Why feeling paralyzed makes sense

©Joy Malek

©Joy Malek

If national events are still leaving you feeling overwhelmed and stuck; if you’re still wondering how to engage in meaningful action— this post is for you!

You’re already deeply empathic and compassionate. You’re already rooted in a strong ethical center. In fact, it’s these are the very qualities that are outraged and flooded right now— perhaps leaving you feeling shut down or in constant fight or flight. 

I’ve put together the most important takeaways from my recent talk Self Care as World Care, because the world needs your sensitive, intuitive wisdom. And because we all need to feel access to the qualities that make us who we are!

Today I'm sharing why it makes sense to feel frozen right now, and what's going on beneath the paralysis.

Why paralysis makes sense

For many of us in the U.S., our government’s whirlwind of damaging actions is creating a vanishing sense of safety, and a growing sense of threat. 

And, the enormity of this— the fact that it is happening on a national scale (with international impacts and planetary repercussions!)— means that these actions are also fostering a profound sense of helplessness.

When we put together a lack of safety, sense of threat, and feelings of helplessness, it is a natural, sane human reaction to feel paralyzed

And emotional paralysis halts the metabolization of fear and outrage— they sit lodged inside us, and this only intensifies the frozen feeling. 

If you are feeling any degree of “stuckness,” I want to say gently and with deep compassion that we are living in a perfect storm for paralysis. It is not a personal or moral failure to feel frozen. It’s a normal, evolutionary response.

So, our first step together is to replace guilt with self-compassion. We aren’t letting ourselves off the hook; we’re just recognizing that compassion is a more effective starting place than guilt and shame.

Looking under the hood of paralysis

The fact is, underneath this nightmarish paralysis, many of us are engaged in a painful and consuming internal wrestling match.

We’re wresting with:

  • What we feel we “should” be doing
  • Whether we have the stamina for it
  • Guilt over inaction
  • Whether any action could possibly make a difference

This wrestling match is a background buzz of thought loops, grief and self-recrimination that keeps going round and round yet never feels like it goes anywhere. We’re battling ourselves, and suffering from the impasse.

So, I want to say very clearly: This battle does not belong inside us.

Now, as a therapist, I’m the first one to honor the battles within! But this particular battle belongs directed at the source.

We’re facing a president whose attitudes and actions are destructive in a concrete way. This is an external battle— on an ethical level, it does not belong inside us. It belongs directed at the source.

Imagine that you have an acquaintance who treats you in dehumanizing ways. At first, you may expend energy arguing inside yourself about what to do. The more you wrestle it out internally, the more mistreatment you swallow, and the more the fear and outrage build inside.

But, the moment you say to that person, “The way you’re treating me needs to change. I have a boundary here,” the stuck feeling unlocks, your emotions start metabolizing, and a sense of agency and empowerment arrive. That battle didn’t belong inside you— it belonged directed at the source of the mistreatment.

In my next post, I'll share how to get this particular battle out from inside us by finding your right-fit form of action!