Our brains engage in ongoing commentary about the world around us and what we and others are up-to within it. Sometimes the chat is observational about real things, but more often than not it consists of a mega-mix of random ideas, judgements, evaluations, predictions, reflections and daydreams.
It is extremely common to get lost in these stories, some are very distracting and absorbing.
Thoughts are nothing more than a string of words
For some, thoughts can generate a great deal of negative emotion and can become pesky and persistent. Learning that these chatters are just strings of words (and images) is an important part of them upsetting you or not. Remembering that they are all ‘just thoughts’ and that you can let the control over them go, despite the feeling they generate in you, can feel like a liberating life skill.
Intrusive thoughts are normal.
They don’t make you a bad person. We can all have grim, violent, inappropriate, ridiculous, horrid, awful, disgusting or repugnant thoughts. Thoughts, whether they are weird or wonderful are part of being human. No matter how they got into our mind or how long they stick around for, they are not wanted, and therefore intrusive. Intrusive thoughts can cover a huge range of topics from the bizarre, the disgusting, the sexually inappropriate to the really random and silly. Studies have demonstrated that intrusive thoughts are something that everyone experiences. The difference between the thoughts becoming a problem or not, is not the content, nature or detail of the thought itself, it is the way that we respond to them.
Look out for an intrusive thought trap - the ones that catch our attention are the ones that cause a negative emotion. The more focus you give them, the more meaningful they feel and the more they then stick around.
It is not the content of the thoughts that are important, but the way in which a person interprets and responds to them.
Seeking control of thoughts is impossible and in fact counterproductive and often results in more of the thoughts you were trying to get rid of.
The best aim for intrusive thoughts and associated feelings is;
to stop trying to control them
try not to make them go away
‘What you resist, persists’
This statement is so true of intrusive thoughts. The more you try to block, stop or push away thoughts, the more you try to argue with the thoughts, reassure yourself about them, prove your thoughts are inaccurate, untrue or unwanted, the more they will stick around. In fact, the more interventions you do to respond to them (either physically or mentally), the more you will get and often the worse they can become.
Acknowledge their existence, but practice doing nothing with them.
Re-focus your attention on something that is real and engaging instead.
First of all, recognise you are having a thought then put a label on the thought, ‘there's that pesky OCD thought again’, ‘I'm having those silly violent thoughts’. Don’t try to answer it, argue or get rid of them, just notice it is a thought (or image). As soon as you can do this, you are deflating its importance and treating it as it is - just a product of the mind.
Thoughts are just thoughts, not facts.
Acceptance of thoughts
Meet intrusive thoughts with more acceptance “there is that scary thought”, “I need to crack on with my day, thoughts you are welcome to join me, I won’t push you away”, you are not treating them as particularly important, accepting them as a normal part of being human. The more you can do this, and the quicker you turn your attention to your day and your activities the less they will bother you.
Ask yourself - is this thought helping me towards my values and goals? If it isn’t then let it go on its way. Loosen and urge to control them in any way, and they will be free to head off when they are ready.
Thoughts will come and go - let them. They only stick around when you tighten control of them by giving them lots of attention.
By applying these accepting approaches to thoughts, you are gradually teaching your brain that these thoughts don’t have as much importance or value as you once gave them.
You can’t stop them from appearing, but you can stop them from bothering you
If you would like more support and advice about how to manage intrusive thoughts please do contact us at My Therapist Online on the below link. We have many therapists who are experts in the treatment of intrusive thoughts ready to offer you online video-based therapy from the comfort of your own home, or wherever you feel most comfortable to talk.
They can support you to engage in an evidence based CBT treatment programme which may involve exposure response prevention (ERP) and behavioural experience as a part of learning to respond differently to them.
To find an expert, fully qualified online therapist click on this link - www.mytherapistonline.co.uk/registration-clients
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Website - www.MyTherapistOnline.co.uk
Cognitive Behavioural Therapist