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How To Get Unstuck

A woman in a dark room looking through a small, bright window

Stuckness! Endless looping around the same pattern, feeling frustrated and powerless to change anything. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. Maybe you’re there right now. I’ve learned a few things about stuckness, and getting unstuck again, and I’d like to share some of it with you here.

This is a reasonably long one, so get comfy, grab a journal, and let’s get stuck in. (Sorry.)

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Why feeling stuck is part of a process of change, and how to locate yourself in that process
  • The importance of how you feel about your feelings (especially powerlessness)
  • How to figure out why the existing pattern you’re stuck in might actually be serving you
  • How to recognise what’s at stake if you did make a change
  • Why the rules we’ve learned can keep us stuck – and what to do about it

Feeling stuck is part of a process of change

First of all, it’s helpful to identify where you are in a process of change. Feeling stuck is a part of a process of change, even if it doesn’t feel like it! Such a process can start with a feeling of malaise, apathy, despondency, or resignation. However it feels to you, this is a state where you don’t believe you have any choice at all. For example, you might have never had particularly great sex in your relationships. You might not have even thought about it very much – just accepted that sex followed a similar progression that usually didn’t end in an orgasm for you. At this stage, you’re likely not asking for any help or questioning whether it could be different – just feeling mostly quite uninspired about the sex you’re having and assuming it would never be any different. 

The next stage is the recognition that there could be another way. This can still feel like stuckness, because you may find it difficult (or impossible) to actually make a change. But here you are beginning to see a glimpse of your agency and power – that you could create a different situation. This can bring with it frustration, shame, and anxiety – because you know where you want to be, and you’re not sure how you could get there from here. As soon as you’ve seen and begun to recognise for yourself, hey, actually, I really do want to have the kind of sex with my partner that leaves me with a stupid grin on my face for days then all the shame demons come out. Why aren’t you having awesome sex now? Why have you been in a relationship with this person for so long without figuring this out yet? Why aren’t you able to just relax?

This is probably the most painful place to be. But this is also an important part of the process. Those feelings of frustration, shame, and anxiety, while not much fun, are a sign that something isn’t right – they are crucial as fuel for this process. From here, with the right support, some patience, and some compassion for yourself, it’s possible to begin making some real tangible changes.

Learning to welcome powerlessness

Once you’ve recognised where you are, the next step is to be with the powerlessness that comes with feeling stuck. And that is not easy! But if we don’t do this, we might either try to forget that better sex might be possible and slide back into our old ways, or pretend that having better sex is easy and force ourselves to try a bunch of new things. Either of these is likely to create more suffering. So instead of trying to bypass the icky, awkward, powerlessness of feeling stuck, see if it’s possible to accept that right now, this is where you’re at. Let yourself be exactly as you would be if you were feeling totally, powerlessly, stuck. Worship the goddess of stuckness. Even if just for a moment! Know that this too is part of a process of change, and doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck forever. It’s when we can accept things as they are that we can begin to make changes – otherwise, we’re in denial.

There’s an important concept here: meta-emotions. These are the feelings you have about your feelings. Feeling stuck is one thing, but feeling crappy about feeling stuck is quite another! 

Think about it: when you’re telling yourself you shouldn’t be stuck, you’re probably being quite harsh to yourself. You might be telling yourself you should be different, you should have it all figured out, or that you’ll never get to wherever it is you want to be. You might be absorbed in frustration and shame. Does that sound like a good, solid foundation from which to explore possibilities and alternatives with presence and enthusiasm?

So, what might an alternative be? My suggestion is curiosity. When you can feel your stuckness and then get curious about it, rather than annoyed, it can bring much more softness, flow, and openness. Can you feel that? If you tune in to the feeling of curiosity, rather than frustration? What do you notice?

Imagine you’ve just recently got a new kitten. She’s gorgeous, and soft, and completely adorable. She’s mostly litter trained, but every so often when you come in you find that she’s peed on the carpet. You might feel a little annoyance at having to clean up the mess, but you also know that she’s in a process and with the right care and conditions, she’ll be using the litter tray more consistently. It certainly doesn’t make you any less adoring of her! And you might get curious: was there anything different in the house today that might have triggered it? Is there anything you can be doing to make sure she feels calm and has everything she needs?

Why can’t we hold ourselves with the same tenderness and patience as we would with that kitten?

So let’s take some time understanding the stuckness. Paying it some attention. Accepting that it’s here, it’s a part of a process, and that it might even have something important to tell us. 

How is the current pattern serving you?

I thoroughly believe that if you’re stuck in a pattern, there’s a very good reason for it. Usually, the loops we find ourselves stuck in, while they can sometimes feel so awful that you want to totally give up on relationships altogether, do serve us in some way.

So try some of these questions out – you might like to use them as journaling prompts:

  • What’s the secret need that my stuckness is meeting?
  • Even though it’s painful, what do I get out of staying here?
  • What’s the benefit for me in not changing?

For example, imagine you’re stuck in a pattern of ending up in relationships with people who have an addictive relationship with alcohol, or another substance. It might take you a while in a new relationship to realise that they do have a problem – it wasn’t a conscious decision on your part, and it could be months before it dawns on you. They might be hiding it from you, or you might simply be giving them the benefit of the doubt. 

These relationships may well feel exhausting, unpredictable, and unstable. You could probably list all the things that don’t serve you about being in a relationship with someone with an alcohol addiction. But what’s right about it? How might it benefit you?

Well, being in a relationship with someone who has a substance addiction means that you might step into the role of being the dependable, stable, responsible one. You might find yourself stepping up to take care of problems that arise in the relationship, whether taking responsibility for everyday logistics and practicalities, or emotional difficulties and conflicts that show up. While this can be tiring, taking on this role can also provide a sense of value: you are needed. The relationship depends on you picking up the slack. This can help you to feel more in control in the face of uncertainty.

What’s at risk if you change?

The other side of this is to explore the risk associated with making a change. While the pattern likely serves you in some way, it’s likely that there’s also some worry associated with the thought of behaving differently. 

Here’s some questions you can use to explore this side:

  • What’s at stake if I did change this pattern?
  • What am I worried might happen if I did make a change?
  • What might be bad about changing this pattern?

Let’s return to the example above: if you were in a pattern of being in turbulent relationships with people who have substance addictions, imagining being in a loving, stable relationship with someone who was dependable and offered mutual care and presence may bring up some anxiety. While it might sound good on the surface, it may challenge your ideas that you must work hard and be the dependable one in order to be worthy of love and attention. You might associate it with a feeling of losing control, because to take on more responsibility than is truly yours in a relationship is one way we often create a sense of control for ourselves. 

Alternatively, changing the pattern might mean being solo for a while, and choosing not to be in an  intimate relationship. Understandably, that could bring up some very challenging feelings. Here in much of the Western developed world at least, one dominant story is that to be an adult and single is to have failed in some way – especially if you’re a woman (just think about the associations we make with the word ‘bachelor’ versus ‘spinster’).

There might be habits, beliefs, or ideas that changing the pattern would require you to give up. There might be ways you protect yourself that you’d need to change – such as avoiding exploring your sexuality and learning what really turns you on, which helps to protect you against feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Or changing the pattern might mean standing up for yourself more, which may bring with it fears about no longer being liked by the people around you. 

Turning stuckness into choice

From this exploration, we can see that stuckness reveals a dilemma: you want to change because what’s happening right now doesn’t feel good, and you also want to keep things as they are because there’s a payoff associated with the status quo, too. Owning both sides of this dilemma is a crucial step because it reveals choice: part of you is choosing to maintain the status quo, for some very good reasons. 

There’s an important caveat to note here, which is that talking about how we make choices that keep ourselves stuck can slide into victim-blaming. I want to be clear that there are, of course, situations where everything is stacked against you and simply making a different choice in your behaviour is not going to be enough. This might be particularly the case when you’re up against a whole system of oppression with no support immediately available to you, for example. 

Along with the reasons you might have found in the previous two steps, it can be helpful to reflect on all the rules you learned about yourself, the world, your gender, other genders, and relationships generally. We absorb so much from family, the media, school, religion, and peers – some of it conscious and much of it unconscious. Here are some of the rules I learned, from growing up in a middle-class family in the UK. If you grew up in a similar cultural setting then I imagine many of these will be familiar to you:

  • As a girl, I should be ‘ladylike’: not too loud, and wearing feminine clothes
  • I should also be polite and not too assertive, otherwise I am being bossy
  • In a heterosexual relationship, the mother looks after the household and the children, while the father goes out to work
  • Relationships should be monogamous, and it’s important that they last as long as possible
  • A ‘successful’ life includes finding a partner, moving in together, getting married, and having children
  • It’s fine for men to stay single into adulthood, but if a woman does this then it’s because she’s failed in some way

Ouch! Those are pretty harsh rules. And yet they have had a big impact on my feelings about my gender and relationship preferences, and kept me stuck in situations that haven’t felt right for me because I wasn’t aware that they were arbitrary rules I had absorbed that I could choose not to obey. 

What other rules would you come up with that you absorbed from seeing the people and media around you when you were growing up? Which feelings and behaviours were allowed, and which were not?

Are any of these rules playing into your current stuckness? 

How could you begin to challenge any of these rules in small, doable ways?

For example, I might challenge the idea that I mustn’t get angry with others by seeking out stories of women who skillfully worked with their anger, and who used rage to fuel changes they wanted to see in the world. I might take the time to learn cultures which are not patriarchal, where the women have power and authority. 

Or if the rule that relationships should be monogamous is keeping me stuck in relationships that don’t feel right, I might start seeking out groups where people discuss non-monogamy openly, and talking about different possibilities with others.

In these ways I would be exposing myself to different ways of being, and undermining the rules that are keeping me stuck. This can gradually open up new possibilities and ways of being, when we see alternatives being modelled and begin to realise that we too could try out something new. 

Moving forward

We’ve covered a lot here, including lots of opportunities for self-reflection. Hopefully, this has given you a glimmer of choice, and some ideas for ways you could begin to work with whatever stuckness you find yourself in. That might be something as simple as using the prompts I’ve given to do some journaling, or listing all the rules you’ve learned growing up about yourself, the world, and relationships so you can see them for what they are: only stories.

If you’d like to take this process further, and you’re resonating with what I’ve been sharing here, then please do head over here to read more about working with me. I offer one-to-one intimacy coaching sessions where we can dive deep into patterns and find ways to start making real changes.

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