Flinching

So, an analogy. Exposure therapy is a way of dispelling a phobia, like arachnophobia, by confronting it. Here’s the catch: let’s say, in an attempt to confront your fear, you imagine a spider—but then, confronting the fear starts feeling too hard, and you go do something pleasant and distracting to dull the fear. This makes the phobia worse; you flinched away from it.

Now, let’s say you imagine a spider, are scared but keep imagining it, and then, the fear fades once you’ve imagined it long enough. The phobia will be permanently reduced if you manage to do this. Focusing on an instance of a phobia until it stops being scary is how exposure therapy is supposed to work. For me, fear typically fades after 15 minutes of imagining a particular image or scenario I find scary.

The analogy is that this is mostly true of emotionally painful thoughts, not just phobias. You have to sit through the pain—and then it goes away forever.

The extent to which this is true depends on the exact type of emotional pain. We’ll go through exactly how to approach different types of emotional pain in future posts, and break things down into smaller steps you can do if you aren’t starting with much willpower.

For now, know that emotional pain that isn’t serving a purpose will dissipate once you process it, and emotional pain that’s serving you may require you to change your behavior before it dissipates.

Next Post: Avoiding Pitfalls

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