You can’t hope to break free if you don’t understand what keeps you trapped. To get out of the cage, you must first see the bars of the cage.
You may be caged but don’t fully recognize it or understand what’s holding you back.
Maybe you started your career with big dreams and aspirations and now feel like you’re not fulfilling your potential. You know that there is so much more that you could do, feel and be, but you don’t feel like you have the right to shake things up or even complain.
Perhaps you’re not seen for who you truly are–whether at work or in your personal life–and that fills you with frustration, resentment, or sadness.
It’s possible that you were raised to believe that you’re selfish and unkind if you don’t put others’ needs ahead of your own all the time.
Or you may feel trapped in a lifestyle that doesn’t feel authentic or fulfilling, but you don’t know how to get out.
Stella, a former client of mine, reached out when she found herself trapped in a life she no longer wanted. She had followed her husband to a country where she did not feel seen or understood. Because she didn’t speak the local language, her professional options were limited so she’d had to take a job that in no way lived up to her qualifications or ambition. Socially, although she was in the process of learning the language, it was still tough to make connections. She missed her family and friends back home.
But Stella and her family (her husband and three children) had a comfortable life and complaining felt selfish. She took full responsibility for her choices and believed that she had to “stick it out” for the sake of her family’s wellbeing—and hope that things would improve. But they didn’t, and she felt so miserable and lost that she asked for my help.
Often, we enter the cage early in life, too early to even be aware of it. Some of the ‘bars’ on the cage–the factors that gradually get us trapped–come from our environment (external), but most of them come from within. They have been internalized in our minds.
Here are some of the most common ‘bars.’ See if any of them are familiar to you. I know they are to me.
Roles and labels
In our families of origin, we take on roles early on. Perhaps you were labeled the peacemaker, the cheerleader, the Golden Child, the troublemaker, or the Good Girl. Maybe you were given labels that stuck: selfish, frivolous, silly, gullible, or responsible.
As children, it’s natural to accept these labels and allow them to shape your identity–how you see yourself—because “that’s the way it is.” These assigned roles and labels may powerfully influence how you seek connection, acceptance, and love, but they don’t necessarily reflect the essential you. When that happens, you’re caged.
We grow up in social systems with clear expectations about who we should be, how we should act, who we should associate with, and what life paths are ‘right’ for us. Have some important “decisions” you have made been prescribed by these social forces and not what is best for you? When that happens, you’re caged.
In a previous post, I talked about the self-limiting beliefs we internalize from an early age and how they not only don’t serve us but also hold us back. You may have limiting beliefs that come from experiences in your family, early relationships, and cultural and societal norms. These beliefs have shaped your emotions (and whether or not they are acceptable), your relationships, your place in society, and so your ability to control what happens. When your actions are overly influenced by limiting beliefs, you’re caged.
Are you caged in a relationship where you don’t feel like you can be yourself? Maybe you don’t feel supported, loved, seen, or heard—or all of the above. Perhaps you don’t share the same values as your partner or feel unable to honor your values. When you feel disempowered, victimized, or not in control of your life in the context of a relationship, you’re caged.
Have you made decisions that have left you feeling trapped? Perhaps you entered a relationship that turned out to be wrong for you or even toxic. Or maybe you took a job that sucked the life out of you or moved somewhere where you struggle to feel at home. It’s easy to think that the responsible thing to do is to honor those decisions and persevere. Or you may feel you have no choice but to endure the consequences because it was your decision. Again, you’re caged.
Seeing these invisible bars is key to finding the path to get out of the cage. I can’t stress this enough. It’s key because the bars are hidden, unconscious, and, therefore, insidious.
Through our work together, Stella could identify her own ‘bars’. She took responsibility for her choices but also recognized that she had the power to make different ones. Reclaiming that power to take charge of her own life allowed her to change it.
In the following posts, I’ll explore what happens after you see the bars and what an uncaged life looks like.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: Do you recognize any of those bars in your life? Are there others that come to mind? Let me know what you think.
If you want to take a first stab at seeing your own ‘bars’, take my Break Free Quiz. It will help you understand where you feel trapped in your life and how you can break free.
And if you’re interested in learning how we can work together, click here to set up your free 30-minute consultation!