Our tendency to gain maximum control in relation to our obsession

A client of mine came to me and told me that she felt extremely sad due to missing out the opportunity to go to a famous conference for presentation.  Throughout the years, she strived for achievement in her career and paid extra attention on the schedule of all international conferences.  She stated that she did not want to miss any opportunity to present her work in conferences all around the world.Whenever she attended an international conference, she paid a lot of effort in writing and creating postings in different social media.  Few months ago, she was the first to know about a famous international conference to be held in Northern Europe among her colleagues.  She planned thoroughly to submit her enrollment for a presentation.  However, due to unforeseeable circumstances, she cannot attend the conference as planned.  She was very depressed and thought she had lost the competition.  When I asked her what competition she was in, she realized that there were no one actually competing with her.  Why does this client so obsessed about this type of activities in her career?

On the surface, there is no harm to strive for achievement.  However, this client seemed to be indulging herself in obtaining this kind of satisfaction and achievement.  As a result, she was so obsessed that she spent a lot of time paying attention to all the conference schedule and finding opportunity to present in these conferences.  She thought that this could help her to obtain maximum control in this and she thought if she could always be the one who present in all the famous conferences, she won the competition.  On the contrary, if she realized that this kind of indulgence is making her depressed and tried very hard to suppress these behaviors, she might also feel empty or sad for not doing what she wanted to do.

It is important to find the middle ground.  For my client, when she realized that she would miss the recent opportunity to present in a famous conference, she can recognize her feeling and thoughts in her mind.  She might feel depressed and think “I lost the competition this time”.   After reflecting in the therapy session that there is no one actually competing with her, she could acknowledge the emotion and thinking she recognized as just “a desire for another outcome to happen”.  That is, the desire of having the outcome of being able to go to this conference.  This is a kind of mindfulness of our desire when we are being aware of our emotions and thinking in the present moment.

We need to learn that there is no right or wrong of having a desire.  However, if we are so obsessed and try to have maximum control to satisfy our desire, we may suffer and feel depressed.  For my client, she needs to embrace uncertainty in her life and she is not able to have maximum control on everything.  With this in mind, whenever she felt depressed when she cannot satisfy her desire, she can try to notice it and let it fade away by itself.  It is more useful for her to focus on different aspects on her career and her life, such as further study or cultivating hobbies.  In this way, she becomes more flexible in satisfying her desire and not being obsessed in obtaining full control.

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