Taking Care of the Wobbliest Plate: How Healing Journeys Can Feel Like Chaos

I’m not totally sure what I expected from my healing journey when I began it three years ago, but I know it wasn’t this.

Healing is hard, cyclical work. It often feels like one step forward and two steps back, or sometimes twenty steps back for every one step forward. Progress in one area of your healing leads to newly discovered land mines in others, and suddenly the things you’ve just begun to feel “healed” from are triggers for new pain, so back to the starting line you go.

And this is true for anyone on a healing journey—whether you’re healing from years-long complex trauma (the “Big-T” traumas like abuse, neglect, etc.), or the smaller traumas like divorce, losing a job, moving, or ending a friendship. No matter the magnitude of the trauma, it’s all difficult to heal from.

Sometimes, it feels like most of your healing journey is really about taking care of the wobbliest plate. You’re like those circus performers who balance spinning plates on the end of long sticks. When all the plates are perfectly balance, things are calm. But then one plate loses its velocity and begins to wobble, so the performer shifts his weight to get the plate balanced. Then, just as the first plate rights itself, another begins to wobble in response to the performer’s shift in posture. As he continues to correct his movements to accommodate each wobbling plate, more and more plates become destabilized. Before he knows it, all sense of calm is lost and his work has devolved to chaos. Suddenly, all he can focus on is the plate that seems the most likely to tumble and shatter.

Yeah. Healing journeys are kind of like that.

I’m learning to be okay with taking care of the wobbliest plate and ignoring the rest until it’s their turn to wobble. I’m not failing at my healing journey because multiple plates need my attention. I’m not doing it wrong when I have to let a few plates wobble while I take care of the one with the most urgent need. If I’m keeping them off the ground—preventing them all from crashing down around me—that is a success.

It’s time we let go of the unreasonable expectations we put on ourselves about our healing journeys. We must recognize that hard work is hard work, and healing journeys are most certainly hard work. There is no timeline. There is no deadline. There is no right or wrong path. There is only the path: the one you’re on—the one that is leading you exactly where you need to be, in exactly the right timing.

We’ll all get there in the end. Hopefully, with no broken plates at our feet.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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