Obsessive thoughts or intrusive thoughts
Having obsessive thoughts can be distressing and sometimes very frightening. It is really classified as OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, however in pure OCD there is normally the thought that triggers the anxiety, then in an attempt to relieve the symptoms of anxiety, the person will carry out a compulsion. This is an urge to complete a sort of ritual such as repetitive hand washing as a result of thinking about contamination, or checking that the gas is off several times an hour just in case its been left on and the house may burn down.
With obsessive thoughts on its own, there isn’t really a visible ritual or compulsive behaviour, It is all about the thought. You could say that obsessing about the thought itself is a form of compulsion.
E.g. You get the initial scary thought, this gives you anxiety, then you try to solve the obsessive thought by further obsessing about it!
People with obsessive thoughts will often just work with one thought and give it their full attention, and I mean full attention. Every hour of the waking day is spent obsessing, and this only makes the anxiety more intense and prolonged.
Obsessive thinkers will often obsess for a period of time before they become ok with the thought; it kind of loses its power or releases its hold on the persons belief system. But this may only be a brief rest bite before the sufferer finds something else to obsess over.
Common obsessive thoughts are:
Violent thoughts – Such as – imagining that you could hurt your baby, loved one, strangers, yourself, fragile people such as the elderly or children.
Religious thoughts – such as – You have upset God and he wont allow you in heaven when you die, repeating blasphemous remarks or fearing you will swear out loud in a house of God, Repeating prayers over and over.
Sexual thoughts – Such as – An intense fear that you are a paedophile and attracted to children, incestuous thoughts about members of your family, intense worry that you are capable of sexual assault.
Magical thoughts – Such as – Believing that Friday the 13th will bring bad luck, or believing that your thoughts can influence reality e.g. worry that if you think of the plane you are on will crash, then it will, certain colours and numbers are to be avoided,
Working with these thoughts can be challenging and the brain has to be re-educated that just because we think in this manner doesn’t make any of it true. The real problem is to work with the belief system. An obsessive thinker will fully believe the thought and that is why the intense anxiety will pop along with it. The anxiety is sent to protect you, to either run away from something or fight it. But there is nothing to run from or fight?
The problem here is that the unconscious part of your brain doesn’t really know the difference between the past (memory), the present (the here and now) and the future (fantasy). It sees everything as real and current. So if you think of something really bad happening to a loved one, although you are trying to predict the future, your conscious mind knows it’s the future, but your unconscious does not, it thinks its happening right now, and so it delivers the correct feelings as a response to danger or threat and that is inevitably anxiety.
Some people will fear that they are going mad and will end up in a mental hospital. This adds to the despair. The real problem is in the belief that the person could carry out an act so disturbing, they will often tell me that they believe they are a terrible and awful human being for having these thoughts, often stating that if they think this way, surely they are capable of doing this dreadful thing.
The thing to recognise here, is that if the thought causes you despair and dread, then you are never going to carry out the act…Why? Because of the consequence of the action.
For example, if you believe you are going to slap an elderly person in the street, the consequence of this action is that you would be arrested for assault, you would injure a helpless innocent person and go to court, you would be found guilty and sent to prison and this would lead to public disgrace and abandonment from your family.
So of course you wouldn’t ever carry out the act because it holds a terrible consequence. If you found the thought of injuring an elderly lady exciting or stimulating, then that is something entirely different.
Learning how to deal with these distressing thoughts can help you manage them and ultimately help you to stop believing in the thoughts, in the same way that you stopped believing in Father Christmas and the tooth fairy.