I’m no doctor, but here is something I’ve learned from experience: when a muscle goes into spasm and doesn’t recover properly, sometimes it gets to a point where it has been tight for so long that the brain simply stops registering the pain signals it is sending. It is still a very unhappy muscle, but as the brain has limited resources, once it establishes that the pain is not life threatening it stops registering it on a conscious level.
It can stay that way for a long time; injured, unhappy, but no longer painful at a conscious level. The pain has become ‘normal’.
Only when there is some healing intervention does it start to relax, and sometimes it actually gets much more painful. Oddly, that pain is a good thing. The muscle is coming back through the pain to a more relaxed and healthy functioning.
This is what many people are experiencing today with regards to overwhelm. They are so far out beyond the pain of how overwhelmed they are that they prefer not to bring that to conscious awareness. That’s why – when they start to really catalogue all of their commitments – a client will sometimes express doubts about whether they ‘should really be writing all of this down’, as if the writing of it is creating commitments that somehow previously did not exist. I think the objection is rooted in a fear that when they see it all they will somehow become even more overwhelmed by it.
This is particularly true for the ‘projects’ list, or the list of all the outcomes that they are trying to make happen right now.
Sometimes our work is taking people into the pain of how overcommitted they have become, so they can do something about how overcommitted they have become.
Needless to say, we are – in these circumstances – not the most popular kids in the playground. At this point, it sometimes helps if I point out that the list exists, even if they don’t write it down. The list already exists in their head, in a much less useful and reviewable format, but it does exist.
When we suggest to our clients that they keep a complete inventory of everything they are trying to finish, it is not to punish them in some way. The list exists already, so all we are suggesting is that they get it written down so the items on it stop torturing them with repeated cameo appearances while they are trying to do something else.
Being overwhelmed is one possible outcome of the exercise of getting a complete list of everything you are trying to finish right now, it is true. The other possible outcome is that – once it is all out – you can review a list (long or short), and feel the relaxation of making a great choice about what you do next from a position of strategic overview. This is what awaits out beyond the pain of awareness.
The doctor will see you now.