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Usually we want to change because we are in pain. This is entirely sensible and rational in my view. My rule of thumb is that: where there is pain there is something wrong. The qualification to this is that sometimes doing new and better things can be painful. Our muscles take time to get used to moving in better ways, it can be difficult to do our relationships in new ways – so pain can be part of the transition to new ways of life.

Once we have realised that we are in pain, we often start examining the causes. The causes can be various – our situation is often complex, our past can be complicated, the options we have can be so numerous that they are confusing. To have a sense of the causes of our pain I think can be very helpful. It can give us a sense that there is something we can do, and that we are not alone – that other’s have this pain too.

Looking at the cause of our pain will usually be followed by looking at what we can do about it. How we are involved in creating what we find painful. This can be very difficult. The abused child discovering that they are abusing themselves as their parents abused them can be incredibly confronting. Realising what we contribute to our pain (and it may be very little or even nothing at all) is very difficult.

Eventually we realise that we need to do things differently if we are to be rid of our pain. This can be a very difficult time. We feel that we know what is wrong, but not what is right. We can feel utterly adrift and unprepared. It is quite usual to feel as we did in childhood (abandoned, bewildered, anxious, fearful, inadequate – it depends on what kind of childhood you had).

It is at this point, when we have reached the blank, that we are usually most tempted to give up on doing things differently. The old way may be painful but we don’t know what the new way is – how can we know that it will be any better? And what about all the hassle and uncertainty of doing things differently? The old way is at least known (and we can live with it – after all we have until now. Although it may be a very poor kind of life.)

To make a major change will usually mean meeting this blank, and then moving beyond it. Here are some things that in my experience help us to stay with and finally move beyond the blank.

  • Being clear on how much we have been involved in creating our pain. If we can see that we are involved then there is hope – we can at least change our own attitudes and usually our behaviour too.
  • Knowing the cost – how bad the pain is. Having a sense of how we want to live and that there is a way to get there.
  • Small steps. Experiment with different ways of living and relating. Doing it in small ways and safe ways. Scaring yourself is no virtue so far as I’m concerned. In my experience small and easy is often the quickest path as well as the easiest.
  • It helps me to remind myself of one version of the stages of learning: when we are learning anything new we move from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to conscious competence, to unconscious competence. The hardest step is from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. The next hardest is from conscious incompetence to conscious competence. The blank is about these two stages. This can give me a sense of the journey that I’m on – to know that this is just one stage.
  • Pay attention to any stray thoughts or hints of elation and liberation. Don’t dismiss them, they can be hints that you are getting beyond the blank. They may be worthwhile clues to follow up and steps on your new path.
  • Get support from others. My caution: it needs to be support – not advice, not moralising, not even encouragement – someone who is prepared to wait with. This can be uncomfortable for the other person too – so they need to have patience and some maturity. If they are a good listener too, so much the better.

As we move forward, at first hesitantly and gradually with greater clarity, we find that we have lived our way into more joy. The difference may be subtle (scarcely noticeable to an external observer) or quite marked (leaving a relationship or acting very differently in our relationships). Beyond the blank a new and better life is waiting for us.

If you have had times where you have confronted blankness I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

If you liked this post you might also like:
Follow Your Pain
Overwhelmed – two ways to deal with it
How to Update Your Past

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8 Comments to “Our Wellbeing Lies Beyond The Blank”

  1. Barbara says:

    Hi Evan,

    I know this is going to sound strange, but I didn’t read this article. I quickly scrolled through it. I’m not even sure why I would have done such a thing. I read when I’m here!

    The thing that caught my attention was somewhere near the bottom of the article. You talked about getting support and the importance of finding someone who is willing to just wait. I think that might be the very thing that caused the recent change in the relationship I have with my therapist. It seems I came to know she’s willing to wait, with me, for me, whatever that means to me.

    I’ll go back and read the rest, but for now, I’m just going to sit with this for awhile.


  2. Evan says:

    Hi Barbara,

    If you find out I’d like to hear why you were inclined to skim this one. Not that it is your job to satisfy my curiosity – but I would like to know if you want to tell me.

    I’ve found that people who are willing to wait with us are very precious gifts.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Barbara says:


    My most immediate inclination answer to your question is, I was looking to “fill in the blank”, you posed in the article’s title.

    Or maybe it’s the indicator of my own lack of ability to wait!

    Will look further for answers…

  4. Evan says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I look forward to hearing more.


  5. Barbara says:

    Hi Evan,

    I had to resist the urge to read the entire article in order to stay with the question of why I perused rather than read. So I’ve yet to read for that purpose alone.

    As I asked myself the question, I got quite a few answers.

    I’m often challenged by patience and focus.
    I was short on sleep, but past the point where I wanted to try sleeping. So instead of tending to my need, I chose to continue to use the computer to keep myself occupied. A futile effort, it seems.
    There was the part of me that didn’t want to be told where wellbeing was going to be found. The know it all part.

    It had nothing really to do with the article and everything to do with my own state as I arrived here. I guess I wouldn’t keep reading things to assist if I knew everything! If the past tells me anything at all, I have been patient, believing some things can still come to pass, they’re not ‘gone forever’. And sleep, well there is no better feeling than good sleep. We all just take it for granted, I think, forget how good it is until you haven’t had it for too long.

    And now I’ll allow myself to actually read…

  6. Evan says:

    This is good to know. I’d be glad to know any reflections you have after reading. Thanks for your comments.

  7. Barbara says:

    Hi Evan,

    The funny thing about words and impressions, they both can mislead. A lot.

    When I read your title, as I’ve said, I got the impression I was scanning the words you wrote trying to ‘fill in’ the blank with an answer, an answer you’d be providing as part of the content of the article.

    Only to find out, that’s not what the blank is at all, but a particular stage of experience you were describing.

    In answer then to your question, yes, I’ve reached the blank stage plenty of times.

    I do work with a therapist which is purposeful and directed work toward change of all sort. I think the first stage of therapeutic work is a combination of awareness and education. Learning to identify what one is seeing currently in their life, experiencing, etc.. Not that either awareness or education ever ‘leave’ the therapeutic process, but kind of inevitable to start there.

    That leads directly into the confrontation I think. If I now see the cause of my problem is a lack of maturity about handling a relationship, things I just do not know, for whatever reason. I get to the blank. But first, I hit frustration, maybe. Angry that I’ve lived this long and have learned nothing about relationships. I might want to give up. Why bother, is a common thing I’ve heard myself say. If I haven’t been able to learn this by now, what makes me think I can do it tomorrow?

    I think the blank you describe may be equivalent to the ‘I don’t know’ space. I have two choices at that junction. I can just stay with I don’t know and therefore no change, or take some steps into the I don’t know and find out something.

    I’ve done both.

    The other thing I’ve found is, once I get to I don’t know/blank, that state rarely will leave me alone. Eventually I have to walk forward or continue to be plagued.

    So maybe in a different context, I am trying to fill in the blank.

    Good article, Evan. Good way I think to talk oneself out of a circle.

  8. Evan says:

    Thanks Barbara. I really value how you talk about your experience (and how well you express it).

    I think for me too, when I get to the blank that it won’t leave me alone. I feel that it’s really “no choice” – either stay in a state I don’t like or go on.

    Thanks for your comment.

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