How Fear Fuels Obsession
Have you ever felt as though you were doing everything you could, yet no matter how hard you tried, things got worse and worse? Are you caught in a trap that leaves you feeling helpless, frustrated and discouraged? Do you find that your behavior, which you believe is careful and cautious, is perceived by others as obsessive and often repels instead of drawing them closer? Certain emotions such as fear can add fuel to an obsessive cycle that leaves you feeling trapped and out of control.
It all starts with a painful event such as abuse by a relative, abandonment by a friend or rejection from a job. Each of these events can spark fear directed at another person for their part in the event or directed at you for failure in handling the event properly. This feeling of fear is uncomfortable so you counteract it with a desire to over-control yourself, others or your environment. So you turn to the obsession of your choice: cleaning, checking, washing, excessive order, repeating the same conversation, repetitive thoughts, hoarding, perfectionism, reassurance seeking, rituals or counting. Other people in your life don’t like your obsession so they in turn withdraw from you. You are now confused by their response as you were just trying to avoid the fearful or anxious feelings. This in turn results in 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 that you are repeating the same behavior over and over. You can’t change what you won’t acknowledge. So admit it. You are doing the crazy cycle. This is not the time to blame others for the reason you are doing the crazy cycle; this is the time to accept responsibility for your own crazy behavior. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior. This may be a new concept to you 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. You are responsible for your own behavior.
Stop at Fear. There is nothing wrong with feeling fearful. The Bible acknowledges that you will be fearful but you don’t have to control the fear by becoming controlling. Whether you are acting scared, anxious or fearful or avoiding those feelings by being controlling, fear is still controlling your behavior. It is OK to be fearful when you are hurt, when someone hurts you, or when someone hurts someone else. Just don’t take it to the next step and become controlling; rather deal with the fear by confronting how you feel 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 transform that out-of-control feeling to one of control.
Know Your Obsession. What is your obsession of choice? More than likely you have more than one obsessive behavior. Not all of the obsessive behaviors are listed so taking an inventory of your go-to obsessions is extremely helpful. Many times you will go directly from the painful event and skip right past the fearful emotion to the obsessive behavior because you have developed 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. You have done the same thing with your obsession. You no longer need to feel fear to justify the obsessive behavior; rather you go straight from the painful event to the obsession. If you know your obsessive behaviors, you can trace backwards to the fear anytime you feel the desire to become controlling and stop it from going any further.
You can take responsibility for your own behavior and stop the crazy cycle from destroying your life. You do not have to be a victim of your obsessions or continue to allow painful events determine how you will respond. Remember, if you make a mistake along the way and slip backwards, it is never too late to turn around, no matter what others around you say. Who you are is NOT defined by your mistakes. Who you are is defined by your character which can be shaped by your mistakes only if you let it.