A Worthy Destination
John is a tall, strappingly handsome young man who has been in therapy for almost a year. As an actor, he has been successful booking commercials, but hasn’t been able to take the leap into film or television drama. Although his good looks are commanding, there is something boyish and timid about his presence. He originally sought therapy to understand and overcome his discomfort around others. There was something blocking him from reaching his full potential and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.
When John and I first started working together, he found it very difficult to look into my eyes while speaking. He started each session squirming around on the couch, pulling his body in every direction trying to find a comfortable position. John was tired of walking into a room feeling like a frightened little boy inside a man’s body. His unease among others also kept him feeling isolated, lonely and unable to sustain any long-term personal relationships. What’s more, as an actor, these hurdles of self-confidence blocked his creative talent from emerging, keeping him from achieving his full potential. When feelings of insecurity and fear would start to arise, he tried ignoring, ridiculing, threatening and even confronting them with positive affirmations, but they refused to go away.
Like John, most people scramble to get some ground underneath their feet when feeling insecure. They desperately want something to hold on to. Fear can create a chain reaction of blaming others, getting angry, creating views of how things should be and getting stuck in rigid thinking. But by running away, we make matters worse and dig the hole even deeper. Time and effort is wasted trying to avoid parts of ourselves that bring us difficulty and shame. I have seen many people cause themselves more harm through avoiding these unwanted feelings, instead of learning to accept and grow from them. Negative habitual patterns rooted in fear, such as, using alcohol or drugs to numb the sense of emptiness and inadequacy, not taking on new challenges so that you don’t risk failure, hiding behind anger when you feel small, acting out sexually to avoid feeling hurt and unwanted, shopping, running after sensual pleasure, are used to block the unwanted emotions. It is natural to want to run toward relief when you find yourself confronted by difficult feelings, but, it’s not helpful in promoting long lasting positive change. Clinging to what is familiar may feel safe, but it will not plant the seeds for change and growth to happen. Know that you are not alone; EVERYONE has felt insecure and afraid at some point in their lives. It is not the fear that is destructive, but the negative habitual patterns used to avoid the fear.
In therapy, John began expressing the strategies he used to build the walls of protection when he would feel afraid. For his social anxiety, he used alcohol to chase away feeling vulnerable. To protect himself from his fear of failure, he would avoid taking risks or challenging himself. To combat his insecurity and keep distance in intimate relationships, he would tell himself stories (i.e. She’s not good , pretty , or smart enough, who wants to be tied down, or she’s too good for me, too boring, too talented or not talented enough). He would tell himself anything in order to make her undesirable so as not to confront his fears of abandonment.
We worked together to uncover his repressed traumas which he had been reenacting all his life and were inhibiting his vitality presently. He had been stuck for so long, unable to move forward because he hadn’t grieved what he left behind. John’s parents were divorced when he was eight. When his father left the house, he never saw him again. John’s mother was overwhelmed emotionally and financially. She couldn’t handle any more unhappiness, so John learned to bottle up his emotions and appear “perfect.” As a result, he grew up feeling unconnected to himself and others. His emotional life was frozen in time. As a result, he viewed situations with black or white/ all or nothing thinking. Life felt either good or bad, pass or fail, do or die. He would slip back to the way he viewed the world as a child. Extreme ways of thinking are not realistic, cause depression and fuel self-criticism.
Intuitively, he may have picked a profession like acting where one needs access to their emotions, in order to find the road back to these lost parts of himself. Through his courage, he was able to go back and put words to his painful experience and understand how it influenced his view of life as a young man. His brave grieving allowed this old wound to recede back to where it belonged, in his past. He learned to tolerate his feelings of discomfort long enough to remind himself that he was no longer that dependent lost little boy from his childhood; he was now a self-reliant, capable adult.
If you recognize yourself in this story, here are some pointers:
HOW TO WORK WITH DISCOMFORT
- Get to know your discomfort. Name the situations that make you feel uncomfortable (i.e.: I feel uncomfortable in social situations where I don’t know anybody).
- Notice any patterns in these situations (I always feel uncomfortable when I’m in an unfamiliar situation, out of my territory).
- Can you remember when you first started to feel the discomfort? (In third grade a teacher humiliated me in front of the class and I never wanted to speak in front of people again)
- What do you do when you feel that you can’t handle what’s going on? Where do you look for strength and in what do you place your trust? Are any of these behaviors self-defeating?
- After answering the above questions, recognize that the seeds of your fear may have been planted in the past.
- Remember feelings are not facts; just because you feel like a little child doesn’t mean that you are. Recognize your growth and accomplishments and hold on to them when hit by a wave of self-doubt.
- Recognize when you are stuck in negative thought patterns and challenge yourself to look at your situation from a positive perspective.
Life goes up and it goes down and we can’t control it. But everyone has the potential to transform their fear and discomfort into strength and confidence. It takes courage to see yourself really clearly, but in the process, you gain strength, self-respect and self-love. Isn’t that a worthy destination?
“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.”
I wish you strength and courage on your journey.
The names and circumstances have been altered to respect confidentiality.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.