By Tiffany Dzioba, PsyD, LMFT, Executive Director of Promises Malibu Vista Many people with mental illness or addiction feel trapped in their lives. They repeat the same behaviors, think the same thoughts and experience the same pain every day. Sometimes this goes on for years. Several patterns cause people to lose hope and turn to maladaptive coping skills such as substance abuse or behavioral addictions (like sex, gambling or overeating) or self-harm. Here are three examples of patterns that can be problematic:
It is human nature to worry and replay things in our minds, but some people chew on the same problem over and over, unable to look at challenges in a constructive way. Rumination is a common symptom of depression and anxiety, and causes individuals to obsessively focus on problems without any insight or resolve. Trauma can keep individuals locked into rumination, trapping them into obsessive and negative thinking, similar to a video on a loop. Part of the recovery process is breaking the rumination and obsessive loop, learning new ways to refocus the mind.
The subconscious brain doesn’t know the difference between past and present. The conscious brain may say, “I know this abuse isn’t happening now. I’m not in the same environment or situation or with the same people who abused me and I’m safe now.” But the subconscious brain hasn’t been updated with that information, and thus the body responds based on thinking the trauma is still happening. An important part of trauma recovery is helping the conscious and unconscious mind and body understand that the trauma is in the past.
There are many ways in which people can feel stuck in life ― jobs, relationships and family matters, for example. When people feel hopeless, like there’s no way that anything could possibly be different, they can’t see solutions. Getting unstuck from serious trauma, mental illness or addiction requires building hope and resilience.
Four Ways of Moving On
At Promises Malibu Vista, we’re surrounded by nature and sea. There’s something about being by an ocean and seeing the vastness of how huge this world is that helps people realize they’re part of a bigger picture and there are many different paths to choose from. Just taking a nature walk alone or in a group, or sitting outdoors to watch a sunset or admire the landscape, can improve well-being. The ocean is very healing for people too. There is an old adage that everything healing comes through saltwater, either the sea, sweat, or tears.
People sometimes feel stuck in the past or anxiety-ridden about what might happen in the future. They become lost to sadness, worry or fear. Mindfulness is the key to living in the moment. When you can work through ruminating thoughts and be present in the moment, you can quiet your mind and find peace and acceptance. This can be achieved through mindfulness breathing and meditation, or exercises designed to help you stop and refocus on the current moment.
Shame and guilt are part of addiction and certain other mental health issues. Practicing self-compassion – the art of offering yourself kindness and understanding – gives you a break from your inner critic and can lower rates of depression and anxiety. It also helps you to see and accept the good in yourself.
4. Letting go.
Suffering is often fueled by thoughts that the things that happened in the past dictate what happens in the present and future. For example, “I can’t have a healthy relationship or hold a steady job because this happened to me.” A willingness to let go of these old beliefs helps people create a new understanding that what happens in their future depends on what they do today. Things in the past affect them but do not have to dictate the future.
Getting in the Driver’s Seat
People mired in rumination, reliving trauma and feeling stuck have to wrestle back the controls. The late philosopher and author Wayne Dyer used the metaphor of boats, engines and wakes. When a boat is moving through the river as it heads to the ocean, it creates a wake behind it. Sailors can see the wake in the rearview mirror, and they may even feel the ripples beneath the boat, but the wake is always behind them ― as is what’s happened in your life in the past. It’s important to remember that what drives the boat is the engine, not the wake. The wake doesn’t determine where the boat goes. And you are in control of the engine. What you do in the here and now will determine the course of your life.