Remove your inner thorn to avoid less and accept more

41FKhggoR0LLast year I read a book called The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer. It’s not exactly a pure psychological book, but it would be naive to deny its influence and psychological underpinnings. At the core of what Michael Singer is saying is that we all have issues or wounds and our real job is to reorient our relationship with these issues. This is where one of my favorite chapters comes in, “Removing your inner thorn.” He says at the beginning of the chapter that…

“In order to grow, you must give up the struggle to remain the same, and learn to embrace change at all times. One of the most important areas requiring change is how we solve our personal problems. We normally attempt to solve our inner disturbances by protecting ourselves. Real transformation begins when you embrace your problems as agents for growth.”

This is the heart of what happens so often in therapy. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be therapy, just think of your own life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re treating depression or anxiety or just talking to a friend, we often deal with problems by avoiding them. That is the rock bottom truth. We avoid them. Is it good? Not really. Can it be healthy? Sure, to an extent. It’s not to say that all avoidance is bad. Sometimes it’s necessary to avoid a circumstance for a little so you can gain some space and clarity; however, you and I both know when we know we’re clear and we just don’t want to talk about the issue. Michael Singer refers to this issue as the thorn.

Imagine that you have a thorn in your arm that directly touches a nerve. When the thorn is touched, it’s very painful. Because it hurts so much, the thorn is a serious problem. It’s difficult to sleep because you roll over on it. It’s hard to get close to people because they might touch it. It makes your daily life very difficult. You can’t even go for a walk in the woods because you might brush the thorn against the branches. This thorn is a constant source of disturbance, and to solve the problem you have two choices.

The two choices he goes on to describe are that you can: (1) decide that it’s so disturbing when things touch the thorn that you make sure nothing ever touches it or (2) decide that since it’s so disturbing when things touch the thorn, you need to take it out. This choice, Singer says, is what will determine much of the course of your life.

If you go on with the first choice and make sure the thorn is never disturbed, you end up creating a life built around this thorn (or problem). You end up adjusting your life and surroundings to make sure the thorn isn’t disturbed. You develop ways of avoiding the thorn. You learn what things to do and not to do. You learn what events or situations may brush up against the thorn. If you go to page 82 of the book, you’ll see how exactly this thorn can affect every aspect of your life. Either way,

“The truth is, the thorn completely runs your entire life. It affects all your decisions, including where you go, whom you’re comfortable with, and who’s comfortable with you. It determines where you’re allowed to work, what house you can live in, and what kind of bed you can sleep on at night. When it’s all said and done, that thorn is running every aspect of your life. It turns out that the life of protecting yourself form the problem becomes a perfect reflection of the problem itself.”

If you keep the thorn, you end up modifying your life to avoid situations that stir them up.

“If you’re lonely, you must avoid going to places where couples tend to be. If you’re afraid of rejection, you must avoid getting too close to people.”

The second option is to remove the torn.

Do not doubt your ability to remove the root cause of the disturbance inside elf you. It really can go away. You can look deep within yourself, to the core of your being, and decide that you don’t want the weakest part of you running your life. You want to be free of this. You want to talk to people because you find them interesting, not because you’re lonely. You want to have relationships with people because you genuinely like them, not because you need for them to like you. You want to love because you truly love, not because you need to avoid your inner problems.

What Michael Singer says at the end of that passage is really an essential element of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT. It’s the “values” piece of ACT. Decide what it is that you value and want out of your life and make decisions that are consistent with those values. When you live your life guided by your values, you are able to be more courageous because no matter the outcome, you did it because you value it, not because you were hoping for an outcome. So enjoy the process and not the destination.

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Rubin Khoddam, PhD Clinical Psychology student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Blogs by Rubin, Books, Mindfulness, Therapy

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