Learn the skills to manage your anxiety

APTC Blog

The Magic Radio

I often find that metaphors are a very rich way to capture concepts that are difficult to convey by simply describing them. Over the years I have been treating anxiety disorders I have borrowed, adapted and occasionally even developed on my own a number of metaphors that my clients have said were useful. I thought I’d share one of the more popular ones with you on this blog. I’ll share more with you in future blogs. If this metaphor is one that someone else has developed and I’m borrowing it from you then I apologize in advance, but I believe this is one that has evolved in my work with numerous clients over the past several years. I treat a lot of clients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and many times I have been asked what to do with obsessive thoughts that simply won’t stop. Despite numerous attempts to stop them, the thoughts just keep coming and coming. Sort of like the Energizer Bunny who just keeps going and going. What is one to do? Though the question is quite simple the answer is not. Part of the answer is acceptance (more about this concept in future blog posts). If you can’t stop it then what choice do you have? Trouble is that we don’t want to accept (there’s that word again) that we can’t control these frustrating, bothersome and usually scary repetitive thoughts.  It is in the very nature of OCD that we are going to have repetitive thoughts and so acceptance is the only reasonable option (at least in the short run).

Let’s say you just purchased a brand new big screen TV and just finally got it set up in your family room. You have also just received in the mail a new DVD from Netflix that you have been eager to watch for a long time. So here you are at last with your new TV, DVD and you just made a big bowl of popcorn and are settling down to finally watch your movie. Unfortunately in the same room as the TV is an old radio playing and there is no way to turn the radio off. Let’s call it for this metaphor a magic radio because no matter how much you try that darn radio won’t turn off. In fact, it almost seems as if the more you try to turn it off the louder it gets! What are you to do? If you focus on the radio then obviously you are going to miss watching your movie.  So the only choice that makes sense is to tolerate the radio as best you can and focus on enjoying your movie. Will that mean you will probably enjoy the movie a bit less because of the radio? Probably, but again what choice do you have? Fussing over the radio doesn’t change anything, because the radio will keep playing no matter what you do.

An even more insidious and frustrating aspect of the radio is that what it is broadcasting sounds as if it might be important so how can you possibly ignore it? Perhaps you should wash your hands again to be sure every last germ has been washed away. Perhaps you should check that light switch one more time to be sure the lights are off. How can you ignore these threats? Most people with OCD know that their thoughts are exaggerated and they don’t really need to wash or check again, but they are “seduced” by the radio into listening anyway. The more they “listen” to the radio the less they are watching their movie. I hope you choose to watch you movie and do the best you can to ignore the radio.