By Alexa Ashworth – MFT, Intern
Are you feeling stuck? Don’t know where to start? Tired of starting new things only to quit midway through?
I often hear clients say, “I have been through so many challenges and heartache in my life, I do not know where to begin”. My response to this, as many respected professionals would say is, “let’s start with where you are at now and go from there”.
We are all human and there is no written rule of knowing where to start. The best we can do is to begin. It is easy to allow the vicious vortex of our mind to take over and replay the many events in our life that hold us back from moving forward with ease in our daily routines. When we perpetuate the vortex with negative thoughts around each challenging event that feels as though there is no escape, this is when it is time to name exactly what is happening.
It may sound like, “I am holding a giant knotted ball above the ground and afraid to know what will happen if I unravel it”. Or “I have endured so much heartache in one lifetime that my many losses make me dead inside”. When we name what it is our mind and body are experiencing we start to have a clearer picture of how are weights are being carried. As humans, it is not our job to carry the heavy burdens of others or the world around us. So how do we acknowledge the weight we currently hold and start to untangle a mental knotted mess?
1. Write down a list of all the challenges you are struggling with.
Physically writing down everything that holds us hostage in our own life story helps us know ourselves better along the way. There is power in visually looking at what we try to mentally juggle on a daily basis. Gaudex (2017) expresses, “When we create, whether it’s about writing, drawing or painting something, isn’t it to exteriorize a part of ourselves?” Absolutely! I would also add that when we externalize thoughts buried within us, those thoughts no longer rule over our soul’s desire to release what we do not know how to.
Personally, when I take the time to write or draw it allows me to step outside of my thoughts and ask myself questions like, “how is this emotion serving a purpose for my actions?” “What am I protecting?” or “What can I do to acknowledge I am experiencing change?” The questions you ask yourself may be different than these along the way.
However, as long as we are staying curious about the list we have created in front of us it will lead to a deeper reflection of what can be done to reduce the number of challenges we walked into therapy with. In the past, I worked with a child that told me they would rather write with a pencil than type on the computer. When I asked why that is the child responded, “Because it makes me feel connected to something and I am able to focus”. As we continue to live in a fast pace, ever-growing society, something as simple as writing can bring us into our own body again.
2. Pick out one thread of your life at a time to untangle.
After creating a list of challenges, circle the ones that can be handled within the day first. Starting out slowly and recognizing those pieces of your life you can control in a given moment will allow room for how other challenges may be approached later on. It is also very important that no expectations are placed on how each life challenge will be handled or dealt with.
As you give yourself permission to enter therapy and become comfortable with talking through more vulnerable thoughts, experiences, and emotions, know it is healing in itself just being YOU. However you show up in the therapy room is you ‘being’ and exploring you. The process of therapy should be a personal choice and a journey you are not obligated to be on. Simply by entering into a mindset that you are allowing yourself to enter a space of healing for you is HUGE. Be patient with yourself and each new thread of your life you want to unravel as you re-discover who you are.
3. Be honest with yourself.
Know what you are capable of in the present moment and trust the process. Each and every one of us is able and has choices that can be made. Honesty can help reclaim something within ourselves that brings us closer to who and where we want to be. Re-establishing personal core values and how they align with the way we are currently living lets us know the reality of our own truths. As we start acknowledging our own truths, we will start to be aware of what is congruent or incongruent in relation to how our words match our actions. Honesty is not the same as our truths, however, the more we are honest with ourselves the easier it is to say our truth without fears attached.
4. Perspective is everything.
As we balance out our motivations in life it is helpful to look at them from both a gain and loss perspective. Nicholson (2018) states in his Psychology Today post, “an individual stuck focusing on their failures in their younger years might not fully take into account their current skills and achievements”. It is easier to state our flaws first and forget all the incredible accomplishments we have achieved just to be where we are today.
Even the smallest accomplishments have identifiable strengths that we can apply to greater skillsets. We must consider all our options in order to make the most thoughtful decisions for the course of our life. I also believe we build more confidence in our decision-making skills when we know which options will bring us growth versus stagnation in how we progress.
With this New Year in full swing comes a list of new personal goals, endeavors, and realizations of what we did or did not accomplish in the previous year. I recently saw a post on social media that said, It’s OKAY if the most significant thing you did this year was get through it. You made it through 365 days of life to enter the year 2020. This is an accomplishment in itself to celebrate.