Getting Unstuck Isn’t Easy, but It Beats the Alternative

Man painting himself into cornerPeople get stuck in behavior patterns that might seem to pay off, at least in the short run, except they don’t. Therapy is one way to recognize repetitive behaviors and change them. Problems can run the gamut from the inability to make a decision to the inability to recognize and seek help for addictions.

Let’s try an experiment. Put your thumb in your mouth and bite down on it firmly—don’t break the skin, but put your lips around your thumb and hold on hard. Keep it up for about 20 seconds or so. Now stop for a minute and take stock. How do you let go? Feel the release? The moment between hold and release is the sweet spot.

When I get stuck and I’m trying to figure something out, the best way is to be open and relaxed. Soon, the answer (or at least a clue) comes. This happens when I’m dreaming, meditating, just doing something that keeps monkey mind away and lets my unconscious bubble up. Sometimes I have a problem and think I’ll never find the answer, but I know that inside that stuck-ness there’s a secret opening that will lead me to another place. I just have to be brave and patient.

Have you ever heard of Richard “Dick” Whitman? He usually goes by another name: Don Draper (of the television show Mad Men). Draper is attractive, smart, and makes a lot of money, but he is not really Don Draper; his past is made up. During the war in Korea, he found himself in a situation where he could take on a different identity and leave behind his sordid and abusive beginnings. He did not want to be stuck to a horrible past, so he escaped and became someone else, and then he found he was stuck again—in a series of never-ending lies. Don is lost, but instead of asking directions or looking at a map, he is traveling blind.

This season’s show opens with Don and his wife laying on the beach in Hawaii. He looks miserable there in the sand, reading Dante’s Inferno: “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray / from the straight road and woke to find myself / alone in a dark wood.” That’s a pretty accurate description of where Don is psychologically—astray, lost, and alone.

When Don switched identities, he cut himself off from his history because he wanted to escape the painful parts, an amputation of self and memory which injured his ability to grow. Seeds of growth hide inside stuck-ness. Burying them creates more pain; it’s better to locate and nurture those seeds, maybe with the help of a poet or a guide so you don’t get lost. When asked what he wants for the New Year, Don says, “I want to stop doing this.” He’s got to pull himself out of the quicksand that is his life.

Getting unstuck hurts, but it’s less painful than staying stuck. Poets and therapists have a lot of experience with stuck-ness—their own and other people’s—and they can help you find your way. This could be the beginning of Don’s awakening, a place to stop being stuck, if he is able to begin his fearless and deep inquiry into himself and know who he is.

Wonder how that works in real life? If you’ve ever been curious about how therapists deal with their own and other people’s stuck-ness, take a look at the book Defining Moments for Therapists, edited by Serge Prengel and yours truly. It’s 11 chapters of stuck-ness—and what happens next.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • gena

    gena

    April 12th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    Kinda like pulling off a band aid. Know it’s gonna hurt, but you feel so much better when it’s all done.

  • Chase

    Chase

    April 12th, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    Seriously I think that there are those who would rather stay stuck then try something that is a little outside of their comfort zone and what it would take to get them unstuck.

    Being stuck is where they feel familiar, and even though it might not be where or what they want to be, they are afraid to try something different and new.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    April 12th, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    Ooh, that’s nice, gena.
    Thank you!
    Lynn

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    April 12th, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    Hi Chase,
    You’re right, some folks feel more comfortable when they’re stuck. Sometimes it can help to try doing something familiar with a twist- like using your “wrong” hand, or changing your seat.
    Thanks!
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • margaret

    margaret

    April 15th, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    And think about how good you will come to feel about yourself if you are finally able to break free of all of those bad habits that have been keeping you from becoming the best that you can be. I think about all of those times where I missed opportunities to do one thing or another, all because it felt a little new or strange and I had a hard time breaking through. But to finally get to a point where U can work myself through all of that feels really good, and knowing that there is still something good yet to come makes it all the better! So worth the work!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    April 15th, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Hey Margaret- great attitude- good for you! It does feel good when you’re able to break through and do something strange, maybe a little scary,and new.
    Thanks for saying so.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • DAVE

    DAVE

    April 15th, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Sometimes these things become so comfortable and nice that it becomes difficult to push them away. I have been unemployed for the past 10 months and frankly I don’t care. I have enough money to get by and work seems like too much now. I would rather stay in bed all day than go to work. i know this is wrong maybe I am stuck too, but its nice and I just don’t care.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    April 15th, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    So, how about it, Dave, what does your posse think– stuck or justs resting? What do you think?

  • Liz

    Liz

    December 4th, 2014 at 8:16 PM

    Sometimes the thing you have to do is scary, because it will make you feel like a “bad” person – the person your parents always told you not to be, the person who is not spiritually “advanced”, the person who is not “nice” etc.
    Two days ago I gave my sister some honest feedback about how I feel about the way she is around me and my husband.
    It was courageous honesty. I doubt that she will ever speak to me again, and frankly, that’s a relief.
    We have been going round the same mulberry bush for over 60 years!!!
    It was like a bad marriage – “trying” to be nice, but never happy.
    Divorce can be beautiful!
    Freedom, relief, happiness. I think we may have been waiting until both the parents were gone – crazy, but it’s over now, and I’m FREE!

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