Cutting Through Obsession

Posted on May 22nd, 2013

Obsession! It’s a difficult common problem, the challenging experience of becoming fixated on some desire or situation or person.

What causes this, and what can you do about it?

Obsession is an activity of your mind, trying to right itself in the face of some disturbing, destabilizing reality. What is happening in life doesn’t match your mind’s picture of who you are, and obsessing is a repetitious fixation of your mind as it tries to re-orient itself.

Because obsessing generates thoughts, it may initially seem like thinking, but obsessing and thinking are very different. Thinking is forward-moving, a succession of thoughts going toward a conclusion. Obsessing goes nowhere.

Obsession keeps uselessly covering the same ground because it is attempting to resolve issues which cannot be settled by thinking. These issues can usually only be cleared up by action. Obsession happens when you are not ready to take action. Your mind keeps recycling the same thoughts, in search of some previously undiscovered way forward. What actually happens is the opposite: obsession is paralyzing.

While you cannot think your way out of obsession, you can cut through it. There are two ways of doing this.

The first method, immediately cutting through obsession, is achieved by ‘coming to your senses.’ Obsessing is interrupted by interacting with the world around you, through awareness of sensory experience: taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing. When you are trying to break the hold obsessing has on you, focus on looking around, eating something, listening to sounds happening right now, touching or smelling what’s there. Any of these activities engaged in with attention will immediately cut through obsession.

Of course, this approach does nothing about the content of the obsession.

In order to cut obsession at its root, it is necessary to first understand that obsessing always has a deeper emotional purpose than the content of the obsession. When you are obsessing, something is awry in your life, and the obsession is an attempt to go around this, rather than openly noticing and dealing with whatever it is.

Resolving obsession on this deeper level requires courageous inner searching, on your own or in the context of supportive therapy. The question to start with is: What would your life would be like without the obsession?

The answer to this is not always easy to see. An obsession about a car or a camera or a house may seem to derive from desire for possession of the object, but it may actually be a way of distracting yourself from some other aspect of your life. Examples include a stalled marriage, ongoing insecurity, or fear of the challenge of new opportunities for growth. An obsession about a person, positive or negative, is usually based on an internal struggle about emotionally moving beyond limits you have set for yourself.

Understanding why an obsession has arisen does not mean that it will end. What is required to make headway against the obsession, is to attend to the underlying issue. There is something about yourself and your life which you are not facing. Understanding it and taking relevant action, instead of avoiding it, will end obsession.



Posted in Change | Individual Counseling

Please remember, this is a blog. It is not psychotherapy or treatment of any kind and is not a substitute for the individual treatment you can get from going to see a good therapist.

3 thoughts on “Cutting Through Obsession

  1. I really enjoyed this post Mark. Helpful to read about forward moving thoughts vs. obsessive ones. I really like “coming to your senses” as a way to cut thru the obsessive thoughts. Thanks.

  2. Thank you Mark! I have a client who is obsessing over something and I was unsure of what to do. Your article provides a great framework to use as a guide. Thanks for helping me!