Within me lurks a huge well of untapped creative energy the presence of which creates an unresolved frustration in response to the current state of affairs in life. I feel full to the brim with ideas that tickle my brain. I want to follow the idea until a creative endeavor is realized that I can share with others.
However, my life is an obstacle course and I’m trying to run through it while holding onto a full cup of coffee. In this coffee cup are the thoughts, feelings, perceptions, & ideas that fuel an my creative energy. I wish to do something with this inspired idea that can adequately captures its essence. However, I’m running an obstacle course of school, internship, and mom-related activities & I have no time to devote any time to it. I try to hold onto this coffee cup full to the brim of ideas, but a good majority of it spills onto the floor. I could be at work crying inside over the forgotten idea/thought/inspiration because I had to wipe somebody’s fucking ASS for the 20 millionth time. Or I could be at home, wiping cat shit off the floor because it is old and can’t make it to the litter box anymore. Or I could be trying to make my way through mounds of paperwork after seeing clients all day. My mind is seething with a mix of emotions that bubble just below the surface. I wonder when there will be time for me & why the needs of all others. However, when these thoughts press to the forefront of my mind, I’m usually not in a situation that allows me to express my thoughts openly. I may be taking care of patients at work, I could be struggling to manage my nerves while running a group therapy meeting, or I could be simply rushing to pick my kids up from whatever after school activities they have. So I continue and try to muscle through. After all, I graduate in June & then I simply need to find a job (good luck, right?!?).
They allow me to push my feelings to the edge of awareness, just out of my reach. This new insight into has caused me to stop and think a bit. How can I change my lifestyle and habits to promote greater over well-being? I’m a big believer that small changes can make a big impact. Last year, I stopped using a planner to keep track of daily tasks and to-do’s. All this did is stress me out. We’ve since moved on to a family calendar in the kitchen and everybody is responsibility for their own schedule….
Never in my life have I allowed myself to indulge in this inner creative drive. I was always told its not practical. Regarding matters of education and career pursuits, I was directed away from passion and towards pragmatism. I suppose this is why I’m now working as a C.N.A. & struggling to complete a masters degree. Its certainly practical & it fits my innate temperament as an INFP. However, it doesn’t fulfill my creative drive. I desperately long for a creative outlet….
I initially decided to start this blog after cleaning out our hallway closet. At the bottom in the back corner were old letters, journals and piles of notebooks. The letters presented a series of exchanges with family members and unresolved issues. The journals provided a snippet of me at that a point in time. The notebooks, were my well-laid plane for a blog I hoped to launch. As a therapy student, my curiosity was piqued, so I spent that morning reading through them.
One troubling pattern in all these materials, is a consistent tendency to develop well-laid plans, only to fail in consistent follow-through. Life got in the way, my kids were young, I was busy, there wasn’t enough time. These are my “excuses”. Therefore, I decided, at that moment to make myself a priority, and enact slow and steady action towards my goals. I was already working on completing a masters degree, working full time, and raising a family. However, I felt slow and steady progress is better than standstill. If I just took consistent action, at least there would be progress…
I am now working on losing weight and sustaining an average weekly loss is around 2 pounds. I’ve also worked on this blog. The progress was quite slow at first, since I didn’t know much initially about the technological aspects of blogging. However, I’m glad I took time to set things up as I like. The visual aesthetic is just as I like it. I have created several substantial blog posts. As I review my progress thus far, I note my early posts have been just random brain dumps, of what is going on at that moment. However, I have to admit, while this brain dumping can be “cathartic”, that doesn’t mean it is always the best choice, (at least from the standpoint of personal growth).
My long-term goal is improvement of my overall well-being, and expansion of an adult ego state, as described in this video: (Theramin Trees, 2010). Since this similar to Marsha Linehan’s concept of wise-mindedness, I feel it might help to review both of these concepts below:
Wise-Mindedness – A Guiding Principle
In a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Skills Group, mindfulness is taught to clients so they can learn tools to improve their ability to regulate emotions (McKay, et al, 2010). It can also help us to make sound judgments and decisions (McKay, et al, 2010). Deeply held valuees are just as important life as the pragmatics of daily life and utilization of basic logic. In order to provide clarity to the notion of mindfulness, three concepts are introduced: reasonable mind, emotional mind, wise mind (McKay, et al, 2010). The emotional mind, is best thought of as a state in which you think with your feelings and not through them. A skewed reality overwhelms us based on our unique experiences, (McKay, et al, 2010). In contrast, the reasonable mind, is ruled by intellect, the principles of logic, and empirical facts (McKay, et al, 2010). While, a comprehensive and logical analysis of facts has occurred the monkey wrench in life which is overlooked are others feelings. You see, acknowledging others emotions means you understand comprehensively the nature of life experiences as reflective of ones perceptions and values. Failing to understand this, means you enforce upon others a pragmatic solution that fails to consider what’s important to them. Finally, the wise-mind sits at the intersection between facts and feelings. “Wise mind is a decision-making process that balances the reasoning of your thoughts with the needs of your emotions….” (McKay, et al, 2010, p75).
In his video, Theramin Trees, (2010) provides another slant on this notion of wise-mindedness. From this theoretical vantagepoint, ego-states can be thought of perceptual mindsets based on early childhood memories, resulting in protypical patterns of behavior. My own favorites appear to be the hurt child & critical parent. The critical parent provides structure and control in an uncertain role, while the hurt child is a perpetual victim. Merging these two, can allow me to function more effectively, in the present. Letting go of past baggage is needed to deal with things in the present in a balanced and holistic manner.
A Goal – Pulling My Head Out…
The problem with old traumas, is when they are triggered, the emotional onslaught can be tough to endure. It happens rarely nowadays, (and usually with family). I work through the emotions and process them in a healthy manner, then re-acclimate my “higher cognitive functioning” to daily life. In the aftermath, I end up frustrated with myself. How is it mountains become molehills, and stuff I’m so “over” are still “not over”??!! In moving forward, I will make use of this blog as a place to vent and purge. However, I feel it is important in a manner that allows a processing of emotions that heightens my well-being. If it strengthens my hurt child and inner critic, I will need to let it go.
With all this in mind, if I bring up a triggery or painful experience, I will make a point of reading it later in “the cold light of day”. My prediction is, when reviewing these old posts , I will discover my reactions don’t match the situation which triggered it. Or sometimes I might just be acting on a misunderstanding and creating problems where they didn’t exist before. In either case, I intend – from here on out – to take time and make use of these blogged experiences by learning from them. What follows is an example of how I will structure this processing. In this example, I will utilize an email my sister sent me after notifying me she had breast cancer. In this email she provides a link to a to an article on how to provide support to those with cancer. I discuss my reactions to this email in the post titled “…and cancer trumps PTSD”
First The Context….
For my own purposes, the first step in processing “triggery” events, will be to acknowledge and describe my my emotions. After finding out my sister has cancer, she updates me in a quick email about the surgeries and treatments in her future. At the bottom of this email was a link to an article titled “How Not To Say The Wrong Thing” by Susan Silk, breast cancer survivor and psychologist. She describes an “Comfort IN and Dump OUT” (Silk & Goldman, 2013) rule for those in the midst of crisis in the following quote:
“Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it put the name of the person at the center of the trauma…Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma…when you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours…the goal is to help…but if you open your mouth ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort. If it isn’t don’t say it.” (Silk & Goldman, 2013).
This quote essentially stresses the importance of providing comfort to those going through a crisis, but avoid dumping your upon them anything you’re dealing with since this only adds more stress in their lives.
Next The Processing….
Describe The Bodily Emotions…
My mind is on fire, and my body tingles with quickly burgeoning panic. This unexpected trigger, reminds me of a time, when I needed my family to be there and they didn’t. Old memories of aloneness, desperation, and hurt enter my mind. Anger sets in, as I remember being blamed, having to apologize and provide comfort, at a time when I needed them. I hug my husband and he holds me as the tears pour out uncontrollably for about thirty minutes. I go to the gym to work out and let go of the pent up energy which drives me crazy.
Identify Your Thought Processes…
The next step in my processing will involve identifying the thought processes that occurred at this time. When overcome with old memories, it is hard to see beyond them. My thought processes are like a snowball that rolls down the hill and gets bigger on its way down. While I’m grateful for my ability to maintain some “metacognitive awareness”, I still struggle. Part of me knows these emotions are related to old memories and not current events. However, despite my best efforts my mind repeatedly floats back to unresolved issues with family and I began to ruminate. The viscious rumination cycle starts when memories intrude my mind. It then causes old feelings of anger and hurt to pop up. I ask why they couldn’t be there? Why can’t they acknowledge they weren’t there? And the cycle continues as memories pop up again.
Examining The Evidence “For and Against”
So what is the evidence? On the one hand, my family wasn’t there. They weren’t there then. Yes, in fact if I were to look at evidence of what happened, this truth can’t be ignored. If my own “hurt child” wishes to hear this, there you go. However, in order to move forward into the adult state, I need to let go of the past. From this perspective it is clear these emotions are byproducts of a “trauma fog” that hits occassionally with family. In thus respect, my perceptions aren’t reflective of what is happening now. Instead, they are responses to a trigger. When I look at what my sister said in her email, this is a clip of her intentions at the time she sent it to me.
I wanted to include a link to an article that I wish I had read a long time ago in ministering to friends/family who are in the midst of a trial. It talks about having circles or rings around the person in the center of the trial and to be mindful of how we speak to those affected by the trial. Very insightful.
It is worth noting, that I respond to this email by putting my foot in my mouth and dumping upon my sister and sharing about how this email is triggery, but thank her for the email. She acknowledges how I feel, but simply “I hope you can get the help that you need.” My mother, chimes in regarding this misunderstanding and makes the following statement:
“I agree. I do not fully understand the pain that you suffered as a child. I also was not there to hold your hand. I am sorry………Mom”
The final step in this process involves identifying and disputing irrational thoughts. What are my irrational thoughts & how do I need to pull my head out? Here is the list:
I AM REACTING TO PAST EVENTS –What happened was a reaction to a trigger of an old painful memory that set off a chain of events inside me that took a while to resolve themselves.
COGNTIVE DISTORTIONS – the two cognitive distortions standing out to me in this specific instance include overgeneralization and magnification.
HURT CHILD EGO STATE – Eric Brene describes this ego state as an experiential perspective based on unresolved issues from our childhood. Memories of old wounds as a vulnerable child take over and you can’t think beyond them.
Boy, do I need to pull my head out or what?!?!
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 978-1-118-03822-2
Mckay, M., Wood, J., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.
Silk, S. & Goldman, B (2013, April, 7). How not to say the wrong thing. Retrieved from: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407
Theramin trees [screen name] (2010, June, 10) Transactional Analysis 1: ego states & basic transactions Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKNyFSLJy6o
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”.
Berne, E. (1961). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong. Random House: New York.
ericberne.com (n.d.) A description of transactional analysis. Retrieved from: http://www.ericberne.com/transactional-analysis/
Petriglieri, G. (2007). Stuck in a moment: A developmental perspective on impasses. Transactional Analysis Journal, 37(3), 185-194.