I was working with my trainer this morning at the gym and she was pointing out how some of my muscles simply do not respond even when I'm 'trying' to make them work. Some of the smaller muscles have become so weak from underuse to the point where I can't even access them, while some other muscles have become so tight from overuse that I can't even relax them. Perhaps it started during a gymnastics accident when I was a kid. Probably exacerbated by the three occasions when a moving car hit my stopped car from behind. Further exacerbated by computer work, writing a lot, being right handed etc etc. In any case, little by little, over the decades, there developed a complicated, interconnected system of "gnarly" (that's my trainer's word) knots and scar tissue, jamming the muscles and making the problem worse each year. It now affects my neck, shoulder, back and hips. She has to literally pry my muscles apart and knead the knots out.
This is painful. She is not particularly gentle because 'gentle' would not get me results. In the moment when she is inflicting pain, I want her to stop. I would prefer to let my muscles reflex back into their dysfunctional place. It is tempting to choose the familiar discomfort of my tight muscles and gnarly tissue over the pain she's forcing me to deal with. I try to remember why I'm paying her. However, I know that it's a good pain. Most of us can tell the difference between good pain and bad pain. With good pain we grow and become freer, even though the process might hurt.
And so my relationship with my trainer is bitter sweet. I go because I know it's good for me. What she says makes sense. The process is not pleasant, but choosing to ignore it seems foolish. Also, apparently I need her help. I can do some of the exercises on my own, but there is some work that requires her intervention. (She's also good at what she does and a very nice person, and that helps too).
It's exactly the same with emotional injury that occurs during childhood. We shut down certain emotions and overuse others. Some ways of coping become strong and reflexive from overuse, while others become so weak we cannot even access them. It happens unconsciously, little by little, so that by the time it causes problems in our external world, there is a major network of gnarly, scarred emotions and tissue damage on the inside.
Some people come to therapy understanding this and are determined to push through, even though they don't actually 'enjoy' coming to see me. They continue to show up because they recognize it is 'good' pain. There are also some people who stop as soon as it becomes uncomfortable. As soon as they 'feel' emotions that they chose to shut down years ago, they decide they were better off living with the distress of their presenting problem, than the discomfort of healing work.
It's an unfortunate twist that what started out as good coping becomes a harmful habit. Just like it 'made sense' for certain muscles to 'retreat' in order to heal, (while others took over) after my gymnastics accident, it 'makes sense' for certain emotions to shut down when they have been hurt. But over time, the original balance needs to be restored, and it often isn't. And so it ends up creating a state of ongoing suffering. In our bodies. In our minds. And in our emotions.
If you need help restoring that balance, call me. I can help.