Reminder - Be patient!
I am willing to bet that you're more than a bit frustrated or anxious with your process of getting unstuck. I've been there as well. And I still get there, probably more frustration than anything. This is a reminder to be patient.
Getting unstuck is not simply a decision that you make. No, it's not simply an issue of changing your thinking or adopting a new mindset. No, it's not about having more gratitude and appreciation. When I refer to "getting unstuck," I am referring to re-regulating yourself on a nervous system level. Not just in behaviors or thoughts, not just in feelings, but in your biology as well. That's what this comes down to.
There is a good chance that you are stuck in a defensive state of flight/fight, shutdown or freeze. Your body shifted to one of these defensive states out of necessity, but then it got stuck. This is something that is very common for each of us, though it can take one of two different paths.
Path 1 - an acute life threat reaction
This happens as a result of surviving some event, like an assault, a car crash or a shooting. The event happens once, then it's over, but it potentially leaves someone in a traumatized stuck defensive state. During the event, they shifted to a defensive state, like flight. But they were not able to escape and utilize the energy and impulses of the defensive state. While in this state, they were also immobilized in some fashion, which freezes the defensive state into their system. This first path is referred to as "shock trauma" often and is associated with PTSD.
Path 2 - a chronic disruption of connectedness
This is different than the first path. In Path 2, the individual repeatedly has their impulse for connections with safe others disrupted. This is common in children of abusive and neglectful homes. Children are born with the impulse to connect with safe adults. If the safe adults in their life repeatedly disrupt that impulse, then the child will not be able to develop a safe attachment. If they can't do that, then they do not develop the biological pathways necessary for connection. These pathways only develop in the contexts of safe relationships and safe environments. At least, safe enough.
You can learn more about these two paths of trauma in my Polyvagal 101 course. It condenses the fundamental Polyvagal information into an easy-to-understand course, saving you time and confusion. In my opinion, this is necessary knowledge for those in the helping professions.
A gradual process
No matter the path, I want you to give yourself some more patience in getting unstuck. In order to get out of these stuck defensive states, you need to gradually do so. Getting unstuck is not typically something done all at once. Maybe on a behavioral level, someone can seemingly miraculously change their behavior. The alcoholic can stop drinking "cold turkey" and never go back to it. And that's great for them (also not common, realistic or recommended), but that's not what I am talking about. Just because someone's behavior has stopped, doesn't mean they have changed on a deeper, biological level. One of my teen clients - the child of two alcoholic parents - said their parents "aren't drinking, but they haven't changed!" Meaning, their parents stopped their drinking behavior, but their emotional regulation didn't change along with it.
Getting unstuck on a biological level refers to re-regulating your autonomic nervous system. It means activating the ventral vagal biological pathways responsible for social engagement and maintaining access to those pathways. If you exist in a stuck defensive state, it can be difficult to activate those safety pathways in the first place and even more difficult to maintain access to them.
It takes practice and is therefore a gradual process, just like anything else that takes practice. If you want to hit a 100mph fastball, you first need to hit a 90mph one. And before that, a 75mph one. (I've never hit any of these, but I assume this is the case.) If you want to paint a landscape within 30 minutes like the great Bob Ross, you need to be able to practice and nail 45 minutes first. Before you do that, you need to learn how to mix paint and use the tools. And to hit a fastball, you need to practice swinging a bat and know how to stand at the plate.
You get the idea. Getting unstuck is not going to happen right now. Probably not overnight. Probably not from gathering enough insight into yourself and your childhood. Probably not from confronting your fears head-on without being ready for it. And probably not from berating yourself with misplaced shame and guilt.
The importance of building safety
It's something that is done little by little. And this is where patience needs to come in. Getting unstuck will happen. It can happen. You can make change in your life. But accepting that it's a gradual process will probably be more helpful than whatever else you're doing. Maybe you're one of the unicorns that can make a huge change all at once. Best of luck to you if you are. For the majority of us, for my therapy clients and for myself, it's a process.
This is also the exact same idea I utilize in my Building Safety Anchors course. I don't expect the participants to just sit down and meditate and get unstuck, releasing their trauma in one trembling and shaking session. Or to dance their stuck state away. Or breathe in some fashion that gets them unstuck. In BSA, I lay out daily activities to getting those safety pathways more and more active. As these ventral vagal safety pathways continue to develop, then getting unstuck becomes more and more likely.
This is not a one-time event, but a series of concerted efforts toward building the strength of your safety pathways - in effect, increasing the strength of your vagal brake. When the vagal brake is strong enough, then the intensity of the defensive state will soften. This is what getting unstuck feels like over a longer span of time. A softening of defensive feelings, like anxiety and anger. At least, that's been my experience and what I see in my therapy clients and why I created Building Safety Anchors in the way that I did.
(This and other content produced by Justin Sunseri (“JustinLMFT”) (i.e; podcast, YouTube, Instagram, etc.) is not therapy, not intended to be therapy or be a replacement for therapy. Nothing in this creates or indicates a therapeutic relationship. Please consult with your therapist or seek for one in your area if you are experiencing mental health symptoms. Nothing should be construed to be specific life advice; it is for educational and entertainment purposes only.)