Things are amiss in the neighborhood these days. The thirty-something hoodied hipsters, intently glued to their phones while awaiting the Microsoft Connector, have suddenly been joined by a legion of 9 to 49-year-olds, strolling around with their nose planted in the edutainment garden's newest flower: Pokemon GO. Perhaps you've seen them skittering about your neighborhood--huddled in groups over a singular LED display--waiting to capture and tame their digital prey.
After the four thousandth Pokemon GO sighting last week, I started wondering about the precise moment when an unknown phenomenon becomes a ubiquitous pass time. And, individually speaking, the location of the threshold between thought and action. What makes any of us decide to change?
As a therapist, I frequently consult with people who are troubled by persistent, unwanted patterns of thought or behavior that seem to have taken up permanent residence in their lives and psyches.
By the time most clients schedule the first appointment, these well-worn consistencies have become a source of considerable discomfort. What's more, most of the people I've had the privilege to know are convinced their suffering is the result some kind of personal failure: "If I was just more of this or less of that, I wouldn't feel this stuck."
This could not be more untrue.
As a newly-minted psychologist, I often sat with people, hour after hour, unknowingly colluding with them to either take or give away something that they were neither ready to discover nor relinquish. This was not successful at advancing therapy because it did little to enhance my relationship with the individuals who were choosing their symptoms to begin with.
By not honoring the distinct purpose of anyone's chosen coping strategies, we undermine their wisdom.
What we most often identify as a problem is actually a misguided solution. For example, an alcoholic's problem is not excessive drinking. The real issue is his or her belief that alcohol is needed to escape emotions that would otherwise prove too scary or dangerous to feel. Only when what is to be gained by healing outweighs the fear of encountering what has previously been considered too threatening, will the afflicted choose to relinquish any vice.
The repetition of any destructive pattern is life's way of inviting us to encounter an important truth about ourselves. We feel stuck when we are not yet ready to learn what pain has to teach us.
Pain is a highly effective attention-getter. For most of us, it is when discomfort can no longer be ignored that we are compelled to do something to help ourselves. So we must lean into it.
We change when the desire for truth is greater than our need to avoid it. Though this truth is often difficult to acknowledge, the lies we must tell ourselves in order to perpetuate our undoing are far more arduous.
We cannot learn from what we do not first acknowledge and then accept. Acceptance asks that we not judge ourselves for what we are doing but, instead, scooch a little closer to the innocent child inside who is struggling to trust that we are already okay; that we alone are enough.
Readiness to change cannot be rushed or forced. But the good news is that life will continue to invite us to carefully attend to our unfinished business, to speak our truth, to heal.
As we hear and incorporate pain's message, whatever was causing us to feel stuck gently moves aside. The first step toward the light begets a second, a third, and so on until, one day, we look over our shoulders and notice how far removed unwanted habits have become.
Sometimes we must travel a path of darkness in order to make our way toward the light. So, the next time you feel stuck, ask yourself how what you perceive as your enemy could actually be a friend in disguise. Perhaps the immovable obstacle in your path is really a paving stone to freedom!
If your best efforts have not helped you get "unstuck," perhaps it's time for a little help. Click here to ask me if psychotherapy is right for you.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
Like what you see? Enter your email address below to receive exclusive personal growth-related content, post updates, and more!
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.