One of the questions I am frequently asked as a psychologist is “How do I stop it?” ‘It’ being the client’s depression, anxiety, uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, or whatever ever it is that has brought them into my therapy room. Unfortunately, my answer to this question does not often provide them the relief that they may have be hoping for. Because the simple answer is, I can’t stop ‘it’. This is because usually what the person is trying to do is to control their thoughts or feelings. They believe that when they control their feelings, they will feel better, happier. But this is simply not the case and if they continue on this path of wanting to control thoughts and feelings they are likely to create more misery for themselves.
We live in a feel-good society and most people have the aim of trying to feel good. The trouble with this however is that is based on 3 very unhelpful beliefs. They are:
- You have to feel happy all the time. That happy is the ‘normal’ state of being
- It is possible to feel happy all (or almost all) of the time
- There is something wrong with you if you are not happy.
But none of these beliefs are actually true. And if you believe them, you are likely to fall into the trap of unhappiness and desolation.
What we need to understand is that anything that we do to try and stop ‘it’ or get rid of ‘bad’ thoughts and feelings actually makes the problem worse in the long run. Another way to put this is:
Control is the problem not the solution
By control I mean anything that you do to get rid of or avoid ‘bad’ (aka uncomfortable) thoughts and feelings. This could be anything from eating chocolate, exercising, staying home, drinking alcohol to trying to hurt yourself. If we are engaging in an activity that is not enriching our life or is not working for us, then it’s a problem. We all engage in control activities from time to time. But when we repeat them over and over it is unhelpful and prevents us from living the life we want to live.
Now I am not saying that you have to put up with ‘it’ or live the rest of your life feeling depressed or anxious. I am simply suggesting that the means by which you may be trying to improve the situation is flawed and will potentially create more misery.
Life is full of difficult, painful things, many of which are outside of our direct control. If we spend our time trying to control them, then end up unhappy.
So, the first step is to drop the control and redefine the goals of life, from being ‘happy’ to instead trying to live a rich full and meaningful life. To do this I suggest that you simply start to notice all the times you try and control your thoughts/feelings and make a note of them, bring them into you conscious awareness and see if you can just let the thoughts/feelings be as they are.
The is the first step in improving your life. But to reiterate it will not stop ‘it’ but will improve the situation.
If you need assistance with this, reach out and contact us at Cassidy Psychology in Mount Pleasant or Canning Vale on 6381 0071.