Intrusive Thought: "What if I Harm a Child?" (POCD)

When the same thought, image, dream, or motif shows up across cultures and crosses all of our lines of classification (age, gender, geography, race, religion), we call it an archetype. For example, the dreams where you show up at school without your pants on or have forgotten to study for a test are archetypal dreams. The character of the wicked witch or the evil stepmother are archetypal symbols. And the thought, “What if I’m a pedophile?” is one of many archetypal thoughts – alongside “What if I don’t love my partner?” and “What if I have a terminal illness?” – that clients and course members have shared with me over the past two decades. It’s also one of the most highly misunderstood intrusive thoughts and the one that often causes the most anguish. As the Louisville OCD clinic writes:

Although all the many ways that obsessive-compulsive fears manifest themselves can … Click here to continue reading...

Caught in a Thought

A coaching client recently shared the following (shared here with her permission):

A few weeks ago, I found myself obsessively thinking about a situation with a friend of mine – someone to whom I’ve given my power for many years. I was completely caught by this theme and I couldn’t get out from under it for weeks. I haven’t been stuck like that in a long time and it scared me. Constantly thinking. Completely consumed. Disconnected from myself. I had no trust in myself or in my ability not to let the thought take over. It was an unrelenting intrusive thought and I seemed powerless to stop it. It was like everything I’ve learned over the past several years disappeared. Like being swallowed by a thought-vortex.

This continued until one day when I was able to name it. As soon as I named it as an intrusive thought, I shifted Click here to continue reading...

What Should Love Feel Like?

At least once a week, a client asks, “I know that love isn’t all butterflies and fireworks, but what should it feel like? Since I’ve never seen a healthy relationship and I’ve never been in one, I have no idea what it should be like.”

I usually balk at the word “should”, but I know what they’re getting at. They want me to offer some kind of template or description of a healthy relationship so that they know if they’re on the right track. How sad it is that most people are bereft of this model! How tragic, really, that because our culture doesn’t offer these templates we’re left groping around in the dark, grasping at some idea of “healthy” and most often left feeling like we must be doing something wrong or that our relationship is wrong in some way. As Alain do Botton writes in The Course of Click here to continue reading...

Who Sits at the Head of Your Table?

In last week’s post, I wrote about the essential task of attending to our four realms of Self in order to find wellness and equanimity, and that in order to do this we need to have a loving, competent and clear inner parent at the helm of psyche. Just as kids feel safe when there’s an attuned parent sitting at the head of the metaphoric dinner table, so our inner characters – our Anxiety, Judgement, Fear, Jealousy, Critic, Taskmaster, Good Girl/Boy – feel safe when there’s a loving, clear, attuned parent at the head of the table of psyche.

Just as a loving outer parent listens to and honors a child’s needs yet pushes them past their comfort zone when necessary, so a loving inner parent brings compassion and intense curiosity to our inner world while making sure that we don’t fall into the realm of indulgent pain.

Just … Click here to continue reading...

When Anxious, Start at the Beginning

Anxiety is a messenger, a symptom, and a gift. I know that statement flies in the face of everything we learn about anxiety in a culture that is pathologically obsessed with eradicating shadow at every turn and consequently attempts to “get rid of” the symptom of anxiety as quickly and cleanly as possible, but I carry a vastly different approach. Instead of immediately medicating anxiety and its cohort of symptoms away, I seek to understand the messages encoded in its underlayers. Instead of viewing anxiety as a sign of disorder or dysfunction, I see it as a normal, human response to this life that includes stress, fear, risk, and ultimately, death. Can anxiety spiral out of control and make our lives a living hell? Absolutely. I’m not trying to place anxiety on a throne or in a position of worship. Rather, I’m bringing it out of its role as the … Click here to continue reading...