August 30, 2016 by Angus
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Check your psychological diet for radioactive “common sense”

Would you eat uranium?

I doubt it. Physically, it would be a really bad idea.

Then ask yourself, would you fill your life with radioactive psychology? Mentally and emotionally, that too would be a really bad idea.

But unfortunately, that’s exactly what a lot of us do.

Let me explain what I mean.

When “common sense” and the “obvious” hold you back

I often think about how what can appear “plain common sense” and “obvious” actually becomes a form of psychological radioactive poisoning.

Several years ago, I worked with a client who craved having an intimate relationship. She was in her 50s. Her last relationship had not ended well. In fact, it was so traumatic for her, she’d not entered another relationship since.

OK, most of us have experience a traumatic relationship of sorts. But for this lady, that breakup had happend in her teens. That means she’d gone through her whole adult life without entering an intimate relationship. She simply couldn’t bring herself to risk being vulnerable again.

It feels too late for you …

Now in her 50s, she started to feel a deep need for a close relationship. The problem for her, however, was that she felt that “it was now too late”. Her argument went something like this:

“When I was 20 years old, I was attractive. I was fit. Now I’ve missed my chance. I had it back then. Now it has gone. In my 50s, I’ve lost my looks. I feel overweight. No one would want me.”

Let’s put aside the question of how true it was that she had lost her looks. Let’s not enter the game of reviewing how attractive or unattractive she was at her age. While this was something we could have challenged in its own right through therapy, it was not the strategy adopted with this client.

Pushing your logic …

Instead of challenging it for argument’s sake, we decided to go with her logic. We started working from there. We accepted her premise that she was less desirable than she had been when younger.

Challenging her view of her attractiveness would have felt like “pointless positive thinking”. It would have come across as “conning herself”.

Instead, I asked her a simple question.

“When you were young and in your prime”, I asked, “how many out of an average of 100 people of the opposite sex would have been attracted to you?”

Her answer was clear enough. She said it would have been something like 70 out of 100.

Then I asked her, “How many would find you attractive, now?”

Her reaction to this question was rather uncomfortable. It was obviously a painful question. For her, she felt it was a lot less.

My next step was to double down on this for her. I said to her, “Let’s grab a number that guarantees we’re not risking being overly positive. In fact, let’s go the other way. Let’s be pessimistic. Let’s push the limit. What would you say. Is it 1 in 200, now?”

At this, she laughed. Even for her, she felt that was a little harsh. Notwithstanding, she definitely felt it fulfilled the criteria. It wasn’t too rosy or “Pollyanna-ish”.

Working the numbers …

So there we were. We ran with this idea that the figure was something like 1 in 200. Sure, both of us felt it ridiculous. But it was our working figure.

Our next step was to decide to run some numbers on this. Of course, for the sake of our argument we had to over-simplify enormously. The central point remained, though, even after the over-simplification.

OK, now let’s run through the numbers. Firstly, at the time there were roughly 10 million members of the opposite sex in Australia. Secondly, if only 1 in 200 of them would be attracted to her, that still left 50,000 members of the opposite sex in Australia who would be attracted to her.

Of course, she wouldn’t be attracted to all of them. But she did make this observation:

“I don’t need 50,000. I only want a few to date. That will let me find the right one.”

Opening the doors of possibility …

What happened here was something of a “gate opening”. We had opened the door of possibility. The 50,000 had become a headline number for her. It gave her hope. Some realistic thinking had moved her forward. She was no longer the bear in a cabin, fiddling with a fishing rod with tangled lines. Now she was a bear standing in a flowing stream in the middle of the salmon run.

There she is, standing in that river, watching the salmon go by and lazily plucking them out and into the air at her convenience.

Funnily enough, upon subsequent visits from her, I began to hear how she was starting to say yes to more invitations from friends to social functions. She had started to stand in more streams. Within three weeks, after 37 years alone, she went on her first date.

When “common sense” holds you back

There’s more to this story, of course. But we’ll save that for another post. In the meantime, ask yourself this:

“What things do I have on my mind that seem so clearly common-sensical that hold me back?”

Maybe they’re not so common-sensical after all. Perhaps they’re subtly self-inflicted, radioactive poisoning!

If that’s the case, it’s definitely time to change your psychological diet…

Drop your best email here and we’ll send you our very best “psychological recipes” for better living with our upcoming blog posts from The Inspiration Room.

Clinical Psychologist Sydney

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