This is What Intrusive Thoughts are Protecting us From

by | Jul 2, 2023 | OCD | 22 comments

I recently listened to one of the most extraordinary podcast interviews I’ve ever heard. I walked with her words in my ear and my heart blown wide open by the soul of someone I can only call a true mystic of our times: Andrea Gibson.

There were so many parts that stopped me in my tracks, but my favorite was when Andrea was talking about their lifelong anxieties and subsequent compulsions. “I was an intense hypochondriac. I wouldn’t eat nuts on an airplane out of fear that I would suddenly develop a nut allergy at 32,000 feet. It ruled my life.”

Glennon adds: “Andrea goes online just to make sure they haven’t accidentally posted nude pictures of themselves. And re-reads emails 12 times just to make sure there’s nothing in the email that could later incriminate them for a crime they have not committed.”

“Yes, all of these things I would do! But when I got diagnosed all of that stopped. And the first thing I realized was that my whole life there was grief underneath that anxiety. That ultimately under all of that was a fear of not being connected. A fear of dying because a fear of losing everyone I love.”

It’s grief underneath the anxiety.

It’s the fear of separateness.

When we soften into these places, the mind quiets down and the heart opens wider than we could ever imagine.

The Vulnerability of Life

Life is so very vulnerable.

It includes, at its core, an awareness that no matter where we live, who we partner with, what job we have, what we look like, or how much money we have, there will still be an element of incompleteness, imperfection, grief, and loneliness.

Intrusive thoughts tell us otherwise.

They tell us that if we had the “perfect” partner or the “perfect” house in the “perfect” city or the “perfect” job we would be lifted above life’s messiness and transported to a place of eternal completeness and perfection.

It’s hard to poke a hole in the argument of intrusive thoughts, partially because our mainstream culture pushes the notion at every turn that if you get things “just right” you will feel “just right.”

The Great Cultural Lie

This is a lie. And a dangerous one. It’s a lie that keeps us perpetually striving to be “better” or have more. It keeps us checking and ruminating and stuck in the catastrophic worry of imagining the worst.

In short, it keeps us on the hamster wheel of striving and the spin cycle of the mind where we are protected from the fundamental discomfort of being human.

When we stop fighting this discomfort and instead learn how to befriend the sense of incompleteness and imperfection – and the grief that lives at the core because loss, separation, and death exist – worlds of joy open to us.

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22 Comments

  1. My father died when I was 18 months old. I have struggled with intrusive thoughts, anxiety, skin picking and more. I have to assume this early loss is a trigger, but for someone with OCD, it is hard not to ever be sure. How do you soften trauma from such an early age

    Reply
    • There is likely a connection. The best way to work with early trauma is with a trained trauma therapist who can use EMDR or Somatic Experiencing.

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      • Thank you Sheryl 🙏🏻

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        • Some traumatising things happened on my family when I was less than a year old… Could this have effect on me as an adult, is that even possible?

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          • 0-3 are some of our most formative years, so yes, trauma during infancy can definitely have an effect.

            Reply
  2. How do we befriend this discomfort?
    I feel like I have been so attuned to this awareness of the vulnerability of life since I was a little girl. I would cry sometimes during a nice time with my family because I could feel the pain along with the depth of love. I now experience this with my own family, my husband and kids. It is so hard to let the joy and love in without the self protection there in the way (anxiety) because of the vulnerability of this deep love for them. I’m working hard to be present and soften the fear and allow the tears of grief to flow, so that I can open to love and joy more freely but it is such a hard practice. 💖

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  3. I’ve been OBSESSED with Andrea Gibson for over a decade now!! I used to walk to my soulless corporate workplace in my early 20s listening to their poetry with tears in my eyes, so grateful for something to connect me to my humanity before checking it at the door of the office. Looking back, it’s clear I’ve been a sensitive soul for a long time 🥲 I’m so glad you found their work — you both are such inspirations to me on this human walk. ❤️❤️❤️

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    • Oh, amazing! I love reading this. I’m so grateful to Glennon and Abby for having them on their show, and for Victoria for insisting that I listen to it. ❤️❤️❤️

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  4. This. This is the constant state I’ve been in since I started trauma therapy so many years ago. I’ve been going intermittently, but the last two years have been the most intense. It’s only very recently that I’ve started to let in the idea that I’m never going to attain this mythical ‘I’ve got there!’ And to accept that that is ok. I’d love to be able to soften. I’d love to be able to stop the hyperarousal and properly sink in. I’m off to listen to the episode you’ve referenced now! Xxxx

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    • I relate to what you’re saying xx

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      • It’s tough aye! It feels like this message is coming through from so many places now though, and it’s amazing to open up and listen! XX

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  5. wow this is intense, thanks for sharing.

    My wife has Glennon Doyle’s book Untames but I’ve not read it. WIll def check out Andrea Gibson.

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  6. I listened to the Andrea Gibson podcast and it was incredible. God bless her!

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      • she certainly seems very brave and inspirational in the podcast. I just worry that others suffering in similar ways will listen and feel they don’t ‘live up’ to her bravery and inspiration.

        Certainly something to aspire too though, I guess!

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        • I get that, Joshua, and it’s a very compassionate response.

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  7. Do you think body/gender dysphoria could have something to do with the difficulty of accepting incompleteness and ambiguity? Eg. ”If I were more muscular, then I would be happy” or ”if only I my breasts were gone, I would be able to thrive!” I’ve observed a lot of us struggling with those kind of things have the idea that our body and presentation should be perfect and just right… when they never can.

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    • Yes, this is a very wise connection that you’re making.

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  8. Sheryl, you are truly amazing!! ❤ I’ve been intermittently reading your work for almost 10 years! I’ve suffered from relationship anxiety (in some, way shape or form) in almost all relationships I’ve been in. I’m now married, and the attraction/chemistry topic is my biggest spike. I listened to one of your podcasts the other night, and found it so calming! Thank you🙏
    Are your courses available to those outside of Canada/The US? I am based in New Zealand.
    I just want to encourage you and say that even just reading your blog posts over the years has brought me such comfort in times of immense fear. Thank you xx

    Reply
    • Hi Alana: Thank you and yes my courses are available worldwide :). xx

      Reply

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