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Stepping Out of the Shadows/[Re]Connecting With
Your Life's Journey

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Liberating the Spirit

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Frozen in Time

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within
you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
-The Gospel of St. Thomas: Logion 45

To the uninitiated, you would think that it’s a well choreographed dance. I’ve participated in it hundreds of times, but I swear the dance is merely a symptom of an imprisoned spirit. It goes something like this.

I greet her at the door. She tries to force a smile. Her mouth moves but her eyes remain flat, there is almost an eerie stillness to them.

As I motion for her to have a seat, I notice how stiff her body is as she lowers herself into the seat. While sitting, her left leg crosses over her right leg, seemingly detached from the rest of her body, as it alternates from mindlessly swinging to laying lifelessly upon her knee.

Her hands anxiously grip the sides of the chair, the whiteness in her knuckles belying the calm exterior she’s desperately trying to portray.

As I sit down, my eyes lock onto her eyes for the briefest of seconds and then she looks away from me. Her eyes begin to dart around the room finally coming to rest on a spot in the carpet.

I start the session by asking how she feels about being here.

She looks up, shrugs her shoulders and says, “Oh, I dunno, I feel fine I guess.”

Her face is frozen with fear. Her breathing comes in gasps. Her body is stiff as a board. Her eyes appear lifeless. Yet her words, her words report that all is well.

I ask her to tell me a little bit about what she would like to focus our work on.

She talks for awhile about the circumstances with her boyfriend, circumstances that she fines troubling. As she talks, tears begin to well in her eyes, yet she fights them back. Her frozen face becomes etched with the pain that comes from feeling betrayed and abandoned.

I share my observation of how she appears to be hurting.

She stares at the ceiling, thinks about it and says, “Naw, I don’t think it hurts, I just want to understand what is going on.”

          She begins to tell me how foolhardy she had been to trust this man. She had changed her life for him. She had let him into her life in ways that she had never done so before. All she got for her trouble was a lot of hard work, eventually having the rug pulled out from underneath her. All the while she is talking, the veins in her neck are protruding, her eyes are the size of quarters--a mixture of hurt, confusion, and rage; her left leg swinging at a furious pace.

I comment on how angry she sounds. She looks at me as if I was talking about a third person in the room. She says, “No, I wouldn’t call it anger. I just should have known better.”

"What do you mean by that?” I ask her.

“Well, I’ve made it a point to keep most men at arm’s length. I’ve never really needed to be in a relationship. In fact, I’m much better off without them. Life always seems to go just fine when I stay focused on my work.”

I nod at what she is saying. “You’re right, not everybody should be in a relationship. But what about your emotional needs. How do your emotional needs get met?”

“I don’t know. I don’t really think about those things. I just know that I’ve had to depend on myself my whole life and I’ve done just fine.

“I don’t really think I need anybody else. I get along just fine on my own.”

“Does it ever get lonely for you?” I ask.

“You know, I never really thought about it in that way before. It’s just the way it’s always been.”

She then shifts the conversation, telling me about her work, how she’s been in her present job for over fifteen years.

“Do you enjoy what you do?”

“It pays the rent.”

“Are you good at what you do?”

“I’m alright, I suppose.”

"How did you get into this line of work?”

“It’s something I just fell into after a couple of other jobs didn’t work out.”

I remembered her mentioning earlier that she thought of herself as being very aggressive. I found myself wondering what the underside of her aggressiveness was like. I asked her what was at the center of who she was.

“You know, I really don’t know,” she remarks, dumbstruck by the implications of what she had just revealed to herself.

Every time I have this sort of conversation with somebody, it has the same feel to it. There is a sense of detachment. It’s as if we are talking about somebody else’s life.

It seems like the person isn’t in their body. It’s as if they have created an outer shell to engage the world. The essence of whatever it is that defines who they are is missing. Trying to penetrate the shell can be as tricky as trying to cut through a diamond.

The individual is numb, but even more than numb, they are divorced. Divorced from their emotional experience. Divorced from the way their emotions appear in their body, in their conversation, in their day-to-day lives.

I watch. I watch closely. I watch how they go through a wide range of emotions as they speak, yet, they are totally unaware of that whole process unfolding within themselves.

Their lives appear to be a string of random acts that are not attached to anything that is truly important to who they are. Their life appears to be more a tapestry of random happenstance than any kind of orchestrated process that was in any way connected to the soul of the individual. It’s almost as if they are a feather blown by the wind, riding the current of some external force rather than living from within their own soul.

The story that plays in their head is a litany of explanations. Explanations for how they can go without, how they don’t really need, how they get along fine by themselves. Always the same theme, the pain of deprivation chosen over the fear and discomfort of participation.

It saddens me to see how the fear they live with creates these stories of denial, denial of their emotions, denial of their very human emotional needs, denial of their pathway to a life of abundance.

To keep the stories going, to lend credence to the stories’ validity, they choose a life of emotional impoverishment. Yes, they manage to get along. But at what cost? What does it cost any of us to keep the stories of deprivation and self-sufficiency alive?

I don’t think I am being overly dramatic when I say that it’s as if their spirit has been imprisoned. Can you see all the ways we disconnect from our spirit? Does the above story stir any glimmer of yourself, the ways in which you are connected and disconnected from your spirit?

You can see the importance of Liberating the Spirit, can’t you? Do you recognize the following life experiences when the spirit is imprisoned. Does the word depression take you anywhere in your own experiences? Does it fit in any small way that a state of depression is a state of imprisoned energy?

Anxiety. Again where does the word anxiety take you in your own experiences? Is it possible that anxiety is in some small part energy that needs to be discharged but is stuck within us?

Addiction. Does it stand to reason that addiction is a means of imprisoning our spirit?

Emotionally shutting down. Can you see how we bottle up our spirit, our life-force when we shut down?

Procrastination. Isn’t this a means to make time stand still? To keep life from imposing its will upon us? Could it be we imprison our spirit as a means of avoiding the demands of the here-and-now?

Why the need for all these ways of imprisoning our spirit? Why the need for choking all of the energy out of our lives? Could it be that we mistakenly believe that our best interests are being served somehow by shutting down or withdrawing?

          Perhaps at one point in our lives that was the case. Perhaps our very means for self-preservation was served by turning within ourselves, more like escaping inward. But how well does imprisoning our spirit work for us today?

I’m reminded of a story I read in the newspaper last month. There was a man arrested in St. Louis for roaming the streets with a hunting rifle, more specifically an elephant gun, I believe. A policeman walked up to him and asked him why he was carrying this elephant gun around.

The man looked incredulously at the officer and said, “Why, officer, isn’t it obvious to you? It’s to keep the elephants away from here.”

The officer, trying to understand what the man was talking about, took his hat off and scratched his head. His head cocked to the side, his right eyebrow arched, he said to the man, “What are you talking about, there isn’t an elephant within five thousand miles of here.”

The man, not missing a beat, looked the officer right in the eye and said, “You see, it works!”

Well, self-protection is important to us all. However, many of us devise means to protect ourselves that eventually get us in trouble. But the problem is, oftentimes no one can convince us that many of the ways we protect ourselves aren’t necessary, that they don’t work, that they really serve to imprison our spirit more than anything else.

Ron and I had a talk once how unsafe he felt in his world. We discussed all the ways he used to make himself feel more protected. What he came to realize over a number of years was that every way he chose to insure his self-preservation also froze his spirit, constricting his world to the point that he was merely living to survive, a prisoner of his means of survival.

“Have you ever felt like you were the only person you could count on, that you just didn’t feel safe? Well, that’s how it’s always been for me. I’ve felt all alone, unprotected, unable to trust anybody.”

“How have you dealt with that, with being afraid all of the time?” I wondered out loud.

"Honestly, I don’t think I did, at least I didn’t deal with it effectively. I did everything I could to push away my thoughts and my feelings.”

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“Oh you name it, I did it. Think about my behavior. You’ve always kidded me about how rigid I’ve been. Always doing things the same, always staying in a safe but limiting pattern of behavior, day after day. Well, that let me live life on auto-pilot. No surprises. No curve balls. No need to think and feel my way through life. Everything predictable.”

“You sound kinda angry about that.”

“I am, it’s been such a waste. I just can’t reconcile the time I’ve wasted. I feel like I’ve wasted most of my life.

“And the people. I’ve known a lot of good people but most of that has gone down the drain. The shame of it is that I set myself up for all of this. Always getting involved with needy partners. Needing people in my life who took and took from me but never gave. All of that, only because I needed them in order to feel important. To feel like I mattered.”

“Well, all of that is changing for you, isn’t it?” I asked somewhat hopefully.

“Yea, I suppose. Little by little. I’ve been afraid my whole life. That isn’t going to change. But it’s hard. It’s always been hard for me to experience my life changing or expanding. So the more I try to open my life up, the more anxiety I create for myself.”

“Wow, it must feel like you’re between a rock and a hard place.”

“That’s exactly right. Imagine what it’s like. For instance, I know the way to make myself safe today is to let people in my life, to allow people to be there for me. However, that can be really hard. It’s hard to let go of all of my mistrust, all of my ways of protecting myself. It’s hard to let someone’s love and affection in. Believe me, I want to and I keep trying, but it’s hard for me to trust.

“But little by little I’m finding my way. Little by little I’m discovering a zest for life, a sense of potency that I never had before.”

You can hear the blocked energy in Ron’s story, can you not? Control. Control. Control. That’s how Ron has kept it together. That is not to judge Ron but to understand how fearful he has felt in his world.

The solution? Limit his participation in life. Limit the amount of uncertainty he had to deal with. Limit the stimulation that life had to offer in order to feel safe.

Thankfully, today, Ron is slowly but surely finding ways to open the valve little by little, freeing more and more of his spirit with which to engage life.

Why not stop here and think about your spirit, your life-force. How free does that energy flow in your life? Does it move freely or do you have ways of controlling the flow of the energy?

What are the things that are frightening you to the degree that you need to slow down or shut down completely the energy with which you engage the world?

No matter the reason, no matter the means, we can change the story we have created in our head as to why we shut down our energy. We can always find new ways of managing whatever it is that is frightening us. Although disconnecting from our spirit may have seemed like an effective solution for whatever we have been trying to solve up to this point, we all can find ways of liberating our spirit so as to be more present in our lives.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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