When the Dog Bites

When the Dog Bites

“When the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad…” For the luckier folk, their painful memories and ideas aren’t bad enough to affect present-day life too adversely.  For others, some dark thoughts really hang around, cause trouble and generally make life hell. 

The physical expression of mental distress is very often tension of some sort.  Severe tension can lead to all kinds of further unpleasant conditions: headaches, back problems, high blood pressure, auto-immune disease, to name but a few.

Is it possible to live with deep-rooted anxiety or distress without it impairing the life you want to lead today?  And if so, how?  Painful memories can’t be just erased. 

If we could eliminate our anguish merely by knowing what caused it, that would be great; but life isn’t like that.  It may be helpful to identify the cause of the suffering - if only to know there’s good reason for having constructed (occasionally extreme) coping strategies like surprising or bewildering hypersensitivity or disproportionate reactions to apparently random things. 

But sometimes these coping strategies end up causing even more problems and limit life still further (nothing to do with weakness, incidentally, this; it’s the struggle of many strong, courageous people - often the strongest, most courageous).  Despair may ensue.

What to do? 

Maybe we can learn to stop; just a little bit at a time. 

Stop what?  Stop it all.  Stop trying.  Stop battling on bravely.  Stop struggling to maintain a façade of coping.  Stop blocking and suppressing.  Just- stop. 

Stopping everything - even for a moment - creates a little window of opportunity to see what’s going on.  A chance to reason out what to do, or stop doing.  A chance to see that present stimuli may have nothing to do with past stimuli; to recognize that those long-seated response patterns aren’t working; and a chance, maybe one day, to decide not to employ them - starting with that ‘default’ tension that we carry when we’re not paying attention.

Then when that old ‘dog’ comes around to bite, a newer, useful strategy is available: the knowledge that there is an option not to respond in the usual way.

In 1976, Frank Pierce Jones wrote a book called Body Awareness in Action, later republished under the much cooler title Freedom to Change

In Mr. Alexander’s last book, he wrote, “My technique is based on inhibition, the inhibition of undesirable, unwanted responses to stimuli, and hence it is primarily a technique for the development of the control of human reaction.” – UCL 88

Freedom to choose our responses and reactions?  Yes please, where do I sign up? I’m bang up for learning how to have me some of that freedom.  And the first step on the way there is learning to simply… stop.

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