Many of us do things we wish we would not do. We may compulsively eat sugary or fatty things, drink too much alcohol, become a zombie in front of the TV, or whatever. We may judge ourselves as “weak” or “lacking in willpower”, because of this. Maybe we wryly wish that we had more “Won’t Power” as the problem seems to be more about what we need to stop doing.
There are also things that we wish we did more of. Perhaps we want to take more exercise, get out more, fix something in our house, and so on. Whether we are caught up doing things we regret, or not getting round to things we feel we should do, this unfortunately means that we judge ourselves about it so that we end up feeling even worse.
Ending the Battle Between Who We Are and Who We Want to Be
We need to end the battle going on inside us. To do so we need to look beyond our behavior and beyond our immediate feelings about it. If we feel divided it is because we are pulling in different directions at the same time. This is because we are trying to be different people at the same time.
We all hold and maintain a particular sense of self; a self image which seems desirable to us. This self-image is built up of the ideas about the type of person we want to be. We might see ourselves as “fashionable” or deliberately “unfashionable”. We might see ourselves as strong, or clever, or cheerful, or successful, or kind, or steady, as trustworthy, or whatever.
However, the way we would like ourselves to be is not necessarily the way we are now. We may have chosen overly perfect ideas, or have been swayed to try and adapt to ways of thinking, feeling and behaving which are too far ahead of our current abilities. This can cause us to get out of step with the person who we are at this time, and become too idealistic or try too hard.
Compulsions Make Us Feel Out of Control
We may be trying to embody characteristics way ahead of our abilities. When we are disturbed by a compulsion or addiction it could be because our behavior at those times clashes with the type of person we are trying to be.
If we like to think of ourselves as a sensible, intelligent and independently minded person who is in charge of themselves, it can be hard to reconcile this with what we become if a simple thing like chocolate, a sale at the shops, or meeting someone we really fancy, can cause us to lose all sense of control. What happened to our carefully cultured sense of self if a box of chocolates causes us to lose self-control! We may be overcome and not finish till they are all gone. What happened to us when we bought that thing in the shops on impulse? What happened to the person we thought we were when we go weak at the knees when we are introduced to someone really “hot”?
Of course, eating chocolate is usually a fairly minor compulsion and has become a bit of a joke. However, there is the underlying issue that part of us is at least a little bit out of control. If we do not think eating chocolate (or whatever our favorite indulgence) is really a compulsion we could try going without it for a week, or a month, and see what happens.
Of course, some compulsions can be very harmful. Addiction to alcohol, addiction to legal or illegal drugs, eating disorders and so on can be the focus of much suffering. Many other damaging compulsions are not so obviously harmful; worry, anger, fearfulness, jealousy, envy, bitterness. These emotional compulsions are less obvious because they don’t have a very specific physical action directly associated with them such as lighting a cigarette, swallowing pills, or opening a whisky bottle. However, they can still be very damaging because they affect our health and well-being, creating stress and impacting on our ability to enjoy life.
What Inner Feeling is Feeding Your Compulsions?
Emotional compulsions can be the underlying cause of physical compulsions. If we look at our compulsive behavior we will find a matching inner feeling feeding the compulsion. We may want to eat ice cream when we feel disappointed or sad. We might crave something sweet when our self-esteem is low. We are maybe attracted to certain foods when we feel angry or frustrated. We may even find that for us certain foods are “anger foods”, “fear foods”, “depressed foods”: namely, foods we want to eat when we have particular emotions.
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What is the source of these compulsions and the feelings behind them? As we go through building our self-image we get into the habit of pushing down the parts of us that do not fit that image. We naturally tend to filter how we really think and feel. We habitually present a very different image to what is really going on inside us. Over time we reject and repress these parts of us till they go underground. Eventually we forget that we have done so. Compulsions and addictions are an expression of the un-lived (and unloved) parts of us. They are the life force of the rejected parts of us.
However, pushing away feelings, which do not fit with our self-image, does not make them go away. The feelings just go underground for a while and come out in different ways. Our compulsions are fed by the thoughts and feelings we wish we did not have.
What We Push Down Must Come Back Up
If we push something down rather than choosing to heal or resolve, it will only come up in another way. Those unresolved feelings and unhealed parts of ourselves are still alive in us and try to be part of our lives in any way they can, until we resolve the underlying issues. Those parts of us are not bad, they just keep trying to reveal their presence. They have not gone away and they need to be integrated into our lives in healthy ways.
As a child I spent time playing around with the water coming up from a small underground spring near where I lived. No matter what I did to try and block it; small rocks, large rocks, driving sticks into the ground and so on, one way or an other the water would come rushing up again sooner or later. When it looked as if I had finally managed to block the flow, within a few seconds, the water would come gushing out behind me or from some other unexpected place.
Trying to repress our nature is like that. We were born with a set of gifts to develop and a set of challenges to work with. If we try and hold it back it will come out somewhere, probably in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. Sometimes the gifts and abilities we have and the problems and issues we face are tied together, so that to gain the gift we need to face the challenge.
Fulfilling our potential includes facing up to things we would rather not deal with, or taking ownership of parts of ourselves which seem undesirable or uncool. If our self-image is not balanced enough or not complete enough, the unexpressed potential within us will constantly challenge us to be aware of our other needs.
Which Parts Of Us Are Struggling To Be Expressed?
We can usually see that there is a lot of autonomy and self-direction in the feelings within compulsions. The very existence of compulsions, where we want to stop doing something and cannot, shows that parts of us are struggling to be expressed, independently of our conscious will. When we repress something it still generates feelings. The feelings of loneliness, abandonment and isolation we sometimes experience may well be coming from the parts of us that we have rejected.
In other words, some of our feelings of loneliness, abandonment and isolation come from how we treat ourselves and are not caused by other people. We experience feelings of being rejected, from the parts of us we push away, even though we are the ones doing the rejecting.
We may feel abandoned because we have abandoned parts of ourselves. We may feel angry and not know why because we have rejected a sad and unhappy part of us now reacting in anger to that rejection. We may feel isolated and lonely because we are denying part of ourselves proper expression. We may feel smothered and frustrated because we are denying part of ourselves the right to live. This may seem strange till we remember how much autonomy is behind compulsions and addictions. Part of us has a life of its own, so it has feelings of its own too.
Someone who becomes a sex addict may have unfulfilled longings for deep connections with other people. They may be a stranger to themselves and therefore unable to share themselves in genuine intimacy. We may overeat to soothe anger, sadness or lonely feelings. We may starve ourselves because we judge ourselves harshly and are afraid of losing control. We cannot start a war within us by outright rejection of parts of ourselves and expect to create peace.
Sometimes redirecting a compulsion is enough to resolve it. Other times we might need to look at the emotions which arise along with the compulsion and look at what is really going on inside us. We may be able to shift a feeling or mood by using positive affirmations, relaxation exercises, meditation or music to feel better. We can find ways to work with the feeling rather than ignoring it and hoping it will then go away. It is better to redirect our energy than to try and repress it. If we try to repress something rather than redirect the energy and urges in a more healthy direction then we create an inner battle we are unlikely to win. Who can fight with themselves and win?
Finding Healthy Ways to Express All Parts of Ourselves
The parts of us we try to repress are like kids who are rebelling and get up to mischief. This is not because those parts of us are bad; it is because they want to live and be expressed.
Our job is to find healthy ways to express them. By expressing them, the underlying causes of our compulsions will leave and the compulsive behaviors too.
Please remember: It is better to redirect and say “yes” to something else than just say a categorical “no” to something.
- Next time you want candy, ice cream or chocolate try directing your thoughts to a lovely ripe fruit like mango, peach, pear and the like.
- Next time you feel a minor compulsion (i.e., chocolate, coffee, etc) notice how you are feeling. Notice anything which has just happened which triggered the feelings. Is there another way you can nurture yourself instead?
©2013 by William Fergus Martin. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Findhorn Press. www.findhornpress.com.
Forgiveness is Power: A User's Guide to Why and How to Forgive
by William Fergus Martin.
In this manual on how to forgive, there are insights and exercises without a preachy message or assumption that people “should” forgive. With chapters that explain what forgiveness is and how to deal with obstacles to it, it also addresses reconciliation with others and one’s own self. Practical and accessible, the book does not require religious practice or philosophy; it simply shows how to forgive in order to enhance self-esteem, be happier, and break free from limitations that can hold a person back.
About the Author
William Martin's experience of over 30 years involvement with the Findhorn community is encapsulated within these pages. He has had many roles within the community including working in the famous gardens, Managing the Computer Department and at one point having the grandly titled role Chairman of the Executive Committee. Additionally, he developed and delivered courses which combined Computer Training with Personal Development. He put his experience in writing computer training materials to another use by writing this User Guide to help make Forgiveness very practical, usable and accessible by anyone - no matter their Faith or philosophy.