In the busyness of the holiday season, it can feel even more stressful and overwhelming than one’s everyday life. Just the other day, a client came in and was feeling overwhelmed with work, his family life, and everything he had to accomplish over the next few weeks before the holidays.
After talking for a few minutes, he exclaimed, “If I can just get through and finish all this, I'll be able to relax!” With the way he said it, it was as if he had been holding his breath for quite some time just eagerly awaiting to exhale.
A couple of minutes later, I asked him half-jokingly, “Is air expensive? Do you have to pay to breathe?”
He looked at me strangely at first, thought for a moment, and then let out a laugh of relief and said, “No, it’s free. But it sure has felt like it’s been very expensive and hard to come by.”
As we talked more, he began to build awareness around this pattern that had been repeating itself over and over in his life. He discussed how he would stack up a long to-do list (related to work, his family, and other things in his life) and then tell himself that some prize was waiting if he could complete it all. What was at the end of his rainbow varied from time to time. Sometimes it was a tangible reward like a vacation or a special dinner out. But underneath these external rewards were always some internal reward—a deep feeling he was yearning for. It could be a feeling of relaxation, peace, joy, fun, play, celebration, connection, or love.
As he was talking about this, I could relate to this experience. We set up some external goal in the world to run after; however, we hold our breath in the process and only let up once we’ve accomplished it and have reached the finish line.
I then asked him, "So in the past, when you’ve accomplished all that is on your to-do list, how long did the feeling of relaxation last?"
He responded very quickly, “Maybe a day or two.”
I then asked, “Then what happens?”
He said that he would then go on and repeat the cycle all over again. He would set up a new list of goals and tirelessly set out to get them all done.
A part of him appeared very relieved to be talking about this repetitive pattern in his life. Another part of him appeared frustrated with the fact that it took this long to become aware of it. He exclaimed, “I’ve been a hostage to this for so long, it’s not working! I’m sick of it!”
He reflected that this image of himself holding his breath as he tirelessly ran toward the finish line seemed to be tattooed in his mind. He said that he liked it so much because he finally felt a deep sense of being accountable—as if he was the creator of his suffering. He talked more and realized that no one else could give him what he was desperately seeking—permission to relax, feel a sense of accomplishment, joy, fun, and ultimately freedom.
The word that stuck out to me most was PERMISSION. We have to permit ourselves to feel these things. We have to allow them and open ourselves to the possibility of experiencing them. This is a process I like to call ‘granting yourself new permissions.’
Granting Yourself New Permissions
The first step is to identify what you are truly seeking. What is it you are wanting to experience? Look at the goals or outcomes you are so desperately wanting and look at what is underneath them. What are the feelings that you are wanting and needing? Often, you will find that they are very conditional. For example:
If I can accomplish X, then I can feel Y.
If I can get to A, then I can finally experience B.
It will commonly fit the structure of, “If only I suffer for ___ amount of time, then I can be rewarded.” Or more commonly, “I’ll be happy when…”
A Simple Thought Experiment
In order to break out this old pattern, let’s do a simple thought experiment. I want you to read the following prompt and run down the list of examples. See what comes up for you. Maybe one or two of them will call out to you. Maybe something else that is not on the list will present itself to you.
Start by asking one of the simple questions:
Could I give myself permission to…
Could I allow myself to…
Then fill in the blank:
enjoy this moment
feel loved and appreciated
feel and connect with my emotions
take time for myself
ask for what I need
Hopefully, just by the simple act of asking these new questions, you are beginning to welcome the possibility of these experiences that you have perhaps blocked, avoided, and not allowed. And more importantly, I hope you give yourself permission to experience these things right now. Not tomorrow, next week, or next month. This is the biggest trick our mind plays on us. It tries to convince us that these feelings exist somewhere out in the future or far off in the distance. The power in granting yourself new permissions is that they are unconditional—meaning you don’t have to do or accomplish anything in order to experience them. Just like the air you breathe…it’s completely free.
Xavier Heditsian, MA, LPCC
Reach out to me directly at email@example.com
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About Sam Nabil
Sam offers therapy in Boston and Boston Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety. Sam Nabil was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English, The Washington post, The Boston Globe, Fatherly magazine, Women's health magazine, Cornell university, Yahoo News, USA Today, Marriage.com
Naya Clinics offers Marriage Counselors near me, individual therapy near me, and life coaching near me in various locations across the USA and the world. Naya Clinics also offers Online marriage counseling, online therapy, and online life coaching.
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