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I'm Not Crazy, Weak, or Broken!

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Stress » Featured Article

By Colleen A. McCann, MSW, LGSW

Colleen A. McCann, MSW, LGSW

Your're Right!

Most of us experience problematic patterns of emotion and behavior that feel unsteady and out of control. The question is, how did we get there and how do we get "unstuck?"

How We Get Stuck

We give almost no conscious thought to complex tasks such as driving a car or even putting on a pair of pants. But for a novice driver or budding toddler the level of difficulty is very high and both struggle to master these tasks. With practice there is a shift from "manual" to "auto" that happens in the brain when neurons form a reliable firing pattern that automatically takes over. The rule is "neurons that fire together, wire together" creating efficiency in brain processing, allowing us the ability to multitask.

Patterns of emotion and reactive behavior are another example of neural firing patterns that wire together, but in this case to protect us and launch us into an immediate, practiced response. The fight or flight center of the brain rapidly fires practiced responses to situations that register as a threat, literally hijacking our whole reality. Unresolved emotion from childhood can deeply imprint a threat response in the brain that, when triggered, will hijack our adult experience. Our automatic response is usually out-of-control emotionally and a bit "childish." We can feel stuck in anger, restlessness, jealousy or sadness without knowing exactly how we got there. Without taking time to consciously rewire automatic responses, old patterns will continue to fire throughout adulthood and can create tremendous stress within relationship, parenting, and at work.

Getting Unstuck

Getting unstuck begins with practiced awareness. Changing automatic patterns of behavior requires that we wake up to where we are stuck and learn how patterned behavior plays out both physically and emotionally. Stuck emotions can feel scary and that's why most of us spend tremendous energy avoiding an encounter with them. And with good reason! An unconscious replay of overwhelming childhood helplessness can be very destabilizing to our adult world.

Freedom from stuck places requires a back and forth process, oscillating between old patterns and newer ways of feeling and acting. This teetering process works to loosen rigid brain patterns and open access to higher level brain processing.

How Counseling Can Help

Change happens within relationship. The counseling process encourages the development of higher level, left brain activity by addressing identified issues with words, logic and insight. In addition, skills for monitoring experience through the body ("gut feel") and techniques for emotional regulation are also taught. The counseling experience works to literally rewire the brain for renewed flexibility, creating a sense of mastery in previously problematic areas.

ONE CAVEAT - getting unstuck requires that we "hold our seat" and take a bumpy and uncertain new road enough times to short circuit the old brain pattern. With practice we learn something that we didn't realize previously; which is that we absolutely can manage the distress we are feeling without freaking out, falling apart, isolating, or using chemicals. We also realize that we aren't crazy, rather this is how EVERYONE feels when they get stuck in an emotional pattern.

About the Author...

Colleen A. McCann, MBA, MSW, LGSW is a licensed clinical social worker / therapist in Minneapolis MN. Colleen helps clients escape patterns of negative behavior and emotion and "re-wire" the brain for happiness. Colleen also provides on-demand telephone counseling to help clients take immediate action toward re-establishing life balance.

Last Update: 5/3/2007



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