Sometimes therapy is like fishing. We search the unseen reaches of our psyche, the underwater subconscious realms, and pull up issues, one by one. We examine them, learn how they've been hindering our progress, heal them, and then remove them as the obstacles they've been in our lives. Once we catch a good number of the fish - once we have identified, investigated, and worked through a threshold number of our hindrances, issues, character defects, irrational beliefs, old tapes - then moving forward in new and healthier ways becomes a little easier, our path a little less encumbered.
Sometimes it can be tempting to fish forever, to try to catch them all. Even though this kind of deeper work is challenging and difficult, it is still easier and softer than actually making the change. For example, I often work with clients working through whether or not they have a drinking problem, and whether or not they want to stop using substances. A lot of this work involves fishing for the underlying issues that drive their problematic substance use. And that is hard, and good, useful, meaningful, important work. But at some point, we must make the behavioral change. We have to stop using the substances. It is true that the remaining fish are what make it difficult to make that change - but there will always be more fish, and the longer we don't make the healthy change we are hoping to make, the stronger those fish get. And they keep making more fish babies. Fishing with a hook, line, and pole is a never-ending process. There are always more fish.
That doesn't sound like good news, and I am here to agree with you whole-heartedly - it does not feel good. You finally make the healthy change you know you've been needing to make, and now you are met with a bunch of dead floating fish - depression, lack of motivation, thoughts that tell you don't deserve good things, that you can't possible earn or live up to anything positive, unworthiness, lack, shame, self-loathing. Are we sure this was a good thing to do?! It doesn't sound like it! We should definitely get back inside of those lines, back into our unhealthy spaces, get those fish back under the water! And worse - all of these fish-voices are really convincing, because they sound like us. Their thoughts feel like our thoughts, and their feelings feel like our feelings.
Here's the good news: Feelings aren't facts. All of this negative response is our brain's natural and normal coping mechanism to keep us safe. Unfortunately, this particular panic system doesn't really know what's best for us, it is programmed to prefer and drive us to repeat the same behaviors we did yesterday and the day before, regardless of whether or not there is a better option. The human brain is wired to be conservative to a fault. It dislikes change of any kind. It definitely doesn't favor risk.
The second bit of good news: if we can persist in our healthy change, living outside of the lanes in good ways, once we give those changes enough commitment and time to produce the good results we know that they will, our brains will learn that this was a good move, and those fish will grow quiet. This discomfort, distress, and even despair will not last forever, if we can bear to see it through, to stick it out until the payoff.
Even more good news! Now we can see ALL of our fish. Now all of the things we were hoping to find and work on are here in full force, ready to be seen, available to be worked with. As one of my teachers, Swami Jaya Devi says, it only comes up to be healed.
If you have made a big, positive change in your life and are feeling frustrated that it doesn't feel good at all, and in fact feels really, REALLY bad, may this knowledge be of comfort: this is exactly what happens when you make a big, positive change. These feelings are evidence that you have greatly disrupted your old ways of being, and are wild and brave enough to move through great discomfort in order to create a better life. Congratulations! This is difficult, painful, and amazing work. You can do it, and you are worth it.
It helps to have a tribe of folks to support you, to sit with you through your pain, and to remind you that those fish are liars. If you don't have a tribe or could use some extra, professional support, maybe therapy is a good idea. Reach out today to see if my services could be helpful to you.