by Trudy Gregson, MS, LPC
I had this idea for an article about what keeps us stuck and how to become unstuck, but I kept getting stuck. For real. Would it resonate with readers? Would it be any good? Would people think I’m not good for writing a not-good article? I laughed to myself. I think I’m on to something!
I went for a run, my first run in quite a while. I listened to a book while I ran, my mind wandering occasionally off the narrator’s tale to my article idea and the possibility that I wouldn’t find a better idea, then to thoughts about missing the deadline, and possible ways to get out of writing it. I’d feel a little tension and then brush the thoughts away. When I got home and my breath and my heart rate gradually returned to normal, some space opened up. I grabbed a notebook and pen.
As I sat there in the aftereffects of my run, I got curious. What was the fear about the article? It wouldn’t be interesting or helpful. I don’t have enough to say on the topic. It won’t be up to the standards of the community for whom I’m writing. And if any of those things are true, then what?
Sitting in this calm, curious state, I stayed with the fear. I set aside the words and the feelings that told me to panic and asked them to wait a few minutes so I could get to know this feeling of fear of not being good enough. I got comfortable with just sitting with it. I thought of the compassionate words of Kristin Neff, author of the book, Self-Compassion: “Everyone is imperfect.” Writing is imperfect. I’m imperfect. Feeling some compassion for my imperfection was like a weight off my shoulders. It just didn’t seem to matter as much how my article was received. It felt more important just to share it from my heart, with the intention that it might resonate with some readers, and it might help them with their own feelings of “stuckness.” And I’d meet my deadline.
As I settled into these feelings of compassion, my fear felt heard, cared for, understood. It didn’t feel so pressing. There was space for the writing to happen, to unfold in its own imperfect way. I felt clarity. I will write an imperfect, possibly helpful, certainly heartfelt article. And that will be good enough.
One of the reasons people come to therapy is because they’re feeling stuck in some way. They so badly want something to change, but something else is holding them back. The belief is that if only they could get past that thing that’s holding them back, they could achieve their goal, get what they need, be happier. Like a car stuck in the mud, our impulse is to spin our wheels to become unstuck. But what if feeling stuck is actually an invitation, an opportunity to explore a fear that we didn’t fully realize was there?
I’ve noticed that the part of us that wants to move forward is usually the one that gets all the attention. That’s the one that asks a friend for advice, or makes a therapy appointment, or agitates about writing the article. So we double-down, trying to devise a strategy to solve this problem. Paradoxically, the more we double-down, the more stuck we get. Because the one with the power – the fear – is being ignored, avoided. Because it’s uncomfortable and a little scary.
The fear is the one who stands by, shaking its head thinking, “Try all you want, but you’re not going anywhere, because I’m afraid if we go there, you won’t be safe. And my job is to keep you safe.” It’s a basic survival instinct. And then it’s a tug-of-war between wanting something to change and the fear of what will happen if something changes.
We start becoming unstuck when we stop trying to push through the fear and instead, open up some space and give it some attention. Bringing some curiosity to it: “I wonder how this fear that keeps me stuck is trying to help me?” As hard as this may be to believe, its intentions are good, even if it frustrates us. So we listen.
There are other ways to open up space besides running. I know I’m not alone in getting some of my best ideas in the shower. Perhaps it’s the rhythm or warmth of the water, the pulsating sensation on the skin, or the absence of distractions that opens up some space in one’s mind. Some people open up space by meditating, or stroking their dog or cat, or doing any task mindfully. There’s something about being immersed in the sensory experience of a run or a walk, a shower, a pet, or even gently scrubbing soapy dishes that magically opens up some space.
This space provides an opening for us to bring attention and some kindness to the fear, allowing it to soften enough to tell you why it does what it does. Then the opponents in this tug-of-war can discover that they actually have the same goal, a desire to protect you from the same thing; they just have opposite ways of going about it. When the thing they protect is healed, then they can work together to help you reach your goal instead of working against each other.
We’re all wired to fight, flee, or freeze in the face of fear. It takes courage to go towards the fear. So the next time you feel stuck, try noticing it as an adventure: You’re at the beginning of discovering a fear, and if you can find even a drop of courage, you may experience feeling stuck as an exploration – and then the healing can happen.
Trudy Gregson, MS, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor providing counseling to adults experiencing depression, anxiety, issues related to trauma, life transitions, and relationship struggles. Trudy customizes her approach according to each client’s needs, using Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), Mindfulness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as the foundation for their work together, helping clients to notice, bring compassion to, and find acceptance of their inner experience. To connect with Trudy, please email her at email@example.com or call her at 267-652-1732.