When we have a compulsion, there are usually two levels to what we try to escape.
The compulsion could be any activity – eating, using alcohol or drugs, internet, work, upholding an image of ourselves, certain thought patterns, or just about anything else. Behind compulsions is a wish to avoid certain uncomfortable sensations and thoughts.
And those uncomfortable sensations and thoughts come in two layers.
First are the immediate sensations in our body we wish to avoid. They seem frightening to us, so we use our compulsion as a strategy to avoid them. Sometimes, we may be conscious of uncomfortable or frightening thoughts associated with these sensations, but not always.
Then, there is a whole undergrowth of uncomfortable and frightening thoughts and additional sensations often in the form of chronic contractions. These can be quite entrenched, seem very real to us, and can stretch back to childhood experiences.
Often, we would do almost anything to avoid consciously entering and meeting these. Including escaping into our compulsions, even if these come with their own unpleasant consequences.
Several things may prevent us from consciously entering what we try to escape from. Mainly, it seems scary and frightening. We have our own beliefs telling us it’s scary and dangerous. Our society, at least traditionally, has told us these parts of us are dark and hide something terrifying. Our society makes it easy to escape through various addictions and compulsions. (We see others do it, and escape routes are easily available partly because some of them are profitable.) We may, wisely, think we would get lost if we enter these parts of ourselves, we may rock the boat, and we may take the lid off something we won’t know how to handle. (This may be true if we don’t have the right support, guidance, and skills.)
The answer is to do exactly what we have avoided, do so with support and guidance, and eventually learn how to do it safely for ourselves. We need to meet and befriend these areas of ourselves. Become familiar with them, see the innocence behind it all, and perhaps invite these parts of us to heal.
Over time, we get to see that it’s actually not so scary to enter these areas after all. It may be uncomfortable at first, but as we rest with the sensations and thoughts, and investigate what’s there, it tends to shift into an experience of relief and even of returning home. We are returning home to parts of ourselves we have shunned.
It’s important to do this befriending in a skillful way, and that often means to initially be facilitated by someone experienced. These parts of ourselves are best met and explored in a way that’s respectful, patient, allows these parts to be as they are, see the innocence behind and in them, and invites them to heal in their own time.
For me, the most helpful ways I have found of doing this include natural rest (notice, allow, rest with), inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries, Big Mind process), heart-centered practices (ho’oponopono, tonglen – towards these parts of ourselves), and releasing associated body contractions (TRE, massaging the contractions etc.). I won’t go into the details here since I have written about it in other articles.