This past Christmas I received a 27oz. bag of Ghirardelli chocolates. I don’t think I’m a chocoholic but I do enjoy chocolates. The night I received the bag, I ate and shared a few with my husband. They were delicious. I saved the rest for “rainy” days. And this winter, there have been just too many rainy, snowy, and foggy days!
The craving and my hippocampus
It happens late at night. The need for something sweet. Tangerines usually suffice. It may take as many as four, but my chocolate stash remains intact. But then there are those days — you know which ones — when you just need something stronger to get the job done.
It’s then that the thought of my hidden stash pops up in my mind. I say to myself: “You had a great eating day today. Don’t ruin it with chocolate!” My hippocampus (the part of the brain in the limbic system that involves memory and the fight-or-flight response) flares up. I close my eyes and remember the smell of those “dark & mint” squares, its taste on my lips. “Stop it! Don’t do it!” I try to concentrate on the book I’m reading, but before a minute has passed I’ve had a thousand thoughts denying my craving. The next thing I know, I’m racing downstairs and out to my garage where I keep my chocolate stash. “I’ll just have one,” I say. So I eat one. It’s not enough; I want another one. “No. That’s enough, no more!” Fail!
Carl Jung was right — and further studies confirm — that we cannot fight our thoughts. A young client told me, “You are not supposed to fight your thoughts, because if you do, you end up with a really bad headache!” Yes, it’s true. The more you fight them, the more they’ll be there.
I once worked with a young woman who struggled with OCD and severe anxiety. She learned many skills, but one key element for her treatment consisted of not fighting her obsessive thoughts. Unfortunately, her all-or-nothing thinking led her to believe that if she could not stop and control the unpleasant thoughts, she was a failure.
She’d say: “These horrible thoughts won’t leave me alone. I want them to go away!” Indeed, life would have been better if she didn’t have disturbing thoughts, but she did. The more she resisted, the more the thoughts stuck to her like Super Glue.
After many weeks, she admitted she had been in denial when she said she didn’t know how to “accept” her thoughts. Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, along with Mindfulness exercises, were essential in her treatment. Eventually, she grasped the concept of “observing” her thoughts, and understood she was not her thoughts.
In reality, there are things in life that are unpleasant, but we put up with them because we have no choice. So it is with our thoughts. They come and go — and when we fight them — we embolden them.
So don’t resist your thoughts. Let them Be!