Hamlet famously asked the question, “To be or not to be?” meaning should I kill myself or not?
My response regarding our psyche is, “To stagnate, or grow, that is the question?”
It has so often amazed me how the world has changed in just the last 100 years. In the year 1900, few people dreamed that we could routinely fly around the world and be planning trips to Mars, or talk to someone instantly via email or Skype on the other side of the world, or download a book electronically in seconds, yet those very creators of this technology are, as I type, fighting with their partners, cheating on them sexually, feeling hurt and betrayed by the smallest of insults.
We have grown immensely in the use of our minds, but our hearts remain far, far behind.
A Therapy Question
The most important question for anyone entering psychotherapy and indeed having a fulfilled life, is the question, ‘how much do you want to grow.’
There’s that famous joke, “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?”
But the bulb has to really want to change!
When I moved into my first bachelor pad, what feels like a 100 years ago, it really was the most incredible freedom from the constraints of my parents.
Unfortunately I wasn’t particularly good at housekeeping. About a month after moving in I discovered a sealed plastic bread bin in which I had left a loaf a bread, on top of one of the cupboards.
It had been there for about 3 weeks. I wish I had taken a picture of it to show you.
It looked like a porcupine with green spikes, only packed much more closely together.
It looked downright dangerous.
It has always remained the perfect image for me of the opposite of growth – stagnation.
Much of the time, when you feel you are stuck in the same situation or feeling or scenario in your life, its stagnation.
I say ‘much of the time’ because very often, it isn’t stagnation at all, it’s just the lull before the change kicks in.
Recognizing this requires patience.
Growth Can Be Terrifying
One of the major reasons why people stagnate is that growth can feel terrifying for them.
Their identity is so locked into the pain that if they were to let go of the pain, they would be terrified. There is definitely a group of people who feel this way. It might seem counterintuitive, or paradoxical, but when they let go of their crazy behaviours and neurotic feelings, they feel worse!
It’s a desperate situation. They want to feel better, but getting better makes them feel worse!
I often see this when people learn to meditate or relax deeply. They say they are longing for peace but they are so habituated to feeling stressed that when they start to relax deeply it scares them!
Another reason we struggle to grow is that it takes so much work and in addition our growth isn’t a straight line graph upwards. It is a spiky, up-and-down process and we get easily discouraged.
To drop this expectation and to persist in the face of disasters and setbacks cannot be overestimated.
This is the defining difference between people who do well in their lives and people who don’t, at every level, it’s the ability to keep going and to adapt and adjust one’s strategy when adversity strikes.
And strike it will – for all of us.
There’s that famous phrase:
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got!
A Tangled Mass Of Fishing Line
One of the most important reasons for people struggling with growth is summed up in the statement made by a Yogi whom I worked with many years ago. He said that much of the time the problems that people have are like a tangled mass of fishing line, which is so knotted that you pull on one piece and everything else contracts more, which makes it almost impossible to know where to start fixing what!
There are so many people who have multiple traumas and stresses and experiences of pain and abuse, that to begin to work on these issues can simply create a sense of overwhelm.
Stagnation is often the only option because growth involves an increased activation of the pain that is already there.
In the neo-Freudian model in which I was trained people would often sit for months and months in this pain. Nowadays I’m able to help them to experience the pain and simultaneously to begin to let go of it, which makes the growth so much easier.
In addition I work with TRE, the stress and trauma release process that enables the body to simply release its history of trauma without having to use words to do so and the body does this in its own time in its own wise way.
My final reason for growth being difficult to sustain is that much of the time we just want to be happy. We don’t want to do anything to get happiness, we just want it gifted to us on a plate.
Of course we all know that that isn’t going to happen – much of the time.
If you would like to work with any of these issues face to face or via Skype, please drop me a mail at email@example.com