capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

The S.T.U.C.K Series: Part One

I know what I need to do, but I just can’t do it.

Taylor entered therapy knowing exactly what was wrong with him and exactly how to cope with it. He could outline his defense mechanisms, as if he had recited a psychology textbook, and explain his rationale for why he had each of them. He had mesmerizing intellect, the captivating kind, and I truly believe he could outsmart me on every level.

Taylor wanted help because he couldn’t change a single thing about himself, no matter how much he wanted to and how much he knew he needed to.

He was perpetually stuck between the proverbial place of here- knowing what needs to be done– and there– actually having done it.

Taylor lived in a painstaking limbo, acutely aware of his options and obstacles, fully capable of making the necessary changes, but paralyzed in actually doing so.

I would soon find that he was not alone. In fact, we all have our own versions of “Taylor” inside of us; we are all apprehensive of change and knowledge to some degree.

I know what I need to do, but I just can’t do it. 

Taylor was stuck. He was so, so stuck.

He was scared to undergo change and/or knowledge (S.T.U.C.K).

The undertone of any resistance lies in fear. Fear lurks in every decision we make, in every complicated crossroads we encounter; it can be obvious or insidious, and it can debilitate us as much as we allow. Fear paradoxically “protects” us from the real world by keeping us in a makeshift safety bubble. In reality, this safety illusion can be limiting and even toxic, especially when it is no longer serving us. Fear keeps us from growing and evolving, as we constantly feel threatened and doomed that something bad will inevitably happen.

Though actions may be neutral in a logical sphere, the emotion of fear complicates them. While taking a risk may be the best intellectual move, the emotional whirlwind that accompanies this execution often stunts us. We don’t want to feel. We really don’t want to hurt. Stagnation is comfortable, even when miserable. Routine is safe, even when dreaded.

And, yes, at the crux of it, old habits die hard. This is why the next term in the acronym is change. Scared to undergo change. In any moment of stress, it is easier to take the mental shortcut, to do what’s worked in the past, to move in ways that are automatic, rather than intentional, and continue cruising on our own personal autopilots. We see this with anybody who engages in compulsive or addictive behavior, anyone who lives in a way that is incongruent with his or her own personal values. I know what I need to do, but I can’t do it.

The last part of this acronym is knowledge, because yes, even knowledge can be terrifying. Knowledge creates space for vulnerability; it allows us to see us for who we are and see things for what they are. The reduction of such denial can be empowering or depressing, but we choose the lens in which we absorb the knowledge.

If we fear insight, we block internal evolution. In denying resources and information, we essentially stunt ourselves from learning more truth and reasoning.

I put an and/or in this acronym because the fear of change and the fear of knowledge may exist in tandem, or one may exist alone.

Taylor, for example, feared change, but he welcomed the knowledge. In fact, he used his intellectualization and hyperawareness of self to overcompensate the “feeling” side of him- the side that, of course, was petrified of change and all that it encompassed.

With time, he did learn to take small risks, which is the only way to move through being stuck.  We worked with becoming more comfortable with fear; he had to make peace and acceptance with it.

Part Two of this Series will elaborate on this “working through” process. It is messy and uncomfortable, but moving in a direction, any direction at all, tends to beat not moving at all.

 

 

  • Some names and identifying details have been changed or added to protect the privacy and confidentiality of individuals.