HOW TO GET UNSTUCK IN TRAUMA RECOVERY
Updated: Feb 5, 2022
Leveraging what you don’t want into creating what you do
If you’ve decided Now Is The Time to bust loose, get bold, and fully inhabit your most true self, then there’s One Major Thing to do that will both create those changes and set you up to enjoy them for a lifetime:
Focus on how to change your brain; everything else will follow.
YOU AND YOUR LANGUAGE ARE HOLDING YOU BACK
The word ‘stuck’ is a cop out.
That’s right: a COP. OUT.
Technically, ‘stuck’ holds the past tense meaning of ‘stick’ which means to ‘push a sharp or pointed object into or through (something).’
Basically, it’s a useful metaphor for people refusing to make a choice or take an action – and then wanting to complain about it.
(Hey, no judgment: I’ve used it that way too.)
Even more pointedly: ‘Stuck’ is a justification for people who have embraced, accepted, surrendered -- or just given in to -- the idea that they can’t have what they want.
But being ‘stuck’ is as much an illusion as it is a metaphor.
[Insert cheesy elephant metaphor here.]
Photo from https://www.leymanck.com/the-elephant-rope/
After all, ‘stuck’ is just an idea or a belief; one that is filtered through personal perceptions that are limited, narrow and let’s call it out: false.
If you’re ready to catapult your way out of ‘stuck’ then get ready to get honest, get focused, and get busy pushing that sharp or pointed object into where it belongs:
Namely, that thing you want more than anything else so that you can make it stick exactly where you want it to be in your life.
HOW STUCK HAPPENS
Being stuck is a natural enough position to take. After all, in our young years we’re conditioned as much as any baby elephant to understand our limitations, acknowledge our boundaries, and establish our perceptions of self in ways that conform, confirm and calibrate to the views of the world around us.
For example, this happened to Trent early on:
Raised in a home with a narcissistic and aggressive father, by the time he was five Trent had already been verbally, emotionally, physically and sexually abused.
By the age of 53 his life was a shambles:
Recovering from a cocaine and alcohol addiction that had landed him in jail, he’d been forced out of a family business, denied his fair right to company shares, and had holed himself up in a home outside of Las Vegas where he spent the majority of the day watching YouTube videos as he researched how to fix his myriad of health problems from gut issues to gout.
To say that Trent was mentally in a bad place would be an understatement. He reached out to me on referral from a physician. Trent’s first words during our initial phone conversation were,
I’m completely stymied. Can you help me learn how to get unstuck?
His voice was soft, small – almost childlike and sad.
My reply was simple:
That depends on what you’re willing to DO.
A history of helping people break out of habituated patterns had already taught me that those who succeed don’t reach their ultimate change destination because of how helpful I am, or how useful the modalities are that they use.
Instead, 100% of how people get unstuck simply comes down to two things:
Making new choices
Taking inspired actions
Of course, while the solution is simple the problem is that choices and actions aren’t easy – especially when you’re going against the grain of unconscious and neurological programming.
ORIGINS OF STUCK
We’ll do the Cliff Notes version of how stuck happens with just a quick review of the science behind how children’s brains program:
In essence, “From two to six years old, a child’s predominant brain wave is theta" (4 to 8 Hz), a vibrational frequency associated with the state of imagination.
The outcome of this? Research shows that:
For the first six years of life, children do not express the quality of consciousness associated with alpha, beta, and gamma EEG activity as predominant brain states. Children’s brains primarily function below creative consciousness, just as adult brain activity drops below consciousness in sleep and during hypnosis. In their highly programmable theta state, children record vast amounts of information they need to survive in their environment, but they do not have the capacity to consciously evaluate the information while it is being downloaded.
In other words, the child’s brain accepts in all information and the meaning attached to it as true. Even when that meaning simply sets up an illusion.
(Remember the baby elephant?)
Theta brain waves and conditioning form the habituated building blocks of stuck.
Too often, by the time we reach adulthood, we’re grown-up pachyderms who long ago stopped questioning the validity of our thoughts, beliefs, associations and behaviors.
But there’s more to the problem of feeling stuck than just early childhood programming.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE STUCK
By no means was Trent in Las Vegas the first client to report feeling stuck.
Esther in Louisiana reached out with the same language:
I’m stuck in medical issues and guilt.
Aaron in Massachusetts reported:
I’m stuck just drifting through life and not making any decisions.
Nigela in Germany explained:
I’m feeling stuck in this place between who the world asked me to be and who I want to be.
Seamus in Ireland expressed:
I’m feeling stuck in this body that’s full of anxiety.
Margaret in Australia put it this way:
I’m feeling stuck in the shame of what I let happen to me.
Full disclosure: For many years I was stuck in the terror of a traumatic event that had long since ended.
To be fair, feeling stuck is pretty much a part of the human condition at some point or other in any life.
But getting stuck in being stuck doesn’t have to be the story of your life.
WHAT FEELING STUCK IS REALLY ABOUT
I hear the ‘I’m feeling stuck’ conversation starter a lot. Mid-life professionals who haven’t dealt with unfortunate events in the past quite naturally find themselves feeling stuck, unhappy, unsatisfied, depressed, anxious, burnt out, lonely or full of regret.
The examples above offer simple insights into how someone might define the problem on the individual level. However, if we zoom out it all comes down to a simple universal equation:
Disturbing event in the past + lack of resolution – (empowered choices + inspired actions) = stuck in the present
Whether the disturbing event is something you remember or not, happened at an early age or a late one, has ended or continues, the lack of resolution, choices and actions is the tether to the chair.
The good news is: When you know something is an illusion you know that the truth is waiting to be found.
That truth lies in who you are outside of the illusion of past experiences and the erroneous meanings that you have (un)consciously attached to them.
HOW TO GET UNSTUCK STARTS WITH FACING THE TRUTH
When I hear the ‘I’m feeling stuck’ speech my brain now immediately translates it into what it really means:
There’s something I need to do that I don’t want to do, the not doing of which has really become intolerable.
It’s a terrific moment – one that feels bad but is the beginning of a change that can be exceptionally good.
The more intolerable something becomes the motivated you become to change it. And the more motivated you are the more intentional you become – this is where the magic happens.
Intentionality leads to clarity, specificity, details and a visionary plan that can provide a solid roadmap for personal development change.
Without that process bad things happen. Specifically,
If you’re not intentional about the changes you do want, then you will unintentionally create changes you don’t want.
The key here is to partner with your brain in ways that lead you to success in all four realms: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
WHY YOUR BRAIN IS SO IMPORTANT IN PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT CHANGE
What makes your brain and its neural networks so important in the personal development process? Your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors all occur as functions of what and how information encodes from every experience into the neurology of your brain.
Change your brain’s neural networks (and their individual neurons) and you automatically change how your brain functions.
First, your brain’s sole purpose is keeping you safe. To do this it constantly scans your environment for threat.
In neural networks that contain about 86 billion neurons and more than 100 trillion synapses (connections between neurons) your brain records every single experience you have.
Information gathered through your five senses intertwines with the emotions each experience creates and then embeds in neural networks that your brain constantly uses to assess new environments and the risks they pose.
When your neural networks carry old information, they cause you to act in old, outdated ways.
Second, your brain creates the filters and programs that run your life.
While your conscious mind can only process ~40k bits of information per second, your unconscious mind processes ~20mm bits of information per second – and stores all relevant information in your brain’s neural networks.
Add to that the filtering role of your Reticular Activating System (RAS) and you start to really understand how your brain’s neural network functions have a huge impact on your experience of daily life.
To go a little more deeply, I really love this explanation by neurologist and New York Times bestselling author, Dr. David Perlmutter:
The ability of the brain to change and reorganize itself and its function is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity provides us with a brain that can adapt not only to changes inflicted by damage, but more importantly, allows adaptation to any and all experiences and changes we may encounter, freeing us from merely responding reflexively as a consequence of genetically determined hardwiring. Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone recently stated that neuroplasticity “… is an intrinsic property of the human brain and represents evolution’s invention to enable the nervous system to escape the restrictions of its own genome and thus adapt to environmental pressures, physiological changes, and experiences.”
Basically, there are three main levels of neuroplastic change:
Chemical – Mostly, this type of change affects short-term memory and the short-term improvement of a motor skill; it occurs during the first phase of learning something new.
Structural – Requiring long-term memory and long-term improvement of a motor skill, this type of change when neurons alter how they connect.
Functional – Well beyond the individual neuron level, this type of change involves entire neural networks and affects how quickly and efficiently they behave when activated.
How does neuroplasticity benefit personal development?
A changed brain changes your experience of the world, others and your most deeply internal self. These changes lead to your ability to create a new equation by which to live:
Neurologically stimulating experiences in the present + empowered choices + inspired actions = personal development changes that last into the future
Not sure what to do? Getting started happens as quickly and easily as you starting to notice what interests, inspires, entertains, or envelops you in a world outside of time.
HOW TO CREATE NEUROPLASTICITY
There are many ways to create neural change. The quickest and most effective (in my opinion) is through felt experience.
For a long time, I’ve told clients,
The better you feel, the more you heal.
This doesn’t mean that healing the rift you feel inside yourself feels good, per se, but what it does mean is that the more you endeavor to give yourself experiences that bring in the good the more support you’re giving your neuroplastic process.
Changing who you are is a psychological, physiological and (it turns out), neurological endeavor.
In fact, I’ve come to believe that transforming your identity and how you relate to yourself, others and the world has more to do with the experiences of your whole self in the present than the direct process work you do about the past.
For example, I released the past a heck of a lot more quickly when I started doing things that felt good in the present.
NOT things other people told me to do but the things I decided I wanted to do.
Even clearer example:
I’d been practicing meditation, journaling, yoga and breathwork for a long time when I still felt constricted by how I felt about things that had happened in my past.
When I decided to do something that felt good in the present every day (for me this was dance – Latin dancing, to be exact), I was surprised by how quickly my brain, thoughts, feelings, emotions, reactions and responses changed.
[This video was taken in my second year of dancing. I’ve come a long way since then but it’s a quick glimpse into who I was when everything started to change for the better.]
Why does this happen? Because of a super-concept that I didn’t know back in the early 2000s when I was struggling but that makes super good sense now:
Your brain changes (for the good and for the bad) in response to experience in ways that alter your mental, psychological and physical health.
According to this study published in Frontiers in Psychology,
There is a growing corpus of literature on ways to drive brain plasticity in a positive direction that could contribute more powerfully in strategies of intervention for healing and enhancement of function …. These findings coupled with recent neuroscience clearly showing the potential for improving brain plasticity (Goh and Park, 2009) could give humans unprecedented hope for personal empowerment. Neuroplasticity research has fleshed out what these chemical, anatomical, and performance gains could include.
Wonderfully, your brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to experiences is key in fostering a multitude of benefits including areas related to both mental and physical health and wellbeing.
HOW TO GET UNSTUCK: WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY
The getting unstuck process revolves around clarity, desire, specificity, and a willingness to do the hard work of creating change.
I like Elon Musk’s idea here:
When something is important enough, you do it even when the odds are not in your favor.
How to get unstuck isn’t a quick and easy shift. As I explained to Trent on a day he was fussing about the time, energy and wait period that his change was taking,
“You’re a tanker on the ocean attempting to change course. If you were a 14-foot dingy this would be quicker. But a dingy can’t survive a long trip across the ocean, so embrace the potential of who you are, accept the process of change, and focus on the new direction you desire. You’ll be surprised how quickly things happen when you stop looking at the mechanics of the process and instead focus on where you want this incredible vessel to go.”
One of my favorite assignments to give clients is an inventory exercise designed to help them clearly see who they are, who they want to be, what they love about who they are, and what aspects of themselves they want to retire.
You can do this today by dividing a piece of paper into four columns and listing everything that comes to mind:
Who I am
Who I want to be
What I love about who I am
What qualities/traits I want to retire
This simple exercise easily gets you in motion as it clearly defines potential choices and actions. Then, you’ll be faced with how to gain momentum by leveraging this knowledge in ways that serve to move you forward.