I am working with a client who suffers from anxiety. After several weeks she doesn’t seem to be getting any better. She tells me that she feels like she is in a dark hole and that it is going to take time to come out of it. Any attempts to work on past hurts or connect with feelings are very difficult for her to do. She wants to know why.
I’m feeling like I’m in over my head …
As a teenager, I used to spend time with my friends at the river. The river can be a dangerous place and there were no lifeguards. Well, one day a friend was crying out for help. At a glance I could see he was drowning. His arms were flailing above his head and he was repeatedly dunking below the surface. And no one was paying any attention, whatsoever.
So I dove in. And made my way out to offer him help. I was unprepared for what happened next! He was like a cat in a bathtub – all arms and legs. There was no reasoning with him. In his panic, he was pushing me under the surface of the water! Fortunately, I was able to seize control and get us both out of the decidedly dangerous pickle we were now in!
The funny thing is – he was only in about 6 feet of water. If he had stretched out with his toes he would have touched bottom.
When the client comes to us with an emotional issue, we’re often their last resort. The pressure has been building up inside while they attempt to find relief through more “conventional” approaches. By the time they come through our doors, they’re in overwhelm.
The trick is not to join them!
Unfortunately, it can happen. When you’re not sure what to do, you can start to feel overwhelmed. And it can cost you your confidence. Remember – one of you has to stay in charge! And it had better be you!
You know what to do. It’s just that every client is different – an individual. With their own unique history. Not one of them comes in with an owner’s manual for their mind. They don’t know where the problem is coming from and neither do you. So, even if you’ve had a hundred clients with a similar issue, no two will ever be exactly alike. Each will bring you a new learning opportunity that will make you stronger and wiser. If you let it.
So dig in.
So let’s look at your client. You didn’t mention how old she is, whether she has been diagnosed, or if she is on any medications for her condition. These are all factors to take into consideration.
How old is the client?
The older the client, the more history there is to the problem. The more “water under the bridge” the greater the intensity of feeling. And the more pressure. The more mature the client, regardless of age, the more resources you will have to call upon when it comes to resolving the cause of the problem.
Is there a diagnosis?
A diagnosis is a label. And labels tend to stick when delivered by authority figures like doctors. Labels can cause the client to feel more stuck. It makes the problem more “real.” So they might seem somewhat “resistant.” They’re not. They just have a conflict regarding what’s possible. So it’s always a good idea to address the label – what it means to the client, and how that makes her feel – before going after the actual problem.
Types of Anxiety
There’s “anxiety” and then there’s “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).” GAD is a pervasive fear that influences every part of a person’s life. So, it makes sense that resolving it might take a while. This will require patience and persistence.
GAD clients are masters at avoiding. That’s their learned coping strategy. They’re not being difficult or resistant. They really DO want to feel better and have a normal life. It’s just that their subconscious mind won’t let them.
And YOU KNOW it has a very good reason for doing that!
We need to be unconditionally accepting of our clients, neither criticizing nor rescuing. Where they are at is okay. And when they’re ready to be somewhere better, you can help. The trick is to make them ready.
I had a GAD client who, in her teens, came home to discover the body of one of her parents hanging in the basement. Suicide.
As if that wasn’t enough, a few years later it happened again. She found her best friend dead after committing suicide. Weird karma, I know!
But that wasn’t the cause of her systemic anxiety.
The underlying cause was rooted in childhood anxieties. Mom and a Dad fought all the time. And it seeded the fear. Some bullying in the schoolyard followed by rejection in her teens and then the trauma of being first on scene to discover the bodies reinforced the fear. And it just blossomed. Like a rhizome, it put down roots in every area of her life until she was house-bound.
Are there any meds?
Medications, particularly anti-anxiety drugs, are designed to block feelings. That’s what they do. And in certain cases, they can offer much-needed, short-term relief. The problem is long-term usage. These drugs are non-discriminating. They block ALL feelings – good and bad. The result is the client walks through life without the lows. But there’s no highs, either. Their general affect is just flat. I have had many clients who wanted help to get off antidepressant medication so they can feel their feelings again.
The drugs can make regression more challenging because they put a chemical lid on the client’s feelings. It makes our job more difficult, but not impossible. You just have to amplify the feeling before attempting to bridge back. (And before you do anything – if your client is on drugs, you need a referral! Their prescribing physician will need to closely monitor the dosage because when the client starts to release the internal pressure, the dosage will need to be adjusted.)
The “Dark Hole”
Your client reports that she feels like she is “in a dark hole.” This is a classic description of depression. And it’s a useful image to work with.
The language of the subconscious mind is image and emotion. So you can work with the image of the “dark hole” to find the feeling trapped inside.
Just keep in mind that depression isn’t the problem. It’s a subconscious solution. Depression is a coping strategy. It’s HOW the subconscious mind protects us when the internal pressure gets to be too much. And Protection is the Subconscious Mind’s Prime Directive! So the last thing we want to do is get into a wrestling match with THAT!
I would look for ways to work WITH the subconscious mind.
My Rule #1 is to provide safety because that’s in alignment with the subconscious mind’s Prime Directive. The client needs to feel safe enough to face her deepest feelings. That’s what she has been avoiding.
And that’s where we need to go.
To get there I would:
- Commend her subconscious mind for doing such a great job at protecting the client!
- Affirm that it must have some pretty good reasons for doing that.
- Inform that perhaps it doesn’t realize that keeping her in that dark hole is causing pain, making the client’s life miserable, preventing her from being the person he wants to be.
- Suggest that there might be a better way.
- Elicit the subconscious mind’s cooperation in discovering what that “better way” might be.
- Obtain its permission to allow those feelings to come out.
- Solicit its help in locating the cause of the problem.
In Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, the donkey moans, “Oh, well. Wasn’t much of a tail, anyway.” In other words, “It’s impossible, this can’t be fixed, it’s hopeless.”
This was the final decision that resulted in “depression.” (Which, BTW, is another label.) Listen carefully and you’ll hear the voice of a Child who, after many failed attempts, final gives up on ever getting her needs met!
Does anybody have a script for depression?
I have included this because we’ve all seen this question posted on the forums. It’s the mark of an amateur.
You can’t pep-talk a person out of depression. You can’t tell the subconscious mind to give up it’s protective strategy. Nor can you bully a person out of a feeling. They have to be willing to dive into the feeling. And they must be willing to face the truth as their subconscious has it.
Then change is possible.
Realize “depression” isn’t a feeling. It’s the result of stacking up unexpressed feelings over time. Nobody gets depressed all of a sudden. It takes a while to dig the hole. And it will take a while to dig the client out. (Exception is bereavement, which is short-term and resolved through the grieving process.)
Watch for multiple l-a-y-e-r-s and resolve them one-by-one. At the bottom of the “dark hole” feeling you’ll find the real pain. And when the client touches base with it, she’ll be able to kick off and get free.
Why can’t I feel anything?
You mentioned that she finds connecting with her feelings very difficult and that she needs to know WHY. First, help her to understand there’s nothing wrong with her. Her subconscious mind is doing what it was designed to do – protect her. The question is, from what?
Then teach her HOW to connect with her feelings. We feel our feelings in the body. So focus attention there. Find the feeling. What we focus on we get more of, so focusing on the feeling will increase the feeling. And the thoughts that accompany that feeling.
Help her experience some evidence of success. Her lens of perception is decidedly negative so each time she “fails” she interprets in a way that reinforces her belief that she is a failure, that she’s broken, unfixable, irredeemable, and hopelessly adrift.
Show here there’s light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s not a train!)
Validate even the smallest shift in the right direction. Celebrate every victory. Amplify every better feeling. Really pour on the coals! Because nothing builds success like success.
The goal is to saturate the mind with so much love and approval that it tips the scales in her favor. You will find that as you accrue the little shifts, over time, she’ll begin to make strides on her own.
Hope this was helpful!