Why do I do the things I do not want to do??
I often joke that if we could think ourselves out of undesirable behavior or habits, then all we need is a self-help book and positive affirmations and I’d be out of a job.
I wish it were that simple.
Believe me, I’ve tried. I consider myself a savvy woman: well educated and strong in my analytical skills; however when it comes to emotional reactions and automatic physical responses in relationships or situations, my thinking brain is of little or no help.
EXAMPLE: I was at a coffee shop and saw someone I had met once. I asked a benign question and he had a curt response that automatically sent me to kindergarten and think I had done something wrong. When I tried to reconnect with him, he quickly ended the interaction and walked out the door. I have no idea what happened with him or what his experience was, but I can assure you that what happened for me for the next 24 hours was automatic and felt like it was out of my control.
I could not stop thinking about the interaction and I went over and over in my head how I could have said this or if only I had said that. To the point where my body ached and I could not sleep. This thinking obsessive part of me would not be soothed by positive affirmations or even deep breathing. I needed something else….
All of the experiences, emotions, and beliefs we have ever had up until this point now help not only shape who we are and how we are, but they literally reside inside of us….as beliefs, automatic responses, neurological pathways, and cellular memory. I prefer to frame these as “parts.” They are aspects of us that Richard Swartz (founder of Center Self Leadership & Internal Family Systems) says have taken on roles that they don’t want, but don’t know that there is another way to be.
When I began to get in touch with the part of me that obsesses and analyzes and thinks itself into exhaustion, I began to realize that this is a part of me who is very young. It is a part of me who wants to “get it right,” so I don’t suffer (and no one else does either….which is an impossibility, but kids have magical thinking: “If I just come up with the right thing to say or do or be, then I won’t hurt and others won’t hurt”).
With the help of my own mentor and therapist, I was able to reconnect with my obsessive thinker in a different way. I discovered at its root was a painful and unresolved memory of interacting with my mother. She didn’t have space for my feelings and experience, so I learned to “obsess” my way out of having my hurt feelings too. Rather than wish this part of me to “go away” or quiet down (i.e. STOP OBSESSING), I started to build a relationship with this younger, vulnerable part of me. I began to learn that this part of me was exhausted and so ready to let go of its job, but also scared that no one was there to give it a break.
Since my own mother was a worrier, I didn’t have modeling of how to be any different. So, of course this smaller part of me didn’t trust that the Wiser Essential Me could take over (and didn’t even know I existed, to my surprise!) I had to go through a process of constantly reassuring this part that I was seeking support and looking for ways to relieve its job. This has taken continued vigilance and a lot of waking up.
I continually look at the way I structure my time and see that I can easily (and sometimes still do) schedule myself to the point where I have little or no down time, or play time. I have discovered that the role that my thinker self has wanted to take on was that of play! Instead of “getting it right” I remind myself that I have to get it “wrong,” which elicits a playful side of me. It’s suddenly more okay to make mistakes, have people feel hurt or pain due to something I may or may not have said, and it is okay when people don’t like me.
This is a lesson in process….I have learned that as we get in touch with deeper, hidden part of ourselves that we actually recover more of our vitality and life force (it is so much more fulfilling to play than to obsess and ruminate!)
When I am in the therapist role, I am constantly called to hold compassionate, mindful space for my clients to be in their stuck, and frustrating places. It is these places that can teach us the most. If we can stay with them, study them, feel these places, then what emerges can actually free us.