The dangers of focusing too much on external demands

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Tina has developed an obsession with a man who is not her husband. She wants to stop thinking about their relationship because dwelling on it creates an uncontrollable urge to make contact with him.

She has a wonderful husband at home whom she loves and trusts implicitly. Why, she wonders, did she spend so much time over the holidays thinking about being with another man? Even though she knows he’s an unhealthy addiction, there are times she can’t get him out of her head. Tina is usually a logical person, so her seemingly uncontrollable attraction to this man baffles her.

Tina is tormented by thoughts and impulses that are illogical because she’s being driven by the emotional, rather than the rational, part of her brain. As happens to many people when they’re growing up, Tina learned to ignore her own feelings and please her parents. She’s largely unaware of her emotions until they boil up to the surface. That leaves her without the internal signaling system necessary to understand her needs before they reach a critical mass of impulses that mushroom in her mind.

Because she sees her primary role in life as taking care of others, Tina is hardworking, both on the job and at home. Most of her time and energy are devoted to either working late or working around the house. Tina thought she’d be happy if she “did it all.” But she discovered that even when she achieved success she wasn’t happy for long. She was just exhausted.

Tina rarely takes time to slow down and tune into how she’s feeling and what she’s needing. That’s like driving your car and never checking to see how much gasoline you have left. Sooner or later you’re going to run out of gas, stranding you somewhere you don’t want to be.

When she becomes physically and emotionally exhausted, this smart woman begins to have stupid thoughts. Because she’s depleted her reservoir of available energy, she’s vulnerable to having her deepest and darkest thoughts hijack her brain.

When Tina runs out of gas, her fears run rampant: fears about growing older, fears of missing out on the exciting parts of life, fears of not being able to get what she wants from her husband, and on and on. Because the fear-based part of her brain takes over at times, Tina can lose her ability to think clearly, which puts her at risk of acting out on her impulses without considering the consequences.

Once Tina made the commitment to learn how to monitor her emotions she became better at gauging her energy level. Exercise helped slow her mind down. Taking a few minutes to meditate enables her to focus on her feelings.

Tina developed a daily ritual of asking herself a series of questions: What’s my energy level today? What are my emotions telling me about what I need to do to create legitimate satisfaction for myself today? What do I need to do for myself in order to replenish my energy today? What will make me and other people happy today?

As Tina stopped spending most of her time and energy rushing through her life trying to be successful in the eyes of others, she was much better able to see what she needed for herself. She discovered that thinking about being happy in the arms of another man was simply a signal that something was missing in her life.

What triggered Tina’s thinking about the other man was that she was becoming drained and dissatisfied with her life. She became acutely aware that she had too narrowly defined what she thought it would take to give her a good life.

When she asked herself what purpose would be served if she were to act out on her impulses, she found the other man represented someone who took an interest in what she needed. She realized she’d lost touch with her own thoughts about what she wanted in order to sustain her passion for life.

By focusing too much on external demands, she’d lost touch with what she needed to be happy with her husband. Inattention allowed a great deal of distance to develop, making it impossible to create loving moments, which are the lifeblood of a marriage.

As Tina identified and expressed her needs, she was amazed by her husband’s willingness to satisfy them. She also was surprised by how good it felt to reciprocate by giving her husband much of what he wanted.