Earlier I wrote about intrusive images I sometimes have: seemingly spontaneous, violent images of self-harm or even suicide that spring up at what feels like random times. This happened most recently in the middle of a perfectly innocuous yoga class. I couldn’t understand why it would come up then, and I brought this up in my therapy session with E, which is how we got to the question of whether I needed to be “strict” with myself–the whole topic of my previous post.

When I showed up for my next therapy session, last Wednesday, we picked up where we left off, with the question of what those images meant, and perhaps more importantly, what I wanted to do about them.

For a little while, we talked about trying to stop them. But that didn’t feel right.

“You know,” I said, “there is something about these images that feels like it bubbles straight up from my subconsciousness. I don’t think it’s something I can control. It seems to arise out of the blue, and I can’t anticipate it.”

So we shifted gears to talk about how to respond to them. “In some ways,” E told me, “it’s just like responding to any other distressed part of you. You can be there with it, tolerate it, listen to it, be kind to it.”

That made sense to me. It’s the same way I’ve learned to respond to anxiety or self-doubt or even the horrendous shame that can rise up in threatening, frightening ways. Take a breath. Invite it to sit down beside me. Let it tell me its story. Don’t resist it or beat it away.


But even though that was part of what I needed, it didn’t feel like it covered everything. Part of the reason I brought this up was that I realized these images make it easier for me to harm myself. They almost get me more used to the idea; it feels less shocking over time. Also, in the moment the images can be so strong that they pull me away from my true desire, which is to be as centered, mindful, and healthy as possible.

To I told E, “I think I need two types of responses to the intrusive images. One is to say, ‘I see you. I recognize that you are here because something feels wrong, even if I don’t know what it is. I won’t chase you away. You can be here and give me your message.'”

“The second part is something about reconnecting to and stabilizing my desire for well-being, so I don’t get pulled away from that. I need to remind myself that the violent images aren’t what I am choosing for myself. Maybe I need to recommit to self-compassion, something like that.”

Out of these ideas, we began crafting the kinds of messages I might want to give myself when an intrusive image arises.

“You like to make things,” E said, “and you like affirmation cards. You could turn these into cards to keep in your purse.”

I really liked that idea. Then when it happens again–I’m sure it will, at some point–I can pull them out and review them. They will remind me of this conversation, but more importantly, they will remind me that I want to meet all aspects of myself not with harshness, nor with fear, but with kindness and compassion.