How to escape your own purgatory
Let me show you how to escape your own version of purgatory (the earthly version)
If you are perfectly happy with how things are then this article, while still interesting, may not resonate with you.
What is purgatory?
The Wikipedia definition: (in Roman Catholic doctrine) a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven.
(my definition): A place of suffering that does not change nor does it transform, it just goes around and around.
As I understand it the traditional, religious, view of purgatory is a place of transition where things are changed over a long time. But I don’t really understand why things are more likely to be changed after death than before death.
A client recently wondered if psychotherapy was like purgatory in that you work through things and find a resolution. We thought about it and came to the conclusion that in purgatory you simply go around and around in the same stew. Feeling the same distress as always. But in therapy we are actively seeking change by adding in awareness, knowledge and action. I simply don’t know how these extra ingredients are added in the religious purgatory (after death).
So the real problem is how to get you out of your own personal and unique purgatory.
We worked out six stages that can guide your path out of your own personal purgatory should you find yourself in one.
Stage one: Purgatory
My definition expanded: A place of suffering that does not change nor does the experience of suffering transform you. There is no merit in this suffering because it contains no learning opportunities. It is the same thinking re-creating the same problems. You are drowning in a sea of distress, or lost in a sea of upset. Either way you are either lost or drowning.
Stage two: Dissatisfaction
At some point the symptoms created by the endless feelings of distress cause noticeable psychological or physical symptoms. These get your attention, things like, poor sleep, loss of libido, problems eating, depression, constantly active mind, worry, restlessness, anger and irritability etc. The recognition of these symptoms prompts you to hope that there may be an alternative way of living. Indeed, your own dissatisfaction with how things are kindles the beginning of your resolve to change things.
Stage Three: Find
In stage three your dissatisfaction motivates you to find examples of the problems you struggle with and you try to understand what causes them. You become inquisitive as to why you have these problems and not others and this encourages you to believe (a little) that it’s not all your fault but that it maybe something else. Common examples of this thinking are: it’s caused be stress, it’s caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain, I’m eating the wrong things, I have a hormone difficulty, I’m addicted. These explanations are attempts to make sense of your experience without jumping squarely on self blame. Stage 3 becomes truly productive when you find a knowledge system that offers you everything you need.
Stage Four: Fix
In stage four you have acquired a tool or set of tools to use that genuinely tackles the problem. You take your motivation from stage 2 and your increased awareness from stage 3 and you now actively challenge the problem.
- You find examples of where the problem exhibits itself
- you have an active tool set pre-prepared to challenge the problem
- you accept some success and some failure in the fix stage (you don’t criticize yourself for not being perfect yet).
- You allow and acknowledge progress.
Stage Five: Fortify
Practice, practice and more practice. All psychological problems are highly practiced, usually to the extent that they have become automatic processes that you really have little control over. It is only by practicing the right actions that the wrong actions can have an opposition. In stage five your role is to develop, nourish and strengthen your new way of being in the world until it has become strong enough and practiced enough that it becomes automatic. Then you can more or less forget about it because the way you want to be in the world is now your new habit.
I think that we have quite enough purgatory experienced in this world so why not find your place on the stages described above and get cracking to eliminate your own distress from your life. You don’t need to believe you can do it for it to succeed. You just need to start. There isn’t an alternative.