This little girl discovers her shadow for the first time and experiences a sudden rush of fear. Her brain has judged it as dangerous and she does not yet understand it cannot hurt her. She tries to run away, but it continues to follow her. Eventually, she trips and falls. While it may seem obvious that we do not need to run away from our shadows, we often respond to other natural experiences in a similar way. Our brains judge certain sensations, ideas, memories, or emotions as threats and urge us to try to escape them. In anxiety and OCD, this often takes the form of worry, avoidance, checking, reassurance seeking, or other compulsive patterns. These strategies often seem to help temporarily, but start to take up more time and increasingly get in the way of daily life. The uncomfortable experiences continue to haunt us and it begins to feel like the only way forward is to eliminate these painful experiences from our lives. In learning to overcome anxiety or OCD, it is helpful to shift your goals away from the idea of eliminating the shadow (e.g., never feeling anxious) and towards befriending your shadow (e.g., living well despite anxiety). When we accept our experiences as natural parts of our existence and make room for them to exist in the background, we give ourselves the chance to live again. Therapy can help provide the tools and guidance to do this effectively. If you’re struggling right now it may sound impossible, but think for a moment: when was the last time you even noticed your shadow?
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