OCD and Thinking about Thoughts

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve written before about the fact that there really are no “OCD thoughts.” As I explain in this post: “…when you get right down to it, there’s OCD, and there are thoughts, but there are no OCD thoughts.” Certainly disturbing thoughts might be more vivid, intense, and frequent in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the content of these obsessions  is typically no different from those who do not have OCD. You name it, most of us have thought it! It’s our reaction to these thoughts that differs.

I wrote the post mentioned above because I felt it was important for those without OCD to understand that people who do have the disorder do not have thoughts that are any “wilder and crazier” than the rest of us. There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding obsessive-compulsive disorder that I felt it was critical to set the record straight regarding “OCD thoughts.”

What I didn’t think about at the time was how crucial it is for those who actually have OCD to understand that their thoughts should not, and cannot, be divided into “regular thoughts” and “OCD thoughts.” Thoughts are thoughts. Period.

Why is this distinction, or I should say lack of distinction, so important? What’s the big deal about calling disturbing thoughts “OCD thoughts?”

Jon Hershfield does a fantastic job addressing this question. In this post, which I highly recommend reading, he asks, “..how can we view our most challenging or disturbing thoughts as our own without getting caught up in false beliefs about who we are as people? Here I think we can benefit from distinguishing between content and process.”

Jon goes on to explain the difference between content and process. In one example he compares the content of thoughts to the ingredients in soup – content is simply what the soup (or thoughts) is made of. Process is more akin to our reaction to the soup. We might love the taste, or think it’s way too spicy or even inedible. In those with OCD, it is the process (how they react to their thoughts) that deserves attention and ultimately needs to be addressed and modified, not the content (what the thoughts are comprised of).

Jon goes on to give a great argument as to why content is not important in dealing with OCD:

If your first response to any thought is to disown it (i.e. “that’s not my thought”), then you are starting off by framing your thought as a threat and this is what kicks off the obsessive-compulsive loop. There is nothing to disown. It’s just what you happened to notice going on in the mind. If you want thoughts to stop being intrusive, you have to stop treating them like they are intruders. If you want them to come and go with ease, you have to allow them free passage.

I love it!

If you want thoughts to stop being intrusive, you have to stop treating them like they are intruders.

To all those struggling with OCD, I highly recommend taking Jon Hershfield’s advice. Focus on the process – the part where you are now likely dealing with things such as guilt, avoidance, and compulsions. Change your reaction. How you might ask? You guessed it – by embracing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.

 

 

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8 Responses to OCD and Thinking about Thoughts

  1. J Morgan says:

    Thank you. Very good ideas here.

  2. David Stein says:

    Any thought that triggers OCD feeling of anxiety, fear, discomfort, and will not go away or refuses to be processed out of the mind creates and OCD episode. It’s true. It is not the thought it is all in how it is perceived.
    It is all about recognizing what an OCD thought or feeling is that defines the experience with it. There in lies solutions through one method or another of identifying and dealing with the thought. The trigger could be a pot of old noodles.

    • I agree that it’s all in the perception…..everyone has to find what works for them. I do like what Jon has to say about focusing on the process and not the content. Hope things are going well for you!

  3. Curtis Johnson says:

    It’s easy for someone to say, ” just let it pass through your mind” it is something else to just let it pass through your mind.

    • Hi Curtis, Thanks for your comment and you are so right. I often say it is a lot easier to write about OCD and its treatment than to actually experience it. Learning to let the thoughts just pass does not happen overnight – far from it – and takes a huge commitment and hopefully a good therapist to guide you. It is not easy but it is doable, as so many people can attest to. Wishing you all the best and I hope to hear from you again!

  4. Daniel Walks says:

    We suffer from a catastrophic misinterpretation of our thoughts.

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