Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an aptly-named anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are intrusive and unwanted. The presence of these causes marked anxiety or distress. As a result, the individual reacts in an attempt to ignore, suppress, or neutralize the obsession by performing a compulsion.
Depending on the obsession and the resulting compulsion, the outcomes can significantly hinder your functionality. While treatment with medications can help reduce the severity of these symptoms, psychotherapy is a critical component of treatment for OCD. Psychotherapy for OCD is often focused on developing skills around understanding your obsessive thoughts and how to react to them in a healthy way. The following are some valuable skills for dealing with obsessive thoughts:
One of the most complex parts of combating obsessive thoughts is recognizing them. Yet, it is essential because many tools for combating obsessive thoughts hinge on your ability to recognize them. Even though the thought causes you distress, you may not immediately recognize it as a component of your disease. Developing the insight needed to recognize these obsessive thoughts takes practice and conscious effort.
It is also helpful to recognize obsessive thoughts for more than just their existence. See if you can recognize them for what they are: thoughts. Thoughts are real, but the content within them is not. Even if it has the potential to become real, that doesn’t mean it will. While their existence might be out of your control, the actions you take as a result are not. Recognizing this can be empowering.
Just because you recognize an obsessive thought doesn’t mean you understand it. The more you know about your OCD, the better you will be able to deal with the symptoms. Obsessive thoughts are persistent, recurring, and unwanted. They can be relatively minor obsessions, like thinking the door is unlocked despite knowing it isn’t. On the other hand, they can be more significant and detrimental, like thoughts of harming yourself or others.
It can also be helpful to understand the negative thinking patterns that can accompany such thoughts. You might feel like you should be able to stop the thoughts or that the content somehow reflects who you are. The anxiety caused by this type of thinking can increase the severity and frequency at which these thoughts occur. Understanding your lack of control in forming these thoughts is essential to prevent such negative thought patterns from occurring.
Obsessive thoughts can occur seemingly without rhyme or reason. You might feel tempted to figure out why you have them or what they mean. These attempts to over-analyze obsessive thoughts can often be unproductive and confusing. However, not all analysis is a wasted effort.
Taking time to break down your obsessive thoughts into simple categories can be helpful. Which parts are real, and which are fantasy? Which parts are possible and which are improbable? Doing this exercise can address the aspects of the obsession that might be within your ability to control or prevent. Meanwhile, you can set aside the fantastical or highly improbable elements that bear no actual significance.
When an obsession enters your mind, it can be tempting to want to resist it. This can be like trying to force the same side of two magnets together. The harder you push, the more difficult it becomes. Trying to resist or not think about an obsessive thought will cause your brain to fixate on it even more.
Instead, it might be more productive to take a less opposing approach when dealing with an obsessive thought. This doesn’t necessarily mean allowing the thought to win or go unchallenged. It means you don’t waste your energy fighting a battle you can’t win. Instead, you are using that energy in more productive ways.
You can redirect the energy you saved from not resisting your obsessive thoughts to more effective coping methods. Instead of trying to block out the thought, you can allow it to exist. Just because it exists doesn’t mean it is accurate, and it doesn’t mean you are obligated to act on it with a compulsion. Instead, you can acknowledge its existence and move on with your day.
While this is much easier said than done, it is possible. You won’t be able to stop obsessive thoughts from entering your mind, but you can change how you view and deal with them. Acknowledging them is often the quickest way to let your mind move on from them and focus on more productive things. It is a skill that you can improve upon with time and practice.
Using the Tools
Depending on their content and severity, obsessive thoughts can be challenging to deal with. Some may be merely minor inconveniences, with others can be outright distressing. Medication and psychotherapy can drastically improve the severity of these symptoms. Still, you can use other tools to ease these symptoms when they occur. These tools have significant potential benefits in combating obsessive thoughts of OCD.
Obsessive thoughts from OCD can range widely in severity and frequency. In many instances, they can cause marked distress and functional limitations in your daily life. Although medications and psychotherapy can drastically improve symptoms, they may not resolve them completely. You can use other simple tools to help cope with these recurrent and unwanted thoughts. At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we understand how difficult dealing with obsessive thoughts can be. We aim to provide our clients with the understanding and resources needed to cope with them. If you or a loved one are struggling with obsessive thoughts, call us at (714) 942-4143 to learn more about what we can do to help.