“Whether you’re patient or not, time will pass, life will continue to move forward. Choosing patience simply makes the journey less nerve-racking.” Franco Colomba
Alice Stricklin, LMFT is a PTI Trainer. She lives near Nashville, TN.
One of the greatest gifts we can offer ourselves and clients is permission to engage patience. Our American culture is full of messages of urgency, action, don’t miss out, move faster, do more. Just writing these messages I feel my stomach clenching, my arm muscles tensing, my breath shortening and feeling more constricted.
The physiological response to the sense of urgency is powerful. The timer gets set on our physical system, and without awareness, can end in an emotional explosion. Imagine, just thinking about running late, or trying to get something done, or moving faster sends a message to our brain “urgent”, “possible danger”, “high alert”. This kickstarts the process in the brain that readies your body to survive a possible threat. Adrenaline kicks in, cortisol starts flowing, muscles tense, shortness of breath, tightening of muscles. Pretty amazing! And it all started with a thought.
Now imagine that we live in that state all day every day. Without a break. Knots develop in our shoulders, pains in our stomach, aches in our back, chronic headaches, high blood pressure, forgetfulness. I know, I’ve been there. And many of our clients come in presenting this way too. And they come in and share with you their urgency.
“I need to feel better quick or …..”
“My wife said I need to figure this out or we are done”
“I can only meet for 6 sessions so can we hurry this along?”
“I’ve heard EMDR is quick, that’s what I need”
Pretty soon, without awareness they’ve shared urgency with us like a cold virus sneezed out and traveling through the air around us. We breathe it in.
Now imagine what happens when we are able to take a deep breath, settle in our chairs and invite the client to notice how they are experiencing urgency right now in their body. Maybe they can’t access the awareness of it yet and you observe,
“I’m noticing this pressure to get this done quickly, and the more you’ve shared the faster you’ve talked. I’m wondering if there is any part of your body that feels really tight right now?”
I drop my own shoulders, intentionally slow my speech, smile. Mirror neurons kick in and as I calm they calm (co-regulation). Then I’m curious how urgency has served them in their life. How close of a friend has it been? What does urgency whisper in their ear. How does their physical system respond to the whispers?
Then I’m curious, I wonder what it would be like if they had permission to take as long as they need? What if they had permission right now to just drop their shoulders and for a few minutes just let the couch hold them up. What would it be like to have a brief experience of not having to work so hard?
Sometimes relaxation is a wave of relief that washes through the room, wrapping everyone in a warm cozy embrace. Sometimes urgency is more reluctant to let go, has multiple hooks, and frustrates the client raising the tension in the room. Sometimes the best response is repetition of patience, permission just for the moment, an invitation to experiment the right now without a commitment to future practice.
The invitation to slow down, take a breath, relax the muscles; reverses the physical process in the brain.
Oxygen flow increases, blood flow returns, calm descends over the brain allowing easier access for information and thought. The process of change just began.
I’m reminded of a moment in the “Will You Be my Neighbor” documentary where Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons, shared an experience he had with Mr. Rogers. Every day Fred ends his show with “I like you just the way you are” or “It’s ok to just be you”.
One day Francois reports he noticed Mr. Rogers looking at him off screen as he was saying this statement. After the cameras were turned off, Francois went to Mr. Rogers and said, “Mr Rogers, were you talking to me?” and Mr. Rogers responded, “I’ve been talking to you every day for 2 years, today you could hear it.”
Be patient, keep repeating permission. One day, they will be able to hear it.
Alice Stricklin, LMFT