Give your obsessive thoughts a silly name (rocd)
It was the year of 2007
I was sitting right across from my therapist at the time in a light brown couch. My therapist was guiding me through another session of EMDR. (For ones who don't know what EMDR is, it's a form of processing therapy that's used in many ways to rewire the brain.) In this case, she was using it for the PTSD I experienced and was helping me on obsessions over panicking.
As in most experiences of diving deep in therapy, the experience was really hard. I had resistance moving throughout my whole body as she prompted me to... just... breathe. (But, breathing can feel so hard when you're locked in such a state of anxiety).
I remember crawling up in a ball, sweating...
"I can't feel this, I can't do this. I'm scared and I feel as though i'm dissociating." I whispered as my fingers moved tightly throughout my hair.
"Kiyomi. Name out loud what you're experiencing."
Hesitant, I looked at her.
"I... I'm feeling... anxious... I really don't like this... I don't want to be here. I have a lot of anxiety. I feel like I'm about to have another panic attack..."
"So, from what I'm hearing. Anxiety is here. You're experiencing anxiety, and you feel as though you're about to have another panic attack."
Yes. I thought in my head. That's exactly what I just said.
"What if we named this anxiety.. Anxious Alberta."
"What?" I basically laughed out loud. "This feels ridiculous."
"Ridiculous sounding, yes. But, why don't we play around that? Anxious Alberta is here, is that correct?"
"Yes, Anxious Alberta is here, and she's driving me crazy."
"What is she doing right now?"
Took a deep breath for the first time and finally felt my body present on the couch.
"I don't know... she is... or... she... was... just telling me that I was basically going to die from a panic attack and obsess to the point where I would lose control and DIE."
"And if you could say something back to Anxious Alberta, what would you say?"
"Well, I know you can't die from a panic attack and losing control is just an illusion of anxiety. So, she's in a way... wrong. I can't die, and I'm actually okay, even if it feels as though I'm not."
"She just feels scary."
"She feels scary. Yes. Anxious Alberta feels... scary."
The silliness of it all had taken over my body at that point and I didn't understand what had happened, but in a moment, I had gone from panicking to feeling more centered and in control.
I had taken a deep breath.
Felt my body present on the couch and looked at my therapist in the eyes for the first time.
Clarity had begun to blanket its power within my gaze and I could see clearly for the first time since the session had begun.
So, what happened? Why did my anxiety lessen and start fading away?
When we experience any type of emotion, in this case fear and anxiety, an almond shaped area in the brain called the Amygdala starts to light up. When we give the emotion a name or label the emotion, the light activity in the Amygdala lessens.
Naming our emotion, especially difficult emotion, eases the power of it. When we do this, we also recognize that we are bigger than our emotions. We recognize that we are actually in control, despite how we feel, we have a choice of being bigger and larger than what we experience.
Now, some of you may be thinking. Okay, Kiyomi, this is beyond ridiculous and stupid. I feel crazy giving the anxiety I experience a silly name.
Bare with me...
Notice if it eases the energy of the emotion.
HOW TO GIVE EMOTIONS A SILLY NAME
- Take time to think of a difficult emotion or feelings that is present in your every day life. With rOCD, it might be the obsessive thoughts that come up, or the physical anxiety.
- Think of a silly name for the difficult emotion or feeling. For instance: Anxious Alberta, Sally Sadness, Ashley the Angry or Obsessive Octopus... The sillier the better... whatever comes to your mind. Play around with it!
- Next time you're feeling the emotion, greet it with it's name! "Oh, there's Anxious Alberta again, telling me we're going to break up if I don't check my feelings toward my partner." or "Oh, hi Somber Sadness! It's nice to see you.", "Here's Obsessive Octopus, obsessing about my partner again!"
- Play around with it and notice what happens. Remember: We aren't trying to push away the silly emotions. We are learning to build a friendship with it! (which makes the emotion less scary)