Samantha is a university student and she recently found herself eating less, fidgeting and not sleeping enough. When she turned to the Psychologist, it was due to a decline in her academic performance. But what was the cause of the decline in academic performance? The Psychologists were told that it was due to a loss of concentration in class and a tendency to get distracted when reading in class or in the library.
At this point, some people may think that the problem has been identified, and they will provide appropriate education on how to adjust the distractions and focus their attention.
However, is distraction the ultimate problem? Is there a deeper cause? The Psychologist then began to ask Sam why she was distracted. What was distracting her from reading and attending class?
She replied that she was distracted because she was constantly aware of whether someone was watching or talking about her when she was in class or reading, and that her attention was focused on this, so she was naturally distracted by listening and reading. But how does this happen? When did it start?
Sam recalls that she was fitted with white framed glasses more than half a year ago, and that she always felt less comfortable and less pretty when she put them on. In class, she noticed out of the corner of her eye that some of her classmates seemed to be paying attention to her, and somehow she became nervous and unaware of what the teacher was saying. After that, she became very conscious of what her classmates were looking at, especially when she was reading a book. Her eyes were looking at the book but her mind was wondering if people were talking about her, about her ugly glasses. There were times when Sam wanted to get rid of the glasses, but she couldn't. Besides, what would she do in class without them?
It seems that the problem started with the glasses, but what is the relationship between glasses and nervousness, distraction and fear of comments? Is there a more fundamental psychological confusion?
It would seem the psychologist thought it was likely to have something to do with her objective assessment of herself and started to understand. When asking Sam, “Do you think you're pretty?” Sam shook her head.
Objectively speaking, Sam was quite pretty among the girls, so why did she think she wasn’t? Sam said that several students in her dormitory had boyfriends, but she didn’t, and she thinks it is because she is not pretty enough and not attractive to boys. But on the other hand, Sam didn't want to admit this, and she kept trying to deny it. For this reason, she is constantly upset and conflicted. She would love to be thought of as pretty and cute enough to attract the attention of the opposite sex. And yet she feels that she cannot.
It is thus clear that the glasses are merely a trigger for the intensification of the conflict. The fear of outside attention is actually caused by an excessive desire for this very attention. At the same time, it is a reflection of an internal insecurity and lack of confidence. However, Sam herself was not aware of the interconnected series of developments that were resulting in her sleeping less and not eating enough.
Whilst this is only an example of one particular case it does illustrate how when you are close to the problem, it can be very difficult to understand exactly what is causing it. Whilst there are multiple avenues Sam could have taken to address the problems she was facing, by talking to someone she could trust with minimal fear of judgement (in this case a psychologist) she was able to dig deeper into what she was experiencing and find the root cause of her symptoms. By focusing her healing on this root cause, Sam would be able to improve her concentration, eating and sleeping as well as her general happiness. By spending this time focusing on her mental health she would be able to improve her physical health as well.
I believe we can all learn something from Sam’s story: if you are experiencing changes to your behaviour, habits and how you are feeling, spend some time understanding why and if these changes are good or if they are something that may negatively impact your everyday life. If you are concerned, discuss it with someone whether it be a friend or a psychologist. Don’t let yourself move in a direction you don’t want to because you are not addressing a deeper problem.