Where is that place where your thoughts wander into painful territory? For me, it’s in the shower. The shower is a place of routine – the same actions, in the same order every day. So the mind is not required to engage. The water running, the warmth – it’s soothing and all those worries of the to-do list dissolve along with the soap running over your body. The visit to the dentist, the school lunches, the day job, the visit to your mother in the hospital all fade in the comfort of the moment. So, where does that leave the mind? It leaves it free to roam to alleys and avenues of one’s memories. Into dangerous territory.
The Mind and Painful Thoughts
When events occur that are traumatic, the mind needs to work through the issues – the hurt, the pain, the disbelief, the outrage, the anger – but what it often chooses to do initially instead is to block it all out. To pretend it hasn’t happened. Depending on how bad the event has been, it goes into defence mode to help keep your sanity. But over time, it starts to leak out – the sneaky thoughts that insinuate themselves into your quiet times. The shower is a classic place where those thoughts take form and slip unannounced into your consciousness. And these thoughts are pernicious and sly. They take hold and don’t let go. Your mind has no further control over the presence of these memories – sad, tragic, painful memories – as they cling like the thorns of a rose.
Battling the Torment
I have been working hard to battle this torment, and there are moments when it works but, my god, the tentacles of those memories are long and latch on like their existence depends on it. And, of course, the existence of these thought does depend on us taking note of them. If we ignore them, then they would fade into non-existence.
Easier said than done.
My Son’s Solution to this Invasion
My son was diagnosed as intellectually and creatively gifted when he was 4 years old and could list all the planets, their order in the Universe and their moons. But it was his detailed drawings that caught the assessor’s eye. This might sound like a proud-mother story but it is tinged by the other side of the coin. Many gifted people come with an off-beat side effect from all this higher level brain activity. These side effects come in the form of various shades of a so-called ‘disorder’. It could be autism, Asperger’s, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks, phobias, separation anxiety and so on. Their world is a little different to the average person’s because it is populated by a myriad of thoughts which never stop. Their way of coping with this can manifest itself in one of the above. My son had (has) a degree of OCD and when young often found it difficult to deal with these obsessions. So off we went to a child psychologist, a wonderful woman who sorted him in a few simple sessions by giving him replacement techniques to employ when the thoughts invaded. He was six then. When he was about eight, he came to me one day and asked to go back to see that lady at the clinic. He wouldn’t say why, but I took him and, after half an hour with her, he announced that all was good with the world again and we left. He has never had to go again. He has the technique down pat I imagine and it is a simple routine he uses when necessary. I am not suggesting for a moment that it is this simple for someone with a greater degree of OCD but it was for my son.
My solution to the Monster Thoughts
I try this technique when I am in the shower and I am getting sad or upset at my thoughts, and it is starting to work. The key is to start it as soon as the thought arrives, not after you have indulged it for a while because then it is harder to budge. Your replacement thought will be different to mine, but make it a very clear one so you can slip it in quickly. Maybe it is that lovely calm holiday you took on a tropical island a few years back. Maybe it is the thought of your child asleep in your arms. Well, you get the idea – something soothing.
The Ultimate Thought-Destroying Technique
I have heard of a different technique and that is to associate the thought with physical pain. And few people willingly encourage pain. Place a rubber band on your wrist and whenever the thoughts arrive, ping the rubber band against your skin as hard as you can. I haven’t tried this yet, but apparently your brain learns very quickly to avoid the cause of the pain – your sad/angry thoughts.
Since I am not quite so good as my son at the replacement technique, this could be my next avenue.