I know many of you who will be reading the title of this blog post, will be a little confused and unsure of what I am getting at. Let me explain…
It is estimated that us humans, can have up to 60,000 thoughts per day. Some of these thoughts can be useful and help us move our lives in positive directions. However many of these thoughts can be repetitive, anxiety provoking and very unhelpful.
Some people are naturally good at ‘shrugging’ off some of these unhelpful & scary thoughts, not giving them another thought, doing their best to have a productive day. However, for many, these thoughts can be highly distressing and have a huge impact on the quality of their lives.
Also, where OCD is concerned- these thoughts can have a ‘sticky’ quality to them, they can be difficult to ‘shrug off’. One client I worked with, described this like ‘having a piece of chewing gum on my brain’.
So it’s very normal that people try to ‘get rid of’, try to ‘suppress’ try to mentally replace the negative thought with a more ‘positive’ one. Sometimes people get a bit of short-term relief when doing this. The ‘solution’ seems to work for a little while. However, when the difficult, anxiety-provoking & intrusive thoughts show up again, we feel compelled to act in the same way!
So let’s get back to the title of my blog post; ‘The problem isn’t the problem… the ‘solution’ is the problem!’
So when those difficult thoughts, images, memories, urges & bodily sensations show up- we readily see them as the ‘problem’. Our ‘solution’ then becomes about trying to ‘get rid of’ the difficult stuff that shows up inside of us! However, this ‘solution’ gets us more ‘stuck’ because yes we get short-term relief but in the long-term we have to keep doing the compulsions and safety behaviours!
So there we have it… the ‘solution’ becomes the ‘problem’!
So what can we do about it?
Firstly, its learning to see that the stuff that shows up inside of us isn’t our ‘enemy’. Of course, we don’t like or want these scary thoughts and feelings of anxiety but as I mentioned above, trying to get rid of them- only makes them worse.
It’s important to remember, thoughts just ‘show up’. They are not ‘fact’ or ‘biblical truth’. The same goes for feelings!
So the key skill that we can develop over time is learning to ‘respond skillfully’ to our difficult internal experiences, rather than ‘reacting blindly’ like a ‘puppet on a string’. Our brains will think, that’s what they do. As I said at the very beginning, thinking can be a useful tool- there would be no internet, no works of art, and no books if we didn’t have this amazing piece of machinery between our ears. But sometimes, it can chew out unhelpful and scary stories about ourselves and our futures, which we need to learn to handle more effectively.
In my next blog post, I will look at ways in which we can do this
Paul Mc Carroll
Therapist | Trainer | Blogger