By: Benjamin Reisterer, MA, LPC
You know that feeling you get when you have an automatic reaction but regret it? Take a second and see if you can recall that feeling. What are the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations it brings up for you? For me, in these situations my inner critic often pops up and begins asking leading questions like, “Why do you keep doing this when you know what it is and how it tends to show up?” I feel annoyance and some shame. My jaw clenches just a bit, my eyes widen a tad, I sigh and say, “this...AGAIN!?!” Now, however this experience tends to go for you, hold on to it until the end of this post.
A major question that often comes up early on with new clients is, “why do I do this?” or “why do I keep doing this?” The hope is often that once the “why” is understood the behavior can then be avoided or just stop altogether. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Awareness and insight are necessary, but usually they are early steps in a journey and not a final destination.
An imperfect analogy for this would be a spiral staircase and I think it works in two different ways. First, in your mind’s eye, put yourself on the staircase a few steps in. You look out over the railing and take in the view, a few steps later as you twist around the axis you look again and see a different scene. But then you take a few more steps and the first environment starts to be experienced once again. It may be a little different as the angle has changed slightly, but you’ve taken a lot of steps for a very slight shift in perspective and find yourself saying, “this...AGAIN!?!” It feels like not much progress has been made when the truth is you’re just a few turns away from reaching your destination.
Second, if you look at it from a two dimensional bird’s eye view, it would look like a person on the staircase is just going around in circles. This can often be what healing and change looks and feels like. However, once you add in a third dimension and shift your perspective, you begin to see those circles are slowly moving that person towards a desired destination.
I believe that the new perspective and/or dimension to add here is shifting from a place of judgement (this is bad, wrong, etc) to one of practice. There is much less pressure in practice as this is where we are expected to make mistakes and figure things out. In practice we can ask ourselves, “what can I learn from this seemingly similar situation? Is there anything different about it? What is the next most healthy step for me now?” and so on. In practice, as with a staircase, each step builds off of the other and it makes no real difference whether or not the path is a straight line or a spiral.
Remember that feeling I asked you to recall at the beginning? Next time you find yourself there (because you will) shift your perspective from one of judgement to one of practice and see what happens. Do you experience your emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations differently? Regardless, you’re now holding a posture where it is much easier to take that next important step in your process.
Because we are human beings, practice is often most rewarding when we do it with others. Finding a good fit in a therapist who will safely and authentically hold practice with you can be a daunting task, but many find that it is just the right next step. If you feel that having a place to “practice out loud” might be just what you need to help you move forward, I invite you to check us out!