I came across an interesting snippet of information recently. It cites a research study contained in the Buddha Pill. A number of people stated that they would rather self-administer a painful electric shock, than what? Care to guess?
People were terrified to sit alone with their thoughts and do nothing for 15 minutes.
At first the answer surprised me as I can think of a lot of things worse than being alone with your thoughts. As a psychotherapist, I often get to see the inner workings of people’s minds. It should not have been so surprising given that often our thoughts terrorize us.
One example, that highlights the fear of being alone with our thoughts comes from a former friend of mine. At the time, I was doing a counselling degree. As part of the degree I was required to consider my life and pick some critical life points – notable events that had occurred in my life. The assignments called for a considerable amount of introspection as well as potentially revealing intimate details about my personal life. None of the requirements caused any anxiety for me. Being introspective and then expressing that outwardly came easily to me.
But as I was describing the assignment, my former friend reacted with an aversion that could be best described as fearful. Several times, the person stated they could not do the assignment if asked. Moreover, she seemed to be taken aback that part of the course requirement entailed a level of introspection and intimacy.
Her outward expression was an indication of how deeply she feared intimacy. In this regard, the fear was very clear cut as it permeated many of her past and present relationships. I can see why this person potentially was a suitable candidate for choosing the electric shock option rather than reflecting on her inner world.
It would be nice to think that my former friend is an exception. Unfortunately, this is not so. I often see or hear of people with similar attitudes and fears.
A male came to see me for psychotherapy. As we discussed how I might best be able to help him, I could not help but notice how quickly he was speaking. There was barely a break between sentences. His rapid-fire speech made it hard to track and follow what was being communicated. People have different rates of speech, but this seemed to be unusual enough to warrant further investigation.
In what turned out to be a couple of years of working together, it turned out that his rapid-fire speech was a defence mechanism used to manage his anxiety and his feelings. His thoughts and his speech had the added benefit of not having time for introspection. When I first saw him, there would not have been much doubt in my mind that he too would have picked the electric shock option. Yet, despite his horrible traumatic upbringing he learnt to manage his anxiety and explore his feelings and inner world.
Others struggle with depression and/or very critical aspects of themselves. Others may experience murderous rage, or suicidal ideation. It is not hard to see why some people would choose an electric shock option.
Many people simply just have a fear of being introspective and consider exploring themselves to be a waste of time. Which is fine if they are content in life. But for others its worth considering that when it comes to our minds, our fears rarely deserve the merit we give them. This is particularly true when we begin to look in earnest at our inner worlds.
If you would like to chase up the study mentioned in this article, below is the reference details:
Farias, M. & Wikholm, C. (2015). The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Actually Change You? Watkins Publishing.