I have been living with OCD and intrusive thoughts for over thirty years. It is such a disabling mental illness; it’s really hard for someone without it to understand the distress it causes.
Trying to explain OCD and intrusive thoughts to a person makes you sound mad.
Think about it, a seemingly rational person, feeling guilty, avoiding and taking no risks due to being crippled by the irrational thoughts in their own head.
But millions of people deal with this every day.
Fifteen years ago I had CBT for my unwanted intrusive thoughts, and even up to five years ago, and each time I was told and taught the same way to deal with the thoughts:
‘Try and think of something positive instead to counter the negative thought’.
Another technique was like the ‘Whack a mole game’ Every time I had an intrusive thought pop up, I had to visually whack it in my head. So I would spend days, weeks, pretending to whack these thoughts in my head with a pretend Mallett. I’m sure at the time these were the latest techniques, but it has now been proved it is the wrong way to deal with unwanted intrusive thoughts, because as soon as you engage with the thought, in any capacity, it will start the vicious circle of negative emotions and feelings.
I found a book called ‘Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts’ by Sally M. Winston and Martin N. Seif.
And since then I haven’t looked back. It taught me the modern ways of dealing with these unwanted thoughts.
First of all Unwanted Intrusive thoughts are thoughts we all have, but some people react overly emotionally to ones that don’t fit the character they have built for themselves. So they question the thoughts’ meaning, which turns into a cycle of questioning and guilt.
The OCD thoughts’ content can be violent, sexual, criminal, religious, personal, anything that causes a negative reaction to the mind.
One thing to learn is that any thought can be tolerated, ANY!
A thought is just a thought, the distress is caused by engaging with the seemingly bad awful ones, and start questioning,
‘Could I really do this, am I some kind of Deviant?’,
‘Thinking this must make me a bad person’,
‘I must be insane or a pervert to think this way’.
The truth is nearly everyone has bad or out of character thoughts, 90% of the population, but most people shrug them off for what they are, junk, rubbish, imagination, just a thought, and with this kind of attitude it goes as quickly as it came, leaving with no trace.
Anxious people, like myself, engage with the thought,
Asking, Why me?
What can I do?
What does it mean?
But I can’t stress this enough, it’s just a thought. A thought about flowers is the same as a thought about killing someone, or pushing a person on the road. It’s just some people engage with the bad or ridiculous thoughts, so they stick around. What happens when you try and not think about something? It sticks around and keeps coming back with more force.
The best technique, or tool, call it whatever you want, couldn’t be simpler; Accept the thought for what it is, just a thought.
Let it be, and carry on life with whatever you’re doing.
Be it while working, on a date, watching telly, at the cinema, or walking, just accept it and move on. I know from experience these thoughts can strike anywhere, making you doubt life and happiness. But to just accept it and carry on is so powerful when it works. The light bulb comes on, forever!
Any thought can be tolerated, ANY! Just accept and allow, no fighting or questioning, let it be. Once you engage, or try to rationalise an intrusive thought you’re trapped in the cycle of forever questioning what it means.
It means nothing, it’s just a thought, maybe not a nice one, but just a thought all the same. It means nothing about your character, your personality, your sanity, your past or future, it’s just a thought, accept and allow it for what it is.
Engaging with unwanted intrusive thoughts can bring on feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, isolation, and being a bad person. Nothing is further from the truth. An evil or psychotic personality would not feel anxious about having violent, sexual, or criminal thoughts. So to feel anxious and guilty about unwanted intrusive thoughts shows proof of a good character. It’s the character and choices of a person that defines them, not their thoughts or imagination.
I struggled and struggled with intrusive thoughts, but this clicked with me, and it’s simple. Just allow the thought, accept it’s just a thought. A random, nonsensical, crazy kind of thought, that makes no sense, but it’s just a thought. It doesn’t say anything about you as a person. It doesn’t mean there is a hidden evil inside you waiting to come out, trying to come forth in your mind, it’s just a thought. Laugh or forget about it, just accept and allow it to be there and in time it will drift off with no anxiety.
Using this technique in my therapy sessions, and reading the book I mentioned earlier changed my life forever.
I even used this technique for my OCD. I used to check all the time because my mind was telling me if I didn’t something bad would happen to me or my family, so I kept carrying out the rituals. Since learning about intrusive thoughts, I used this technique to stop my compulsions. When OCD tries to tempt me, I would tell myself it’s just an intrusive thought, it means nothing, and that helped me to keep walking away. Gradually the anxiety got lower after each time.
I was worried this would turn into another compulsion, but in the end the urge and temptation to check went without having to think or remind myself too much, so it became the normal to not obsess and give in to the thoughts.
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