The Gift of Our Compulsions: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Acceptance and Healing

The Gift of Our Compulsions: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Acceptance and Healing
Published: 2004
ISBN: 1-57731-470-0
Format: Paperback

Chapter headings:

  • Part One: The Healing Journey
    • 1. My Journey, Our Journey
    • 2. Reconnecting with Yourself
  • Part Two: Transforming Our Relationship with Compulsions
    • 3. Recognizing Our Compulsions as Friends
    • 4. Learning to Respond
    • 5. Moving from Management to Engagement
  • Part Three: Four Basic Skills for Working with Compulsions
    • 6. Some Fundamentals for Learning the Skills
    • 7. Skill One: Cultivating Curiosity
    • 8. Skill Two: Loving Ourselves from the Inside Out
    • 9. Skill Three: Opening to Our Breath
    • 10. Skill Four: Coming Home to Ourselves
  • Part Four: Treasure Hunting
    • 11. Preparing to Find the Treasure
    • 12. The Healing Power of Questions
    • 13. Treasure Hunting with Sensations
    • 14. Treasure Hunting with Feelings
    • 15. Treasure Hunting with Compulsions
  • Conclusion: Coming Full Circle

Selected excerpts:

“If you have ever been taken over by something that you cannot control – whether it is overeating, overdrinking, overspending, overworrying, or overworking – you will understand the intense gratitude I felt in learning how to come back into balance. At the time, I believed that was the extent of my healing. Little did I know that I had just begun to taste the joy of coming back to myself. As I became more able to be present for myself during a wave of compulsion, I began to be present at other times as well. Instead of that heavy, constantly struggling mode of existence I had lived in most of my life, I began to feel lighter. The tiny flicker of joy that used to be hidden deep inside me began to grow into a flame and then eventually into a warm and toasty fire that warmed me from my core.” (p. 11)

“As I began to watch my breath throughout the day, to my amazement the only time I experienced an open breath was early in the morning when I was by myself and felt completely safe. As the day wore on, my breathing usually got tighter and my connection with myself became dimmer, making me more vulnerable to my compulsion.”
“I wanted to stay in contact with myself, nourished by this connection for more than an hour or two in the morning, and my breath became an exquisite biofeedback system. It showed me when I was tightening down and turning away from myself again. I began to retrain this ancient response by softening my body and taking a deep breath whenever I noticed how contracted I had become. This brought my attention out of the narrowness of my mind and into the spaciousness of my body. At the beginning, I could only do this when I was sitting still. Slowly I became able to breathe back into myself as I moved throughout my day.”
“As I became more receptive to the experience of my breath (and the joy of an open one), I saw that contraction was always present when I was caught up in a wave of compulsion. At first I couldn’t do anything except watch. The grip my struggling mind had on my breath was too strong. But as I played with my breath when my compulsions were quiet, I began to feel the profound satisfaction of my breath going all the way down to my belly. It not only felt right, but I could see that a deep hunger inside me was satisfied when I allowed my breath to be that open – the hunger for being connected to myself.”
“It took me a while to learn that when the hunger of compulsion would appear, rather than heading down the ever-tightening spiral of reaction, I could feed it with a few deep breaths. These breaths reconnected me with myself, and often the wave would pass through, leaving hardly a ripple. Other times, when my compulsion needed more than just a few breaths to feed it, opening to my breath put me in contact with exactly what I was experiencing. Usually it was something uncomfortable that was fueling the compulsion. Through this contact, I took back my power.” (pp. 153-154)

© 2004 Mary O’Malley

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Reviews posted:

Paul –

Mary O’Malley overcame an eating disorder to become a counsellor and published author on compulsive behaviour. In this book she surveys the whole landscape of compulsive behaviour and the common thread linking overeating, compulsive shopping, drinking etc. This broad perspective is the point of differentiation versus the other titles reviewed here. Her approach is unquestionably Buddhist in spirit, as the excerpt above on applying breathing techniques to overcoming a wave of compulsion demonstrates. I liked the way she shows how mindfulness and connecting with the body are important in fighting compulsive behaviour. She is clearly influenced by writers like Jack Kornfield and Stephen Levine, and the book is full of techniques for increasing awareness, compassion, spaciousness, gentleness, acceptance, forgiveness etc. It doesn’t position itself as a ‘Buddhist’ book, presumably to make it more accessible for a mainstream US audience. So no mention of ‘Buddhism’ is found (the Buddha is mentioned once) and a word like ‘mindfulness’ is replaced with ‘curiosity’. I personally don’t have any objection to people attempting to convey the profound human truths of the Dharma without recourse to Buddhist ‘jargon’ (look at films like ‘I Heart Huckabees’). So this didn’t worry me. I must say (and this is probably just a matter of personal taste) that I found the language overly generous with words like ‘nourishment’ and ‘empowerment’. I also felt it was overly long and repetitive for people whose primary compulsion isn’t overeating. Although an eating disorder is the core of her recovery experience, her counselling work has exposed her to alcoholism, so she does have something to say on this topic. But the scope of the book means that it is weak in terms of the idiosyncracies of each individual compulsion. They say our greatest strengths can be our greatest weaknesses, and this is probably the case here. For example, sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder would be better off reading ‘Brain Lock’, which specifically addresses the unique challenges of this disorder. Sufferers of alcoholism should prioritise works that speak to the idiosyncracies of their own circumstances. One of her last ditch techniques in fighting a wave of compulsion is ‘choosing your compulsion’ with a ‘few bites of food’ (with a view to learning from the experience). This clearly would have fewer consequences for an eating disorder than heroin addiction. If there is ever a Buddhist anthology published for alcoholics and addicts with excerpts from different works, I am sure there are 20 pages of this book that could be beautifully excerpted. However I am reluctant to recommend the whole 335 pages for people dealing with alcoholism. I would have no hesitation recommending it to people suffering from an eating disorder (though bear in mind that as I don’t have an eating disorder, my recommendation may be compromised!)