How many times have you struggled with something, felt frustrated with yourself, but instead of working it through, you just gave up and said: “ Oh well, this is just the way I am?” Being stuck can leave you feeling powerless and discouraged as if you are locked behind a closed door unable to get through to the other side.
Let’s try and connect this to something we all know: Drama. Imagine if you picked up a script and instead of the lead dealing with the dilemma at hand, they simply responded with, “ Sorry, that’s just the way I am,” it would mean the story would end. Scripts and plays that really stand out portray a protagonist who is determined to work through the problem at hand and then come out on the other side with answers and a new perspective on life.
Here is how writer David Mamet defines drama in a memo to his staff writers on “The Unit” :
“THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, *ACUTE* GOAL. the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.”
Not dealing with difficult feelings and experiences will, like a drama, prevent your life story from moving forward in a gratifying way. Freeing oneself from old negative patterns, similar to a good drama, requires creativity and openness to see things from a different perspective, especially when we feel hopeless and stuck. If you find yourself trapped in a behavior that leads to a less than pleasant outcome, you are most likely using a defense that has outlived its usefulness. For example, if you grew up in a home where you were constantly criticized, you may have learned how to disconnect and become aloof in order to protect yourself from being hurt. This defense may have helped you escape getting hurt as a child but as an adult, it leaves you stuck in the inability to make positive connections.
Here is how Carolyn’s childhood defense created obstacles for her as an adult: When she first came in to see me, she was feeling smothered in her relationships. Each one would start off great, but as the other person wanted more closeness, Carolyn would begin to feel trapped and panic. She felt frustrated with herself because a part of her desperately wanted connection and closeness but another part couldn’t handle it. Carolyn didn’t understand how therapy could help because in her opinion this was her personality, or in her words: “That’s just the way she was.” It was understandable why she felt this way, when you consider the circumstances of her childhood home, where she had a mother who, unhappy in her marriage, made Carolyn her sole source of happiness. She used Carolyn as a replacement for her failed marriage. This was obviously too big of a burden for a child to bear. Carolyn was overwhelmed by her mother’s needs and felt guilty at the thought of satisfying her own needs first. But, as a dependent child she conformed to her mother’s needs. Carolyn’s model for relationships was based on what she experienced at home; you must always sacrifice your own happiness in order to be loved. She didn’t know that another way of being could exist. Although Carolyn was filled with wonderful qualities and talents, her guilt would not let her enjoy life. She would find herself continuously sacrificing her needs for her boyfriends. As a result, being in relationships felt like a lot of work that left her feeling resentful and unfulfilled.
Through our work together, Carolyn learned to challenge her guilty feelings, grieve for the little girl who sacrificed so much of her own happiness for her mother and reconnect to her ability to feel good about making herself happy. Instead of turning away from her problems, Carolyn faced them and worked through them. It was only after this process that she was able to see, just like Mamet said, “That another way exists.”
Next time you hear someone say, “This is just the way I am,” or you feel that you’re not capable of change, challenge those ideas with these facts and thoughts:
- According to Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, a Harvard trained physician, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA school of medicine, who has scientifically proven that by following proper steps, people can learn how to focus their attention on the internal world of the mind in a way that will actually change the wiring and architecture of their brain. Stimulating neuronal activation and growth (a fancy word for practicing meditation), strengthens neural connections and stimulates new patterns of neural firing to create new synaptic linkage. In other words, you have the power to change the structure of your brain through training your focus. (ie: meditation).
- Recent findings from Dr. Sara W. Lazar, a Harvard neuroscientist, “Neuronal plasticity , the ability of neurons in the brain to change in response to experience, has been one of the most exciting discoveries in neuroscience. For a long time it was assumed that only the young brain can undergo such structural changes. However, recent findings have shown that the adult brain can also grow, reorganize and form new connections between neurons. This is important to know because now it can be proven scientifically that you can be proactive in changing the way you feel through having new experiences.
- Just twenty minutes of aerobic exercise can boost your mood by easing the gloominess of depression, reduce the tension associated with anxiety and promote relaxation.
- Novelty or creating new experiences or ideas promotes new neuronal growth. Stimulate your mind by stepping out of your regular routine and trying something new.
- Therapy can enhance the activity of the frontal lobe which decreases the activity in the amygdala resulting in decreased levels of anxiety. The amygdala is the part of the brain that houses the fear fuel and stores our memories. Our memories and our ability to become frightened are intrinsically linked to one another.
- When you feel stuck in a certain area of your life engage your creative thinking. Imagine other ways of viewing your circumstances no matter how far -fetched they might seem.
- Become a warrior who learns to hear, see and deal with the truth. It is your capacity to see what is before you and not slip into denial that will help you get through your dilemma.
- Practice becoming more open and curious about yourself. When you walk around defensive you close off not only to the bad in the world but also the good. Stay away from “all or nothing” thinking. Nothing is all good or all bad, learn to see the gray.
- Practice facing your fears so that you can achieve the wisdom you need to work through them, they have something important to teach you.
- Remember, long lasting change requires you to be gentle, kind and compassionate with yourself.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
…and more doors will open for you.
I wish you strength and courage on your journey.
Names and circumstances have been altered to respect confidentiality.
Next month my article will be on attaining unshakable confidence, I would love to hear from you about some of the problems you are encountering in feeling confident so that I may address them in my article. I look forward to hearing from you.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.