Laura (Host): Let’s talk about these patterns a little bit more, because you’ve mentioned this over-achieving pattern and this pattern of people-pleasing. How do you go about starting to identify some of these pattern areas with your clients?
Callie: I would say that it actually comes out pretty quickly. My goal when I'm working with somebody is to use their pain or their anxiety as a guide. It's the entry point. This can happen in several different ways, but essentially we're looking at two different things:
- How do we make ourselves feel safe?
- What are the dynamics, both in how we relate to the pain and how we relate to our life, that create fear for us?
We have to look at how we respond to the pain. How do we respond with fear that keeps us in that cycle? How do we know what we need in a given moment to help us not just follow this kind of black and white answer of getting better, but really tune in to what’s going to help us feel safe? And how do we also look at the deeper things in our life?
We talk a lot about fear and safety in this work, but those are just words. I hear clients repeat mantras such as, “I'm safe.” “This is safe.” “Walking is safe.” “Going out to the grocery store is safe.” And I stop them and I say, “Let's take a second. Right now you're feeling the need to flood yourself with safe messages, which is really good, but do you actually believe that right now? Do you actually feel that or is that just an intellectual understanding?”
Safe messaging is an incredibly important tool, especially in the initial parts of treatment when we are creating a foundation of safety. It can quiet the yells of the pain initially. It can say, “Okay let me get centered into my work knowing that what’s happening in my body is okay.”
But something else is happening. There's multiple things happening. Whatever you're doing is potentially creating a lack of safety, but there also might be this kind of environmental dynamic that’s existing. And us telling ourselves that we should feel a certain way rather than actually connecting to what we do feel can make us feel more unsafe. we can feel like we’re failing and there can be shame that there's something wrong with us. That in a seemingly simple situation, I can't feel safe.
So as I said before, the challenge here is that when people are searching for a way to get better, they're desperate for rules, for this black and white approach or a fixed guide. We've often gotten into the habit when trying to avoid pain of thinking, “This is safe. This is dangerous.” “Going to see friends for coffee is safe. Being home is dangerous.” Or vice versa. The truth is that one day seeing friends could feel amazing and cozy and nurturing, and one day it could feel like a prison.
We have to resign from conceptualizing safety and start tuning into how we feel, and turning towards the body for answers (which is the place most chronic pain sufferers have tried to ignore or too heavily focused on from a place of fear or preoccupation.) Maybe we can start to see some flexibility in what our brain has assigned safety and danger labels to, and these definitions may start to change.
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