Getting unstuck—a guest post by Deirdre Fay

Here’s this week’s guest post, the ninth in the Gratitude Practice series. I am so honored and humbled by the gratitude stories that are being shared. There is still room for *your* article, darling! This series runs until the end of this year. Do you have a gratitude practice? Please share your story… More details here.

Today I’m honored to welcome Deirdre Fay, whose writings about stuckness and ways to develop the skills we can use to get unstuck can be found here on her own website and here, where she takes a powerful stand for how meditation can help even when there’s trauma.

It’s a horrible feeling to feel stuck and believe that nothing is changing, nothing ever will.

That can bring us easily into a state of absolute despair. Why bother with anything? Why try to do things? Nothing makes a difference. Nothing changes this.

I’ve now gone through many thousands of cycles of feeling stuck. I know that place quite intimately. I don’t think it would be possible for me to be a therapist, to work with people going through these similar experiences if I didn’t know what it’s like to be in it — but more importantly,  knowing that there is a way out of it.

Since these cycles can take many days/weeks/months to move through it’s important to keep some key elements in mind.

1.  There always is a way out.

We feel stuck — but we are never stuck.  (I know! I can hear you!!!) When we are in the midst of it it’s almost painful to hear that there is a way out. We feel like we’ve tried everything and nothing has made a difference. Parts of you might even be furious with me, screaming at me that, “See… she doesn’t know what it’s like for me.”

“Pat” answers and responses are always hard to digest. It’s a fine line I’m walking here — inviting you to explore a possibility without any intention to make anything you’ve done wrong.

  • It’s not hopeless, there is light at the end of the tunnel
  • It’s hard to believe that when it feels so dark and horrible
  • Most of the time these horrible states stick around because we haven’t yet fully “heard” what they are trying to communicate

It’s helpful to find ways to externalize what is so big inside. Often when we are able to take the big feelings and externalize these inner states we begin to get some space to relax and breathe.

This doesn’t mean it’s about trying to get rid of anything, change anything, or have it be different. It’s merely to be able to bear witness to what it is right now and begin to initiate a relationship of kindness toward it, interest in it, and provide safety for what is held in this immensely disgruntled state.

2. Witnessing, focusing, and taking it slow

We’re so afraid if we feel this yucky stuff we’ll get lost in it. For most of us it’s imperative to be able to enter those states with someone safe, like a therapist or good friend who understands.  The relationship between the two of you allows you to stay solidly in the present moment while also dipping your toe in the past.

We can, however, learn to explore this territory on our own, to take tiny thimble full dips of experience and befriend them. One of the biggest mistakes we all make is trying to feel it all at once in the hope that if we feel it all we’ll be done with it. Personally, I’ve only seen absolute mayhem with this approach. Richard Kluft, who is one of the pioneers of trauma treatment always said, “Take it slow. You’ll get there faster.”

To turn down the overwhelming volume of experience we need to be able to take it as slow as possible. We can’t see what’s there if we are swept into a tsunami.  It can help to keep these principles in mind:

  • These horrible states are trying to communicate how bad it was at some point
  • To witness we need to be present, which means slowing things down so we can see each tiny thought, feeling, and body sensation as it is happening
  • We can’t do it if there’s too much to notice and observe, hence, our need to only take a bit of it at a time
  • Our ability to focus our mind gives us an advantage — we can tell all the parts that are overwhelming us that we need it to slow down, we are interested in everything but we can only focus on so much at one time
  • And then along the way we need to let go of distractions that will come up, instead learning to vector our attention toward where we want to go. We need to stay with this one piece and help it become known and through that attention to be integrated

3. What helps: training our minds/bodies/hearts

The more we practice witness and focusing during the lull points of our life, the times when life is not chaotic or overwhelming, the more likely we will be able to draw upon that automatic, new habit to balance out the plunge into old horrible states.

When we’re stuck it’s often because we are not being pulled forward to something new. We’ve been captivated by the old painful cycle swirling us back into its familiar embrace.


Deirdre Fay, LICSW has a private practice in Arlington, MA and is the founder and author of The Becoming Safely Embodied Skills Manual, skills which were born from personal healing while living at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. As a therapist Deirdre applied her thirty years of meditation and ten years of yoga experience to help others who were experiencing trauma and attachment symptoms. Her professional background as Trauma Center supervisor, former faculty member of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute and former board member of New England Society for Study of Trauma and Dissociation blend traditional and eastern traditions to trauma treatment. The Becoming Safely Embodied skills are now led throughout the world. Deirdre supervises therapists and clients on entering the body safely. Find out more here on Deirdre’s own website and here, where she takes a powerful stand for how meditation can help even when there’s trauma.


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I’m a barely tamed hippie, sage, seasoned, sarcastic (not all the time any more, but still). I’m a mom, a daughter, sister, a neighbor, and a friend. I’ve been on this meandering journey — like you, probably — seeking a better connection to and experience of peace, harmony, and fun in every bit of life. I’m single, quite good at it, and mostly love it. I’m here for the conversations I get to have with you, which these days center on exploring the mystery and beauty of life, work, health, aging, and creative expression. Want to know a little more about me and my journey? Explore the site. Read the blog. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

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  1. Deirdre, thank you! The part about witnessing and taking it slow is very powerful for me. Ah, how grateful I am for the lifetime learning and healing we get to do.

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