When coming to grips with serious personal problems, depending how many other demands are going on in our life, we may have a hard time letting the extent and seriousness of what we’re facing sink in. This is a common way to protect ourselves from having to deal with more than we can handle all at once. So at any given point of the problem, we will fit somewhere along a continuum of awareness that can be roughly divided into five stages:
- Dead asleep. At this stage we just can’t face seeing the issue as a fundamental problem. We may not acknowledge that it is even happening or we may think of it as just one of the many things that happen in life. Other people in our life may think there is a problem and even be very bothered by it, but to we either don’t agree or, at most, believe it’s something that will take care of itself with time. People in this stage tend to go on living their lives with an occasional outburst of annoyance when others continue to complain or when the situation isn’t changing. We might tend to blame others for it failing to improve.
- Awareness there may be some small problem. At this stage something about what’s going on has begun to bother us. People at this stage may start to worry or even obsessed about this one particular concern and complain about how it is affecting them. This may be the point at which some people will seek counseling to help resolve their concern. But others will continue to stew on it.
- Awareness of the broader more significant nature of the problem. As someone lets in more of the evidence about what they’re facing, awareness of the complexity of the issue begins to emerge. This may happen through one’s own consideration or in the process of counseling. Now the person starts to worry about how to prioritization the many and various aspects and implications of their circumstances in terms of their immediacy and the degree of difficulty each presents to their life. People at this stage may be reluctant to acknowledge any new problems that arise because their circumstances already seem too complex. They fear the addition of new concerns will only leave them all the more overwhelmed and dilute their efforts to focus on solving the “highest priority” of the problem.
- Awareness of the interconnections between the complex problems. This stage begins with the realization that “the issue” is not just one problem or even a collection of different problems, but a broader predicament or condition that explains the relationship and breadth of what they’re dealing with. We see now that a solution in one area of the issue may worsen the problems in another. Now we know that the concern is most certainly more serious and widespread than the thought. At this point the possibility that there may not be a solution begins to raise its head.
If our circumstances seem so bleak that the possibility of hope vanishes, we can sink into a suffocating darkness and despair. Some people may want to withdraw at that point from everything, but others will seek counseling now, if they haven’t already, because they are motivated to find out more about what is really going on in a seemingly impossible situation. Being in counseling is particularly valuable at this point because otherwise there is a real risk of depression or escape into drugs or alcohol. We realize our awareness of the issue is most likely bigger and more serious than even friends and family know or would want to deal with. So we tend to feel misunderstood, rejected and alone when we bring up our concerns.
5. Undertaking a journey of recovery. At this stage those who no longer want no hide from or escape the pain of their predicament with medication or addictions are motivated to embark on a journey to create a new understanding of themselves in relation to life and their circumstances in the world. It’s worth mentioning here that there is also the possibility of serious personal difficulty at this point. If one fights the desire to take this journey and stays stuck in indecision for an extended period of time, life can seem awfully bleak, and violence against either the world or oneself may begin to seem like a reasonable option. So we need to keep a watchful eye on our progress on this journey and, as best we can, reach out to others who are struggling with undertaking a journey to let them know they are now alone and need to seek help.
Whatever stage you might be in, know that you can find a way ahead. I will be glad to meet you and be of support along the path to your recovery. Please contact me if you have questions, need additional information or would like help with recovering from anxiety.