I have felt “stuck” quite often in my life, mostly through a significant transition and/or loss. When the pain kicks in, I go through all the “denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.” Sometimes, I can even predict the timeline of each stage. (They come back and forth on their terms.)

Once upon a time, I told my own therapist that I felt like “trapped in a prison” and there was no way out. Don’t you even try to talk me out of it! Because I just can’t!

“I am trying to understand what you need right now.” He closed his eyes and took quite a moment. I started to think maybe I had dragged him into my prison too. Then he opened his eyes and spoke very slowly. “Seems what you need right now is to stay in prison for a little bit longer.” 

I kept silent. What do you mean?! I was such a frustrating client at that moment, but I know it’s not my job to take care of my therapist. (Because they are the therapist!) 

He told me about the cartoon movie that occurred in his mind - a little prison stuck in a prison and she keeps shaking it. But if she could zoom out and step back a little bit there is nothing on the right and on the left to stop her from getting out. But she keeps focusing on the fence in front of her.  

I started to picture myself right there shaking the fence. Why didn’t I get out from the right or maybe from the left? 

My therapist paused there and repeated again: “Seems what you need right now is to stay in prison for a little bit longer.” This time, he had a wise smile looking at me. I know him, every time we are about to have a breakthrough, he has this smile waiting for me. 

It hit me at the moment. I am afraid to get out of my own prison.

Because outside there is what we call “Freedom.” 

Freedom requires accountability and responsibility - meaning that, life is now in our hands. There is no “cult” or “a bad girlfriend” or “a cruel boss” to blame anymore. We are 100% in the driver’s seat now. 

Absolutely terrified. 

People come to therapy because they feel “stuck”, in their old religion, relationships, jobs, losses, and the stories they repeat to themselves. They want to feel “better.”

But what does ”better” mean? 

Does it mean their ex-partner would eventually come back and provide the healthy love they deserve? Or does it mean their boss changes their mind and decides to keep them instead of letting go of them? Or does it mean that the cancer is just a misdiagnosis and they can actually escape from death? 

I have heard stories like these all the time in my practice and in my own life. It sounds so strange yet familiar that we human beings have this “magical thinking” during tremendous pain - may it be a devastating breakup, the death of a beloved family member, an unbearable sense of loneliness living alone during the pandemic … and the list continues. These thoughts totally make sense to me - it’s the “bargaining” stage in grieving. A little bit of “magic” might make us suffer a little bit less. The only thing that doesn’t make that much sense is people cast their energy outwardly towards things out of their control.

There is a void that could never be filled. 

To “feel better”, we need to be responsible for our own emotional experiences and pour the energy back at us, at the “prison” we choose to stay in.

It’s absolutely okay to keep shaking the fence and wonder why this happens to us. I believe there’s always some necessity behind each “choice.” Sometimes we need more time, we need to feel more pain, and we need familiarity for a little bit longer. 

Because once we are ready for responsibilities, we will set ourselves free.