Dr. Keith: Living the Truth - Step Three

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Resist the behaviors that keep the pain buried None of us want to feel pain.

That's why we are all very adept at finding habits and behaviors that keep our minds from focusing on it. These habits and behaviors are called because we hide behind them, and use them as barriers against sadness, anger, disappointment or painful memories.

Some shield strategies are very obvious. Some are much more subtle. Some of the most common shield strategies include:

-- Overspending -- Constantly arguing with your husband, wife, or partner -- Obsessive dieting or exercise -- Sexual indiscretions or sexual addiction -- Pornography addiction -- Gambling -- Overeating -- Obsessing over romantic relationships -- Alcohol, drugs and/or cigarettes

The common denominator of all these shield strategies is that they cover up the truth. They soothe us, and let us feel that for now, everything is OK. But once their intoxicating or anesthetizing effects have worn off, we are left with the same pain we sought to mask.

Step Three is about finally breaking that cycle. It is about telling yourself that the temporary pleasure, thrills, and boosts in self-esteem that you get from shield strategies are no longer enough for you. It is about clearing away temporary balms and short-sighted feel-good strategies so you can prepare for real growth. It is about recognizing that you are stronger than you believed, and knowing you don't need to hide from your truths.

It might help to imagine that beyond the shield you're holding up is a mirror. You can't see the mirror because the shield is in the way. But the mirror is capable of reflecting who you are and where you've been, going all the way back to your earliest years.

Now envision that in order to start seeing in the mirror, you have to start putting down the shield. You don't have to drop it all at once, but you have to begin to lower it, slowly. As long as you're holding a shield, you are living in fear. When you put the shield down, you're starting to live the truth.

The first thing you want to do is to identify your shield. It might be very obvious, perhaps something from the list above, and it may be the reason you were motivated to visit LivingtheTruth.com in the first place.

Having trouble identifying your shield strategies? Think about anything you do repeatedly that tends to powerfully shift your focus away from yourself and what you truly value and care about. Maybe office or family gossip has you on the phone late into the night or interferes with your daily activities. Perhaps you've taken to obsessing about the clutter in your house as a way of forgetting about the clutter in your head. Perhaps it is yo-yo dieting or a tumultuous relationship or the cigarette in your hand (all shield strategies) that distracts you from the underlying, emotional questions you could be answering right now. And answering them would free you to live a much more powerful future.

You may want to write down a few ideas about what your shield is, and come back to the question a few times over the course of a day. Whenever you find yourself thinking about something you don't want to do, or a challenge that you don't want to face, make a note of what you reach for. It may be a drink or a cigarette or the controls to a video game. It might even be a behavior that seems "healthy" - like a vow to climb every peak on the eastern seaboard before age

Be sure to record your shield strategies on your MyTruthpage size: Once you identify a shield strategy, it's time to oppose it. It would be wonderful if a two-pack-a-day smoker or an alcoholic were to quit right now. But that isn't realistic for most people. Living the truth starts with simply paying attention to your shield strategies more than before, noticing how often you use them, and beginning to resist them. If you're too hard on yourself - I'm so heavy that I just can't even begin to diet; I'm so heartbroken that I will never stop thinking about him; I'm so far behind in my career that I have to work day and night orI'll never catch up - you run the risk of giving yourself reasons to stop before you begin.

Make your changes small and manageable. Even simple changes, like throwing out one type of food you tend to binge on, taking a walk instead of reading an old lover's email again, or changing one section of your resume instead of playing another computer game, are steps in the right direction of self-discipline, self-esteem and genuine self-improvement.

Remember that it isn't supposed to feel good when you start using anti-shield strategies. The fact that you feel anxious or depressed or irritable when you leave an obsessive relationship, or stop binging on sweets is a sign that you're detoxing. You're discovering the art of spending time with yourself. The more you can put down your shield, the harder it gets for your mind's defense mechanisms to muster forces against the truth.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow's website at livingthetruth.com.