I fetched my lunch plate and got back to my room. Even before I could put a morsel in my mouth, the left hand reached for the TV remote. Having made a New Year resolution to completely do away with multitasking and do only one thing at a time I have been only of late breaking the same too often, especially with hectic work schedules yelling for time and attention. “Can’t afford a separate TV-time,” Mind argued, “Plus meals taste better with something to watch along!” I froze hearing the last bit. It was my same old mental habit tempting me to deliberately walk away from what I already knew and decided as a healthy choice. Realising, I put down the TV remote and quietly finished my lunch.
Understanding our Mind
Each individual human Mind is made up of unique mental scripts, habitual thought patterns and reaction-response maps learnt during early childhood and reinforced by the Mind over the years. These are the Mind’s perception of the Self in relation to the Other, fears, feelings of inadequacies and the default mental programs of how to deal with the same. Our Mind is intrinsically wired to our brain’s ‘survival’, ‘reward’ and ‘pleasure’ centres. Hence based on the Mind’s perception of the Self and its environment, it programs itself to certain habitual action/reaction patterns that either help one survive or derive a reward/pleasure out of any given situation. Not just our conscious Mind and actions, but our Subconscious Mind too, adhere to these. Nothing wrong; except most often the very basis of these (the perception of Self and a deep seated feeling of inadequacy) is so faulty that the resultant coping habits too turn out to be much unhealthy and dysfunctional, offering only a false sense of safety and feel-good that doesn’t last and soon self-perpetuate the cycle.
Yet our Mind constantly tempts us to keep on repeating them because it’s familiar and hence feels safe and pleasurable. The Mind often tricks us into going back to same old habits that has kept us dysfunctional for years. Even if and when we have seen through the cons and realised what’s going wrong and decided to break the habit, the Mind constantly tempts us to backtrack. But the bigger truth is – this is surreptitiously lethal for our Mental Health.
How our Mind Tempts Us to Keep Us Dysfunctional
Temptations to fall back to old dysfunctional ways come in varied packages and often appear harmless. I am referring to that mental health stage where one has long realised that any external source of self-worth and validation is not just impermanent but a dangerous ground as it shifts the Mind’s focus from the Inner to the Outer; and having recognised the old Mind patterns one has already taken a conscious and sincere decision to not give in to those blind spots. And yet –
– Something triggers your feeling low about yourself and suddenly Mind starts claiming that plate of greasy red meat/dessert as legitimate a need.
– Some situation or person makes you worthless and angry. Suddenly the Mind again goes – SMH. (Not the original ‘Shake My Head’ but recently spotted another amusing troll full form somewhere – Sex Might Help!)
– A bad day at work and a bad mood. Suddenly it feels quite right to go shopping again. Mind keeps reminding how long it has been with the shopping bag.
– Some loved one fails to give you time and the Mind starts saying how lonely it feels and suddenly goes on a selfie/update posting spree on that next social networking site.
Wait. I am no puritan judgmental zealot who has an issue with either good food or sex or shopping or social sites and similar stuffs. But the important question I try asking myself every time such a ‘harmless’ urge surfaces, is – Why am I wanting to do this? What is my motive? And if the answer is anywhere near “..because I am feeling low/ angry/ unfulfilled/ inadequate/ incomplete and (doing) this will make me feel good,” I try to drop it. Immediately. It is important to understand that the temptation isn’t the act. The temptation lies in the agenda behind the act.
I myself have often faced some of these and been fortunate enough to be painstakingly pointed out by my mental health professional, helping me spot such ‘harmless‘ self-deceptions of the human Mind. It’s not easy. Even to admit it to one’s own self. Yet absolutely necessary. Some of these may also often appear midway through the healing process, disguised as legitimate hard-earned breaks amidst a strenuous discipline of therapy.
– am dog tired of this mental battle (against depression/anxiety/whatever else). Why not just take a break, overdose with those OTC sleeping pills and sleep over it just for a bit?
– I can’t take this shit anymore! I am not killing myself. I am slitting my wrist just for a little physical pain to distract my mind from the mental agony.
How the World Serves to Keep Us Dysfunctional
Often temptations come through the outside world too. Especially for people working on their Mind on issues like depression associated with low esteem, anxiety related to need for outer approval and sense of self-worth. People with social anxiety disorder or relationship addiction or abandonment issues. We live in a world that’s constantly seeking and bartering approval and validations to and from one another and unfortunately it is considered quite normal. I was pretty amused (rather alarmed) when recently someone described it as, “That’s how the cookie crumbles!” Unfortunately yes. Yet, we need to realise this – Cookies never serve as wholesome meals. The cultural cookie we are desperately trying to bite into is deceptively lethal for our mental health, and it’s saddening to see how exponentially mental health cases are rising. Yet the outer world pressure tactics often tempt us to keep it going that way.
I, for one, am a very introverted HSP and only recently I decided, for my own mental health, to tell myself, “It’s OK for me to not ‘socialise like there’s no tomorrow’.” Ever since, temptations arise out of an indirect social pressure to fall back to the treadmill of nonstop social visibility, incessant communication and a tight trapeze of performance. Temptations can come disguised as friends sulking or peers beginning to ignore or the world suddenly going strangely silent on one. It can be pretty unnerving to not give into the Mind’s fear of abandonment or disapproval and perceived threat to self-worth and self-esteem. Especially for those working on these exact issues. The pressure palpable; the temptation to backtrack and loop, very real. But The Secret to disarm these is to immediately face the Mind that’s going restless with, “I need to get back! Why are they acting so weird?” and ask it a counter question, “Why is it bothering You?” Immediately, if you’re listening to yourself, you’ll hear the Old Mind churn up a hundred replies – They will think I am weird/I will lose loved ones (read approval)/They will reject me/I will lose my social standing/become unpopular (read thin ice of social validation). All these and more are nothing but the Mind’s old ways to keep us hooked to the dangerous and dysfunctional need of the external than seeking one’s mental/emotional anchor within oneself which is the FOUNDATION of a sound mental health and healthy life.
The Key to Disarm the Temptations of Old Ways
Temptations are galore and come in varied garbs. But it is VITAL to recognise that even when the outer world/friends/family/peers pose as arm-twisting temptations, the real temptress is our own Mind. Yes, no denying that we today live in a world hard-wired to quick-fixes derived from external sources – a world constantly drowning itself in background noises, nonstop verbalising, virulent exhibitionism to buy attention, approval and self-worth. Thus forever turning away from the Inner Resources. Most often not even willing to stare in the eye the actual mental conflicts such as deep seated sense of inadequacy or worthlessness. The Mind is happy as long as its real issues are not addressed. And unfortunately the social values we live in and amidst, constantly support this self-deceptive ‘collective culture of neurosis’ as I prefer calling it. The solution is to recognise that the world cannot tempt if the Mind doesn’t have its own deeper reasons to get tempted.
Temptations will continue coming in various forms. Like water seeping in through the cracks of our living room walls. Our concern shouldn’t be the water but the cracks in our own walls. The Mind has its own cracks – a deep rooted faulty self-perception and a reaction mechanism wired to brain’s survival/reward/pleasure principles. Hence one of the ESSENTIAL STEPS TO PSYCHOTHERAPY has always been ‘Taking Responsibility’ – for one’s own thoughts, actions and consequences.
Taking responsibility doesn’t equate to self-blame or self-judgment. It simply means telling one’s own Mind, “Yes we did that/gave into that. We realise it’s unhealthy, dysfunctional for us. Now let’s figure out why we did so and how we can avoid the same pitfall next time we face the same situation.” This is a major step towards healing and wholeness. It takes courage. It takes self-accountability. Daily. Hourly. Sometimes by the second.
No one said the path to recovery and a sound and happy mental and physical health would be an easy job. Yet, rest assured, it’s stupendously worth it! Every millimetre of the painstaking effort and sincerity. Been there, done that. You can take my word for it.
Take care, dear Mind.
© & Author : Nivedita Dey, 2016
Image courtesy & © : Google stock photos/source websites