by Lyman Griffin
When I was invited to write this article, I jumped at the chance. You see, my whole life has been turned around through the use of Focusing. I’m 18 and have known about Focusing practically my entire life (my mom discovered it when I was very young). However, I never knew exactly what it was. I always pictured it as two people sitting around talking, getting “in touch” with their feelings. It was only about four months ago that I really found out what focusing was all about, and that discovery changed my life. Focusing wasn’t getting in touch with one’s feelings–it was the ability to completely and naturally resolve them.
For the past six years I’ve suffered from a mental “disease” (as everyone pictures it) called Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. The symptoms first appeared around the age of twelve when I started to get repetitive swear words in my mind that wouldn’t go away. We tried various things to help me, including getting a CAT scan (which found nothing wrong) and going to a psychiatrist, who prescribed various medicines. Doctors didn’t really know what caused OCD, but they thought it involved chemical imbalance, which drugs could help. After a couple weeks of taking the drugs, I stopped. I deplored how they made me feel, and later on I found out that so do most people. I determined that I would solve the problem on my own. I used various tricks that helped me ignore those pesky thoughts that seemed to come from nowhere, and attempted to live a relatively normal existence. But under stress especially, I felt I had no real control over my obsessions.
The years rolled on, and I began to feel normal again. When my Junior year in high school came, I decided to spend it in France as an exchange student. As anyone who has had the experience can attest, it is quite an emotional and difficult one. I came back in one piece, but my mental problems had become worse than ever. I began to get scared that my problems were progressive — if they could get this bad, than how could I ever prevent them from getting even worse? I didn’t feel safe within myself anymore. Then one day my mom gave me a pile of books that she had found helpful. Anxious for anything that could help me, I looked them over, and found The Power of Focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell. This was exactly what I had been looking for.
Now, months later, I have been almost completely cured of OCD, and through Focusing I have begun to understand the vast complexities of emotional disorders. No doubt, they run deep. However, I also understand why they will never be cured by medication. Mental disorders are not diseases, but merely evidence of the capacity of the human spirit to ignore true feelings. My repetitive thoughts and voices in the head were not evil spirits like I wanted to believe. It was myself — but parts of myself I could not accept because my religious principles would not allow it. This is why serious emotional disorders are so hard to solve — because they involve parts of us we are terrified to deal with — cannot face. My repetitive swear words were in fact my suppressed self trying to desperately tell my conscious self that I wanted to swear! I refused to accept that. I separated those thoughts from myself so much that my inner-self rebounded back even harder, saying “Hey, this is you! You can’t ignore yourself!”
Focusing is wonderful because it shows that suppressed feelings are not somewhere floating around in the brain, but are manifested in physical tension in the body. We’ve all had the experience of getting mad at someone, but saying to ourselves, “No, I shouldn’t get mad.” Later on, when that person does something minuscule that bothers us, we blow up. We try to convince ourselves that we’re not mad, but we can never really fool ourselves, because it’s us! This anger gets suppressed as tension in the body. Over time, the anger builds up and eventually we release it all at once by exploding.
The body naturally wants to remain relaxed. Physical anger is one way to release “anger tension,” and the one to which most of us are accustomed. However, here’s the wonderful truth: Focusing is another way. Focusing allows one to release tension without succumbing to the reason that tension is there in the first place. For instance, once I learned Focusing, I didn’t have to swear to get rid of my repetitive thoughts. In fact, I couldn’t. As I’m now learning, most feelings are connected to others, and if I were to cuss and swear, I would feel terribly guilty afterwards by way of other suppressed feelings. Indeed, this is the reason all that swearing was suppressed in the first place. But with focusing, all I had to do was locate the tension or the “felt sense” of that desire to swear in my body, and let my suppressed self tell me what was really the matter – what was at the heart of both my desire to swear and my guilt. After learning Focusing, my repetitive thoughts became my friends, giving me clues to what I was holding back.
Focusing is not only useful with serious “mental” disorders like OCD. One day I had to get up and give an announcement in front of my whole high school for the Ultimate Frisbee Club I started last year. I began to get this terrible nervous feeling in my stomach. I tried to calm myself by saying, “It’s all right — you’re just scared to get up and talk in front of so many people.” As usual, it didn’t help. Then I realized I could Focus. I did, and low and behold, I found that I was actually suppressing the feeling that I hated Ultimate Frisbee! That’s what was really bothering me! And once I realized this, the “pounding heart” went away. Of course, I still like playing Ultimate Frisbee. I’ve found that feelings only stay if you refuse to accept you have them. If you accept them when they come, they do not stay, because they do not become physically attached to you through tension.
Focusing is remarkable. I feel much more connected with myself now. But the power of Focusing doesn’t stop there. It gets to the root of something everyone is looking for–the cure to anxiety, and feelings that won’t go away. That’s not a small thing, because many problems are caused by these: boredom, procrastination, stage fright, phobias, social anxiety, depression, anorexia, stuttering, panic, OCD, and even schizophrenia. All of these involve the buildup of suppressed feelings in the body, feelings that we don’t know or refuse to accept we have. The wonderful thing is that Focusing can help everyone with any emotional problem. It opens up the world of the “felt sense” and allows us to cure things which doctors still believe have no cure! I am saddened by the fact that Focusing is not very well known. It is real, it is powerful, and so many people could be incredibly benefited by it. I know I have been.
Originally published in 2002 on The Focusing Institute’s website. Republished here with Lyman’s permission.