“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” ~M. Scott Peck
Have you ever been in a situation or a stage in your life where you’ve felt physically stuck, as if you’ve fallen into some kind of invisible quicksand that you can’t get out of?
Or maybe it’s felt more like you have a thick, invisible elastic band around your waist, and no matter how hard you push forward, it pulls against you, holding you in place? Or maybe it’s like a sky-high brick wall that you can’t find your way through, around, or over?
Getting stuck in life can feel frustrating, annoying, upsetting, and confusing. And if you’ve been stuck for too long or at a time when you really need to move forward, you’ve probably found yourself panicking and feeling afraid because if you don’t take action, it may seem like your life will collapse—that you may end up financially destitute, homeless, alone, or a failure.
The Place Where You Are Stuck is Your Growing Edge
Everyone gets stuck at times. It tends to occur when you arrive on the threshold of a new direction, taking a risk, doing something new, or needing to leave something behind and launch yourself into the unknown.
I’ve been stuck many times in my life, sometimes briefly and sometimes for longer periods when I’ve had to accept that I needed to make big changes to my life and along with them, make choices and difficult decisions or learn something deeply and powerfully.
This place where you are stuck is your growing edge. It is the threshold between the known and the unknown, who you are and who you’re becoming.
Sometimes you might have no idea why you’re stuck, only that you can’t move forward. It’s a place that you may consciously or unconsciously try to escape by either avoiding your stuckness or trying to get over your edge and out of the discomfort too quickly.
Sometimes we get stuck unnecessarily for way too long because we keep hitting the edge and avoiding it or keep applying strategies to get unstuck that don’t address the real cause.
We often think of getting stuck as a problem to solve, but in my experience, it usually holds a bounty of insight, gifts, power to reclaim, and healing. It can even serve the unfolding of your life by keeping you aligned with your destiny and soul’s callings (or greater purpose, if you don’t believe in those things).
Why Conventional Advice Didn’t Help You Get Unstuck
Much has been written about how to get unstuck, but I’ve found that a lot of the advice is based on unnamed assumptions about the reasons you are stuck.
A common assumption is that it is a mindset issue, so a lot of the advice relates to changing your thoughts and conscious beliefs, cultivating different attitudes and positive mindsets, or using willpower to keep going and find the next step.
If you have followed any of this type of advice but failed to get unstuck, you may feel like something is wrong with you. But I want to lovingly tell you that there isn’t anything wrong with you. The problem is in the solution that simply didn’t address the root of your stuckness.
My Experience of Being Stuck
My most recent bout of stuckness was pretty painful and at times frightening in the context of my life. After pushing hard over several days to write a heap of content for my business, I woke up the next morning feeling depleted, empty, and sad. And I couldn’t write again for weeks.
If I was writing for fun, then maybe I could have just completely surrendered and waited for the words to return, but as a self-employed business owner, writing forms a large part of my work. I write all of my own website, blog, and marketing content. Not being able to write was scary because it put my business at risk.
Initially, I tried all the usual things: surrender, acceptance, movement, doing something fun, positive self-talk and encouragement, believing in myself, and looking for the next small step I could take. While these things were helpful, especially in terms of alleviating stress, they didn’t help me get unstuck because when I came back to writing, I was still blocked.
The Real Reasons I Was Stuck and How I Discovered Them
When the usual things didn’t help me get unstuck, I sat down with my journal to start inquiring in a loving, gentle way about was happening in my experience and inside me.
To begin, I did some slow, deep belly breathing with one hand on my heart and the other on my belly. This is a polyvagal breathing exercise that helps to bring your nervous system into a state of relaxation and increases your sense of safety.
Then I sat with my experience of stuckness and the uncomfortable feelings that arose and noticed what was happening inside me. A conversation with my body and soul unfolded that continued on and off over many days.
This is what I discovered about why I was stuck.
1. I had become too immersed in masculine energy in my approach to my writing: linear, direct, and factual.
I had made it a problem to be solved, a task to be completed. While I cared about writing well and my audience, I had disconnected from the deeper voice within me that held the poetry, beauty, and wisdom of what I truly wanted to say. I call this my soul voice. Essentially, I was trying to write from my head and not my heart.
2. I was trying to write what I thought others wanted to know or read, in a way I thought I should do it, which wasn’t congruent with what my soul wanted to express through me.
I believed that I had to write in a certain way to connect with people and be liked rather than just write as myself. I was trying to people-please, which is an old trauma response.
3. Different parts of me were in conflict, and their conflict needed to be listened to and resolved.
My sensitive parts didn’t like my overly practical approach to writing and were actively pushing against the “let’s get on with it” part that was trying to get it done. You could think of it like my heart pushing back against my head in opposition, saying “this isn’t the way to proceed.”
4. Less obvious was an inner critic that redirected me to write from my head.
Its voice was quiet, blended in my thoughts. It was trying to stop me from writing as my true self to protect me from the risk of criticism that a young innocent part of me would find devastating—an old trauma.
Once I recognized and sat with all of my insights about why I was stuck, I was able to hear my deeper self and find my way back into writing by listening to what my heart and soul wanted to express, while reassuring my anxious parts.
I shared little chunks of writing on social media that I felt inspired to share, not because I thought I should or wanted to please anyone but myself. This trickle eventually found its way to become a greater river. My writer’s block ceased. My stuckness was gone.
The Hidden Reasons You’re Stuck
The reason you’re stuck is not necessarily a result of your mindset, attitude, or willpower, or solely because of your beliefs. The reasons you are stuck are deeper than that.
They’re often hidden, obscure, or unobvious because they’re hanging out in your unconscious where you haven’t looked or been able to see them. They can be entangled and intertwined.
We get stuck because of deep inner conflicts between parts of ourselves that we aren’t aware of or listening to, limiting beliefs created and held by young parts of ourselves, and trauma that has been protectively pushed down but may surface.
We get stuck when we try to ignore or avoid difficult feelings, or when we’re scared of going for the thing that we want or need to do that our nervous system perceives as dangerous, sending us into a fight, flight, freeze or even fawn response to try and make unworkable situations work.
Your conscious mind might think you want what you say you want, but unconscious parts of you say no.
You might have inner critical figures meanly berating you or quietly discouraging you in a way that seems helpful or loving but isn’t. You might not have enough inner or outer allies to help you take the step you want to take or cultivate the skills you need to cultivate.
You can also get stuck when the thing you’re trying to do isn’t aligned with your destiny or soul’s calling and your stuckness is a symptom of higher intervention.
How to Find the Hidden Reasons You’re Stuck
1. Offer yourself love and compassion, coupled with gentle curiosity about your stuckness.
This will help your body relax and feel safe. You won’t discover what you are looking for by being forceful or unfeeling toward yourself.
2. Befriend it.
Before you can get out of your stuckness you must be willing to be with it and relate to it. Even if you try to detour your way around it or avoid it, the lessons that lie within it will appear again at another time in your life because you’re here to learn and grow.
Life lessons we need to learn repeat. What you learn will serve you for the rest of your life.
3. If you feel stressed and anxious about your situation, try some polyvagal breathing exercises to bring your nervous system into a state of rest and digest so you’ll feel safer.
It’s hard to think and see clearly if your body is very activated or stressed or even in a freeze or shutdown.
4. Find time to consciously hang out with your stuckness, breathe with it, and if you are able to, tune into your body.
Ask, listen, and see what bubbles up and what you notice is going on beneath the surface. For me, meditation and journaling worked, but they’re not for everyone. Maybe intentional walking, dancing, praying, or talking into your phone is better for you.
Here, you must be kind, gentle, and welcoming. Digging for answers and clues, especially in a forceful or problem-solving way, can make your sensitive inner world and young parts freeze up and not reveal anything because they feel unsafe.
5. Hang out and breathe with your insights so you feel safe.
This can often be enough for your stuckness to unfreeze or for you to form insights about your next step.
Other times you will need to do some work to process emotions, work through inner conflicts and limiting beliefs, and heal your young parts and traumas. You may need therapeutic support for this.
6. If you’ve tried the above and you’re still stuck, seek the help of a therapeutic practitioner or safe, compassionately honest loved one.
We all have blind spots where we can’t see things clearly about ourselves. It’s human nature.
You may have painful experiences kept out of your conscious awareness that need healing.
Sometimes you just need help and a safe space to discover what you can’t see and to be held safely with your experience and what arises.
About Kym Wilson
Kym Wilson is a certified holistic counselor, energy and spiritual healer, and author of The Path You Make. She supports soulful people navigate life challenges and hard times facilitating them to dive deep into their soul, tend wounded places and emerge empowered and transformed. She writes about how to feel safe to be you and live from your soul at www.kymwilson.com.au/blog Subscribe to her newsletter here and receive a workbook to map your way out of stuckness.