Getting Unstuck

by Laura Bryannan

Getting stuck in one's personal growth process is not an unusual thing. There you are, making breakthrough after breakthrough and then--poof! the progress stops and nothing you try seems to budge you an inch. This is what you might call a plateau issue: you've reached a new level of awareness and your consciousness settles in happily like the proverbial couch potato, seemingly having no interest in changing the channel (even with the remote!).

The other way folks get stuck is when they're working on revising some troublesome personal programs. When turning your attention to traumas from your past, in order to get to the bottom of undesirable behaviors in the present, it's very easy to get embroiled in all the darkness and pain and forget about the positive goal you started out with. This is like a broken record: you rev and rev around the pain and can't get out of the rut long enough to see where you were originally trying to go.

I'd like to discuss three ways to get yourself unstuck when these frustrating events occur. All of them involve placing yourself and your process within a larger context. This enables you to see where you've come from and find pathways to help you get moving again--pathways that might have been hidden from your view when looking at the issues head-on.

The first and easiest way to do this is to look at your process mythologically. All of the great myths (and fairy tales too, for that matter) involve woundings, challenges, failures and triumphs. By reading up on the myths and stories of a culture interesting to you, you're bound to find one or two that speak directly to the issues you are working on for yourself.

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, discusses his research into the myths of cultures the world over. He has found that a majority of myths follow a predictable pattern--what he has called the monomyth. The major stages of the monomyth are: The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Supernatural Aid, Crossing of the Threshold, The Road of Trials, The Meeting with the Goddess, Atonement with the Father, Apotheosis, The Ultimate Boon, Refusal of the Return, The Magic Flight, Rescue from Without, The Crossing of the Return Threshold, Master of the Two Worlds, and Freedom to Live.

The monomyth pattern conveniently provides something like a time-line which you can use to determine where you are in your own process. This can be particularly useful when you find yourself in broken record mode. You can locate where you are on the time-line and get a better sense of where you've come from and what is left to do. Folks intrigued by this are encouraged to seek out Campbell's book for a complete explanation of each of the monomyth stages.

Another fun way to get unstuck is to mythologize your own story. In Jean Houston's book The Search for the Beloved, she provides a wonderful exercise called "The Sacred Wound" that can help you look at yourself in a completely new way. This exercise is special because it acknowledges that all heroines and heros suffered great woundings in their lives. It's all too easy to look at the abuses and betrayals we experienced as children as curses, when they are really the means of the sacred entering into time--the "wounding of the psyche by the Larger Story."

It's best to do this process with a partner, although you can do it alone with a tape recorder and it will work fairly well: Review silently the woundings in your life and choose an important one. Take five minutes to answer each of these questions (either time yourself with the tape recorder or take turns if your working with a partner):

  1. What happened? How were you wounded?
  2. What did you feel when you were wounded?
  3. What were the full consequences of this wounding in your life, for good or ill?
  4. In the light of this, what do you want?
  5. What does all this mean? What pattern is playing itself out here?

Now re-remember your story as a myth, building upon the answers from the above questions. When creating a myth of your life, you must keep yourself well away from the mundane--something of a trick to do. Houston provides some insights into the approach:

"Each figure and situation in the myth is archetypal. Thus a soldier becomes the Warrior, a young girl is the Maiden-to-Be- Rescued, an animal may be the Ally, and a serpent the Guardian of the Gates. The child is always Holy, if unrecognized, the circumstances of birth extraordinary; the family always poor but honest, or of the highest nobility (there is no bourgeoisie in the land of myth); an elderly person is the Wise One; the one who yearns is the Lover, the one who seeks, the Hero or Heroine."

Take fifteen minutes to tell your story: One partner says to the other, "Tell me your story as a myth, beginning, 'Once upon a time...' and taking the story past the wounding to the place of transformation." Taking your story to the place of transformation is important. Too often we limit ourselves, even in our own imagination, by saying something like, "Well I can't say that because it's just not realistic; I could never be that brave, smart, rich, etc." This is a myth, it's not supposed to be realistic! So, in other words, don't forget to let yourself live "happily ever after."

Exploring mythology can provide many clues as to where you are in your process, what steps to take next, what is likely to occur when you take them, and what challenges you'll be called on to face as you grow in spirit. Putting your own story in a mythological context can make it easier to explore areas of wounding and pain in your life.

The next way to get yourself unstuck is to approach the issue from a family systems perspective. Family systems theory was introduced to the world by Murry Bowen in the 1950's. Seen by family therapists as radical at the time, it is now considered to be one of the best ways to help and heal family and personal troubles. If you're a fan of John Bradshaw, you've been exposed to family systems theory, for much of his teaching comes from this approach.

Murry Bowen was the first to recognize that a family, or any group for that matter, was greater than the sum of its parts. You could not understand a family simply by analyzing the individual members in it, you had to look at the energy the family generated together--what he called the undifferentiated ego mass of the family. For Dr. Bowen, the key to health was to take steps to extricate or "differentiate" oneself from the ego mass of one's family.

The energy surrounding any family has stability and reduction of tension as its primary goal. Each member of the family has his or her role to play, and there are very powerful pressures on each individual to maintain that role in order to preserve the stability of the family unit. Often when we get stuck in our process and can't seem to move forward it is because our proposed moves will take us out of the roles assigned to us within our families. The freaky thing is, these roles remain fairly well carved in stone even if we have little or no contact with our families.

So, one of the best ways to thwart these insidious roles is to begin to explore your own family tree. The first step is to make a chart of the system. Begin with yourself and your brothers and sisters; then your folks and their brothers and sisters; then their parents, etc. Find out when they were born, when they got married, how many children they had, what diseases they suffered from, when they died and what from.

You'll find that, as you reach further back into history, you'll have to start talking to aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents to get the information you need to fill in the blanks. It may be hard to believe, but as you make contact (face to face, by phone or letter) with the people in your family that you rarely talk to, things will begin to change in your own life and in your relationship with your parents.

The first goal here is to look for patterns of behavior. Chances are, if you explore thoroughly enough, you'll find a relative who suffered from the same problem(s) that are troubling you. As you continue to explore your family you'll see that, perhaps, every woman on your mother's side of the family married before 20; or, on your father's side, every other generation produced a suicide of the youngest child. These kinds of patterns can be very enlightening when you find them, and often they are comforting. For example, if you've been trying to quit drinking and can't seem to do so, and then you see that every first child in your family has had a drinking problem (and you're a first child) it can help in understanding why you can't seem to get this problem to budge out of your life.

The second thing to look for is cut-offs. Did your father come over from Europe in the 1920's and have no contact with anyone in the old country ever again? Did your mother have a feud with her sister 40 years ago and never spoke to her again? These kinds of situations are gold mines for the brave adventurer seeking to blow up the unspoken rules (and roles) in his or her family. Making contact with cut-off parts of the family produce energy level earthquakes in the family ego mass (and within the "adventurer" also). The assigned roles in every family can exist only if the family structure remains in stasis. Calling up your long lost auntie (even if no one in your immediate family knows you're doing it) disrupts the stasis of the system. The rigid role structures loosen or dissolve and you're free to create something new for yourself both within your own life and in relation to your family.

Two of the best books using the family systems approach are written for women. They are The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D. Dr. Lerner presents the material so clearly and completely that I would recommend them highly even for men. She provides many case examples and writes in a style that is very easy to understand. She also includes a section demonstrating how to diagram your family tree. Murry Bowen's original papers on family systems theory are certainly available, but they are not easy reading, and are only recommended for the earnest student of family systems theory.

Exploring your family from a systems perspective involves extending your connections to them beyond what is usual for you. It often means communicating with family members that have been cut-off from your parents for various reasons. As you extend your connections to your family beyond what was considered "proper" or "acceptable" to your folks it extends your own view of yourself. Your personal role in a rigid family structure can become more fluid and dynamic as you reach beyond and get to know other members of the family tree. Perhaps in your immediate family you are seemingly stuck in the role of the "dumb one." In connecting to your greater family, you may find that you can be seen (and become) something closer to your true self.

The third way to dislodge yourself from a rut is to explore your own past lives through regression. I make a distinction here between getting regressed into a past life and having a psychic tell you about your past lives. To have someone tell you about your past lives is essentially trivia--you have no personal memory of what they are telling you. However, when you are properly regressed into a past life, you actually experience that life, and it becomes part of your memory like any other memory. It can then be integrated into your life like any other experience you have had.

Delving into your past lives works in much the same way as exploring your family tree using a systems approach. In fact, it's not inaccurate to say that your past lives are like your own personal "family." You may have certain ideas about yourself that you accept as reality. Indeed, we tend to create situations in our lives to continually "prove" to ourselves that we really are stupid or mean or unlovable, etc. Can you imagine what happens to your psyche when you uncover a life where you had none of these alleged qualities? You got it! It allows you to experience yourself in a new way. The past life you remembered where you were kind, happy, wise, etc., becomes part of your waking memory and can permanently alter your perception of yourself.

Exploring your past lives can uncover areas of trauma that are having negative impact on your present life. By returning to that traumatic event during regression, you can often change the decisions you made at that time and remove its unhealthy effect on your life. Investigating lifetimes where you had skills as a healer, energy worker, shaman, etc., often results in these skills becoming accessible to you in your present life (this is true of more mundane skills too). Because you actually experience a past life during regression, the skills become part of your waking memory and can be utilized from then on, even if you never had those skills before.

As you can see, each time you make a connection to a past life you learn new information about yourself as a soul. The rigid rules and roles you have accepted for yourself begin to loosen and dissolve. You become aware that you, as a being, are much, much greater than you thought. Thus, each time you expand your conception of yourself you expand the potential pathways available to accomplish the goals you have set for your life. Neato, eh?

In conclusion, I've presented three ways to get yourself moving again along your path of personal growth. I'm sure readers out there will be able to think of many other ways to accomplish this goal. However, all methods to dislodge oneself from an emotional, mental or spiritual rut involve being able to look at oneself clearly. This usually means finding ways to trick ourselves out of our accepted personal "realities," as these so- called realities rarely have anything to do with our true soul nature. Usually they are tapes, roles and adaptations that were required in our families in order to stay sane and survive. So, let's all be devious little two-year-old's, and pull the rug out from under our over-serious, pompous and unrealistic personal realities and have some fun (before mom and dad find out!)

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Last Updated: 1 feb 99
Laura Bryannan