A while back, I read Gabor Maté’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. In it, he talks about his work with drug addicts, but also speaks quite transparently about his own addiction to purchasing classical music CDs and obsessive patterns in his thought.
One of the great gifts of the book was his suggested process to dealing with moments when obsessive thoughts threaten to overwhelm us. Here are the five steps he offers about dealing with obsessive thoughts and feelings:
- Relabel – Allow yourself to wake up to the reality that this obsessive thought or feeling is not necessarily a need right now, but simply a thought or feeling I’m having. The urgency of the thought or feeling doesn’t necessarily correspond to any real urgency going on here.
- Reattribute – Acknowledge that your brain is sending the message that there is something I need to do that just might be false.
- Refocus – Buy yourself time. Set a goal of 5, 10 or 15 minutes in which you will not take action on the thought/feeling. Instead of just “not doing” the thought, you choose to do something genuinely pleasurable for those 5, 10, 15 minutes. The refocusing is about taking a different (and pleasant) action in place of the action urged by the obsessive thought.
- Revalue – Allow yourself to remember what you genuinely value (over what the thought or feeling is saying you must have). Do all this without self-judgment.
- Re-create – Move towards genuine creativity. Engage in expressing your values, passions, intentions, talents, or capabilities in creative and life-giving ways. What do you choose to create rather than escaping into the addictive or compulsive thought?
This process raises a prayer in my heart:
“God, continue to free me from the kind of pre-emptive anxieties, fears, doubts and insecurities would prevent me from simply praying, thinking, imagining and working on my writing, my speaking notes and other work You’ve given me. I am grateful that the reality of who I am is settled in communion with God through Christ. May I learn this lesson well enough to share insights with others.
I may never reach a place where I always feel peaceful, confident, self-assured, clear on the next step, and such, but I can grow. There does seem to be a “thorn in the flesh” dynamic in these things for me because I can see the tendency to pride when I am used by God in many fruitful ways. That pride temptation feels like the flip side of the anxiety/fear temptation. They are both focused on myself rather than gazing upon Jesus. Free me from every self-focused tendency and enable me to fix my eyes on you. Amen.”