Healing Your Life

Phase One

Below you will find the text for Step One of the Healing Your Life Course.  You will also find a link to the video of Paul Ferrini teaching this step.    Please read through the text and then watch the corresponding video.. Then, when you are ready, answer the homework questions in the journal that follows.   When you have finished, save your answers so that you can refer back to them in the future. 

Step One:
Come Out of Denial

Goal: Feel your pain and see it as a wake-up call.

Strategy: Drop your mask. Open your heart.
Get in touch with your feelings and share them with others.


The difficult but important truth is that you can’t heal until you acknowledge your pain, your fear, and your
shame. You can’t heal until you stop hiding your negative feelings and stop pretending to be happy when you are not.
You have to be authentic to be happy. You have to take off your mask and be real. You have to come out of the closet.
Pain is a wake-up call. Therefore, feeling and acknowledging your pain is the first step in the healing process.  
     Anything that prevents you from feeling your pain and discovering its source is an act of denial. It is an attempt to ignore the call of your heart and soul to awaken and heal.  All addictions/compulsions are a form of denial. They
anesthetize your pain or help you escape from it. As long as you are an addict, you won’t feel the depth of your pain, and you will have little incentive to heal it.

Taking Off Your Mask

Your mask or persona helps you gain social approval. It helps you to appear to be normal and well-adjusted, even if you aren’t. It hides your pain and shows people an edited version of you. They don’t see your fear, your shame, your grief, your self-judgment. They don’t see how your heart hurts or how your mind is gripped by anxiety. In other words, your mask hides your shadow material. It is like make-up or hair spray. It hides your zits and makes your unruly hair sit down even on a bad hair day. It makes everything look better than it is so that the shadow can stay hidden.
The cosmetic industry benefits greatly from our attempt to deny the shadow. People have face lifts, belly tucks and
breast implants because they don’t feel comfortable with the sags and wrinkles of an aging body. They want a perfect body and a perfect life. Of course, the attempt to find perfection in the body or the world is bound to fail. The body withers and dies. The world is an unsteady place. There is no security here.
     Real happiness cannot be found on the outside. It can only be found within. It can only be found by developing a loving relationship with yourself. And you can develop such a relationship only if you accept yourself, warts and all.
That means that you need to make peace with your shadow. You have to learn to see and to love all those aspects of you — physical, emotional and mental — that are un-ideal and challenging for yourself or others. You have to be willing to see not only where the body sags or extends outward inelegantly, but where your heart hurts or feels sad. You have to learn to get your arms around your whole experience, both high and low, good and bad, light and shadow.

Mask and Shadow

People may love your mask, but they don’t necessarily see, accept or know what is underneath the mask. You yourself may not know the deeper, more primitive part of you. You may be disconnected from your emotional body and the pains and yearnings of your heart.
     Your shadow is locked away behind your mask. Usually it is unconscious, which is why very few people are in touch with it. Generally, you see it only when you are triggered and your pain erupts. This is often sudden and surprising. You witness unhealed wounds you did not know that you had.
     Our relationships inevitably push our buttons, and our pain inevitably leaks through our masks. Like most of us, you are probably trying to avoid this eruption of your shadow because you do not want to deal with your pain or the pain of others. Society rewards you for having a good mask and living behind it. It is all about “saving face.” It is all about looking good, even if you don’t feel good. It is all about denying the shadow and not looking at your pain and self-betrayal. Taking your mask off is therefore a revolutionary act. It is the first step in the process of healing your pain and creating an integration between shadow and persona.

Coming Out of Your Shell

Some people never get a good mask. They don’t conform to norms very easily. When people judge or criticize them, they run away. They withdraw into an emotional shell. They hide there and remain invisible so that no one can criticize them, reject them or try to fix them.
     While the mask is about getting social acceptance by showing our “good” side, the shell is about isolating from
others so that they do not shame us (make us “bad” or “wrong”) or attack us. Some of us develop masks. Some of
us build shells. Sometimes we do both at the same time or at different times in our lives.
     The shell builder usually does not have much of a social life. Her needs for belonging are not met. She would rather be independent and free than risk the loss of her freedom by conforming to the ideas and expectations of others.
     When you wear a mask, others cannot see who you really are. You show them a False Self. When you hide in a shell, people can’t be intimate with you. You hide from them because you are afraid of criticism or rejection. As you probably know, mask-making and shell-building start at a very early age.
     This first step in your healing process is about coming out of whatever denial mechanism you have adopted. It asks you to take off your mask or to come out of your shell. It asks you to be visible to yourself and to others, just the way you are.

The Power of a Healing Community

Step One asks you to come out of the closet. It asks you stop hiding or pretending to be someone else and start being honest about who you are. You don’t have to live a lie anymore. In fact, the reason you are in pain is precisely because you are living a lie. You are not being honest about who you are.
     Being honest means acknowledging your pain to yourself and others. It means beginning to see all those parts of yourself that you have not yet learned to love. It means facing your fear and walking through your shame.
Of course, this takes courage on your part. And it requires an environment where it is safe to be yourself. It requires the creation of a loving community where you and others can heal your wounds and to step into your power and purpose. 
     A healing community offers a long-awaited antidote to the family of origin experience. Whether overtly or subtly, you were wounded in your family of origin. It wasn’t your parents’ fault. They were wounded too and were just teaching you what they were taught by their parents. This is not about finding fault with your parents or trying to make them responsible for your pain. That is a waste of time. It leads to victimhood, not to empowerment.
     Yet you do not want to be in denial about your past. To the extent that you did not feel safe in your family or accepted by your parents and siblings, you learned to put on a mask or build a shell. That is where you began to betray yourself or isolate from others. That is where you learned to live a lie or disconnect from your feelings.
Now, as you come out of denial and are willing to feel your feelings, you need a loving family in which feelings are
accepted and people are encouraged to be themselves. The healing community extends its loving arms around you as you come out of your shell or take off your mask. It encourages you to be honest and authentic. It invites you to share your inner truth with others.

Four Ways of Staying in Denial

There are four primary ways in which you deny your pain:

1. You wear your mask
2. You crawl into your shell
3. You become addicted to substances that mask your pain.
4. You intellectualize your feelings.

You may have one, two, three or even all four of these denial mechanisms. Which mechanisms of denial do you
have? Understanding the ways in which you live in denial is essential for beginning to wake up and take responsibility for your life.
     All attempts to escape your pain by medicating it, denying it, or avoiding it are bound to fail. When you run away from your pain, you create more pain. Only when you face your pain can you move through it.
     Please don’t be afraid of your pain anymore. See it as your ally. Your pain is a wake-up call. It tells you what needs to change, heal or shift in your life.

Two Tips for Feeling & Moving Through Your Pain

1. Stay out of your head. Stop analyzing, intellectualizing, or seeking to justify your feelings. That’s just a way of
pushing the pain away. Just tune into how it feels.

2. Drop your mask. Break through your shell of isolation. Share your pain with others when it is safe to do so. When
you have the courage to share your pain, you realize that you are not the only one who is suffering. This helps
you to move through some of your shame and creates a community that supports your healing.

Step One Teaching Video

Homework for Step One

Important Questions to Ask Yourself

  • There is fake happiness and real happiness. Fake happiness is all about avoiding our pain and pretending to be happy. How have you done this?
  • Pain is not necessarily bad. It is a wake-up call. Where has it been a wake-up call for you?
  • What hurts the most in your life right now?
  • Other than what hurts now, what is the most painful thing that has ever happened to you?
  • Are you feeling your pain or trying to push it away? How do you try to push it away?
  • Sometimes being in our heads and analyzing our lives can be a way of detaching from our pain and not feeling our feelings. Is this true for you? Do you intellectualize your feelings so you don’t have to feel your pain?
  • What addictions do you have that numb your pain or enable you to avoid it?
  • Do you pretend to be happy when you are not? How do you hide your pain behind a mask?
  • What does your mask look like and when do you wear it?
  • Some people don’t have a good mask. ff they don’t feel accepted by others, they withdraw or run away and hide. These people have a shell, rather than a mask. They escape into their shell to feel safe. Is this true for you?
  • What does your shell look like and when do I retreat into it?
  • Does your shell keep me isolated from others? Is this the price you have to pay to feel safe?
  • Is it hard for you to drop your mask/come out your shell and share your pain with others?

Move on to Step Two

Return to the Phase One Menu