Why Do We Become Stuck in Life?
Sometimes we lose all motivation, or we self-sabotage when things are going well. We get stuck.
Therapist Gita Aussia explores how these experiences relate to our childhood experiences, and how therapy can help you unpack them
Our therapists and counsellors are here to support you – find yours here
Many of us may feel stuck in negativity, whether it is in our relationships, in our work, or in other aspects of our lives. It is difficult to find a way out of the unhappiness that has taken hold. We may feel like we want to progress in life, but something gets in the way and we feel stuck. There is a part of us that wants to be set free, but another part pulls us back, leaving us feeling trapped and stagnant.
For example, we may want to leave our job which we find dissatisfying, but we are unable to move forward and find a job that we feel we deserve. We may be in a destructive relationship, but find it hard to let go. We may be unable to find a relationship, or feel that the relationships we make are always destroyed. We may be stuck in addictive behaviours, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex addiction, etc.
Despite this, we tend to display a resistance to new experiences and making changes to see ourselves and the world around us in a different way. This creates feelings of resentment and frustration towards ourselves and our surroundings. We may feel depressed, hopeless and paralysed.
When we think more deeply about stuckness, we can see that there is fear of success followed by fear of failure, fear of being seen, fear of rejection, and most of all, fear of loss and abandonment. (I will discuss these later in the blog.) Perhaps stuckness is more comfortable than moving towards change that can be traumatic for us. Therefore, when there is a tendency to make changes, we go into a freeze state.
How childhood experiences contribute to our stuckness?
People who feel stuck and who unconsciously resist change or growth in any area of their lives, tend to have a common background; they grew up in families where their emotions were often neglected. This may have been for one of several reasons: some parents find it difficult to pay attention to their child’s emotions, some parents need the child to take emotional care of them instead of them taking care of the child, some parents want their child to be what they want him/her to be, some parents are emotionally and/or physically absent, some parents are intimidating. Whatever happened in their family, they either felt like they had to conform to their parent’s way of living or felt that they were under threat of abandonment.
At an unconscious level, these children feel deprived of anything good, they feel disappointed and abandoned. As adults, there is a conscious wish for more from life and to progress and improve. However, at an unconscious level they become stuck because they are convinced that any relationship with something good, whether this is achieving something good (success) or finding a good relationship, will lead to failure and disappointment. Therefore it is better to get stuck and remain with the anxiety, frustration and dread of being stuck, rather than trying to improve or achieve something good and then failing and feeling disappointed or abandoned.
Jan always wished for a good relationship, but ended up in destructive ones where she constantly felt rejected and abandoned. She felt trapped and could not escape. She came from a family where both parents were unavailable. Her father was absent most of the time, working away from home. Her mother was emotionally unavailable, not paying enough attention to Jan and unable to emotionally connect with her. Because of her childhood experience, it appeared that Jan was unconsciously convinced that she deserved to have a relationship with an unavailable partner. Whilst her conscious wish was to find someone on whom she could rely and with whom she could be happy, her unconscious told her that it would be too devastating to be abandoned by someone who was reliable and good. Therefore, it was easier to feel trapped in a bad situation than to find something good.
Sara seemed to have a lot of potential in her profession, but something prevented her from flourishing in her work and eventually she lost her business. She found it hard to say no to people and she put a lot of pressure on herself to comply with what others wanted. Eventually she became exhausted. Exploring her childhood, she remembered that when she was a child, she accidentally harmed an animal which made her feel extremely guilty. She saw herself as someone who was dangerous. Unfortunately, her parents were not emotionally available to her and did not explain to her that it was an accident and that it was not her fault. Sara grew up with a relentless feeling of guilt stored in her unconscious. In her adult years, to compensate for this, she constantly sabotaged her opportunities and became stuck in a negative place. She was unable to reach her potential because unconsciously she did not think that she deserved it since she considered herself to be bad. The feeling of guilt induced by her childhood trauma was getting in the way of her success. Understanding this and processing and working through her guilt, she was able to come out of stagnation and move forward. Fear of success has different origins:
Tom seemed to be doing great at his job and was able to get promoted and work his way towards success. However, something suddenly felt stuck and everything began to fall apart. He lost his motivation, he felt depressed and paralysed and he was on the verge of losing his job. Exploring his past, it appeared that Tom had a depressed father who felt stagnant and inadequate and unable to reach some sort of self-satisfaction. Perhaps he projected his feelings of inadequacy onto his son, unable to believe that he would succeed or perhaps, out of envy, not wanting him to succeed. Tom grew up with the constant hidden feeling of guilt that if he ever succeeded, he would betray his father.
Fear of loss, abandonment, or punishment
Some people who don't allow themselves to succeed may unconsciously be scared of being rejected and abandoned by loved ones. It is dangerous to be greedy as it may cause others to be envious. This could be followed by rejection and isolation.
Sara, who had been waiting for a promotion, unconsciously sabotaged her interviews by becoming sick or making excuses not to attend or by becoming clumsy in her responses in the interview. When exploring her unconscious, it became apparent that her mother was an achiever, so if she succeeded she would identify with her mother and would reject her identification with her father who was depressed and with whom she usually empathised. This in her mind would cause her father to retaliate and abandon her.
Does therapy help one to become unstuck?
People usually remain stuck unless they realise that they can go against their own best interests. People who seek therapy have a suspicion that they may play a role in their stuckness. When they begin therapy, they can be helped by gaining insight into their childhood experiences and conflicts which led to their anxiety and stagnation. It is the role of the therapist to observe and bring to the attention of the client how they can unconsciously sabotage their therapy and leave earlier than expected. The client may choose to leave because it is too painful to face difficult emotions or because the therapy may result in something good of which they are afraid.
Gita Aussia is a verified welldoing.org therapist in London and online