In a recent article Charles Elliott, Ph.D. does a very good job bringing to light the issue of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). He begins by reminding us:
“If you’re a human being and live on this planet, you probably can come up with something that you don’t especially like about your body.”
We may not all have BDD, but our minds are often running rampant in the background with ways we wish we were different than we actually are. It is so utterly difficult to accept ourselves for who we are and such a habit for the mind to drift into wishing we were somebody we are not right now and then searches for ways for us to “do it.” The more we allow the mind to try and “fix” the issue it has found, the deeper we sink. One way to begin to unwind this Brain Lock as Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. describes it is to become mindful of it, noticing and relabeling this obsessive thinking when it is occurring. With OCD, he suggests four steps:
- Relabel – He suggests relabeling it is a medical disorder or a lock in the brain, but even if you aren’t diagnosed with OCD or BDD, you can relabel your thoughts as “catastrophizing”, “busy mind”, or “brain lock.”
- Reattribute – With this there is the clever saying “it’s not me, it’s the OCD.” This allows the shame to slide off of it. Again, even if OCD is not there, the reattribution could be, “It’s not me, it’s my habit mind” or “That’s the critic inside.”
- Refocus – In this step we are already noticing that the mind has been wandering off and we’re beginning now to gently refocus it on whatever we really want to pay attention to in the moment other than what the obsessional or catastrophic thoughts are telling you to. The suggestion is to do this for at least 5-15 minutes, then reassess the urge. This is a difficult process and one that I encourage patience and persistence with. When you find that you have difficulty with this process, just “forgive” yourself for this and recognize that you are now present and “invite” yourself to refocus now. This simple phrase of “forgive and invite” can be enormously helpful.
- Revalue – The idea here as that after time doing the first three steps you will gain some space and perspective that revalues that obsession.
The idea here is that even with our judgments regarding our bodies, we want to try and notice that the current way of trying to avoid the pain is not working and we need a radical shift here. Integrating mindfulness into the way you work with obsessional thinking and behaving may slowly start to break down the conditioning, rewire the brain, and lead to a life of greater freedom and ease. But know this is a process and being kind, nonjudgmental and patience with yourself are good fertilizer for this garden to grow.
If you have severe obsessions and compulsions, it is always a good idea to seek support from a skilled healthcare professional.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions here. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.