“I just don’t know what to do”. This phrase has been uttered innumerable times in sessions with clients, usually accompanied by them hanging their head or looking at the floor. The statement typically follows some description of a feeling or situation in their life that is causing intense pain or anxiety, and does not seem to be improving. Seeing someone so dejected can be heart-wrenching and I think that most people then feel a pull to give an answer. To fix it.
But the truth is, when the thing that needs to be “fixed” is someone’s sadness because their parent just passed away, or anger because their spouse has been unfaithful, or fear because their adult child relapsed again…I can’t fix it. Therapy can’t fix it. Losing weight can’t fix it. Having more money can’t fix it.
What I can do is help to regenerate hope. I can “hold space” for someone’s feelings – allowing their feelings to be present, acknowledged, and validated without trying to change them or make them go away. I can help them not feel so alone in the intense emotion they are experiencing in that moment. Then, and only then, do I have the privilege of going with them on a journey toward figuring out how they can move forward in the best and healthiest possible way for them.
We live in a society where there can be immense pressure for everyone’s ultimate goal to be a picture-perfect life filled with happiness and success. But as we all know, life is messy. At this point, you may be expecting some rendition of the encouragement to “embrace the messiness” or “lean into the discomfort”. While those are not bad pieces of advice, there is a step in there that we need to go through before we can get to doing any embracing or leaning. And that is the step of having self-compassion. I will talk more about self-compassion in future blogs, but for now I will just say that true self-compassion gives us the energy and determination to jump into the messiness and lean into discomfort.
I hope that if you are facing despair, depression, anxiety, or any other sort of overwhelming situation or feeling, that you will reach out for help. Every one of us has moments where we feel lost and confused and just don’t know what to do. No one is immune from that. None of us can go through this life alone and no one should have to. Take care of yourself.