How To Free Yourself From The “No Way Out Place”

A friend of mine called me the other day and said, “Mary, I am really depressed and despondent, and I can’t seem to get out of it.” I invited my friend to shift her thinking for a moment and instead of saying “I am depressed,” I invited her to express this feeling in a different way, “I see the Depressed One is here.”  I also told her that I believe it is a really good thing that she can’t get out of it.  “Getting out of it” is what we have been trying to do our whole lives. To me, the healing is about going towards it, being with it and watching it let go through the healing of our accepting attention.

Clinical depression, including feelings of suicide, is a very real and serious diagnosis and should be treated by a medical provider. This is not what my friend is experiencing. Often people experience what my friend is experiencing (low-grade sadness, low energy, tiredness, feeling unmotivated and lonely, etc.) and they label it “depression.”  There is a difference between the story of “I am depressed” and what is actually going on in your body and mind.  Underneath the idea of depression are a number of feelings that need your attention so they can move through you rather than ‘raining on your parade.’  When things get really stirred up, your mind wants to get away from what it is experiencing, so it slips into the idea of “I am depressed” and it doesn’t see the healing power of actually being with what you are experiencing.

If you look at the word depression, it literally means “to press down.” When you can say to yourself, “Oh, the Depressed One is here” rather than “I am depressed,” it can wake up your curiosity about what is really going on. Because you are not used to turning toward what you are experiencing, it can be helpful to ask yourself, “What am I experiencing right now in my body?” As you check into your body, you might find that your hands are cold, or you have a lump in your throat, or your stomach is tight, or your head is pounding. This is a moment of coming out of your ideas about what you are experiencing and actually experiencing it.

As you discover the healing power of having your attention and whatever your body is experiencing together, you can then learn how to give this same attention to the feelings that are causing you to say you are depressed. When you are feeling pressed down, often the most despairing and painful places inside of you are showing themselves. And it is usually the three hidden spells (discussed in my book, What’s In the Way Is the Way) that are contributing to the feelings of depression. Spells are beliefs that we took on when we were young because Life was very confusing, too scary and it felt unsafe. I call these beliefs “spells” because they are something that was conditioned into us when we were young, they are not true, and they can be lifted.

The three hidden spells are:  1) “Because I am not doing it right, I am wrong;” 2) “Because I am doing it wrong, I am unlovable;” and 3) “Because I am unlovable, I am all alone.” These spells all combine to create what I call the “No Way Out Place” and it is the greatest pain we all carry. The voices in these spells say things like, “Everybody else does ‘it’ better than me. Nothing ever works out. I will never get better. It is hopeless. I don’t matter to anyone.”  We have spent our lives running away from these spells, but in doing so, they are actually running us from underneath our everyday awareness and when we don’t know how to turn and be with them, they take us to the place we call depression.

What would it be like if you just shifted from “I am unlovable” to “The Unlovable One is here.”  It is an invitation to say hello to this part of you that has secretly felt unlovable for a long time.  Say hello to “I haven’t done it right enough.” Say hello to “I don’t matter to anyone else.”  Can you feel the pain of these parts of yourself?  As you shift your way of thinking, you begin to relate to your experience rather than from it. The “I Don’t Matter” One is not who you are.  The Unlovable One is not who you are. You are that which can see and be with the parts of you that feel pressed down and despondent.

During the process of awakening, it takes a while before you can get space around the deep “No Way Out Place.” That is the combination of the three hidden spells.  The voices say, “There is no use. It is never going to work out. I am always going to be alone. Nothing is ever going to be different. I am always going to feel like this.”  It takes a while to be able to say hello to these parts that feel hopeless and helpless. We all carry these parts in varying degrees.  When you try to outrun them (like most people do), you are half alive.

The only way that you can set yourself free from these despairing voices in your head is to say, “hello” to them.  These parts are just like you, they want to be heard.  And as they are heard, they begin to open up again, just like you do when a friend listens to you rather than judging, ignoring or trying to fix you (which is what we usually do with these spells).  When you say hello to whatever is there, acknowledge it, befriend it, and keep it company, you begin to create space around your “No Way Out Place.”  Each hello is like a little stone in a path. Slowly and surely, the path gets strong enough that you can walk right out of the conditioned self and back into who you truly are.

So, ask yourself, are you willing to live your life half alive, or do you want to be fully alive? Then say “hello” to these old spells that crush the joy out of your life.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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