I have a neighbor who lives by the belief that you can never be safe enough.
And no matter how often I’ve respectfully expressed my differing views, she never misses a chance to give me unsolicited advice on precautions to take.
She advises me on everything from masking outside to avoiding earbuds in fear of not hearing potential kidnappers to not wearing proper attire whenever I step outside. Her list of worries for me is infinite.
Examples of Conditional Activities
As a therapist on the front lines of treating people’s health and contamination concerns during Covid, I had a front-row ticket to how it upended people’s lives, routines, and mental health.
As I write this in April 2023, many people have adapted and are living their life — however it may have reshaped.
But, as a therapist specializing in treating OCD and anxiety disorders — including health anxiety — I also witness those struggling to fully reintegrate back into life on a daily basis.
For many, treatment has been a negotiation. An exhausting balance of the “risks” they’re willing to take and the level of discomfort they “think they can handle.”
For some, life now includes a host of conditional activities. These can look like:
- I’ll go on vacations but only within driving distance
- I’ll dine out but only in uncrowded, outdoor settings
- I’ll go into the office but only with masks and sanitation practices
- I’ll go to the store but only if I’m certain there are no long lines
To clarify, I’m only speaking of people not having or living with anyone in a high-risk group.
Some have completely given up things once central in their lives because the negotiation price is just too much. Activities like going out to eat with friends if they have to be indoors. Or going to the gym where the social piece was as important as working out. . They may temper their loss with the excuse they’re saving money.
“Good Enough” Change
In the therapy office, I call this a “conditioned” or “contingent recovery.” Meaning your recovery is contingent on having defined parameters met. For example, “I can do X if Y is present.”
Or, more simply put, it’s the “good enough change.”
This person improves enough to function in daily life. And their life looks SO much better than it used to. They’ve made accomplishments worth celebrating.
But still, they only push so far. They still hold on to certain limitations. Things they believe to be “too hard” or “too dangerous.” Those are the things that will continue to hold power over you.
And, for them, maybe they could enjoy life within these created frameworks. At least most of the time.
It’s possible to vacation without flying, taking a cruise, or booking a concert date.
But what happens when you need to travel across the country for work? When that long dreamt about reunion with college girlfriends presents itself? When your spouse is excited to share a new hobby with you? When your kids want you to take them to a show?
It’s one thing to pretzel yourself, but how does that impact those around you? Your coworkers, friends, spouses, or children?
Our chosen limitations affect not only ourselves but those around us as well. In these cases, “Good enough change” may not be just that.
How Impacted Are You by Conditioned Recovery?
These personal negotiations aren’t “just an OCD or anxiety disorder” thing. No, these beliefs are far from exclusive.
In fact, they can occur whenever we encounter change. It’s like we draw a line in the sand and convince ourselves we can handle everything on THIS side of the line, but crossing that line would be too much.
This mindset might stem from telling ourselves the discomfort would be too much (distress intolerance). Or, perhaps, the belief that an uncomfortable experience might ruin the day. Or, the worry we’ll cause disappointment to others…
So, if drawing up restraints is so common, how do we push past these arbitrary boundaries that limit us?
We start by simply recognizing them.
Because here’s a truth: no one wants to do the hard things. Believe me, you are not alone!
Fortunately, we are often much more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. And by simply identifying the constraints we put upon ourselves to avoid getting uncomfortable, we are better able to maneuver around them and create more balanced lives for ourselves and the ones around us.
The examples we talked about today are related to coming out of the pandemic, but really we can apply contingencies to almost everything. Likely, we’ve all drawn a line in the sand at some point. Some may have prevented us from fully engaging in safe and enjoyable activities. Others we may have learned to redraw. What lines have you drawn in the sand?
If you’d like to discuss how conditioned changes may be impacting your daily life and are in Ohio, please reach out.