Getting Over An Emotional Obsession: An Email

OK so, it’s taken me a real long time to post this for a couple of reasons. The main reason being that I wanted to make sure that it worked. To give a brief outline, I got an email from someone I didn’t know explaining that she had this year-long uncontrollable love for a guy and wanted my advice to make her feelings go away (tall order, no?) In her case, she was a Muslim, in love with a non-Muslim, BUT faith really isn’t an issue here. The advice I gave (though at times directed specifically to her circumstances) is for ANYONE. It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim/atheist/spiritualist, whatever, nor does it matter what the other person is; the advice is psychological, and concerns thinking patterns. If you’re human, it should work (love-struck dog groans and turns away from computer screen). So fellas can use this too – if a guy had emailed me, the advice would have been the same.

I just have one major thing to mention before we go into the emails. If you are someone who has an uncontrollable love or obsession for someone and no longer want this feeling, in order for the advice here to be effective, you need to WANT to get better and you need to want it BAD. If you’re just reading this out of interest, pass it on to someone else who is sick to their stomach from their ordeal. The girl who messaged me clearly wanted it bad (heck she emailed a stranger). And that’s a major reason why this worked for her. I do have her permission, and have obviously censored the email for the sake of anonymity. Where my advice is specific to her circumstances, just substitute them with your own.

Email from young woman:

“Salaam aleikum,

I have read your tweets and your columns.
I have the following matter.
I have been struggling for a while with this.

I’m a young woman who lives in X. I’m in love with a non-Muslim man and I don’t want to pursue with this because I know its haram. He actually doesn’t have a faith but he is into spiritualism like sufis.

I pray everyday to Allah to release me from this passion and feelings for him but they wont go away. I’ve tried not to contact him but my heart ends up bluffing and I call or text him.

He lives in X so I don’t see him that often. But I love him when I don’t want to, because I know in my life I can never have the halal life I want for myself and my family. As a practicing Muslim that’s my problem but my heart doesn’t want to acknowledge this.

This has been going on for a year and I don’t know who to tell this because I don’t want my surroundings to know…

If you could share some advice I would be grateful.”

Philo_Human REPLY:

“Salam X,

I want you to take these words seriously because I know about these situations and have had plenty of experience. What I will say might sound harsh, but I sympathize with you a lot.

In the same way the body falls sick, the heart and mind can become sick too. You have a disease of the heart. Make no mistake about this. It is a habitualized feeling that you have constructed in your head. There is nothing “special” about this individual or your relationship to him. You may suffer from some kind of addiction to him, and it is like any other addiction – be it to sugar, or alcohol, or sex, or whatever. Know this. It could have been anyone. That it IS him is purely due to the specific circumstances that have led you to this outcome: right place, right time, right background, right words, and hey presto – you’re in “love”. But you’re not in love in any positive way because clearly this situation is bringing you great difficulty.

Know this: You create further “love” in your heart the more you invest in him. By “investing” I mean putting time, effort or money into him. This includes sending him a text, calling, checking his online profile (if he has one) etc. By doing these things, you FUEL the attachment, and will never get over it. You must cut off contact entirely – not even a glance to a photograph of him.

You need to make sure other things in your life are in order: Your health (eating well and exercising), your other relationships (family and friends), your job, your goals and ambitions (what are you trying to achieve in life; who do you want to be?). Often people aren’t able to move on from the past because they don’t have a great enough future to aspire towards. I obviously don’t know your situation, but this is all very important.

Most crucially, you need to RE-CONDITION your mind to change what he means to you. This is what it’s all about. You have falsely associated certain positive meanings to him: “happiness” “love” “completion” whatever, you need to radically change this. I want you to write down a list of new associations to him: “He’s bad for my faith”, “He takes me away from God”, “He will destroy my state in the akhira”, “He compromises my job ambitions”, “He makes my life miserable”, “He wastes my time and energy” “He brings out the worst in me” etc. Add your own, make them general and specific – make them emotional; and make them MEANINGFUL TO YOU. Feel the effects, contemplate on each one. I want you to do this EVERYDAY. Preferably before you sleep and when you wake up, as the defenses to the subconscious are weakest at these points.

In addition, I want you to remove the assumptions you have about him, as you are currently filled with them and they are a huge cause of your distress. You may have hoped that he will somehow come round, embrace Islam and marry you. Or you might think that he’s truly perfect for you. These are all likely fantasies and have no basis in reality. I want you now to make a list of questions that undermine and destroy these assumptions. Make them in the form of QUESTIONS. So for example, ask yourself something like: “Will he get married to someone before I get married, or after I get married?” (here the assumption is that you will both marry other people) or “Why waste precious time, energy and thought on someone you don’t ever want to see or hear from again?” or “How grateful will I be when God blesses me with someone who I am so much happier with?” (the assumption here again is that you are not going to be with him). It’s all about undercutting your assumptions. Make some more up of your own and ADD THESE to the list of associations I mention in the previous paragraph. Ask yourself these questions EVERYDAY. Make sure you FEEL the effects of asking these questions, because the subconscious is shifted more strongly when there is an emotional charge to it.

Try not to talk about being depressed over him to friends or family as this is also a form of investment and will fuel the attachment. If you must talk about it, make sure it’s from a position that empowers you.

In general, pray to Allah and repent. Repent until you feel like crying for all faults major and minor, hidden and open. Do this EVERYDAY or as often as you can. Know that He loves you and will not put you through anything without it strengthening you in some way. In-sha’Allah, you will be able to help someone with the same difficulty in the future, as it is a common problem among people.”

Now thankfully, she did as I said and emails that followed were very positive on her part. I won’t paste them all in full here because I want the focus to be on the method, but let’s just say it worked better than I imagined. Within a few days she was seeing dramatic changes, and by two weeks she displayed a huge turn around. Here is a part of one of her later emails (2 weeks later):

“I’m in a state now I’ve never experienced before. I’m enjoying my life again, I have a wonderful time with my family and most of all I’ve found peace in my mind and connected stronger with my Faith!

I’m no longer desperate in this kind of love. He’s been trying to reach out to me different times but I can handle it very well. He called me once because it was his bday. I clearly showed no interest and I told him that I have no intention in going further in such kind of relationship. He asked to skype etc but I refused. I said goodbye and that was it. I cried after but those were these of closure and joy at one side.

I can truthfully say to myself that I can look back at his pictures/memories without feeling any emotions (love kind)…

There are times where I have a moment because something I see or hear makes me remind of him. But then I just laugh it away and think, I was blind to not see the signs but hamdellah on the other way it brought me closer to my truth and to Allah and my family.”

But girls and guys, before you start sorting your lives out, I just want to add a few points:

When you do this just like I said, you may start feeling better to the extent that you feel you don’t need to carry on doing the daily re-conditioning. This is a mistake. You must keep going. The mind is like a rubber band; if you stop pulling it in one direction, it will slowly relapse back into its old thinking patterns. You need to create a new default. The girl had emailed me a few weeks later saying she had had some set backs due to “some brief encounters with him”. When I spoke with her much later (when everything was good again), I asked her if she had stopped doing what I told her during that time and she said yes. So do not stop. Feel great, but just keep doing it. Do it for months if you have to. And later you can start doing it less. I can’t stress this enough. Do not think, “OK I’m fine now, enough conditioning,” especially not for the first few weeks.

This leads me on to another point, which is that you should feel free to change and add to the list of new associations or questions according to how you feel. In the course of reframing the way you think about this individual, you might realize more reasons why this person isn’t good for you, or why you need to stop thinking about them. Add them to the list. Or, a new negative thought might arise which means you need to ask yourself a new question to undercut and uproot it. The mind can be nasty like that – you get over one negative thought and then it’s like, “oh yeah…? well, remember THIS!!” And you’re like “Noooooo!! I just remembered some sentimental detail which has made me mushy again!!” (or whatever).

And this leads me to a final point, which is: expect triggers to spark off emotional reactions now and then. Don’t worry, they’re totally natural and not a set back. They’re just associations. It could happen when you see the road he or she lives on, a park bench you sat on together, a gift they gave you, etc. This is normal, and eventually these strong emotional associations will fade away the more you just keep doing everything I mention in the email. And don’t skimp on the healthy eating and exercise – that’s all important too! (trust me, everything in that email is thought out with rifle-scope precision).

Please bear in mind guys, I’m not an agony aunt. I might even take this down later because this isn’t really my “field”. I just want to give you the tools to help yourself. I’ve now given you more than I gave to the young woman who got better just from that email. If you do everything there, you should notice big changes. Feel free to comment but pardon me if I can’t be so responsive because I will not have a life if I addressed everyone’s relationship issues individually. But it would be nice to hear how you are doing.

I really wish you all the best and am genuinely excited, because I know you can be happy again.

Peace be with you.

And with Allah is all success.

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The Dogma of Advertising & Consumerism: What freedom are we calling for? P.4/5

As the call for freedom in the Middle-East cements itself into Western culture, some of us continue to question the extent to which a culture so consumed in consumerism is able to make such a call. This is considered in light of major and more nuanced social and psychological problems that arise from such ‘freedoms.’ In what follows I wish to highlight a few of these disturbances, which are often overlooked.

It’s not clear how many advertisements we are exposed to every day. Taking into account the average hours of TV viewing, radio listening, newspapers/magazine reading, internet surfing, public street and transport use; common estimates range from around 250 per day on the conservative side, to 3000 and above. Regardless of which is more accurate, there’s no doubt that being exposed to adverts is an extremely significantly common and almost necessary part of human experience in the modern world.

As well as showing us products, adverts also present us with values, ideals and social standards. They draw upon major personal themes such as beauty, happiness, love, companionship, sex, and self-image, in a positive but unrealistic light to promote their product. As a consequence, these adverts are potentially shaping us towards mental states, which are in fact, quite inhibiting, insecure, and unhealthy.

A common psychological principle used by advertisers is that repetition constitutes mental conditioning. Studies show that the more something is repeated to you, the more you will believe it. So whether it’s “I’m lovin’ it”, “Have a break, have a `Kit-Kat”, or “Washing machines live longer with Calgon”, the mere repetition of these messages is able to motivate potential buyers and construct certain ideas in their minds with added cognitive and emotional associations.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with such methods. Psychotherapy typically uses the brain’s ability to re-condition its associations to heal people and make their lives more fulfilling. This, however, is done with both consent and good clinical intention. Advertising is a different story altogether. A company’s main purpose is to sell a product and make money, even if that means falsely creating insecurities in people and offering their product as a solution.

The link between psychology and consumerism was expanded on in the early 20th century, when Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, used Freud’s ideas regarding primitive hidden sexual and aggressive forces to show corporations how to link purchasable products to unconscious desires. As a result, the insatiable fantasy and anticipation of buying a product became more pleasurable than actually possessing it. This would ensure that people would keep buying irrationally, giving rise to a consumer culture.

Bernays, who worked closely with numerous US presidents and large corporations, was one of the first to use psychological methods such as celebrity association, product marketing in films, and to link products to male or female power. In his book Propaganda (later Public Relations) he causally explains how, in many instances throughout our daily lives, “we imagine ourselves free agents”, but are “ruled by dictators exercising great power”. “A man buying a suit of clothes” he explains, “imagines that he is choosing, according to his taste and his personality, the kind of garment which he prefers. In reality, he may be obeying the orders of an anonymous gentleman tailor in London.” Bernays then explains how the gentleman tailor in London is part of a wider network utilising the psychological methods listed above. Thus, even our consumer choices are largely an illusion of freedom, as clarified by the official “Father of Public Relations” himself.

The values being presented to a nation through major advertising come in all shapes and sizes. Constant images of happy, smiling, healthy people with buyable products both insists on a materialistic existence, and promotes the idea that if you want fulfilment, you need to buy things. As a result, our worth is valued more and more by what we own as opposed to what we do, or who we are. Self-gratification is also excessively promoted by the advertising culture, encouraging a focus on our own immediate desires as opposed to our relations with others. Whenever displayed, family and friendship ties are seen as outlets for gift giving, while intimate and traditional ‘special occasions’ have been mutilated into wholesale consumer events. Not much is offered for the integrity of the self. Morally reflective messages are usually only found in charity ads, which, although might be sincere, share the principal goal of encouraging some partition with your finances. Thus, your worth still depends on what you can spend.

Sexualization and Body Dissatisfaction

An increasingly concerning issue regarding images in advertising is the consistent connection between women, sex, desire, beauty, thinness, and happiness. This collection of associations is one of the most oft-repeated and overtly used advertising methods that modern society is exposed to multiple times a day. It’s now so commonly used that we hardly even notice it.

The American Psychological Association defines ‘sexualization’ as: “when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics.” Sexual objectification shares a similar definition, and is theoretically accentuated in a consumer-advertising context, where, not only is the individual sexually objectified in the way the body is presented, but also in the fact that they are associated with a purchasable object. Moreover, studies have confirmed that images which sexually objectify women have led to them being seen as “less human”, lacking “mind” and morality, and has caused men to grow indifferent to women’s experience of pain.

The phenomenon of ‘body dissatisfaction’ is defined as the perceived difference between one’s own body image and the ideal body image established and maintained by commercial media. Countless psychological studies show that this ‘dissatisfaction’ is a precursor to both eating disorders and psychological disorders such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, shame, and even self-disgust. What permanently cements these disorders into Western culture is that the gap between the reality and the ideal can never actually be closed since the beauty standard set by popular culture is impossible to attain. It has been argued that the female body-type typically portrayed in adverts is genetically true to some 5% of the female population, while photoshopped images and the portrayal of eternal youth further distances the ideal into an ever-higher fantasy. Insecurities are moreover ignited by evidence showing that men who are exposed to “media-perfect” beautiful women tend to view real life average females as significantly less attractive. This would theoretically include their own partners.

Although men are not exempt from an increased sexualisation in advertising, it is still nowhere near as prevalent as the sexualisation of women. Moreover, due to both the dissimilar perceived ideals and physiological differences of each gender, it is highly unlikely that men will ever be affected in the same way, despite the rise of the metrosexual man. A longitudinal study shows that when girls reach puberty, natural increase in body mass at this age distances them from the thin ideal, significantly increasing the chance of psychological and eating disorders. Boys, on the other hand, tend to grow closer to their bulkier ideal at puberty and thus show no increase in body dissatisfaction during adolescence. The gender bias is further confirmed with national stats from the UK and US showing that around 90% of cosmetic procedures are carried out on women, with breast implants being the most common, and vaginal modification being one of the fastest growing.

Most critical to the concept of freedom is how the beauty standard is imposed upon children, especially young girls. As one psychologist puts it: “the current aesthetic model for women, characterised by skinniness, is internalised early on, before the age of 10, and remains throughout adolescence.” Since children are below the age of responsible choice, freedom is entirely undercut, directing them to a series of potentially life long social and personal disorders and harms. Although a causal link has not been confirmed, this may well contribute towards explaining the belief that women are at least twice as likely to suffer from depression than men.

Of course, for the majority of major towns and cities in the Middle East, the caution is too late. The presence of multi-national corporations and the electronic mediums through which they advertise, have long been a part of Arab urban culture. “Thin and sexy” images of women in public are indeed rising, and Arab manufactures are quick to create equivalent products, which are no doubt having the same effects on their own children as they are on children in the West (Fulla is just as abnormally thin as Barbie). But in many cases, it’s not to the same degree. Strict values of individualism haven’t completely taken over the culture in the Middle East and it’s fair to say that some inhabited areas are completely untouched by commercialism. Traditional values of selfless hospitality, genuine respect for elders, and community spirit, still strongly subsist in non-consumerist communities scattered throughout non-Western lands. The spreading of modern Western values of freedom – of which consumer choice and abundant advertising are integral parts – tends to inverse these values producing opposite social effects.

In conclusion, meaning is derived from our associations. And advertisers are proving incredibly successful at shaping these associations for the sake of commercial and financial interests. While they may not always anticipate the negative effects, there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that the spread of consumer culture, along with its accompanying adverts, promotes far more social problems and insecurities than it does freedoms.