I love the chin up/dip machine in the gym. It is one of the most efficient ways to work several major muscle groups at once. Given I detest weight lifting, but I know it builds strong and healthy bones, yada, yada, yada, I celebrate a machine that shortens my agony. I also love that it contains the “weight assist” stack. I simply determine the pounds I want to subtract from my actual weight and insert the lovely “assist” pin. On particularly challenging days, I place the pin near my exact weight and pull myself up with one hand! I feel like Demi Moore in GI Jane except I don’t have a shaved head or her ripped biceps. Gymgoers standing at least 20 feet away might possibly mistake me for Svetlana Feofanova — a fellow famous red-haired athlete! I do try to challenge myself and move the pin up and pull up more and more of my weight. I recognize muscle building involves pain but some days I need a break from it.
When it comes to painful emotions, perfectionists find the assist pin particularly attractive. Perfectionist assist pins come in all shapes and sizes . . . working long hours, racking up achievements, filling every available moment with something productive, rigid exercise routines, and cleaning. Some assist pin activities can be helpful like distracting oneself from painful emotions by calling a friend, going for a run, or doing something kind for others. Others can prove particularly damaging like numbing out with alcohol, food or excessive sedentariness.
One should not use the aforementioned coping strategies to continuously to avoid painful emotions. Tal- Ben Shahar (2009) highlights that painful emotions need to move freely down the “emotional pipe line” in order to maintain good emotional-wellbeing. When we continuously suppress, ignore, and distract ourselves from painful emotions a clog builds and these emotions remain trapped inside contributing to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. If we use the “assist pin” over and over again it will eventually wear down, break and send us crashing under our true weight. Hence, we need to challenge ourselves to pull it out and feel, ache, grieve and hurt and know we are human and splendidly, imperfectly built.
At times, we need to put the pin in. Shortly after I separated from my ex-husband the grief permeated my being to the depths that my heart physically ached. I had no idea that a human being could shed such colossal volumes of tears. I recognized that I could not grieve 24/7 and maintain some semblance of sanity. I needed breaks. I needed the assist pin. My “assist” pin included things like a living room early 90’s dance party with my sister, watching really horrible reality TV (so bad I cannot succumb to telling you even though I use a pen name), painting my toe nails radical colors, listening to Nine Inch Nails VERY, VERY loud in my car and yelling “Head like a hole, black’s got your soul, I’d rather die than give you control!,” hot baths, watching videos of cute baby animals on youtube and then . . . I. Pulled. The. Pin. Out. . . so I could work through the pain, build strength and prevent the pin from wearing out. It’s an imperfect process. Sometimes I leave the pin in too long. Other times, I suffer too long under the gravity of my own weight and could benefit from giving myself a break. My wish for all of us is that we can grow in our discernment of when to put the pin in and pull it out.