She felt as if she had spent most of her life treading water because she was fighting something inside herself. But as she was thrashing against the water, deep down she knew she would lose the fight.
A famous psychological experiment challenges its subjects to think of anything except a polar bear for five minutes. Every time they think of a polar bear, they have to ring a bell. Close your eyes and try it. Chances are that, nothing but polar bears appears in your head.
This experiment illustrates that suppression isn’t effective – it might work for awhile, but soon we become so fixated on avoiding the thought that it wears us out. We become acutely sensitive to its next occurrence, and before we know it, the thought itself is no longer our fear. Instead, it is now the thought of the thought occurring. This is akin to treading water – it might work in the short-term, but it’s certainly not going to be sustainable.
I think this is where the hard part really comes in: what’s the alternative? Dan Gottlieb says, “the very moment you give up struggling with the water, if you’re going to float, you have to put your faith in the water – just lie back and let it hold you up.”
I personally agree, but I find this incredibly difficult. When a thought appears in my head, I realize it’s wrong to fight it, so I avoid the conscious attempt to not think about it. But in consciously avoiding this conscious attempt to not think about it, I know I’m going to fall back into the polar bear trap, so I usually wind up thinking about how not to consciously think about how to avoid this conscious attempt. As you can see, I could go on ad infinitum, and I’d still be stuck in the polar bear trap.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that we all have demons inside of us. He called them “shadows”, to mean that we have parts of ourselves that we can’t deal with; yet, we cannot run away or separate ourselves from them. Fortunately or unfortunately, I keep faith still.
Yours in hope,