Have you ever broken a limb?
I’m lucky enough to not have broken anything (yet), but I’ve known a couple of people who have.
Here’s how it goes: in the beginning, while the bone is healing, you need to use crutches to get around. The crutches are kind of crucial at this stage, as they reduce the amount of pain we feel and stop us doing any further damage. After a period of healing, however, we’re ready to move on; the cast comes off and the physical therapy starts.
Although we need crutches up to a certain point, if we continue to use them after that point has passed, we actually hinder our recovery. Although it might be an uncomfortable, frustrating, even painful process, we need to make that switch and give up our crutches in order to make sure we can use the limb properly again.
This is the same for the emotional crutches we use in our daily lives.
Last week, I spend a good few hours reading The Language of Emotions by Karla McLaren (highly recommended) in preparation for this month’s Psychology Book Club. She dedicates a whole chapter to emotional crutches—why they develop, how they hold us back, and what we need to do to stop relying on them—and I want to share a couple of parts here:
“When we don’t stand at the center of ourselves, nearly every part of us falls into trouble of some kind.
Many of us learn to press on in the face of such trouble. We find a way to cope—not flourish, not soar, not enjoy and embrace, just flat-out cope. Most of us turn to some form of dissociative practice, whether it’s avoidance of the trouble, distraction from the trouble, or addiction to a substance that separates us from the trouble. Most of us, instead of learning to navigate our flows, find a way to live beside our dreams, beyond our emotions, in spite of our thoughts, away from our vision, and out of our bodies. I often say that our entire culture is having an out-of-body experience, but it’s more correct to say that there’s no one at the center of our selves to guide or comfort us; therefore, we cling to any form of relief we can find. Avoidance, distraction, and addiction are absolutely commonplace in our culture because imbalance is absolutely commonplace in our psyches.
Moving toward balance means moving away from distractions, addictions, and avoidance behaviors…We use distractions to manage our work lives, our relationships, our families, our health care, our thought processes, and especially our emotions. We distract ourselves from our goals and dreams, from our loves and hopes, from our troubles and traumas, and from our deepest wishes and our truest selves. We distract ourselves from moving into wholeness, most likely because we haven’t been taught that wholeness is real and attainable.”
In other words, distraction and addiction (socially acceptable or otherwise) are ways we learn to cope with life. But as well as shielding us from the pain of life’s ups and downs, they also shield us from the sense of future potential and possibility, and from the vulnerability required to go out and show up as our whole selves.
“We reach out for addictions and distractions not because we’re weak or unprincipled, but because something is seriously amiss inside us. When we can observe avoidance, distraction, and addiction from an empathic perspective, we can bring clarity to the experience of addiction and distraction.”
The first step to checking these crutches and consciously creating a life that’s filled with activities that energise us and lift us up, rather than contain us and keep us small, is awareness. Karla offers the following sage advice:
“Check in with anything you use to get into or out of certain states, whether it’s an obvious addictive substance or not. Check in with your exercise, your artistic expression, your intellectual hobbies, and your meditative or religious practices, as well as any alleviating food you might use. Just take a moment to discover if you’re using any of these things as a crutch to get through life. Anything that stands in for proper emoting, sensing, thinking, or intuiting can disable you in the long run just as much as the more obvious addictions can.”*
(*Added emphasis is mine)
I wanted to share these passages with you today because I had a total “Yes!” moment while reading this.
In September, I’m running a course called From Coping to Thriving, which is about this exact topic: letting go of crutches, distractions, and other behaviours we know aren’t serving us, replacing them with genuine self-care, and watching the magic happen as a result of this shift.
This place of awareness is exactly where we start during From Coping to Thriving, as it allows us to figure out what our core needs are, and create a self-care practice based on that.
There’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to self-care, and what we often refer to as self-care isn’t self-care, unless it plugs in to your current needs. During From Coping to Thriving, you’ll be supported as you become a detective of yourself and start consciously creating a self-care practice that lifts you up and helps you expand, rather than one that keeps you stuck and stagnant.
This six-week experience starts on 15th September, and I hope you’ll join us and make this transition yourself. We all develop crutches for a good reason, but at some point, it’s time to let them go.
Registration for From Coping to Thriving is now closed. Click here to hear more when future courses run.
Image: Olia Gozha