Contraction and Self-Disgust. What My Creative Genius Looks Like Inside-Out.

I was waiting for it. I’d even blocked it into my schedule. I’ve done enough ‘expansions’ to know that after stepping into a new space, creating something at my edge or launching something new, I experience an equal and opposing sense of contraction. Since launching new programs,  I’ve been waiting for some massive attack of paralysis or closure. Instead it snuck up all stealth and subtle. 

This is apparently not something that people talk about. Although I feel like I talk about it quite a bit since I work with creatives, entrepreneurs and development enthusiasts. But I guess a lot of people who are ‘out there’ aren’t talking about the inner storms of their outer offerings. So, I thought I’d let you in on mine. Not because everyone should be exposing this, but because I’ve worked with so many people who make themselves wrong for these rhythms and I’d love to help bring some self-compassion and relief to others. In a recent Dear Chela episode, I answered the question as to whether or not I feel fear in my business. Yes, yes of course I do. I also feel contraction and self-disgust. Take that. 

I’ve learned that these experiences are not going to go away for me. And for anyone else pushing their edges, expressing themselves or creating something they hope will meet and serve people, I’d be downright shocked if you didn’t have your own version of the expansion/contraction rhythm.

For the most part, I experience myself as courageous, powerful, productive and effective.  But I will say that these are qualities I’ve developed and they don’t come with a lack of terror, doubt, failure or floundering. I’m just not as bothered by these challenging rhythms as I was when they’d take me over and stop me from going after what I was called to go after.

Here’s what it looks like for me when I’m going through creative expansion…

  1. I’m called. An idea or impulse floods in. I want to say something, create something, offer something. I simply must go to this new place. I don’t usually experience any fear at this point. Enthusiasm takes me into motion.
  2. I move. I start making something happen. Maybe I map it out or engage the team or gather resources or just start taking action. This feels good. Until it doesn’t.
  3. I thrash. I haven’t actually figured out what activates the thrashing. Probably something about ‘getting it right’ or not feeling like I have enough energy or the right ‘something’ to get through what I want to create. Enter fear and doubt.
  4. I stress. Stress and angst are the response to the fear and doubt. Depending on what I’m working on and how risky it feels, this phase can be as unnoticeable as a hiccup or can drag on for weeks. I tend to get more and more focused on the outcome than on the process. That is soul death for me.
  5. Flow. Somewhere in here, I remember who I am and rest in both my utter insignificance and also the far reaching enormity of my vision and purpose and it all becomes Matrix like. Little effort. Creative Ninja. Deadlines tend to catapult me here.
  6. Visibility. And out it goes. Mostly I feel relief here and a sense of completion. Sometimes I’m concerned about how what I’ve created is received. Particularly if I’ve taken a risk. I’m more concerned about how it’s received if I know that it’s out of alignment is some subtle way, which is a telling compass for me. But how I’m recieved is usually less interesting to me than what I need to create.
  7. Contraction or Self-Disgust. Depending on what I’m up to, this comes in different forms. But what is always true is that even when I think I’m ready, even when I’m anticipating it, I don’t see it for what it is.

It’s sneaky. Sometimes I just feel exhausted and want to hide. Other times I cringe at the thought of something I’ve said or done, all nitpicky and perfectionistic and grasp onto what I’m deeming my failings. Other times I go into full blown existential angst, critiquing whatever I’m up to as off base. I  feel like I want to burn everything I’ve ever made. Inner drama central.  Often I’ll project fears of judgement or rejection onto others and fear loss of relationship from those closest to me. Torture town. Or I just get reeeeaaaaally impatient and petulant.

Part of what’s so sneaky about these contractions is that they’re rarely related to where the expansion’s taken place. For instance, I love my website. I’m stoked about Be Cause. These are great. But a couple of weeks ago I started getting agitated. I felt more and more distracted and overwhelmed. I just wanted to escape. I forgot that I hadn’t experienced my post-expansion-contraction yet.

Here’s what I find most interesting…this is the gold of why I’m sharing about this…

The content of the contraction is irrelevant. [icon name=”twitter” class=””] What I’ve felt agitated about is not actually the source of my agitation. This is simply part of what happens when I grow. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes fierce. One of the biggest mistakes I can make in a cycle of contraction is interpreting that there’s something wrong with me, with the world or with where I’m at.

If I interpret this natural, predictable phase of creativity and growth as a problem, I’ll pour energy into trying to fix or change myself instead of taking care of myself and stabilizing in the new place I’ve entered. 

The trick is not to avoid the places of fear, doubt or shame or even make them go away, but to simply not be bothered by them. [icon name=”twitter” class=””] If you allow them to distract you from who you really are or what you’re called to do, you’ll likely become identified with their content and begin making choices from this place, which perpetuates the contraction phase.

Allow the contraction, but don’t make choices from that place. Okay? [icon name=”twitter” class=””]

If you’re wondering what happens next, it all starts over. The contraction and self-disgust release. This happens a lot faster when I don’t give it fuel, but it sometimes takes a bit to recognize what’s happening. Then I settle in, stabilize where I am and wait to be called up again.

What about you? Have you identified your creative and growth rhythms? Do you thrash? Go dark? Hustle? Push? Rage? Hide? Confession time, what’s it like to be you while going through what you go through? [icon name=”twitter” class=””] I’d love to know…



PS- If this stirred some questions for you about how to work with your own rhythms or anything else, ask me here and I’ll jam with you on Dear Chela.

I’m an Integral Master Coach™, Master Certified Coach, writer, mother & people lover. My gifts are centered around helping others to meet their calling and unleash their genius, on behalf of our shared world. Get to know me...


  1. Chela – way to name that elephant in the room!

    I immediately recognized that cycle of expansion and contraction from my university days. I spent a lot of time there, so I can easily name the cycle – something like classroom discussions, digesting other people’s work, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, then finding my own opinions and using what I’d learned in a final paper or exam, then collapsing at the end of term and immediately catching a cold as my body tried to recover itself.

    I’d never thought to apply that cycle to my work / creative life now, I guess I haven’t been doing it long enough to recognize the patterns on my own. But I’m going to pay attention, because I know this elephant has stomped through my house on a regular basis, and it would be nice to be self-aware enough to recognize it for what it is, and know that the “content is irrelevant” and this too shall pass.

  2. Allie says:

    Oh wow. This is everything.

    My contraction is always as predictable as a rubber band snapping back after being stretched. Inevitable. I create something that feels really great in the moment and the second it’s done or out there or in motion: Bam. I hate it, or I’m embarrassed of it, or I convince myself that it’s not working anyway so what’s the point in even trying. It’s such a constant that after particularly long stretches of contraction I tend to avoid and put off re-starting the creative process altogether because the contraction sometimes feels so much worse than the creating feels good. Or at least, the contraction feels like it will never fade where the creative high is often so fleeting.

    This is so helpful. Of course it’s part of the rhythm. Now I just have to work on letting that be okay…

  3. Oh yes! I get nit picky. I focus on all the little things that I could have/should have done differently. Or what I could have said differently. I go into overdrive on how to make it perfect next time. What I could have planned better for, naming my mistakes and trying to figure out what I learned. It feels productive at times (like when I’m writing it down as follow up in an organized fashion) and it feels horrific mostly because it keeps me from sleeping, it wakes me in the morning and it feels like torture in my brain. Allow it. Give myself permission and love on it.
    Exhaustion happens too and then I criticize myself for being lazy and needing the down time.
    Thanks for clarifying it all so clearly! You rock!

    • Karen Neufeld says:

      Allow it. Love on it! Yes!
      When I’m in the contraction phase, I can buy into the negative self-talk really quickly and it can spiral into paralysis, which can last indefinitely. I’m practising feeling the feelings that are underneath the thoughts, hand to my heart, with compassion. That’s my version of loving on it. It helps me to not get caught in identifying with the thoughts or with the feelings, but to acknowledge them as they pass through. When I sit with it all compassionately, as I would with a child, I begin to feel the flow of the undercurrent of Love that initiates the calling in the first place, that longs to flow through me, as me. It’s a practice every darn time. Ah, to love even that.

      Thank you Chela, for normalizing the process . . . for bringing this conversation openly to the table. I love it.

  4. This is so good. I know I go through the same cycle, but I could never nail down that last one until you did. I remember feeling it as soon as I launched an affiliate store on my blog. I was all excited and elated….for five minutes. And then this shame and embarrassment washed over me. Yuck. Thank you for putting a name to it. Thank you for this.

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