To our family and friends. we probably look high functioning, responsible and might even be described as someone, "who has it together". Little do they know, all these qualities and behaviors are created to compensate for our beliefs and fears that things feel like they are falling apart or will fall apart.
When we experience anxiety, we tend to go on auto pilot. We keep busy and look for things we can control. The underlying feelings to our anxiety are extremely uncomfortable. We distract ourselves to avoid experiencing or connecting to our feelings. The thoughts of, “I feel like a failure” or “Am I good enough” scare the bejeebers ...yes, that is a ‘real’ therapeutic term ;-) out of us. Instead of facing these thoughts, we do everything possible to hide these ‘secret’ beliefs and act ‘as if’ they don’t exist. When we are faced with challenges, our instinct is to solve or fix the problem right away, immediately, ASAP, STAT etc. You get the idea…
If you look closely, usually you can find the motto, “I can do it!” stamped on someone experiencing anxiety. The consequence of being a “do-er”, “over-achiever” or “perfectionist” is mental, physical and sometimes spiritual exhaustion. Pure and total exhaustion! When anxiety ‘amps up’, one may experience panic attacks. Panic attacks immobilize us which is our body’s desperate attempt to s l o w us down so that we may reconnect with our intuition and feelings. These two natural resources are our greatest strengths for healing and peace of mind.
One of my clients taught me how true this is, when I was facilitating a visualization exercise with her.
I was working with a client, whose husband died, unexpectedly. We had been working together for about a year, when she said, “Shannon, I am doing everything I can but I just feel stuck”. This feeling went on for a couple more sessions. I decided to do a visualization exercise with her and asked her to describe her grief journey as she imagined it. Her visualization started, at the beginning, soon after her husband’s death. She described walking through the wilderness as a metaphor for her grief. She began walking through heavy brush and tumultuous terrain which created obstacles for her to tackle. She described feeling exhausted and unmotivated to continue at times. She also felt scared and alone as she maneuvered through this wilderness. Eventually, she came across smoother surface, as she continued on her journey. She began to find food and water to maintain her energy and motivation. Feeling scared and alone remained consistent throughout her journey. However, she stated these feelings were not as strong and didn’t limit her as much as they did in the beginning. She finally found her way out of the wilderness…(YEAH!)...only to discover a vast, open field with no boundaries, no path and no direction…(BOO!). She said she felt “overwhelmed”, “lost” and “confused”. Her initial reaction was to run and keep running until she came across the “next place”. As she continued to survey this field, looking for an escape, she realized she didn’t even know where to begin. Her feelings intensified. I directed her to relax her breathing and stay with this image. And THEN…that moment…that glorious moment therapists wait patiently to witness…the moment when clients receive their own ‘ah ha’ moment. She decided to sit down in that field and wait for direction, instead of trying to force her way through, running in circles, wasting time and energy. She decided to trust and connect to her internal compass – her intuition, her own inner voice. A sense of calmness came over her. Her body looked ‘lighter”. She even smiled as she sat there waiting for her 'sign'.
At our next session, we revisited this visualization. She found herself seated at the edge of this same field. However, this time there was a path. She said she didn’t know where this path would take her but she wasn’t as scared. She felt hopeful and calm. She said she still felt sad but had a ‘knowing’ that "I will be okay".
My client faced her feelings instead of choosing to run and escape them. It was a courageous moment, a moment that provided great insight and healing…for the both of us! It is not an easy task to ‘sit’ and face our feelings but it is powerful and invaluable when we do. It can be a ‘life changing’ moment. When we ‘sit’ and look straight into the ‘face’ of our feelings, a weight is lifted. We are lighter and freer when we STAND again!
Shine On Counseling
Shannon Schiefer MA, LPC
4525 S. Lakeshore Dr. Suite 102
Tempe, AZ 85282