I Don't Want To Let Go Of My Obsessive Thinking
I had a session recently with a client and course member I'll call Sara*.
Sara has been working through her ROCD for several months now, but feels she has reached a plateau or blockage in her journey through healing.
"Every time I try to do a practice or try to get better," she says, "My mind goes: But are you sure you want to heal? What if you lose yourself? What if you change?"
First and foremost, it's worth noting that questions starting with the terms "what if" or "should" are typically using the energy of fear.
Secondly, when we are moving into newer, stronger identities, we are indeed letting go of our old selves. As the old self falls away, it's natural to question that loss. The beautiful part is that we are creating something new in place of the old identity: We are creating a wiser, stronger, more compassionate version of the self. To fully embrace that new identity, we must let go of the old self that no longer serves us.
Sara reached a point in her journey where change began to occur. She sensed the loss of certain parts of herself: Her mental patterns changed, with obsessive thoughts becoming less frequent. She could feel the coursework's emphasis on mindfulness and acceptance helping her, but with that progress she experienced inner conflict: A part of her wanted to take one step further towards the new self. But another, bigger part was resisting.
"Let's take a couple of deep breaths, first," I told her. "And when you're ready, let's take a moment to bring attention into your body. Bringing attention to this specific energy that you're feeling, Sara, where would you say it's located?"
"It's located in my stomach and in my heart," she responded. "And it's a tight feeling—almost as if I want to go forward, but something within me is saying 'No.' It's like a huge wall of resistance."
I reminded her that the feeling of fear usually resides in the heart and stomach and so this was very expected.
(I want to add that what i'm doing with Sara is a somatic, mindfulness practice. A practice my mindfulness mentor, Shell Fischer, student of Tara Brach taught me when I was going through ROCD.)
"And if this energy had a voice, Sara, what would it say?" I continued.
"It's saying that if I step further and let go of obsessive thinking, then something bad could happen."
"And what would this 'bad' thing be?"
"That I would lose myself...and that I could ultimately lose my partner."
When we are trudging along the road of obsessive thinking, and when we are working to heal our mental, physical, and spiritual health, we will sometimes encounter resistance in our psyche. I've seen this in many clients I've worked with—clients dealing with depression, grief, anxiety. Even patients with chronic, musculoskeletal pain.
Why is there resistance?
Because the psyche will falsely warn us that what we're headed toward might be too dangerous, or that something "bad" could happen if we don't obsess and control. Ultimately, the psyche is warning us that we could lose ourselves if we lose the inclinations to obsess and control. The psyche even suggests, frighteningly, that we could lose our partners and loved ones in the process.
And so, when we hear and believe this fearful voice, we obsess more. We are afraid of losing ourselves and of losing our loved ones.
Sensing resistance in the journey of healing is not a bad thing. Not at all. The resistance is evidence that you are experiencing changes within the psyche. Resistance, at times, is a sign of great change.
In these moments, we have a choice:
We can go back and forth, wavering between our old obsessive habits and our willingness to trust the new...or we can trust ourselves in the journey of healing and choose to take a step forward. We can choose to embrace the discomfort we feel in our body—to try to understand it and resolve it.
It is important to feel secure and grounded as we move through the healing process. I instruct my clients to have some sort of meditation, yoga, or mindfulness practice for themselves, in addition to practicing regular self-care. For many patients, a therapist is crucial in this process. We must turn to healthy coping mechanisms instead of using ROCD as a solution.
What is a coping mechanism? A coping mechanism is something we use to manage and help heal ourselves through the suffering and trauma we experience in this life. We have healthy coping mechanisms for when we're feeling stressed: We might take a walk, go exercise, speak to a friend, do artwork, practice mindfulness and meditation, or face confrontation head-on. We use these healthy mechanisms to face our suffering, doing the work necessary to resolve it.
We also have unhealthy coping mechanisms, which I call: False Security or (FS). FS's a are used in lieu of healthy mechanisms, and include: obsessive thinking, compulsive behaviors, addictive behaviors (e.g., excessive drinking, eating, smoking, drug use, shopping, and many more). Other less obvious examples of this behavior include: Sleeping instead of facing an issue, working too hard, projecting onto those around us, repressing feelings—basically, anything that causes us to avoid the necessary healing and integration we need to work through ROCD.
Finding healthy coping mechanisms is crucial, because once we feel a sense of safety and security in ourselves, then we can move forward and trust our minds in moments of uncertainty and resistance. We can trust that we are indeed okay, even when fight-or-flight responses and heightened fears tell us otherwise. We can trust that our choices are good, that we are good enough, and there's nothing for us to obsessively fix or control. And we can trust ourselves as we experience resistance, knowing it's just one more part of the healing process.
Resistance is just one more sign of change, and it is natural to fear change. It is natural to fear happiness and contentment, too, because along with such feelings comes the possibility of losing them. But by feeling trust in ourselves, we learn that we are okay (even when we don't feel okay!). We're embracing the totality, messiness, and vulnerability of our own self—just like every other one of the seven billion humans on this planet.
We are not alone—we are really in this together. We are all learning how to accept the idea of being human, and all the beautiful and emotional complexity that entails.
*Client's name has been changed for privacy.