As unlikely as this might sound, thoughts about compulsive behaviour are not your enemies. In fact, they are entirely neutral until you come along and generate thinking about them.
Compulsive behaviours take many forms and they can often feel life threatening, extremely overwhelming and leave you with a sense of shame, frustration, guilt and panic, as well as sheer disbelief that this is your life; that you aren’t able to just live normally as other people seem to, unaffected by what seems to so affect you. You feel untethered, as if you are not grounded properly and lack a feeling of true connection with others and the events occurring around you. The struggle to maintain a semblance of normality is another cross to bear and in your darkest moments you lose all hope.
As soon as the thought of the compulsive behaviour comes along it’s as if you’ve already followed through with it and are there in that post act despair or mania. You choose to detach from all of these feelings by doing exactly what it is you so fear or resist doing and there is often a sweet feeling of false relief, because, you tell yourself, you’ll do it now and then, tomorrow you won’t do it anymore or you’ll do it enough that finally you’ll be free of this urgent need to take compulsive action. But of course that’s not true. Because until you change your way of thinking, tomorrow will be just like today.
Until you see that thoughts about compulsive behaviour are not instructions but options for action that you can choose not to take, there will be no true change in the way you deal with compulsive behaviour. Until you understand on a fundamental level that what these thoughts are telling you isn’t true and your feelings of angst and stress are actually your guidance system warning, Not This Way! then you will keep acting on those thoughts or struggling with them when they come along because you don’t fundamentally feel that you have a choice about how you act once they appear and perhaps by now you have come to identify with the behaviour.
But you do have a choice. A thought is not the same as an act. The more you fear the thought, the more power you give it and there is no thing to fear. There is nothing that can make you do what it tells you to unless you believe you have no option and you do have an option.
When you no longer read these thoughts as directions and the feelings they generate as a call to action, rather than a warning that you are looking in the wrong direction for peace and relief, you find that you don’t mind having the thoughts anymore. You don’t panic when they pop up and you don’t feel an urgent need to get rid of the feelings they create.
You can sit with the feelings when you no longer pay attention to the thoughts and it’s not that the thoughts don’t come up anymore, it’s that you don’t fall for them. You know they are directing you towards behaviour that can never help you, is not in line with your wellbeing and makes no sense. You are no longer compelled to act on them because you understand that when you are experiencing heightened states of stress and unease, you forget your strength and resilience and ability to think clearly and remember not to act from that state of mind.
Something that is so important is that you have compassion for yourself. Those things you wish the people around you could know, that you want to stop, that you just haven’t found your way yet, that you need kindness and love and understanding, are what you need most from yourself. Along with the firm belief that you can change the way you deal with life, that you are not your behaviours, no matter how frequent they are and that you do deserve love and peace and health.
Compulsive behaviour can feel all consuming and so many well meaning therapists and approaches suggest other things to do when you feel the urge to act, however, adding more thinking to what is usually already an extremely busy mind doesn’t help everyone. You can try all the tools you like but until you understand that thoughts are not always real and true and that when you let them pass – which you have the ability to do – you are more likely to experience clarity and peace of mind, nothing will help you in the long term.
If you can start to explore the very chemical reaction between your thoughts and feelings and notice that all that is happening in the moment of thinking about compulsive behaviour is generated from within you with no action taking place, you can start to see that, firstly, if you just leave those thoughts alone, the feelings will fade because no state of feeling is permanent no matter how often it seems you experience it and, secondly, if the experience is coming from within you, so will the relief and not from the compulsive behaviour you have come to believe you inevitably need to take.
You do have peace of mind available to you and you do have mental health and no matter how long or often you behave compulsively, there are moments throughout your day when you are lucid, happy or peaceful. These feelings are coming from within you and they naturally arise when you are not thinking your way out of them. You have a choice about the thoughts you focus on. You cannot control the thoughts that pop into your mind but you can be conscious of the thinking you generate about them and as soon as you start to notice which thoughts you are most focusing on and how they make you feel, you are on your way to liberation from compulsive behaviour because you no longer react to thoughts about it as if they are directing you, rather you respond to them by letting them pass by because a deeper understanding is guiding you.