Growing Through Discomfort

Growing Through Discomfort
A few years ago, I had to go to physical therapy for a time because of a shoulder issue. At my initial evaluation we did things to assess my flexibility and strength and I answered questions about how my current condition was limiting my ability to perform all sorts of day-to-day tasks. Toward the end of that hour the physical therapist looked me in the eye and said these words: “You’re not going to like coming in here. For a long time you’ve been compensating to avoid the pain that comes from aggravating your injury. Unfortunately, this isn’t allowing you to experience the discomfort you need for your body to heal itself. We’re going to make you do what causes that discomfort over and over since that’s the only way we can get your shoulder healthy again.” Then she sent me on my way with my (rather uncomfortable) exercises to do at home and some follow-up appointments.


As I walked out to my car, I was struck by how a similar disclaimer might be appropriate when I meet a client for the first time since a lot of what applies to our physical bodies applies to our emotional selves as well. It’s only natural – without thinking about it at all we spend our days trying to avoid pain and find pleasure where we can. Unfortunately, and too often, this results in avoiding rather than embracing that difficult but ultimately healing conversation. It leads to engaging in our favorite numbing behaviors at the first hint of trouble rather than sitting with our challenging emotions long enough to determine a cause and respond in a more strategic way that addresses the root issue. And it makes it so hard to avoid the addictive dopamine hit of that short term pleasurable activity we know isn’t doing us any favors in the long run, even when there is a longer-term project that is far more gratifying, healthy, and uplifting.


Often it’s my job as an LMFT to do the emotional version of physical therapy – to give a young person self-regulation skills to resist sliding back into the comfort of an old addiction. It’s to guide a couple right into the conversation that gives them both a pit in the stomach. And it’s walking with someone down a hard path of making peace with a grief decades old while we find a way to make a more satisfying life today. It’s difficult at times, and we go through a lot of tissues along the way. Yet every day I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of someone’s healing journey – especially when it gets uncomfortable – because that’s where growth really takes place. I know this is the case because my shoulder is a lot more functional today than it was 4 years ago.

Adam Miller, LMFT

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