Being stuck in the past with unresolved grief

People can get such powerful upheavals in their lives that it can get very hard to move on as a result. They can be very stuck in the past, although it might not seem like that. The challenge can be very much about finding ways to let go of what happened, and bring it to completion so that they can free themselves up to move on.

A classic example of this is a bereavement, where someone might so miss, say, their dead partner that for years afterwards they feel unable to let go of the dead person. This might be such that they feel they cannot move on and meet and be with another. A famous example of this was of course Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Prince Albert. Another, from literature, is Miss Havisham in Dickens’ “Great Expectations“, jilted on her wedding day, still in her wedding dress and keeping her wedding feast laid for a feast that never happened. At one level you might think, should they? Of course, it might work for them to be like this, and this brings up the important questions of it not being about what’s “right” but instead what serves them as individuals. Where this sort of matter becomes an issue is where the person concerned would like to move on, but feels unable to do so. It’s when they decide that it’s not OK for them.

Unfinished business

Such a stuckness is what we would call a fixed Gestalt, unfinished business, where there’s grieving to be done and a process of letting go to be gone through, which can include facing and working through the pain, and embracing the feelings that can come up. Very often people have felt unable to go through the full grieving process. However, each in their own time. It can take years to work this sort of stuff through, and sometimes people don’t really deal with their loss and their grief until years later. We need to be gentle with ourselves and let healing take its natural course. For others, they decide they aren’t going to let it hold them up and they take hold of an opportunity, in a manner of speaking, and allow the feelings to come up and be released.

It’s worth taking an inner look and asking ourselves what stuff from the past we’re holding on to, where we’re stuck in the past, what we’ve not let go of. Otherwise it’s held inside, in the body, and eats away inside us, a life put on hold, held in a freeze-frame in the past, incomplete, unfinished, and yet unfulfilled, like a perpetual sadness (and perhaps rage too), and a held-on-to perpetual sadness too.

Thus by being stuck in the past we can prevent ourselves from embracing all that life offers us in each and every moment, the joy of aliveness and the love of life. Yet it’s always there, for whenever we choose to let go and go and enjoy it. We hold the key. We can open the door from the inside, and step out, and be who we really are. When we choose.

When you’re totally and utterly stuck

Psychological growth can occur after periods of feeling stuck. When we’re stuck it’s as though we can’t see a way forward or a way out. We’ve still got the problem and it continues to get to us and be getting in the way of our life. In Gestalt terms, we have some awareness and but are immobilised at the point where we’re seeking options and choices as to what to do. Stuck phases can seem enormously frustrating, if not depressing, but can have great potential for positive results if embraced and treated as a challenge. We need to find a way to take action.

Physically it can feel like we’re rooted to the spot, weighed down, lacking fluidity and ease of movement. There can be a tendency to go round in circles, going over and over the problem or challenge as if that’s all there is. It’s very hard to see the bigger picture. We’re down in some hole.

I once had great help from a friend over being stuck, when he helped me visualise being stuck in one such hole. In working on it, I imagined going all around this hole till I knew it backwards, so to speak. He helped me think of what the sides were like and I realised the sides weren’t as high as I had imagined and that there were sticking out bits and roots that I could cling to so that I might be able to climb out. I then had to learn to believe I could climb out. We didn’t talk of him giving me a rope and pulling me up. This was about me getting out myself.

Taking responsibility and realising we have power over our situation, and then actively doing something about it that changes it are vital components. Yet it helps to reframe the perception of the situation and then to find options to use. Vitally though, we very often need to go back to our awareness and find what else we might become aware of but haven’t yet. Then once we’ve done that, there’s a much more powerful energy at our disposal. Then effort is needed, tapping into the energy, to make the changes that are needed, even dealing with the part of us that is reluctant, and resisting becoming aware and making the change. Often the resistant bit is about a part of us we’re not willing to recognise, embrace and change. The resistance and the clinging on to the old understandings helps keep the stuckness in place. It’s us ourselves that need to do something about this.