Do you have the same old fight using the same old words while feeling the same old engulfing passions? Perhaps, the people you engage with are different people but the scenarios and feelings are almost identical.
Your boyfriend or partner or spouse (or third such person in your life) is being impossible, cruel, thoughtless, and inconsiderate yet again. You are broken hearted or bereft or furious or pleading or raging with fury yet again. You feel you are once more in the inevitable emotional place that is all too familiar while this intimate of yours proves to you that relationships don't change and that all intimates are alike.
They are NOT all alike. But the situation in which you find yourself is almost identical to where you've been before. Why does this repeat in your life and how can you stop it?
Well, maybe it's not a situation you stop. It may well be a situation from which you've got to heal your way out.
If you are still reading, this is a good sign. It means you can contemplate the possibility that something unfamiliar may be possible. You may feel a rigidity in your mind and body that says, “No!” yet summon up strength to be patient and still as you consider that other possibilities might exist.
Acting out your unconscious means that you are unaware of what's really going on with you. You have no openness to options. When unconscious scenarios take hold, you believe they are in the here and now and real. You believe your perceptions. You run with your emotions. Other people do not understand you or are caught in their own unconscious stories if they repeatedly act out with you.
Your way out is to become aware of the authentic here and now and respond with intelligence, creativity and fresh awareness.
Easy to say. This is almost impossible when you are caught because you are in terrific stress.
Your stress may come from believing you are in a situation similar to what you experienced in your history. Your stress may come from a real or perceived threat in the present.
Most of us, under intense and inescapable stress, resort to past behaviors and thought processes that gave us real or promised relief. If you have any degree of eating disorder recovery you know that certain situations are triggering. You respond by eating or starving or hitting the treadmill or going into rages or blaming (yourself or others) or cowering and hiding like a frightened child.
When you are in this kind of stress, your mind has little or no access to open space where you can think or feel your way to new ways to respond.
An example that comes to my mind is when I travel in the United Kingdom. I am most terrified during the first few moments when I am behind the wheel of a car and driving on the left side of the road. But, I am conscious. I am aware. I am thoughtful. I understand my feelings. And so I can drive.
But, in an emergency, when a truck is heading straight for me from the opposite direction, my adrenaline rises. I'm in an immediate crisis situation. I have to respond fast. All my being wants to turn the steering wheel hard to the right, to the safety of familiar and past scenarios. In the U.K. that would plunge me into ongoing traffic. I must keep my wits about me, stay present in the authentic here and now, and pull to what my body cells are screaming means instant death as I turn hard to the left.
My mind, my brain, my muscle memory has lifelong learning based on driving on the right. I have a thread of awareness that shouts inside my head, "You're in Ireland! Pull to the left!"
If you don't have that thread of awareness when you are caught in a stressful situation, you will pull to what is familiar. You won't have the ability to work your way to authentic awareness and so you can be caught in an old scenario.
Healing your way out involves:
- Recognize the familiar situation.
- Recognize that you are about to reach or have already reached an acting out mode. (I had a patient who would say, “I’m feeling a bit bingey.” She knew when she was nearing an acting out state of mind. Don’t you?
- Hard part: give yourself space, catch hold of a thread that lets you question and re-evaluate your intended speech or action (regardless of what you may be feeling).
- Use the thread to hold you in the open space.
- Ask yourself, “Where am I now?”
- You most likely cannot answer this question. But asking it opens you to more possibilities. You are not where you thought you were. Something else is happening.
- Walk, write, dance, sing, draw, sculpt. Improvise with your mind or body or both.
- Bring your mind and attention to an object or image and describe it.
Be brave with yourself. Allow yourself to pull out of the old scenario, no matter how right or righteous you feel and how familiar the scenario.
This is how you heal yourself out of these unconscious booby traps and get yourself free.
There's much to say about the details healing yourself out. The general plan is clear, but how it plays out for each individual is unique. Please share your questions and stories. It's your real life experiences that give the method meaning.
* Van Gogh's painting of Prisoners' Round
I saw this at the Los Angeles County Art Museum. The original is far more powerful than the graphic. I saw the prisoners, mindless and lost in dull, repetitive routine, body and soul. Yet I also saw sunlight, the light of day streaming into the tower. The light came in at an angle. No prisoner looked up to see it, intent as they were on their travels through their endless circling of the same space and same day for days or years or a lifetime.
It would take a pause and a look in a new direction to discover they were in prison and that another world existed. That is all that is required to begin to move toward freedom. But, they would have to leave the familiar, leave the protection of the walls and venture out of of the darkness into a new and unknown world where their repetetive and dull way of living would end.