What To Do With Your Stuckness (and the Trauma Linked to it)
I woke up the other morning with that sinking feeling.
Most of us experience this kind of feeling at some point or another for a variety of different reasons – being alone, ambivalence over an upcoming move, worrying about money.
For me, it happens when my usually clear path gets mucked up. I suddenly feel ungrounded, shoved side-to-side by the powerful winds of change, lost as to which step to take next. It makes me not want to get out of bed and face the day, or sometimes my life. It makes me wish it could all be easier, like it seems for so many others.
The aggravated Vata part of me haphazardly takes the wheel as it kicked my Pitta out of the car several miles back. All of the things that I’ve learned, even that I teach, seem to have left my consciousness and I just feel dread, frustration, and a whole lot of anger.
I’ve been through this cycle more than a few times in my life. I can honestly say that the part that has changed the most dramatically, and impacted me the most effectively, is using whatever reserves I have to reach out for the sometimes dusty self-compassion, pulling it off the shelf and into my lap. It’s the only tool I unequivocally need in those moments.
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We get stuck.
It’s a natural human inclination, as much as enjoying music, or loving on our pet, or celebrating a milestone in our life.
We get stuck in our stuff, our patterns. Our beliefs about ourselves, our view of what’s going on around us (world going to hell, anyone?), what we think others think about us.
We all have unresolved trauma from our childhoods, even if we had the best parents possible. We all have parts of our psyche that we do our best to hide, even from ourselves (this is why shadow work is so incredibly important).
The general new-age tagline is to will your way out of these stuck places via positive thinking, affirmations, ‘letting go’. Although I fully and whole-heartedly believe in these concepts as a path towards healing, I don’t recommend trying to use them when you find yourself on the floor in a heap of ‘I can’t fucking take it anymore’. This is the time to experience your pain, and to truly, genuinely tell your judgmental ego to step aside as you experience it. It’s not a time to censor or spiritually bypass it; it’s not a time to think about all the good stuff you have in your life. It’s just a time to let the pain roll through you and love it for all its worth.
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Teal Swan, on a recent Hay House World Summit podcast, talks about how trauma flashbacks are the body’s way of trying to heal, just like when you cut yourself and all those body processes kick off to deal with the wound. The body is bringing back those moments of pain and trauma in order to begin the process of exorcising them from your psyche. But we often do our best to shove them back down so that we don’t have to experience that pain again.
As a culture, we are finally expanding on the idea of what constitutes trauma, and what creates post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A clear majority of people experiences trauma in their lifetime, and numbers around PTSD grow every year. Though PTSD diagnosis used to be reserved for those in the military or who have experienced something “outside the bounds of the usual human experience” such as rape, the new DSM-5 criteria for PTSD has grown to include experiences such as a terrible car accident, mugging or robbery, death of a family member, natural disasters, and being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.
More than likely, you are suffering on some level from trauma that has happened in your life. Though the possibility that you are experiencing PTSD is much lower, newer approaches taken with PTSD can also be used for even mild trauma. If you find yourself contending with low self-esteem, unbridled pent-up anger, or an inability to get off the couch unless you absolutely have to, telling yourself to just “let it go” isn’t going to work.
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FEEL IT. Shut the shades. Turn off your phone. Get in your car to scream if that’s the only place you can be alone. Shake out your hands, your feet, your head, your knees. Let the feelings run up and down and out of your body. Don’t force it to be over before it is.
CRY IT. If you are letting yourself feel it, this will more than likely happen whether you want it to or not. Crying is a massive release from the body. Sobbing gets that energy up and out.
WITNESS IT. Over time, work towards doing what the Buddhists call “observing”. This is when you are able to experience your feelings and at the same time witness yourself going through the experience without attachment to what it means. For example, I can experience the pain of not feeling good enough, let memories of where this belief came from rise up in me, scream, cry, and beat a pillow and there can still be a part of me that witnesses me going through all of this without judgement. This is the part that most quickly can get me to:
COMPASSIONATE IT. Yes, compassionate is a made up word, but I think a verb is needed to express how you get to be your best friend. The witnessing allowed you to see you are not a bad person, it’s not your fault that you feel upset, that your feelings are always valid, but that you have the ability to process them and move forward. Let the compassion override the other voices in your head listing all the bad things about yourself, that are screaming you shouldn’t feel this way, or the ones that are trying to push away the sadness and let you off the hook. It is true that we can both have our feelings, it not be our fault, and be angry at the person or situation who did this to us AND that we have the power to move through them and NOT stay stuck. If we stay stuck, those feelings come out in our everyday lives and in our relationships, often without us even recognizing it.
Rinse and repeat.
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What’s not working is an attitude of you just gotta forgive and you just need to get beyond it…we walk into it with an attitude of, ‘it’s actually just a choice to change your mind and decide that it’s not gonna bug you anymore’. And that is not a choice which is available to the people who experience PTSD anymore than it’s a choice for someone who is paralyzed to just climb a set of stairs because they chose to. What we have to see is there’s a bunch of processes which have to take place before we get to a place of forgiveness. And in fact, forgiveness can’t even be something we directly work with; it has to be the natural outcome of prior steps which we take.
And I feel like when we approach people with PTSD, I mean anyone in general with an attitude of, ‘oh, just get over it, oh just let go of it’, it’s this very abstract, lovely idea if it were possible, but it’s not.” – Teal Swan on Hay House World Summit
Again, not everyone who experiences trauma is going to experience PTSD. But I think what Swan has to say of the subject of PTSD is completely justified in dealing with what we may externally perceive as even a mildly bad thing that happened to us – we can’t just get over it, or simply let it go, we can’t always just forgive. We have to do the work to get there; letting go happens when we have fully processed a situation (and it sure is easier when you start to see there may be some things you won’t ever fully process for the rest of your life, and that’s okay. You get more adept at the processing and better at mining more nuggets of gold). Forgiveness is the abstract concept that manifests from the internal work we do over time.
And the sinking feeling doesn’t have to always be the enemy.