Feeling Stuck? Your Unconscious May be Trying to Tell You Something
Lacan suggested that the “unconscious is structured like a language”.
And for those of you who feel STUCK, it’s a language you may want to learn.
STUCK may mean that you can’t move forward with something in your life. It may mean that you feel held back from making a decision; or from reaching a goal; or expressing a part of yourself; or breaking a habit; or figuring out a career; or finding love.
Whether it’s trying to overcome a fear; finding someone you’re attracted to; finishing a project you’ve been working on for years; getting organized; getting places on time; moving on from a heartbreak; making more money; quitting smoking, etc., it can feel hopeless and exasperating to be caught in an endless cycle of trying to get results and meeting up with failure. You may find yourself repeatedly going back to a relationship with someone who criticizes you, or abuses you, or manipulates you, or guilts you, or asks you to rescue them…even though you’re determined to no longer play the same game. Somehow you get sucked back in despite your best efforts to pull away. And even when it does seem like things are finally going to be different this time around, it’s so easy to slide back into old patterns that leave us with a sense of futility about ever being free of them.
I can go on with more examples of course, but hopefully you will fill in your own.
Psychoanalysts talk about our compulsion to repeat traumas we have not mastered. Others simply speak of the need to repeat that which cannot be remembered. Freud called our need to repeat “The Repetition Compulsion”. This force inside of us returns us to the ghosts that haunt us, arousing us to confront them, speak of them, make peace with them.
The need to repeat is the source of our pain but also takes on a life of its own. It works against us despite ourselves. We get out of debt and then right back in; we make money and then lose it; we go from one job to another, but the boss is always difficult all the same. We vow not to turn into our parents, yet we find ourselves just like them anyways.
So why is change so hard?
Well, there are really many factors that hold us back from change. It could be something in the environment; something beyond our control; something we want to do differently but just don’t have the skills for; or perhaps even something inside of us that is out of our awareness. In such cases, the change should happen relatively straightforwardly once we gain the skills we need; or practice a new habit enough; or make changes to the environment we’re in; or become conscious of what’s holding us back. Of course there are also things we cannot change and sometimes acceptance is the greatest change of all.
Now, I’m not negating all the good suggestions, advice, and help that therapists, coaches, books, groups, workshops, and techniques provide us with. If they’ve worked for you, that’s great.
But for those of you who have tried just about “everything” and haven’t found what you’re looking for, this post is for YOU. This is just another perspective, one among many, about how to finally free yourself. It may be your answer or it may not, and I don’t know what your “repetition” means for you, but resolving the repetition can sometimes be done.
Another name for “The Repetition” might be “The Symptom”. The Symptom is that thing we want to get rid of the most; we blame all of our problems on it; it’s the thing we know is holding us back or getting in the way of having the life we think we want. The Symptom is the thing we want to get rid of but can’t. This is the trace left by those ghosts that haunt us, the thing that keeps coming back no matter how hard we try to make it go away.
The Symptom holds your STORY. It holds a narrative of your life, your core struggles, your buried losses, pains, rejections, and hurts.
The Symptom leaks out what your unconscious wants to say, needs to say, begs to say, despite the best efforts of your conscious mind to block, suppress, repress, and dissociate. It points to a story buried inside of you, a story that is very much alive and that is begging to be spoken, remembered, resolved. It is the stuff of our childhoods that were too painful, too primitive, too confusing, too threatening, too fleeting, or too overwhelming to remember and to speak.
Resolving the repetition is an act of deconstruction; it is pulling apart and unpacking all that is embedded in the Symptom and all that it holds; that which it disguises as well as that which it reveals. We resolve it by lifting the screens of repression through the words, dreams, slips (yes, Freudian slips!), and behaviors that emerge from the “Unconscious” as soon as we unlock its door.
This is not a journey anyone can do for you, nor is the nature of your process and its vicissitudes something that one can predict for you ahead of time. It’s about telling YOUR story, and it’s also about trading in your Symptom for the pleasure of hearing yourself in an entirely new way. It’s about grappling with core issues such as what it is to be a man or a woman; a member of your community, culture, or society; a husband or wife; a parent or child; a teacher or student. It’s about claiming your place in a world that is bigger than you, subject to its own order, and also a world in which a place is held just for you to be you. Giving up the Symptom is about sorting through the rules you live your life by; the people you compare yourself to; the ways you hold yourself back; and the ways in which others exert influence over you (whether you know it or not). It’s about where your rights end and begin when it comes to the desire of the other. And it’s about making room for multiple realities, allowing ourselves to be persons divided, as we all are.
Can you make peace with what you are not, with what you don’t have, without patching up the hole??
The role of the therapist in your journey is to highlight the questions; punctuate the punch lines; sweeten the judgments; connect some of the dots; and ultimately to help you free yourself from the formidable need to repeat that which has already happened, a story already written, in the service of what can be perhaps something new. Much of the work happens in between the sessions, in that place that is a void yet also demarcated by the arrival of each session anew. Your unconscious mind can be primed to do the work it needs to do.
Are you ready for your journey to begin?? Only you can know if the time is right for you.
P.S. Here is a link to a video that goes along with this post:
P.P.S. Want to learn more about doing a psychoanalytic intensive with me??