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Jul 12

How Fear Fuels Obsession


By Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

Do you have clients caught in a repetitive trap resulting in feelings of helplessness, frustration and discouragement? Is their careful and cautious behavior perceived by others as obsessive? Does it repel others instead of drawing them closer? Certain emotions such as fear can add fuel to an obsessive cycle causing an out of control feeling.

It begins with a painful event: abuse by a relative, abandonment by a friend or rejection from a job. Each of these events can spark fear directed inward or at another person. The feeling of dread is so uncomfortable, that a person overcompensates with a desire to over control. Sample obsessions include: cleaning, checking, washing, excessive order, repeating the same conversation, repetitive thoughts, hoarding, perfectionism, reassurance seeking, rituals or counting. Other people don’t like the preoccupation so they in turn withdraw. This leaves feelings of confusion. After all, the reason for the obsession was to avoid the fearful or anxious feelings. The result is another painful event such as a fight, more distance in relationships or further loss.

Acknowledge. The first step to stopping the crazy cycle is acknowledging the repetitive behavior. The crazy cycle is continuing. This is not the time to blame others for it; this is the time to accept responsibility. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior. This maybe a new concept as our culture is quick to blame others, parents, churches, organizations, companies, governments, and even nations for bad behavior. But this is not constructive thinking, it is destructive thinking.

Stop at Fear. There is nothing wrong with feeling fearful. But the response to fear doesn’t have to be obsession. It is OK to be fearful when hurt or when others hurts. Just don’t take it to the next step and become controlling. Rather deal with the fear by confronting feelings and taking responsibility for the actions that follow. Just saying the words, “I am fearful or anxious but I’m going to act responsibly” can restore that out of control feeling to restraint.

Know Obsessions. What is the obsession of choice? More than likely there is moe than one. Not all of the obsessive behaviors are listed above so taking an inventory is extremely helpful. Many times, a person goes directly from the painful event to the obsession and skips right past the fearful emotion. This is a conditioned response similar to Pavlov’s dogs. In Pavlov’s experiment, he trained dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell by first giving food along with ringing the bell. Before long, he only needed to ring the bell for the dogs to salivate. The same thing is done with the obsession. Trace backwards from the fixation to the dread anytime the desire arises.

It is possible to take responsibility and stop the crazy cycle from destructive behavior. However, when a mistake is made and things slip backwards, it is never too late to turn around. Who a person is, is NOT defined by their mistakes. Rather, it is defined by the character developed along the way.

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