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How to Stop Feeling Stuck and Start Changing

It can be frustrating to feel that you’re not making progress in therapy. And that feeling of being stuck, or feeling slow to progress can come from a number of places, though one in particular has struck me lately in my work with clients. 

I’ve noticed that sometimes people come to therapy with the desire to “fix” themselves and/or their feelings. They think that if they could only change themselves, the way they feel or the way they behave, they’d be happier with themselves. This attitude places conditions on our happiness, and on our acceptance of ourselves. We think, for example, that we’d be happier if we got control of our drinking or eating habits, or were better partners or friends or if we were better at our jobs or more skillful in social situations. What we don’t notice sometimes is that we’re actually thinking that we’d LIKE ourselves or love ourselves more if we could do these things. While we’re here in our present state, drinking and eating too much or not enough, not following through on social commitments or underperforming at our jobs, we think we’re not WORTHY of being liked, loved, appreciated, valued or being happy. 

One way to shift this dynamic is to get curious about how we came to believe that there was something “wrong” with us that needs to be “fixed” before we can approve of ourselves. Was it a critical or neglectful parent? Other kids that bullied us as children? Situations where we felt we weren’t good enough or would never measure up? 

It’s important to know that the path forward in therapy is unlikely to be treating ourselves with the same sense of conditional acceptance or love we experienced when we were younger. If we were told we needed to be smarter or socially more capable in order to be loved, holding ourselves to a standard of not liking or loving ourselves until that happens leaves us still longing for the love/belonging/acceptance that we’ve always needed. 

So instead of seeing ourselves, our feelings and our behaviors as problems to be fixed, can we see ourselves, the things we feel and the things we do, as longing to be understood, appreciated and valued for the role they are playing? When viewed with curiosity and warmth, even the most “problematic” behaviors can show themselves as attempts to meet genuine human needs. And this new perspective can give us a new ground to stand on from which we can finally look at ourselves and begin to make meaningful shifts, not because they will make us “better” people, but because we desire now to meet our needs in ways that will truly work for us.

So what is it that you need in order to change? Is it to be heard, understood, appreciated, healed, accepted, challenged, encouraged or something else? Let’s give ourselves these gifts now, knowing we have already waited long enough to have them.  


Amanda Jacobson, LMHC, is a licensed therapist in clinical practice since 2013. She has experience working in both inpatient and outpatient settings, with group and individual therapy and she has a passion for working with people recovering from addictions, as well as codependency, depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship challenges and major life transitions. She earned her master’s degree from Boston University.

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