hitting the fan in my life, I practically ran from the reverberating 'noise' of real-world challenges and towards RELIEF (in any form) with open arms. My internal state at that time was not fully equipped to handle the diverse and uncertain nature of the world. And I was exhausted from continually finding ways to cope. I (unknowingly) had an emotional nervous system 'stuck' in a pattern of high-functioning anxiety for decades of my life. I simple masked it like a ‘pro’ using coping skills that fueled nonstop ‘over-performance’ and were sought after by employers. It worked. Until it didn't.
When things finally started to implode, surrounding myself with the ‘like-minded’ felt easy by comparison. And quite honestly, I needed that ‘easy’ so I could rest, regroup and pick up some new skills. But once I got that needed rest, learned how my body work and began strengthening my brain and healing …. what initially provided needed comfort… started to feel like an echo-chamber that .. was actually LIMITING my world experience.
Sure, I was cultivating a new ‘environment’. But the environment wasn’t diverse enough. It was simply ‘opposite’ of where I started. And it didn’t comprehensively reflect the real world. The real world isn’t all ‘like me’. The real world isn’t perfect or positive all the time. And reframing felt like another avoidance tactic. In a way, because I hadn’t yet centered my baseline internal state, ‘Opposite and Like- Minded World’ was as limiting as where I started. I mean, sure…it felt a lot better. But that feeling was dependent on continual positive reframing, and dependent on maintaining a community that was ‘like me’ in order to keep it up.
And I was already weary of my life experience and relationships being confined to the current capacity of my emotional state. I wanted FREEDOM! The freedom to be in variety of situations, the freedom to interact with all sorts of people in all sorts of growth stages and from a variety of belief backgrounds. And I wanted the freedom to venture bravely into a greater variety of uncertain scenarios, fairly confident I had the relational skills and emotional state to THRIVE no matter what this real and imperfect world threw at me.
And I couldn’t get this at the purely-positive-mindset, ‘opposite world’ rest stop. I had to learn to think more flexibly and keep working on my emotional development if I wanted the freedom I was really looking for.
Now please understand, I’m not suggesting that we completely abandon our supportive, 'like-minded' and positive-leaning communities. It’s the exclusive immersion in one, at the expense of the other, that I’ve found to be limiting. Limiting - in that I felt I was losing touch with, and therefore less able to connect with, the humanity in people who were different than me, that I still share this planet with and... who my life skills and experience could possibly benefit. And aren't we all looking to make a little bit of that kind of difference in our lifetime? I sure am.
The Benefits of the Middle Zone
I’ve also experienced the most consistent inner peace while also getting my combined intellectual-relational-emotional needs met in what I call the Moderate Middle Zone – this is where I live and do my best to exemplify healthy choices and practices that foster unity and connection.....while also interacting with the uncomfortable 'raw' nature of the world, and walking with those who don’t. This Moderate Middle Zone is where I sense we each can really contribute to our communities in a meaningful way. It's a place, or a mind-body state, where I can more calmly walk into one aspect of this world, doing what I can with my skills to contribute, then return to the relationships and the more 'aligned' aspect of my life for restoration. A fluid dance of activity and restoration, contribution and personal enjoyment …. and one that waltzes between diversity and commonality. To me, THIS is real life! And ironically enough...I've found that it has sort of paralleled the development and refinement of my emotional state. So that mix of life experience is what I’m personally gunning for. And so far, it’s been really rewarding.
We have options
So as you heal, maybe you may need to make a stop in ‘opposite and like-minded' world like I did. It’s a great place to rest, form community and begin healing. Use the time to learn some new skills and pick up some healthier coping tools. And take as long as you need to gain back some of your strength. Maybe you choose to stay there. If it gives you the life experience you really want, then perhaps it is where you land.
And also know... that once you get some traction, there is a wonderfully diverse, more comprehensive (and yes, sometimes challenging ) world waiting for you. And like me, you can learn to 'equip' yourself to walk with more confidence within it. You don’t have to be completely recharged or perfect in your new skills to start making your way towards that more adventurous Middle Zone. Messy is a relatable trait that many of us bond over. And imperfect practice is a valuable teacher to your brain. Just get some rest, learn a few things and then keep doing the strengthening and integration work, practicing every chance you get in as many settings as you can. I'm finding an extremely fulfilling growth and development destination somewhere in that Middle Zone. And it's a state where I'm learning to:
interact compassionately with a wide range of people...
thrive amidst challenge as well as amidst ease...
and I'm doing so because... I'm equipping myself with a calmer, more centered emotional state, a stronger brain that’s functions more often as a whole, and skills that build more connected relationships.
You can do this too.
I'm in your corner,
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