Why do I sometimes do things I don’t want to do?

“I just couldn’t help myself.”

Have you ever said those words or something similar?  What you did could be something as trivial as eating a biscuit that you promised yourself you wouldn’t.  Or it could be as serious as punching someone in the face as a result of losing your temper, or losing the battle against an addiction.  But just think about the words for a moment.  How can it be that “I” was unable to help “myself”?  Aren’t those different words for the same person?  And yet we are talking about them as though they have a separate will.

For thousands of years, humans have sought an explanation for this apparent internal struggle.  In the Old Testament story, Cain, jealous of his brother Abel, is told that he must do what is right because “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”  In the New Testament, Paul writes to Christians in Rome, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … it is no longer I who do it, but it is the sin living in men that does it.”  Whereas Judaism and Christianity teach that humans are born sinful and must fight their inclination, Islam teaches that all humans are born perfect but then become corrupted by the influences of their environment.  The end result is the same, an inner struggle for control.  Buddhists believe that the cause of suffering craving and attachment; through meditation one must rid oneself of those things in order to escape the perpetual disappointment caused by wanting what we cannot have or losing what we have become attached to.  The theme of an internal struggle to gain control is the same.

Sometimes we characterise the struggle as one between head and heart.  “Go with what your heart feels is right.”, someone might advise.  “Use your head!”, is the alternative advice.  We like to think of ourselves as rational and intelligent but, in practice, many of the decisions we make are driven by emotion, what we might call “the heart” while we use our head, to excuse or justify the decision.

Modern psychotherapy also has a science-based explanation for what’s going on.  As a solution focused clinical hypnotherapist, I spend time with my clients explaining the physiology of the brain, in terms that are easy to understand.  Once you know why the brain behaves the way it does, it’s much easier to learn to take control.  And hypnotherapy reinforces your own intelligent decision making.  That means that solution focused hypnotherapy can help you to tackle all kinds of situations that might previously have ended in a “couldn’t help myself” moment of regret.

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