Retrenchment: A momentary home

In doing deep work on Self, periods of retrenchment are inevitable. Just when we think we might be done with working on the impact of the childhood story, a trigger is likely to take us right back to square one in how we respond to high stakes. This is called retrenchment. The old internal narratives are still alive and well in these moments. We may find ourselves resenting the notion that such retrenchment is a necessary and vital part of the process of change, and that durable change is simply not possible without it. 

Retrenchment frequently feels like a crisis when it’s occurring and we may also feel like a complete failure whilst we are in the midst of it. It so often comes calling just at the very point where we are feeling more in command of the childhood story than ever before, and where we think of ourselves as well advanced into the writing of new uplifting internal narratives. Broadly, the work to do when it appears is to open your arms to it and embrace it, safe in the knowledge that it is a critically important and necessary part of the process of deep change.

Here are some things I noticed in myself that helped me navigate a recent period of retrenchment;

  • I trusted myself, my coach and the space.
  • I allowed myself to let go, to fall into not knowing.
  • I didn’t rush to fix things even though it may have seemed that way.
  • I didn’t minimise or fade my feelings, I let them be.
  • I trusted that the feelings I was having were challenging but that they would pass through in time; I trusted impermanence. 
  • I reframed retrenchment as ‘sweet retrenchment’.
  • I allowed myself to falter and fail. 
  • I asked for help, over and over again.
  • I pieced things together in new ways; I understood things better.
  • I got new insight and meaning to long held confusion and doubt. 
  • Things I already knew about myself landed differently; it was like seeing them through fresh eyes.
  • Other powerful reframes really helped me, for example, “I am not too much, what I endured as a child is what was too much.”
  • I learned yet again about the importance of being able to note, name and pause when stubborn old internal narratives appear. Remembering to breathe into those moments rather than crumpling, fading or running away too. 
  • More regular practice, journaling and meditation were a constant support as they always are.
  • I discovered that the longer I stay with the discomfort of retrenchment, the longer I trust, the gentler I am with myself, the less I hold myself back and the more I step forwards.

There was no single thing that helped me to lift myself out of retrenchment. It was a glorious mix of all of the things I have listed here. There’s probably more too, as yet unseen or unrealised. 

Lemn Sissay describes darkness as “a momentary home.” He says, “Darkness won’t last, like shadows on stone this too shall pass.” This is how I think about retrenchment. It is like being temporarily lost in darkness but it too won’t last. It is a “momentary home”, which we need to sit in for a while, not fighting it or being fearful of it. Rather, we can choose to feel protected and safe in ourselves because we know what is happening and we trust in the power of what comes beyond the crisis of retrenchment. Before we know it, light returns, we feel better, we understand more and so the cycle begins again. 


Sarah Hill – November 2022