Taking Back Power from Intrusive Thoughts in OCD

 A girl covering her face with her hand

All of us get irrational thoughts that run through our minds but are quickly forgotten, but for some, these thoughts don’t go away and continue to haunt the person. And once these unrealistic scenarios take hold, your stress levels can increase, resulting in other negative events attributed to this obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And subsequently, if not treated, you can end up in a full blown panic.

Under normal circumstances, a bad thought may be from an event, but as time goes by, the person calms down and tries to manage it in a logical manner; however, there are people who remain obsessed for a longer period of time and feel hopeless even if there may be a resolution down the road. This irrational behavior is usually associated with abnormalities in the brain that exacerbates the situation; subsequently, prolonging worry and resulting in a hyper-emotional state of concern. 

If these episodes are continuous, a doctor’s care would be required and appropriate mediation considered. Such is the case with bi-polar people where continuous negative thoughts overwhelm their rational state of mind, making them unable to think clearly.

As their OCD continues, the obsessive worry amplifies to the point where they can exhibit loud, aggressive and irrational outbursts (mania); sometimes in the form of violence. But it may not stop there. The obsession can lead to high energy moods and can result in unrelated actions not associated with their initial triggered event; such as excessive spending, inordinate continous cleaning or other forms of obsessive behavior.

What starts as a regular morning can quickly devolve into harrowing dawn where a person begins ruminating over things that may not even be real. If you are a formally diagnosed OC person, then you must already know how the thought pattern works in OCD. But if you aren’t diagnosed yet, then you might not even realize that what you have is not normal and needs to be dealt with as early as possible.

In obsessive thinking, a person could be sitting idle or watching something, and out of nowhere, a negative thought such as ‘what if I killed my mom?’ would rear its head and take over the person’s mind. They would not be able to break free from the negative thought cycle and would start believing that they are capable of hurting their mom. From outside the OCD realm, a healthy minded person would think that intrusive thoughts are not real; they are only a creation of the mind, so why can’t a person just stop thinking about them?

Well, that’s precisely the pervasive nature of intrusive/obsessive thinking. The mind of a person with OCD fails to pick up on the invalidity of negative thought and ends up replaying it again and again. However, sometimes a person might be able to realize that an idea is entirely out of the realm of possibility, but they are still harassed by it. It happens because the prefix of ‘what if’ is too powerful for people who get intrusive thoughts, and as a result, they fail to dismiss even the most far-fetched ideas.  

Even though the hold of intrusive thoughts over a person’s life seems unrelenting, by following a few strategies, a person can develop the ability to counsel themselves when there is an onslaught of intrusive thoughts.

Here are a few strategies that an OC person can employ to take back control from obsessive thinking.

Record and Identify a Pattern

On the surface, an obsessive thought seems to show up without a trigger, but typically there is an underlying anxiety or fear that fuels it. That is, you may not realize that you have a deep-rooted fear or concern regarding an aspect of your life that can trigger your thoughts. Let’s consider an example to understand the pattern of obsessive thoughts better.

You are sitting one day, and it seems like a regular day, but then you are hit with a terrible thought that you may hurt your best friend. Now there is no apparent reason for you to think this way, but once the idea appears, that’s all you can think about. Instead of thinking about the intrusive thought, try to dig a little deeper and figure out what rational or irrational fear do you have that could possibly be fueling this thought. Many times when a person fears hurting their loved ones, it’s because they are afraid of losing them. You might find this concept hard to believe, but if you break down the thought pattern related to the idea of hurting a loved one, you’ll find the correlation between the thought and the fear of losing someone close to you.

The fear of losing a friend or family member can manifest as a negative thought, such as ‘what if I hurt my friend?’ When you are afraid of losing some you love, the worst-case scenario would be that you actually lose them. In OCD, a patient’s mind can trick them into thinking about their fears indirectly while making the thought even more dreadful than the actual concern.

Accept your Thoughts

The idea of accepting intrusive thoughts may seem counterintuitive, but it can help a person relax to a considerable extent. As Deepak Chopra says, ‘Thoughts are just fleeting mental images, they have no real consequences until you make them important.’

Since thoughts are just virtual segments of once imagination, accepting them can make them less intense. That is, your acceptance or repudiation isn’t going to make your thoughts any more or less real. They are not going to become a reality, so if you accept them instead of getting worked up about them, you can relax the mind.

When you tell your mind that you believe it, it will stop torturing you with horrifying images and ideas. TO better understand this concept think about how you tease a friend but then stop doing so when they stop getting riled up. You only tease a friend till they give you a reaction, the moment they stop reacting you stop provoking them. Similarly, when the thoughts in your brain fail to elicit a response from you, they will lose their power.

Explore Meditation

Intrusive thoughts alone are unsettling, but combined with negative emotions that they generate, they become even more distressing. While you try to take control over your thought process by recording and accepting your thoughts, start meditating to manage the emotions which come with obsessive thoughts. Meditating is excellent at calming down the mind and keeping negative emotions at bay. With that said, you cannot expect miracles to happen with just one round of meditation. Make sure you make meditation a part of your daily life if you want to see results.

Every day make time for yourself, sit alone, and focus on your breathing while relaxing music plays in the background. You might require some time to get into the groove of meditation, but slowly you’ll get the hang of it. Just make sure that you remain consistent and practice meditation regularly.

The Takeaway

Obsessive thoughts can be debilitating. Professional guidance can be helpful, but a sufferer has to do most of the heavy lifting themselves, so they should start challenging their ideas on their own right away. The sooner a person starts tackling their thoughts, the faster they’ll be able to break the cycle of negative thoughts.