KT is one of those people who you find to be very smart and sharp, but their personality could really use some work. They can be very argumentative, will cut corners whenever possible, and don’t like change. You might even call KT rigid with concrete thinking. When you get together with KT, they always just want to do the same thing – they want to watch a suspense film, get take-out from their favorite restaurant, and then go home at 9pm. When you suggest doing something different, they are ready with 101 reasons why that is a stupid idea. One thing you can say about KT is that they are never unpredictable!
Now imagine that KT lives with you, works with you, goes on dates with you, and sleeps with you.
You might be thinking, “why would I ever sign on for that?!” However, you don’t really have a choice, because KT is actually your brain.
Your brain wants life to be as fixed and automated as possible, so that it is free to focus on important things (like keeping your body functioning). If you want to do something different that requires focus and attention, your brain will fight back – and it can be very convincing and will use every fearful thought possible. “You’re going to screw up.” “You don’t actually want to do this, do you?” “This was a huge mistake, get out of here!” “It’s clear that no one wants you here.” “What made you think this would be a good idea?”
If you try to debate with your brain, you’re almost always doomed for failure. Your brain has the upper hand because it knows what you’re going to say before you say it and is ready with a skillful rebuttal.
Your brain also wants you to be safe and cares less about personal improvement or dreams. If you struggle with anxiety/worry/stress, you may find that when you take steps to grow, your brain tries to convince you to keep maintain status quo. Here are some common points your brain might try to use:
· I have good coping tools already and am functioning fine, so why rock the boat?
· I just need to have more control over my emotions/thoughts.
· It’s other people/places/things/topics/situations/etc. who are the problem. As long as I avoid those, I’m fine.
· Anxiety helps me work harder and is just a part of who I am.
The problem with these rationalizations is that, oftentimes, the coping tools themselves have become a problem. When your time is focused on avoiding, changing, or getting rid of uncomfortable feelings, that means there is less time and energy for pursuing your dreams, passions, and meaningful directions.
Here are some examples:
· You have OCD and check/recheck the house anytime you leave. Your solution is to build in an extra hour for getting ready.
· You have panic attacks and avoid driving. Your solution is to not go anywhere unless someone can drive you.
· You have anxiety and want your partner to alleviate that anxiety by doing all the right things, causing arguments and criticisms. Your solution is to care less about your partner and what they do.
These examples clearly demonstrate the harmful impact of the solutions that we often select to try to manage the discomfort of anxiety.
Instead of managing discomfort, Exposure Therapy treats anxiety by helping you develop a new relationship with that pain. Anxiety, worry, and fear are a normal part of life, and when you spend too much time trying to get rid of something that you actually cannot rid yourself of, the result is suffering. It is only when we become willing to experience discomfort, that we free ourselves up to move toward those things in life that we value. Exposure Therapy does not try to debate your brain, because that then becomes a whole other problem. Instead, we just move toward discomfort instead of thinking about it.
Your brain may now be saying, “This would be taking me in exactly the opposite direction of what I’ve been doing my whole life. I have created a delicate balance that works for me. This sounds like the last thing I want to do.” My response is to just say that the “delicate balance” is actually the problem. When one thing goes off plan, you then fall apart. The system needs more flexibility and room for life events so that one problem doesn’t cause the whole thing to collapse.
My takeaway for you is that pain is an unavoidable part of love. When we care about our home, that comes with the pain of potentially making a mistake that will destroy our home. When we care about staying alive, that comes with worry about potentially dangerous situations. When we care about our partner, that comes with fear that they won’t be there for us. So, if we choose love, we then have to be willing to accept discomfort. Without love, we lose a sense of meaning. However, although discomfort and pain are not optional, suffering is.
You can learn more learn more about Virtual Reality Exposure Treatment in the Treatment section.