Moving through modern-day (and midlife) gridlock

A common thread that challenges 90% plus of my clients, regardless of age, is indecisiveness and paralysis, often experienced and explained as stress, overwhelm, feeling blocked or stuck, inertia, avoidance, dissociation, or perfectionism accompanied by debilitating anxiety, depression, or shut down.

For my young adults, fresh on their own, adulting is weighty. But in all honesty, the weight of adulting doesn’t seem to get lighter as we age. As a matter of fact, it seems like the older we get, the more intertwined and complicated the decisions and choices –– each left or right turn is accompanied by long lists of pros and cons that ripple in a million directions and are hard to weigh against one another. 

The clear answer that we’re looking for suddenly has disclaimer upon disclaimer attached to it.

We've heard this numerous times: the only constant in life is change. Unfortunately, the more set and comfortable in our ways we become, the harder to stay open to this.  Everyone and everything, including the dog, seems to count on us and it doesn't take much to upset our delicate balance. Juggling and keeping all balls in the air, even when we have mastered our art, causes us to feel more and more trapped. 

We stuff these emotions down and resist the pressing changes that we’re noting. New realizations that we don't not want to juggle so many balls or don't want to juggle at all and want to try something completely different are scary. We dream of the days when we were carefree and experimenting with change wouldn’t be such a huge deal.

Internal pressure and resentment intensify the feelings of gridlock that inevitably is at risk of dislodging with greater force and momentum the longer we bottle things up.

Here are a few lists of things that clients often freeze around:

  • Career-related: to take or leave a job, to confront a co-worker or superior or not, to switch focus or fields, to take a break or retire, to follow a calling that pays less or is more uncertain, to take a risk and try something new or more challenging, to ask for more money or a reduced work load, to ask for more guidance and support, to become more visible and out there but more prone to judgment and criticism (through books, podcasts, social media, etc), to confront pay or other inequities related to - isms.
  • Relationships: to date again, to start or leave a relationship, to get married or divorced, to address painful topics with partners, children, parents, friends, and peers, to have children or not, to be vulnerable, to request support, to attend to unmet needs, to set limits and end with push back or retaliation, to balance care of children, aging parents, partners and self, to come out of the closet around key identity aspects, to face empty nest syndrome and growing apart, to undergo hormonal and physical midlife changes that affect mind, body, heart, soul, to risk rejection, to speak up and risk getting hurt or being alone, to deal with difficult or mentally or physically ill family members, to manage mental health needs not understood or supported by others, and to grieve the loss, change, and death of loved ones, pets, and things that meant a lot.
  • Finances and living situations: to move or not to move to reduce cost of living, to get a roommate, to move in with a partner, to get a clear idea of the financial situation, to budget and stick to it, to reduce spending, to start a side hustle, to raise fees, to invest, to save, to ask grown kids to help pay for rent or mortgage, to ask a partner to get a job or contribute more, to stop buying stuff for kids that they don’t need to show love or care, to address chore inequities and house rules, and to deal with unsafe and problematic living situations.

The demands of modern-society are no joke. No wonder we often cope by numbing and self medicating with alcohol and substances, retail therapy, overachieving and overworking, social media surfing, Netflix binge watching, binge eating, constricting and controlling, checking out, rationalizing, escaping, distracting ourselves with shiny new things, shutting down, withdrawing, and wanting to hide under a rock.

I don’t have easy answers and I am by no means immune to these pressures and coping seductions. I discovered in my practice that each person’s situation is unique. My sensitive people find it extra hard to live on a troubled, climate-violated planet, deal with conflict-laden relationships, and radically accept their limitations in navigating and finding their place within this world. They often unknowingly take it upon themselves to fix everything (so they feel more at peace) and either severely blame themselves for not succeeding at this or not getting “on top” of things the way they wished they could.

They disconnect and disengage when unable to resolve major issues in their closest relationships and they can also be prone to spiritually bypassing and remaining a bit floaty and ungrounded to take the edge off of the pain.

While all of this makes perfect sense, none of these methods teach us greater presence and tolerance of inner experiences and feelings which is ultimately what’s in our control and what's needed to once again feel in control of our lives. We can’t change others, but we can decide for ourselves what aspects of our lives are working and what aspects we want to let go of and make a decision, wrong or not. Going around and around in circles will eventually backfire because it leads to frustration and pent up emotion - energy in motion - which will look for cracks and release when we least expect it.

This release will appear as triggered responses, lashing out, addictions and compulsions, rigid holding on or impulsively letting go, and all kinds of energetic imbalances that seem to come out of no where but are driven by our body’s wisdom and drive for homeostasis and balance. No matter how we twist and turn things, greater tolerance for our inner experience and emotions, and learning to be proactive and not reactive in dealing with them is ideal for ourselves and all of our loved ones.

This is of course much easier said than done, especially when we are going through an exceptionally tough time and can’t process what we’re bombarded with fast enough no matter how hard we try.

While small wiggles from left and right may be the way to dislodge out of the gridlock, for some of us, the only way out is a bold leap of faith or doing something more drastic. Either way, new data points seem to be needed to spark true change.

Especially when perfectionism and conformity offer a sense of security, certainty, and comfort, big moves might feel too disruptive and baby steps toward the new goal is the way to go. Baby steps are always worth trying but the downside of this approach is that many remain stuck because they avoid going through the discomforts of true change. This leads to feelings of slowly dying inside and energy and momentum start to build for a grand overture regardless.

For those who’re feeling utterly defeated and stifled by fear of failure and making a mistake, facing a worst case or rock bottom scenario could bring fresh life, energy, and realization to a situation that was headed into a zombie-sleepwalking zone or riddled with daily conflict, heartbreak or stress. A new path and fertile land forged by an unexpected volcanic eruption may be the way out. The downside of this approach is that this eruption can be too much, disruptive or hard to handle or absorb by others who would have chosen the status quo or had no idea what was happening underground.

Sometimes, therapy, a new environment, transformational work, connecting to like-minded souls, and/or connecting to a place of power and the spirits of the land can amplify and energize impulses that had been blocked for a long time. We just had a follow-up meeting with participants who’d attended  Soul Renewal Taos retreat and whatever energies, subtle or big, that were stuck in gridlock got a powerful boost by the many sources of support that were activated there. All of us experienced a boost in growth, some, including myself a quantum leap, as new insights, energy, and emotions surfaced and were released, and the longing for movement and courage to live life more fully, gather new data points, and course-correct our lives took precedence. 

When in gridlock, remember this focal point. Seeking deeper truths and communicating with love and compassion helps us to connect authentically with ourselves and others as we dodge life’s curveballs as best as we can or sometimes catch them.  Practicing self love and radical acceptance helps us to stay present and continue to discern with greater clarity and consideration what our next steps are and how to keep going forward while keeping the highest good of everyone, including ourselves, in mind. Progress not perfection applies here too. 

In sum, life is about choosing our hard. Change is the only constant and life often requires us to move from one hard situation to another and stay as present as possible during this process. Overwhelm can cause us to shut down and avoid making any moves. While choosing to remain in gridlock may feel more familiar and comfortable, going in circles and dealing with the same problem stunts our growth and causes us to wither inside until some crisis, mysterious event, illness, or transformational experience awakens us with a vengeance. 

While external moves and changes are not the only way to get out of gridlock, sometimes getting out of ingrained, stuck cycles and patterns requires a bolder move and new experiences that will shake up the status quo. It may be the only way to access deeper insights, buried feelings, and true longings, integrate a new mindset, understand grace and forgiveness, practice greater communication and conflict resolution skills, and experience surrender, appreciation and gratitude for life and one another.


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