Recovery work is definitely a journey. And while the traumatic emotions and memory recovery feel awful sometimes, there is nothing worse than feeling stuck.
In this work, “stuck” is a technical term. It means our defenses are winning the inner battle at the moment. Why? We have hit a new threshold in our recovery work. It might take the form of a new emotion, memory or belief, but it feels too scary to process. Of course, we don’t consciously know any of this. If we did, we would take steps to change it. So we spend far too much time in the phase of “stuck” before we develop awareness of what is going on.
For those who have not embraced trauma recovery, they may spend their entire life in this phase. But for those of us who have started this journey, feeling stuck can feel extremely uncomfortable. And it is amazing how good our defenders are at explaining this discomfort away. They are really, really good at it. And so we sit in our uncomfortable “stuckness” for much too long.
But we can build our ability to identify that stuck phase. When our defenses are high and our inner battle is in overdrive, those blocks show up in three ways.
When we are stuck, our body is not in a good place. There is no flow. Not only do we lose the energetic flow, but anything that is supposed to flow can get stuck too. Our blood gets marred with cholesterol. Our digestion slows down and gets stuck. Anything that is supposed to rid the body of toxins stops working like it should. And our muscles get tense and painful as they block whatever we don’t want to feel and see. There is nothing like a chronic illness to identify our “stuckness”.
When we are stuck, we are likely only experiencing two emotions: anger and hopelessness. But we don’t know we are experiencing them. They are defensive emotions and they show up in defensive ways. Our anger has a tendency to look like anxiety and panic, although it can show up as explosions of rage or passive aggression. Our hopelessness looks like depression. Underneath the anxiety and depression are emotions like grief, shame and fear. But we cannot access them because our defenses have battened down the hatches. They are keeping those potentially deadly (in our defenders’ opinions) emotions at bay by blocking them.
When we are stuck, the mind is instrumental in blocking our awareness. Our mind becomes manic, making lists, daydreaming, and inventing every awful scenario that could happen. Distraction is the tool and it works so well. Every time we begin to feel, the mind is there to change our focus back to the constant needs of the outside world. In addition, the mind will hit us with beliefs that make us think nothing needs to be addressed. Some of the most popular are:
We have done all the recovery work we need to do.
Emotions are dangerous and will keep us from our responsibilities.
Society doesn’t want to see our negativity. Just stay positive.
But all of these attempts to keep us stuck are very dangerous. The longer we stay stuck, the more damage we do to our minds, bodies and external lives as we repeat our patterns from the past. When we are moving forward in recovery, we are moving forward in life (even when it doesn’t seem like it).
So what can you do to move out of the “stuck” phase? Here are some suggestions:
- Engage in a form of body work that gets things flowing. This could be anything from yoga to running to Reiki to massage. When we engage the body in the process of healing, amazing progress can happen.
- Let your inner parts express from the emotions you are feeling. Start with the anxiety and depression and let the unconscious message behind them come forward. As you write from them, they will start to shift to the emotions behind the emotions. Write from them too.
- Pay attention to what your mind is doing. Start to take control of what your thoughts are telling you. Question the beliefs that don’t seem right. They come from childhood. Explore how your mind keeps you distracted. Start practicing thought management through awareness and meditation. Even if you can stay with it for 30 seconds, you are making major progress. You will improve over time if you persist.
- Bring in a helper who can see where you might be stuck. Sometimes our blind spot will be more obvious to another person. Get help even when your inner parts are telling you not to trust anyone.
If you are stuck, take some steps to get yourself unstuck. With small but consistent changes, you can take charge of your recovery and progress in ways you had not thought possible. With the right awareness, you can move yourself past stuck and into living.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW