Chinese Finger Trap
I remember getting a Chinese finger trap as a gift one year as a child. It looked like a woven tube just big enough to put a finger in each end. Once I put my fingers in, I pulled and pulled… but it just gripped my fingers tighter. The more I pulled, the tighter it got… I was stuck!
Sometimes your thoughts and feelings can be like that. You’re stuck in a thought pattern and you can’t escape. Or you have a particular feeling that always comes up. Perhaps it’s anxiety, or dread, or grief. The harder you try to move away from the thought or the feeling the more it clings to you and the more stuck you feel.
My Client’s Struggle
One of my clients was struggling with this recently. She felt abandoned. This was a feeling she had off and on throughout her life. The particulars would change, but that familiar feeling would come up and she wanted desperately to not feel it. She had already done a lot of work and could recognize that it was a thought in her head that was causing this feeling. She tried to change the thought, but that wasn’t working. She tried to rationalize with herself but that didn’t work either. She felt stuck and miserable.
The Trap In Our Brain
Sometimes your brain will latch onto a thought and won’t let go. Usually, it’s something you have thought for so long that it has become a belief. It feels true in your bones. You don’t notice when this belief takes hold, but somewhere along the line it does and starts to become a regular unwanted guest in your life.
I’m not good enough.
I’m not worthy of love.
This will never get better.
Why is it always so hard?
I need to fix this.
I’ll never get there.
Most of you have a thought like this. Do you know what yours is? It is the one that has made regular appearances throughout your life. It’s the one that makes you feel awful.
The problem is, when you think it, you feel terrible. And yet, you can’t help but think it. Your brain doesn’t want to let go. The awfulness makes you pull away or try to hide from it. It’s instinctual. Your brain is just like the finger trap, the harder you pull away, the more stuck you become. You don’t see the trap however, you just feel stuck.
Sometimes you have to move toward something and embrace it before you can let it go. It may seem counterintuitive. Why should you need to move toward something if you are trying to get away from it?
Wanting To Escape IS The Problem
When you’ve been struggling with something for a long time, your natural reaction is to want to get away. You’re tired of feeling this way. It sucks! You don’t want to go down this familiar road of despair again and yet… there you are.
It is this natural resistance that is the problem. When you pull away, try to avoid or ignore that thought pattern, the tighter it will hold on to you. Your brain will be stubborn this way. As long as you try to resist it, you will have no power over it. It will have power over you.
It Let’s Go Of You
Remember the finger trap? Well, the key to getting out was to do the opposite of what I wanted to do. I had to push my fingers together, deeper into the trap, before it would loosen and let me free.
That is exactly how your mind works as well. Instead of immediately trying to get away, you have to instead relax and see that you’re in a trap. That is where you are. It doesn’t mean anything about you, it’s just a trap you have fallen into.
I’ve been thinking I’m not good enough. I’ve been thinking this for a long time. I’ve been stuck thinking this and it makes me feel unworthy.
The feeling that that thought causes you, be willing to move toward it, embrace it. Be willing to feel unworthy, or whatever it is for you, as long as you need to. The key is willingness. You have to be truly willing to feel what you naturally don’t want to feel. It’s just an emotion. You give it power only when you resist it. Let it in, move toward it.
When you can relax into it, the emotion and the thought behind it will let go of you. The finger trap of your mind will let you free.
This is not easy work. I can tell you it’s work worth doing. Working with a coach is one of the quickest ways to see all the traps you may not even realize you are in. My coaching program focuses specifically on women who have a partner with cancer. It’s a challenging situation and I help women build their strength through the struggle.