Julie Exline, Ph.D.

Julie J. Exline Ph.D.

Light and Shadow

What to Do when Your Soul Screams, “Enough!”

When you’re REALLY fed up and ready to bail out, listen for the voice of wisdom.

Posted Oct 30, 2014

You’ve been putting so much energy into this. It might be a relationship, an arduous task, or the pursuit of a far-away goal—one that you aren’t sure you can actually reach. You’ve expended great effort but have seen little progress. Still, despite the frustrations, you’ve chosen to press on.  Persistence is good, right? So you push...and you push...and you push some more.

Then, at some point, you start to experience an internal shift. Even as you continue to forge ahead, a voice seems to well up from within:  




Whoa. You weren’t expecting this. You’ve been so committed to this pursuit.

But still, here it is: Although it might range from a whisper to an outright scream, something is telling you to put on the brakes.

So...now what are you supposed to do?

Should you “honor that inner voice” and stop what you’ve been doing? Or is it better to press past that dissenting, distracting message and stay focused on your goals?

This would be a good time to engage in a process of discernment. Think it through: If you follow this impulse, where is it likely to lead? Will it take you toward greater life, love, and freedom, or will it take you farther away from these things? You might work through this discernment process on your own, but it can also be helpful to talk it through with someone you trust. This person could be a spiritual director, a therapist, a member of the clergy, or a trusted friend or relative---but ideally it will be someone who doesn’t already have a stake in a particular outcome. 

Taking the time for discernment can be vitally important, because that inner voice that is telling you, “ENOUGH!” could come from some very different sources. Here are three important sources to consider: 

Plain old fatigue and depletion. This explanation isn't very glamorous, but it often fits. After pushing for so long, you’re exhausted. Your self-control muscle has been pushed to the limit. This is a natural, everyday reaction when you’ve been working hard. And when you’re wiped out, it’s natural to have some desire to throw up your hands and say, “I QUIT!” In most cases, this is not the best mental or emotional state to be in when making a major life decision. But yet that strong sense of “ENOUGH” may still be the voice of wisdom, at least in the short term: Perhaps this is enough effort for the moment—or for today. It might be time to end this particular conversation or work session. What to do: If possible, wait. Rest. Take a break to renew your energy. Respond to your immediate physical and emotional needs. Then revisit major decisions later, when you are in a more fresh state of mind. See if this sense of “ENOUGH!” persists or if it was just a fleeting reflection of your fatigued state.

Dark voices of self-destruction. Where did we get the idea that those “inner voices” are always giving us words of wisdom? Sometimes those voices sound so seductive--but they are more like a devil in disguise, pulling us in dangerous directions. Overwhelmed with stress and emotion, we may be tempted to give up and walk away from important relationships or commitments—not just for a few hours, but for good. And here we’ve really got to watch it. Seriously. Because in its most sinister forms, this is the same kind of thinking that can push people onto window ledges and over bridge railings. In moments of temptation and reckless thinking, those impulses to escape seem so sweet. They tantalize us with false promises, seeming to offer immediate chances at freedom or power or control. But they are really like a dark undertow, pulling us right into harm’s way. What to do: Stand firm! Resist the lure of those dark voices. Look past them and grab on to any source of hope that you can find. Do whatever it takes to hold on to life, to love, to what really matters. 

A genuine call toward change. Despite the cautions raised here, the exciting news is that you might really be hearing a call to make a positive change in your life. You might interpret it as the voice of wisdom, God, or your true, deeper self. But regardless of how you identify the source, it’s clearly a pull toward something brighter. When you trace it out into the future, you see good things. Setting aside this commitment or project will open up space for something better: more life, more love, more joy. Thoughts of this change bring refreshment, hope, and peace. Deep down, it feels right. Maybe it really is time to lay that burden down. What to do: Usually there’s no need to rush, especially when changing direction could have major effects on your own life or the lives of others. Unless an immediate decision is required, you might wait a while (hours, days, months...) to see if this new idea persists. But once you feel certain and steady, try not to stall or procrastinate: Start to move in the direction of change.

Discernment does take more time and energy than simply following our impulses. But that effort can yield big payoffs over the long term, especially for major decisions. By taking the time for discernment, we can pursue the path of wisdom rather than setting ourselves up for regret.

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