Remember Chinese finger traps, those woven straw tubes that tighten when you try to pull your fingers out? The more you pull, the tighter they get. The only way to get out is to push your fingers deeper into the trap which relaxes its grip. It's paradoxical, but demonstrates a good point: fighting a problem or trying to escape from it can actually make it worse.
The same idea works with anxiety and other distressing thoughts or feelings. Instead of changing or disputing negative thoughts, we can change our relationship with them, watching them from a distance as a neutral observer. We can recognize that thoughts are are just mental events to be noticed and not a true or false reality. The same for feelings, something to be felt and experienced, not dangerous bullies to be avoided or paid off (Remember paying the bully in my post "FACING DOWN THEFEARMONSTER").
When I was a kid I was terrified of going to the dentist. Our family dentist was this crotchety old fart that I still refer to as The Nazi Dentist (I was well into adulthood before I could go to the dentist without terror). Impatient and totally lacking in empathy and compassion, he would try to do fillings with a minimum amount of novocaine or none at all. Somehow, I developed this mental ability to step outside the pain and observe it as pain but not related to me. It was how I got through that awful experience.
I had a similar experience in college when I broke my wrist doing gymnastics. My arm was numbed with morphine while it was being set. I was aware of the pain but removed from it. The same idea applies to our thoughts and feelings. We can stand outside of them while experiencing and observing them, objectively and non-judgementally.
My colleague, Bill O'Hanlon, tells an interesting story about a client who came to see him with a serious weight problem. He'd tried many diets unsuccessfully, losing and then putting the weight back on again, eating after a full meal when he knew there was no reason to be hungry again. So he decided to examine the relationship with food and his feelings, what was going on with him emotionally when he felt the urge to eat. He realized he was feeling anxiety, a feeling of impending doom, and that eating soothed his fear and anxiety. In other words, he was paying the bully.
So he decided to confront the fear head on and refused to eat when the anxiety came. He sat down without eating, shaking, sweating, feeling smothered by fear, panic, terror and doom. After four hours the fear passed and he was OK. The next time he did this the fear passed in two hours and again he was OK.
Then he spent the weekend practicing being with his fear rather than trying to resist, escape or fix it. And as its power decreased, he realized it was only his mind telling him to eat when he wasn't hungry. After that, when the urge to eat came back he was able to quickly brush it aside and realized it was only THEFEARMONSTER testing him.
Fear dominates and restricts life. By facing fear and going into it rather than avoiding it, we win small victories and incrementally regain territory that fear has stolen from us.
Next Time: PANIC ATTACKS!