It is helpful to realize that when we are stuck, blocked or hurting, there is usually a very good reason. And because there is usually a good reason, we would be wise to uncover it at a pace that is in keeping with our ability to integrate what we discover. What may appear at first to be a jungle of useless weeds maybe weeds that stabilize a steep slope. When we uncover these painful places in ourselves we might view our discovery like an archaeologist wanting to understand the significance of the find while being careful not to destroy the site in the process of excavation. Or as a wonderful Jungian analyst once told me, “We have to unwrap the psyche slowly, Donna.” When we have just found a fox full of monsters, we may need to let the monsters out of the box one at a time lest we scare ourselves to death. Maybe we need to listen to what each of these monsters has to say. At first we might be able to take only brief peeks at this box of monsters without succumbing to terror. This is not a call to examine every facet of our personal archaeology or to become mired in it, but a suggestion that we gently let our insight unfold in a way that can be endured.
When I was twenty-one, I had my tonsils removed. I was one of those people who got strep throat every few minutes, and my doctor finally decided that I needed to have my tonsils taken out. For the entire weekend afterwards, swallowing hurt so much that I could barely open my mouth for a straw. I had a prescription for painkillers, though, and when they ran out but the pain hadn’t, I called the nurse and said that she would really need to send another prescription over, and maybe a little mixed grill of drugs because I was also feeling somewhat anxious. But she wouldn’t. I asked to speak to her supervisor. She told me her supervisor was at lunch and that I needed to buy some gum, of all things, and to chew it vigorously — the thought of which made me clutch at my throat. She explained that when we have a wound in our body, the nearby muscles cramp around it to protect it from any more violation and from infection, and that I would need to use these muscles if I wanted them to relax again. So finally my best friend Pammy went out and bought me some gum, and I began to chew it, with great hostility and skepticism. The first bites caused a ripping sensation in the back of my throat, but within minutes all the pain was gone, permanently.
I think that something similar happens with our psychic muscles. They cramp around our wounds — the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliation suffered in both — to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again, to keep foreign substances out. So those wounds never have a chance to heal.
Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. In some cases we don’t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us. They keep us moving and writing in tight, worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.