The purpose of this blog, is to address directly a strange and inexplicable “stuckness” that has plagued much of my life. In fact, when I originally sought out counseling just over five years ago, my primary complaint was that I “felt stuck”. A review of my journals from this time are filled with complaints of Hamster-Wheel experiences and unresolved hopes for my future. Vivid descriptions can be found throughout these journals of what I wish I wasn’t and who I’m not right now but want to become. The familiar variety of this complaints included most often are: (1) a desire to lose weight without the follow through to back it up, (2) a desire to start a blog, but an explicable fear of failure, (3) a desire to make friends and overcome my isolative tendencies, (4) a frustration with my job as a source of ongoing stress in which I leave feeling depleted shell of my old self at the end of along day. Underlying these frustrations and desires was a narrative perspective that had skewed my perception of life events. Unbeknownst to me, this problematic narrative was what caused my “stuckness”. As I have stated repeatedly:
“the problem had nothing to do with what I was looking at, but I how chose to look at it.”
In a research article I read recently titled “Stuck in a Moment”, I uncovered an intriguing perspective on the nature of “stuckness”:
“Transactional analysis often regards the experience of ‘ feeling stuck’ as the manifestation of an impasse or an intrapsychic conflict or interpersonal roadblock…my own aim here is to broaden the theory of impasses, exploring whether and how ‘stuckness’ may constitute a developmental opportunity” (Petriglieri, 2007, p185).
When I read this quote, I decided it was worth “blogging about” . The idea that stuckness isn’t a roadblock but instead developmental opportunity is not only inspiring, it reflects my own experience. As someone who has progressed from stuckness into gradual forward motion, I see my own stuckness as a reflective byproduct of unresolved traumas, missing pieces, and a shame-based identity. These personal “monkey wrenches” existed as self-fulfilling prophecies until I was willing to face them head on. In retrospect, I see oppositional mindsets fighting for “control”. On the one hand, an “inner critic” fills my mind with shame-based messages of what “good enough” means. The effective solution according to this inner critic is to work at “being good enough”. This may have meant weight loss or getting a new job. In response to this mindset, I believe there was a “hurt child” who held an unacknowledged wisdom all her own by reflecting the emotive consequences of this thinking. After all, how is it that “good enough” means something that I am not now based on messages from others growing up?
An overview of Transactional Analysis….
Before I begin discussing how I “got unstuck”, I’d like to provide an overview of transactional analysis. Utilizing insights from this theory, my therapist keeps nesting dolls on the coffee table in her office. Utilizing them in conversations from time to time, they have been productive tools for reflecting on the opposing ego states underlying my stuckness. it seems my own “inner critic” and “hurt child” are fighting for “control” and as a result I’m getting nowhere. Now that I’m a student, and reading Eric Brene’s works, it may be useful to quickly review some essential concepts.
According to Eric Berne, “The human brain acts in many ways like a camcorder, vividly recording events.” (ericbrene.com, n.d.). While not necessarily remaining available for conscious retrieval, the emotive consequences of these events and our experiences of them remain. It is only when interactions and events, trigger these memories that the effects of these events arise. This cognitive process is much more complex in an individual with PTSD as you might imagine. In an effort to provide convenient constructs to discuss the transactional process between these ego states, Eric Brene created several key concepts in this theory. For example, structural analysis involves an examination of the various mental states I described earlier (“inner critic” vs. “hurt child”). In contrast, transactional analysis examines the dynamics of social interaction and how these elements of our psyche play their role. The nesting dolls in my therapy sessions provide a convenient method of illustrating Eric Brene’s concepts of ego states. Rather than conceiving of these ego states as Freudian structures in the brain, Berne states they are “phenomenological realities” (ericbrene.com, n.d.), that represent consistent patterns of reacting to life events. For example, my own “hurt child”, reflects Eric Brene’s child ego state in which past experiences are experienced from the standpoint of their emotive impact. In my specific instance, this is where most of my unresolved traumas exist. In contrast, the Parent ego state, represents my own “critical parent”. The critical parent’s camcorder provides an overview of early life experiences and the implicit messages they contained. Finally, as I understand it, Berne’s adult ego state, reflects closely Marsha Linehan’s wise-mind concept.
Getting Unstuck – First Steps…
In retrospect, two key sources are most effective in describing how I became unstuck: (1) Rising Strong, by Brene Brown, (2) and Petriglieri’s article on the stuckness as a developmental opportunity. Combining insight from these readings with my own journal, what follows is a description of how “getting unstuck” happened for me.
In his article, Petriglieri, (2007) states the following as an underlying cause of stuckness: “…we feel unstuck instead of accepting & allowing ourselves to feel that we are not, at the present moment able or willing to change” (p. 187). Early on in my therapy, I was encouraged to participate in a DBT Skills Group. Throughout my participation in this group, I kept a journal, and recorded my progress….
As I noted in my journal, like the concept of forgiveness, accepting something doesn’t mean you’re saying its okay that painful things have happened to you. For that matter, it also does not mean that you’re “giving up” or “giving in”. Finally, it also important to note that refusing to accept something doesn’t effectively change things. Instead things remain the same and a painful experience morphs into unbearable suffering. As I have learned personally, letting go of my need to “fight reality” means I’m turning an unbearable trauma into something I can at least cope with. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. After all, coming to terms with a truth that appears unbearable at first, is often like a grieving process. The loss, while not readily visible, creates a before/after experiences: events have profoundly affected you, and you will never be the same.
Today, I find myself viewing this old journal entry with two mental states. An adult-oriented wise-minded self, acknowledges the hurt that acceptance requires us to face yet is able to provide the coping tools necessary to move forward and face truth. In time, this choice to “turn my mind” toward acceptance, has been truly transformative. Today, I’m grateful for everything that brought me to where I am today. Honestly, as crazy as it sounds, if granted an opportunity to change anything from my past – I wouldn’t change anything.
“Bob, like almost all the other POW’s we got to interview and got to know very well, said in response to the following question: ‘if you could have eliminated the POW experience from your life would you do so?’…and Bob like many of the others said ‘No’ because I learned things about myself during that experience, and I learned tools – psychological tools, tools in which to handle my life, that I probably could have never learned any other way…”
Owning My Story…
For a course I’m taking on career counseling, I have to complete a paper on a self-help book. Naturally, as a “Brene Brown Fan”, I picked her latest book, Rising Strong. In it are insights on the process of getting unstuck and what is required to “make things happen.” Utilizing insights from Narrative Therapy, Brene Brown (2015) describes “The Rumble” (p77) as an essential turning point in “getting unstuck” that requires us to examine the perceptions and meaning systems weaved throughout our lives. Developing a sense of clarity about our personal history is critical if we are to understand what got us where we are today. As the saying goes, you cannot change what you’ve refused to acknowledge.
Facing Unresolved Trauma…
“…Impasses occur each time we encounter a situation in which our current adaptations cannot make sense of or handle meaningfully….our cognitive framework, emotional capacity, and behavioral repertoire, do not allow us to make sense of…and deal with our present reality” (Petriglieri, 2007, p187).
Petriglieri’s (2007), view on “Stuckness” as a byproduct of trauma, hits home for me, since I lived for much of my life with symptoms of PTSD while undiagnosed. Its surprising how much these unresolved issues have managed to pollute all areas in my life. Fortunately, I’ve always had an intuitive wisdom to move in the direction of continued growth. As I reflect on my life’s course, any forward progress, has occurred, only after I came to terms with how these unresolved traumas have affected an area of my life. For example, I couldn’t be in a happy marriage today, if it weren’t my efforts to overcome the aftereffects of an “unhealthy” relationship in college. For that matter, if I hadn’t resolved unresolved issues within my family of origin, I wouldn’t be the mother I am to my kids. Finally, resolving underlying motives has been important in my ongoing efforts to lose weight and switch careers. While these issues may seem disconnected, the underlying common cause of “stuckness” is unresolved trauma, that kept me where I didn’t wish to remain:
“Hurt doesn’t go away simply because we don’t want to acknowledge it In fact left unchecked, it festers, grows and leads to behaviors that are completely out of line with whom we want to be.” (Brene Brown, 2015, p59).
Having discussed my own experiences of “stuckness”, I’d like to revisit the subject of why I’ve decided to start this blog. As I mentioned earlier a series of a troubling hamster-like replay of failures originally brought me into counseling. These failures began as I found myself finishing a degree in a field I had little interest in, due to a controlling and dysfunctional relationship. These “missteps” continued when a rental business I worked hard to build, resulted in a series of foreclosures and bankruptcy. In between these stumbles my career history was peppered with a series of “dead-end” jobs. My academic efforts didn’t fair much better after college, as I found myself attempting to enter field after field, only to quit in frustration. The final stuckness experienced occurred just prior to therapy and revolved around a desire to start a blogging. I had worked hard to prepare, read lots of books and even outlined many ideas that have filled several file cabinets. However, a fear of failure held me back just prior to any efforts to begin taking action and establish an online presence. This blog, represents a big step for me – a journey towards “unstuckness”.
What did I not get through this history of “missteps?”
Underlying my stuckness history are misconceptions of what success and failure are and the pathway leading in either direction. At the time I entered therapy, I would have described success as a preconceived idea of shame-based messages gathered throughout my life. In this respect, success became a preconceived cure to heal past unresolved hurts. Success became a desire to avoid what I was, and become what I defined as “good enough”. In other words, a pervasive resistance and unwillingness to accept what I was, motivated all efforts to create success. In this respect, failure was defined as what I was currently. The path to success meant, running away from my story, myself and what hurt to much to face.
What do I now understand about getting unstuck?
Today, I understand success is a byproduct of my own desire to live an authentic and whole-hearted life. In this respect, I realize taking ownership of my story is critical in order to move forward. Creating forward motion happens only when I follow the insights of the serenity prayer: changing what I can and accepting what I can’t. Last but not least, healing old traumas was a final critical piece in my own journey toward “unstuckness” and slow progressive forward motion.
As a result of this view of success, I’m now prepared with a clear perspective on the journey required to work towards my goals. Having examined carefully the underlying motives of my life goals, I now realize that the “reckoning, and rumble” Brene (2015) speaks of are part of this process. I am no longer engaging life with an unresolved desire to cure to trauma, pain, insecurity, and avoid shame. Instead good enough happens now in which I’m at peace with the journey it took to get to “here”.