Obsessions are concerned with the prevention of bad things happening (this also applies to some types of phobias).
Prior to the obsession coming into being there may have been a long period of worry related to the area of concern, of which the obsession is just one specific image or aspect.
Because it likes efficiency the brains strips out all unnecessary additional information and ever just keeps flashing a representative image at the sufferer. This may just be something as simple as a partial shape; for example the image of a nose (believe it or not, that is how specific an obsession can be – the person has an intense emotional reaction to something they know in their logical mind to be completely banal).
Memories of the context of the long period of worry leading up to the obsession can be blocked due to the memory-wiping affects of anxiety. The sufferer of an obsession has trouble building an understanding about the source of the imagination now plaguing them from the center of their obsession and they fear 'what lies beneath'.
Once they decide to start facing it through the process of exposure therapy, however, the context is initially revealed.
Context is rebuilt through mixing both the memories already contained within the trapped emotional response and from new interpretations of the gaps between available information.
As the emotional history becomes more available the sufferer starts to see where they went wrong in their understanding and how they should adjust their way of seeing in order to remove the obsession.
Confusion in Regards to Responsibilities and the Difference between Real and Imagined Events
When first starting to develop an obsession the sufferer may believe that they are solely responsible for preventing the act at the center of the obsession because they are the only one concerned about, or seemingly even aware of, the imagined threat.
This sense of isolation may be the result of an environment in which sharing concerns and information about feelings is either pretended or seen as undesirable. This sets up a self-fueling internal worry cycle in mind and body.
Sufferers believe if the act were to happen it would be their fault because they had refused to listen to the pre-alert warning in their own heads. They kindly mimic the guilt response, as if the imagined horror story had really happened, and do so as a motivator to take early action in order to both prevent themselves from being in that situation and the event itself happening.
Unfortunately this mimicry can be so convincing the Unconscious, which can not tell the difference between a real and an imagined scenario, brings into it as a current emergency situation and now starts warning the upper mind of the constantly 'real' threat as if it were happening right now.
Seeing this reaction in themselves as ellogical the sufferer recoils and tries to eradicate the thinking and feelings attached to the process but this instead makes things worse.
As the person who contains 'the imagined act' they may see their obsession as a form of punishment for having the unwanted thoughts and feelings inside but also think they need to keep it as a preventative measure.
The sufferer can misunderstand subtitle differences such as the difference between the act and their reaction to the act – it becomes meshed into one ..
So, for example, when talking about healing an obsession through 'emotional acceptance' they can easily accept their own emotional response to the act with accepting the unacceptable act itself ('but then I might be agreeing the horrible act is OK?').
They fear that removing the obsession will reduce their alertness. This will lead to the act happening and they will then fail to agree with the knowledge they knew all along the act could happen but chose not to listen to the warning signals.
Problems Sharing with Others
Sufferers of obsessions struggle with some strange fears that delay or stop them seeking help or even sharing the content of their obsessions with others.
These fears can include:
- being locked up as someone capable of performing the actions in their obsessions because listeners will not understand the condition
- spreading their obsession to others (sufferers can have trouble believing that once the information is shared others will not develop the same condition)
- sharing information on their obsession may make it worse.
Going Into the Response
The feelings attached to an obsession are so strong that they convey a sense of reality and a physically felt compulsion to do something about the alleged threat.
It is this compulsion to do something that can be most frightening because the sufferer knows there is nothing to do in reality so they keep backing away from the urge. Unfortunately backing away strengthens the urge and its hold on the mind.
By taking the alternative approach and going into the urge and examining what drives it, the sufferer can start to undo the affect. Do this work enough and they move into a stronger and stronger Objective Viewpoint – of seeing themselves from the outside – this is their self-image position.
What the self-image observer now sees is their most important value systems under threat and their reaction to them.
Obsessions and other anxiety disorders are usually built around imagined threats to what we value most but in the confusion caused by these conditions we see ourselves as the threat.
In one of her books on panic disorder Dr Claire Weekses talks about an exhausted midwife patient of hers who began worrying about how her tired state could impact on the quality of care she was able to give to the babies she cared for.
Passing an open upper floor window one day the midwife imaginally accidently dropping a baby through the window opening and this was enough to start an obsession / phobia about windows.
To the midwife the welfare of babies was an obvious core value – and it is around our core values, when we sense they are threatened, we are most likely to develop anxiety disorders.
What lies beneath our obsessions are things we can like about ourselves – things we agree with and positive things we can embrace again, but next time around – which occurs when we work through the emotional layers surrounding our obsession – we must do so in the right way.
If you have an obsession 'what lies beneath' are your core values - once you connect up with them again you can understand and clear your obsession and like yourself even more in the process.