How do you stop obsessive thoughts?
Obsessive thoughts, and how to deal with them?
Obsessive thoughts anyone? Well, how can you stop these sorts of intrusive thoughts? This is something I get asked a lot and most people probably want a quick fix to the problem. However, if you have been an obsessive thinker for a long time, then it may take a little time to adjust to a new way of thinking.
In essence, I always advise that you should never try to stop an obsessive thought. This may should a little odd, but think of it this way, if you try to stop a thought, or you try not to think of something, then you are likely to make that thing more important! So trying to stop the thought is giving it extra weight, and that is something you really do not want.
Quite often, I will throw a curve ball to a client and ask them with their eyes closed, not to think of a blue elephant! Try it now, and you will find that the mind latches onto the image or the thought of the blue elephant. It is basic suggestion work but made stronger by stating that ‘you must not think of it’! It becomes rather like obsessive thoughts.
Obsessive thoughts are linked also to OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is where an obsessive thought about something leads to a behaviour or compulsion. So a person may switch off the lights several times until they are satisfied that they are off. The thought is about the danger of not turning the lights off and what catastrophe this may cause, and the only way to feel better is to carry out the compulsive behaviour of switching the lights on and off and counting.
There are other obsessive thoughts that are popular amongst people with no classified problem. Some of the top obsessive thoughts I have heard people talk about are:
1. Throwing themselves off a high place
2. Hurting a child (normally their own)
3. Pouring a hot drink over someones head
4. Throwing the house keys down a drain
5. Throwing something valuable, like a smart phone, into water
Now these may sound a little silly, however, to an obsessive thinker, they actually believe they are capable of these thoughts, and carrying them through! Of course, they won’t, because there is a very bad consequence to doing so. If a client tells me that carrying out such a thought is just so terrible and that they are appalled at themselves etc, then they are just thoughts, but strong thoughts.
If a client tells me that they find carrying out such an action is exciting or they may get a kick out of doing so, well this would have to be treated rather differently.
So if you can’t stop a thought what can you do?
Well, thoughts are created at random in the brain, we can’t do anything about that I’m sorry to say, but it is what you do next with the thought that counts. I am a big fan of thought movement as well as challenging them head on.
Thought movement is based on Mindfulness and enables you to cheese what you focus on. For every bad thought there is an equal and opposite good thought. Try moving your awareness onto an object within your sight. Then describe the object in great detail in the mind. When you do this, your awareness moves from internal to external as do your feelings.
Now, the likelihood is that the bad thought will return, but simply allow it to be there for a moment before you move your awareness back onto the object. Then choose another object and so on. This will weaken the original thought.
An example of this in your daily life would be when you are busy at home or at work and you forget about your anxiety, you don’t notice it because your mind isn’t dwelling on the thoughts or feelings. Temporarily, you feel better.
Other techniques would be to imagine the thought visually, and then project the thought onto the side of a passing train in your mind and watch the thought drift away.
The other technique is to challenge the thought by asking yourself where the evidence is? If you imagine that you are your own judge and jury and that you have to give evidence as to why a thought is true, then you can begin to look at it from a different perspective.
So how do you do this?
Ask yourself, what is the thought I am having about this situation? Then look at how strongly you believe in that thought. Most of the time you will believe strongly in the thought, which is why it is producing stress or anxiety.
Then ask yourself, ok, do I have any real evidence that this thought is actually true? Mostly thoughts are formed very quickly, but if there is no real evidence that the thought is true then you can then look at an alternative or more realistic thought.
Heres a brief example:
Wendy walks past an old friend in the supermarket, lets call her Sue. Wend says hi to Sue as she passes her. Sue blanks Wendy and walks straight on past.
If Wendy is a worrier, she thinks, “Oh my, what have I done to upset Sue… When was the last time I spoke to her and did I say anything wrong to her? I must have upset her… there would be no other reason for her to blank me?”
Wendy obviously believes this very strongly but if she took a step back and looked at the evidence she would know that she didn’t say anything wrong to her, it is just a thought. There is no evidence to suggest that Wendy had said anything to make Sue blank her.
Now, Wendy should look at a more reasonable response and thought. “Maybe she just didn’t see me? Sometimes people get so wrapped up in their own world and with their own problems that they become oblivious to the world outside. i didn’t say anything wrong to her, she just didn’t register my greeting.”
When Wendy sees things this way, she feels a little better.
I used this analogy, because I am sure at some point, all of us have been oblivious to someone saying hi to us, until a hand waves in our faces and we break the almost trance like state.
Techniques within psychotherapy can really help balance the thoughts and hypnosis can also be used to help with the feelings and thought movement. I always use a combination of the two when I work with my clients in Warrington, Cheshire.
64 Shackleton Close, Old Hall, Warrington, Cheshire, WA5 9QE
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