How to Stop Obsessive Thoughts
You may think of “obsessive thoughts” as the domain of the mentally ill, but according to psychologists, as many as 9 in 10 people in the world suffer from it. So called “intrusive thoughts” cause repetitive behaviors that run the gamut from crippling to merely annoying. Those diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder suffer from a very unhealthy form of obsessive thoughts–most people with thought intrusions don’t have obsessions that take over their lives.
Repetitive action is used by the body as a defensive mechanism against intrusive thoughts. Depending on the severity of the obsessive thought patterns, ritualized behavior may or may not be a problem. Let’s take a look at how to stop obsessive thoughts.
Where Do Obsessive Thoughts Come From?
Obsessions are simply repeated images or thoughts. These thoughts are sometimes called “intrusive” as a way of describing how they interrupt a person’s normal train of thought. Most of us can control our thought stream, but every now and then there’s a blip on the radar and an obsessive thought or impulse makes its way through. Depending on the intensity of the intrusion or the nature of the obsessive thought, they can cause anxiety and stress, even a feeling of nausea or revulsion.
Obsessive thoughts are upsetting because we are unable to stop them. Obsessive thoughts make it seem as though we have no control over our own mind. In the most severe cases, these obsessions cause a strong need in a person to “cope” with the way the intrusions make them feel. Coping methods range from healthy (taking a deep breath) to the downright dangerous (self-mutilation), and as these coping mechanisms become compulsive, the person may continue to feel out of control. Of course, not all people with obsessive thoughts will develop coping mechanisms.
Different Kinds of Obsessions
People have intrusive thoughts about all sorts of subjects, and not all of them are bad. The dangerous types of obsessions tend to be sexual, angry, a feeling of being “contaminated”, doubt, and an overwhelming need for perfection or precision.
Sexual obsessions tend to be “replays” of sexual experiences from your personal life. Most of these obsessions are extremely negative, either disgusting to the sufferer or a revisiting of a painful episode.
A common obsessions is the “contamination” feeling; this obviously springs out of a fear of being sick. This obsession takes many forms, including an obsession with the idea that you have contaminated a friend or family member. “Contamination” obsessions is closely related to the obsession of losing control–in this type of obsession, the sufferer’s intrusive thoughts concern their accidentally driving off a cliff or causing some other sort of accident.
Stopping Obsessive Thoughts and Compulsive Thinking
Obsessive thoughts can be a problem, even if they aren’t an indication of poor mental health. The mildest intrusive thought is still disruptive, and putting a stop to obsessive thought should be a priority.
Many psychologists deal with mild intrusive thoughts by trying to teach the patient that some obsessive thoughts are just a natural part of being human. The simplest way to deal with intrusive thought is to focus on the things you should be thinking about and pushing away the bad, obsessive thoughts. This is the only way to deal with intrusive thought without undergoing medication therapy or some other medical treatment.
Sounds easy enough–concentrate on the good, push away the bad. With this in mind, let’s look at a few ways to stop obsessive thought.
1. Face Your Thoughts
Every obsession, from the simplest “song stuck in your head” to the most complex compulsion, can be approached and talked about. There is nothing in the world so terrible that it can’t be looked in the face. Thinking about the nature of your obsession and becoming “numb” to it is the best way of taking away the power that obsession has over you. Rather than simply “pushing away” a bad thought, confronting the thought and really wrapping your head around it is the only way to treat the underlying cause of your intrusive thoughts and not just the thoughts themselves.
By coming face to face with an obsession, you’ll learn to think your way through an intrusive, irrational, obsessive thought and avoid any impulses it causes in you. The miraculous part of this trick is that once you’ve forced yourself to come face to face with something, the power that thing has over you drains away. Becoming “numb” to your obsessive thoughts is a quick way to avoid the highs and lows of intrusive thinking.
Ultimately, this step is about avoiding compulsive behavior by treating more than just the symptom of obsessive thought. By facing your thoughts and fears, you’ll be curing the cause of obsessions and not just cutting short an uncomfortable symptom.
2. Face Your Anxiety
Intrusive thoughts cause anxiety and stress. If we face our obsessions and earn a victory over them, we are only half finished in the battle against intrusion. We must deal with the underlying anxiety that is probably the cause of all your intrusive thought patterns in the first place.
Obsessions cause anxiety because they make us feel like we are headed down an impossible path. Obsessive thoughts may convince us that we’re ill, that we’re going to be hurt or that we’re going to die, or that something terrible is going to happen to us.
Anxiety tells us to “give up”, to compulsively act to stop our thoughts. It is easier to behave compulsively than it is to attack the root cause of our anxiety.
We confront this anxiety by cataloging it, analyzing it, and (if we can) participating in talk therapy with a mental health professional. Intrusive thoughts are closely related to anxiety, so treating your anxiety could be the best way of treating your obsessions.
3. Stop Analyzing Everything
Your brain spits out a billion things every day. Why do you analyze the two or three bad intrusive thoughts you have more than the billions of other thoughts?
People think their obsessions are powerful simply because they’re repeated. It is human nature to give meaning to things that happen over and over, but there’s really no need to think so much all the time. Thought can be as bad for us as fantasy. A little goes a long way.
Intrusive thoughts and impulses are even worse for people who tend to over think. Your problem with intrusive thought may actually be a problem with thinking too much. Try to make more impulsive decisions and use actions instead of thoughts to get things done.
Remember that your brain is nothing more than a collection of electricity. Once you realize that your brain is not who you are, and that you are in control of your thoughts, ending intrusive thought is a real possibility.
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