On Feeling Stuck – Free Ebook

Many of us spend a large a part of our lives,
in one way or another, feeling stuck, that

is in a state where a strong desire to move
forward on an issue meets with an equally

strong compulsion to stay fixed where one
is. For example, we might at one level powerfully

want to leave a job in finance in order to
retrain in architecture – but at the same

time, remain blocked by a range of doubts,
hesitations, counter-arguments and guilty

feelings. Or we might be impelled to leave
our marriage – while simultaneously unable

to imagine any realistic life outside it.
To act feels horrific, but doing nothing is

killing us as well. Every avenue appears shut
off. And so one ruminates, turns over the

question late at night, tries the patience
of therapists – and watches life go by with

mounting anxiety and self-disgust.

As an outsider, one might be tempted to ask
questions to move things on: Why don’t you

try to enrol on a course to see if you might
like a new area of work? Why don’t you discuss

your dissatisfactions with your partner? Why
don’t you go to counselling? What about

splitting up? But we’re likely to find that
our friend can’t make any progress, whatever

we say. It seems as if they are subject to
a law disbarring them from progressing, not

a law you’d find in the statutes of the
country they live in, but some sort of personal

law – a law that might go like this: Make
sure you don’t achieve satisfaction in your

career; Make sure your relationship has no
life in it but cannot be abandoned; Make sure

you aren’t happy in the place you live in.
In order to understand the origin of these

laws, we have to look backwards. Difficult
childhoods and the complicated families they

unfold in are the originators of a lot of
these restrictive unspoken laws, whose impact

echoes across our lives. Some of these laws
might go like this: ‘Make sure you never

shine, it would upset your little sister’.
‘You have to be cheerful not to let my depression

break through.’ ‘Never be creatively fulfilled
because it would remind me of my envy’;

‘Reassure us that we are clever by winning
all the prizes at school’; ‘We need you

to achieve to make us feel OK about ourselves’.
‘You would disappoint me if you became boisterous

and one day sexual’.
Of course, no one ever directly says such

things in a family (laws couldn’t operate
if they could so easily be seen), but the

laws are there nevertheless, holding us into
a particular position as we grow up and then,

once we have left home, continuing to surreptitiously
distort our personalities away from the path

of their legitimate growth. It can be hard
to draw any connection between adult stuck

situations and any childhood laws. We may
miss the link between our reluctance to act

at work and a situation with dad at home thirty
years before. But we can hazard a principle

nevertheless: any long-term stuckness is likely
to be the result of butting into some sort

of law inherited unknowingly from childhood.
We are stuck because we are being overly loyal

to an idea of something being impossible generated
in the distant past, impossible because it

was threatening to someone we cared for or
depended on.

Therefore one of the main paths to liberation
lies in coming to ‘see’ that the law exists

and then unpicking its warped and unnecessary
logic. We can start by asking whether, beneath

our practical dilemma, there may be a childhood
law at work, encouraging us to stay where

we are. We can dig beneath the surface problem
in search of the emotional structure that

might be being engaged (in the unconscious,
architecture = the creativity dad never enjoyed,

sexual fulfilment = what hurt my loveable
mum). We may discover that some of the reason

we can’t give up on finance and take up
a more imaginative role is because throughout

childhood, we had to accept a law that we
couldn’t be both creatively fulfilled and

make money – in order to protect our volatile
father from his own envy and inadequacy. Or

we can’t leave our marriage because, unconsciously,
we’re coming up against a law from childhood

that tells us that being a good child means
renouncing one’s more bodily and visceral

The specifics will differ but the principle

of a hidden law from childhood explains a
huge number of adult stucknesses. The way

forward is, first and foremost, hence to realise
that there might be a law in operation when

we get stuck, that we aren’t merely being
cowardly or slow in not progressing; and that

we feel trapped because we are, in our faulty
minds, back in a cage formed in childhood,

which we have to be able to see, think about
and then patiently dismantle. We can along

the way accept that we are now adults, which
means that the original family drama no longer

has to apply. We don’t have to worry about
upsetting parental figures; their taboos were

set up to protect them but they are making
us ill; we can feel sad for the laws that

these damaged figures imposed on us (often
with no active malevolence) but can recognise

that our imperative is move them aside and
act with the emotional freedom that has always

been our birthright. We may need to be disloyal
to a way of being that protected someone we

cared about or depended on – in order to
be loyal to a more important someone still:


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