When I first got into recovery for my drug problem I was told that there is only one thing I have to change, “everything”. I think it’s a very powerful statement, and I think that it can even be seen as an axiom by some. But in my opinion, I don’t think we need to change everything per se, I think a lot of what exists within us is already very good and useful, and it’s just applied erroneously.
For me personally this is definitely true. I’m plagued by obsessive thoughts that almost inevitably manifest themselves in compulsive behaviour. The problem for me isn’t so much the obsessing (although I do concede that any obsession can transcend the definition of a healthy obsession and quickly devolve into blatant neurosis) but the obsession. I was obsessed with washing my hands, I was obsessed with using drugs. But if I can channel that type of obsessive thought towards something objectively benevolent, while being wary of the damage it’s inflicting on me personally, then I really see no issue with being a bit obsessive.
I think there is a very large distinction to be drawn between being healthily obsessed with something, and being detrimentally obsessed. If my obsession isn’t impeding my spiritual and mental growth, if I’m still progressing in those realms, then I really see no harm in continuing to indulge in certain obsessions. Coffee is potentially a palatable example of an obsession that probably won’t impede your spiritual and mental growth. Gambling is something that no doubt will. I’ve defined bad obsessions as those that make me act in a way that is incongruent with how I know I should be acting. If the obsession is making me act in a manner that I know is a transgression against my moral rectitude, then that obsession has broken through the threshold of being a benign obsession, and is indeed in need of cessation.
If I can channel my constant need for external stimuli into something that actually propels my spiritual and mental growth, such as meditating, reading, praying, or exercising (and no I’m not saying that none of these obsessions could never progress into bad obsessions) then I feel as though I’m utilizing what I previously perceived to be a defect in my character (obsessive thoughts) and have merely redirected it in a manner that is actually beneficial to me, and the people around me.
Obviously some things need to be eradicated in order for spiritual growth to be possible. But the line between the high functioning CEO, and the junkie in the street, is often times much less distinct than you would think. Both are probably plagued by an obsession, the only real difference is the object of the obsession. What I’ve found to be more helpful than trying to change my personality, is trying to redirect the effects of my personality in a manner that I consider objectively benevolent, and something I can be proud of.
Another example of a trait that is common among those with mental illness is emotional sensitivity. This is another thing that I don’t feel as though needs to be changed, but merely redirected. Much like an unhealthy obsession, if we are a deeply sensitive person then staying inside our own heads is probably not the best option, because that breeds self-pity and egocentrism. Even though we are sensitive people, if we are constantly focusing on ourselves then our sensitivity is wasted on us. If we can redirect our sensitivity to helping others, listening to others, and getting outside our heads, I think we can maintain the same level of emotional sensitivity while being extremely useful to society, instead of being detrimental to ourselves through an inability to handle our emotions.
It’s a daunting task to actually make radical changes in your life. And it’s often very confusing. I know that when I started I had no clue who I really was, I was so lost behind facades and masks I truly had no identity. But I read something in a book that really helped me. I’m paraphrasing but essentially it stated, “If you don’t know who you are, or who you want to be, then just start by figuring out who you don’t want to be.”
- Jack A. Bingham
Author of Obsessive-Compulsive Dramatic: My Fight Against OCD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Addiction