Saturday, July 16, 2011

The power of secure thinking

I often have written that thoughts of danger are what drive and underlie our nervous symptoms. I recently reread some of Dr. Low’s remarks that illustrate this point eloquently:

“Nervous symptoms are the result of tenseness, and if you ‘spot them as distressing but not dangerous,’ you dismiss the idea of danger; and without the thought of danger in your brain, you feel safe; and if you feel safe, you relax; and if you relax, you lose your tenseness; and with tenseness gone, the symptom disappears.” (1, 140)

At first blush this sounds too good to be true—can it really be that simple? The hard truth is, yes, we are buying into (or, as Dr. Low would say, “pampering”) thoughts of danger. This is at the root of our symptoms. As Dr. Low notes:

“[T]he fundamental principle of Recovery [is] that symptoms can be conquered by means of simple and innocent procedures initiated by the patient, i.e., through self-help.” (1, 126)

We all suffer from nervous sensations and feelings—they make us so uncomfortable. Of course, we can’t simply change them at a moment’s notice. “Feelings and sensations cannot be stopped, calmed or controlled by deliberate effort,” Dr. Low says, adding, “thoughts and impulses alone are subject to control” (1, 136). Thus, embrace secure thoughts and your feelings and sensations will adjust accordingly.

This doesn’t happen at the drop of a hat at first, but as one of Dr. Low’s patients remarked:

“You can throw off any nervous symptom at any time for a few seconds or minutes if you spot them as distressing but not dangerous. The symptom will come back in the next minute or so. But you can get rid of it again for a short while, and then again and again. And before long, you will be rid of the trouble for hours or for the days. The symptom will return and keep returning, but in the end, you will bring it under control by plugging away at it.... That was hard for me to believe. It just didn’t seem to make sense that an awful head pressure would disappear if I made an effort to spot it. But I can tell you that when I have these symptoms now, all I have to do is practice Dr. Low’s rule, and before long, they are gone.” (1, 139)

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. 3rd ed. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett, 1997.