We need to be super careful to not fall into ruts.
What is a rut?
A rut is getting stuck. Getting stalled. Treading water.
It happens to almost everyone at some point. You feel as if you’re not really making headway in a long term project, but you’re not necessarily regressing either.
One of my big concerns with people in therapy is to not fall into ruts.
Falling into a rut in therapy or personal development is deceptively easy.
It often happens after we’ve made some progress. We look back upon the progress we’e made, and we’re both satisfied and kind of tired…so we take our foot off the accelerator.
Taking our foot off the accelerator is fine, of course…but if we’re going to back off, we need to be super mindful of how long it’s been, and we need to have a clear idea of when we’re going to start goosing the gas pedal again.
Personal growth is hard work. Therapy is hard work. Healing is hard work.
It’s very understandable for people to want to find reasons to kind of back off that hard work.
It’s absolutely true that the pace of therapy and personal development ebbs and flows. The pace of life ebbs and flows. We shouldn’t expect healing or recovery to always be rocketing upward; of course there’s going to be some give and take.
We just have to be mindful. We have to stay sharp.
I’ve seen people fall into holding patterns in therapy after making big leaps of progress…and then stay in those holding patterns for literally years.
The impulse to grow is very often in competition with the impulse to seek comfort. Both growth and comfort are parts of healing and recovery.
But what happens with a subset of people is, they get comfortable with a therapist, or with a technique, or with a routine…and they lose the inclination to keep pushing forward.
This makes sense for some people. Many people in therapy haven’t really had the experience of feeling comfortable and safe. When they get into a therapy relationship or a healthy routine that they can live with, it can feel like an entirely new world.
It’s tempting to just kind of hang out in that world.
But we can’t afford to do that indefinitely.
I’ve done this myself. For years, I was seeing a very competent, very experienced, very wise therapist. We had a good relationship (we still do); and I know I very much got to the point where I knew that if I wanted to just go in and chitchat, as opposed to doing serious therapy work, my rapport with my therapist would absolutely allow me to do that.
So I fell in a rut.
It wasn’t permanent, and luckily it was something I eventually recognized and shook out of…but therapy is so expensive, in terms of money, time, and emotion, that we really can’t afford to just be hanging out with our therapist week after week.
I don’t think people intentionally get stuck in a holding pattern in therapy.
I think people find themselves feeling comfortable and safe— and that’s an unfamiliar, really cool feeling that they want to preserve and enjoy.
So unconsciously, I think they push the “pause” button.
The deal they kind of unconsciously make with themselves is, even if I don’t make any more progress in therapy, even if everything else goes to hell…I’ll still have this comfortable, safe, space and relationship to fall back on.
Like so many things, it’s a tempting fantasy, especially if we’ve grown up lacking intimacy and attachment and consistency in our lives.
But falling into a rut in therapy isn’t worth the illusion of comfort and safety it provides.
Therapy and healing and recovery require us to continue to reach out, continue to work, continue to stay sharp, continue to push ourselves.
We can pace ourselves. But we can’t get too comfortable for too long.
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