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gingerbreadgirl

How to not respond to the thoughts

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I've wanted to write a post about this for a while because I think it's a huge stumbling block for many OCD sufferers, me included.  This year has been a bad year for me OCD-wise, but I've also learned a lot - and I think the biggest thing I've learned is how to respond to the thoughts when they hit.

If there's one thing pretty much everyone agrees on, it's that when OCD thoughts hit, we should respond by doing nothing.  Dismiss them, get on with your day, sit with the anxiety, etc.  I think for people whose biggest compulsion is rumination (which TBH I think is most of us, even those with more "physical" manifestations of OCD), this is the most important thing to master.

But it's all very well saying you should do this.  But how?

If there's one thing I've learned this year, it's this: don't push the thoughts away. 

I spent months and months trying to "dismiss" the thoughts by pushing them away.  I didn't even realise that's what I was doing. The thoughts would hit, I'd get an intense and sometimes overwhelming surge of panic, and I'd think: "oh god, an OCD thought, I need to do CBT, I need to dismiss this thought, think about something else" - and I would fiercely push the thought away by trying to do something else.  This, I believed, was the right thing to do.  And I believed this despite having quite a lot of knowledge about OCD - I wasn't new to CBT, I'd been round the block a bit.  But I still believed this, in that moment of panic. 

Except it wasn't working.  Because in pushing the thoughts away so fiercely, I was sending my brain a message: this thought is SCARY. Why else would I be trying so hard to put it out of my mind? And then as soon as I ran out of distracting activities to do, the panic would return.  I got panic about panic - if that makes sense.  I'd think: this will never ever go away.  I got obsessed with not wanting to be obsessed.

I think I read something on here which turned things around - or a few things which combined to make me reach that "aha" moment.  And it changed everything.  Instead of pushing the thought away, I started letting it in.  I welcomed it into my mind, I breathed life into it and held the door open for as long as it wanted to stay.  I imagined the thought floating around my mind, unimpeded.  I held an image in my mind.  And the anxiety came as well, thick and fast - I welcomed that in too.  I made my brain an access-all-areas arena, no thoughts were out of bounds, in fact I welcomed them all - a blanket acceptance, whether OCD or not.  Essentially it was irrelevant whether it was OCD or not - thoughts are thoughts.

The important thing though was that I let the thoughts in, freely and fully, but DIDN'T RESPOND TO THEM (at least as much as I could). Letting them in is not the same as engaging with them. You're not sorting them out or pinning them down. This is key. 

So I welcomed the thoughts in, but I didn't try and work them out, or pin them down, or label them as this that or the other - I just let them be there, I let them do whatever they wanted, for as long as they wanted.  And I allowed the anxiety to be there, the stomach churning, that horrible feeling - I allowed it to be there, for as long as it wanted to stay.   I got comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And as soon as I started doing it this way, things started to change.  My brain got the hang of it pretty quickly: it realised the thought can't be that scary if you're happy to let it stick around.  And the brain is pretty quick on the uptake if you teach it the right things.

I wanted to share this because it was such a game-changer for me, even if reading back it now seems pretty obvious.  I now find it quite habitual to respond to the thoughts like this - to take a breath, relax into the thought, let it in.  And in time, it gets bored and wafts out again.  I don't always get this right, and I am still learning, but I'm in a much better place now. 

OCD thoughts are literally no different to any other thoughts - your brain sees them as important because you teach it that through your responses.  If you treat the thoughts as unimportant and irrelevant guff - and that you are so indifferent to them you don't care if they stick around or not - then your brain will respond by letting the thoughts go.  if however you try and force the thoughts away through distraction or thought blocking or any other means, you are teaching your brain the thought is scary and intolerable.  Your brain is always listening and it will respond to what you tell it.  

 

 

Edited by gingerbreadgirl

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Wonderful GBG,  eloquent and specific. 

And doesn't it just shout to people that, if what we are doing isn't working, then this a good place to come and get insight from those who really have been there and searched for their own missing link. 

Thank you for posting this. Hopefully it will inspire others :)

 

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This is put well. I actually tried doing this once yesterday but I felt so guilty and anxious for not carrying out the compulsions. But yesterday I felt I could do it and today morning I felt hopeless again. But like everyone including @dksea mentioned, it has to be a continuous effort. Thank you for this post :)

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3 hours ago, Pranjali said:

This is put well. I actually tried doing this once yesterday but I felt so guilty and anxious for not carrying out the compulsions. But yesterday I felt I could do it and today morning I felt hopeless again. But like everyone including @dksea mentioned, it has to be a continuous effort. Thank you for this post :)

It is horribly difficult but you are doing the right things in recognising this and that it has to be a continual effort. There will be missteps and wrong turnings but as long as you keep picking yourself up and trying again you'll get there eventually - and it does get easier along the way. Gbg x  

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I think you make a really good point about there being a panic about panic. Essentially that is what the root of the problem is, we are scared of feeling the anxiety. For me, the problem is with how the thoughts make me feel, they seem real and I’m scared of not being able to feel better. If you realise that the feelings associated with the thoughts won’t actually hurt you and that they will pass, the thoughts will also pass.

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13 hours ago, malina said:

we are scared of feeling the anxiety.

This is so true for me as well.  This fear that "what I'm doing isn't working, the anxiety will never go away". We have to take a "so what?" approach. 

 

13 hours ago, malina said:

 If you realise that the feelings associated with the thoughts won’t actually hurt you and that they will pass, the thoughts will also pass.

This is a great way of putting it.  If we just think "fine, anxiety, be there if you want, I'm getting on anyway" then it totally loses its power, and if we no longer fear anxiety, OCD can't do anything to us.  

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Great post. I am trying this as well. It's not easy. Basically I say "f*** it, let whatever happens happen. It can't be much worse than with all these crazy thoughts".

The real difficulty for me is deciding which concerns warrant attention and which don't. The stuff I obsess over is always objectively possible but typically not so probable. Obviously real life concerns exist and sometimes warrant some measures .... I guess this is where the "healthy twin" comes in.

Edited by Flipfix

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This is something I just started figuring out myself GBG, it’s funny that we’be both managed to learn a lot when we’ve both suffered a bad relapse in our condition! Glad that this was written to be honest, I realised that the past few years, I was doing the exact thing you said about ‘dismissing’ the thoughts by actively rejecting them. Even though I was relatively OCD free, I would always do this and in the end all it did was eventually let the thoughts back in to cause me all sorts of bother this year!

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4 hours ago, Flipfix said:

Great post. I am trying this as well. It's not easy. Basically I say "f*** it, let whatever happens happen. It can't be much worse than with all these crazy thoughts".

The real difficulty for me is deciding which concerns warrant attention and which don't. The stuff I obsess over is always objectively possible but typically not so probable. Obviously real life concerns exist and sometimes warrant some measures .... I guess this is where the "healthy twin" comes in.

Hi flipfix

I have this issue but I've had to take the view that NONE of it needs my attention. They are all just thoughts, all of it. If anything really needs my attention then life will have to bring it to me some other way, eg a conversation or actual tangible evidence. Thoughts are just thoughts and I've tried to let them all go. Am I overlooking something real? Maybe. But if it's really important then it won't just go away and I can deal with it another day. Right now my priority is ocd. 

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1 hour ago, Ollie46 said:

This is something I just started figuring out myself GBG, it’s funny that we’be both managed to learn a lot when we’ve both suffered a bad relapse in our condition! Glad that this was written to be honest, I realised that the past few years, I was doing the exact thing you said about ‘dismissing’ the thoughts by actively rejecting them. Even though I was relatively OCD free, I would always do this and in the end all it did was eventually let the thoughts back in to cause me all sorts of bother this year!

It sounds like you and I have had a very similar year where our old coping mechanisms have crumbled and we've had to find new ways. Hopefully those new ways will serve us well in the future and it will all have been worth it :) 

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On Sunday, November 25, 2018 at 12:45, gingerbreadgirl said:

I've wanted to write a post about this for a while because I think it's a huge stumbling block for many OCD sufferers, me included.  This year has been a bad year for me OCD-wise, but I've also learned a lot - and I think the biggest thing I've learned is how to respond to the thoughts when they hit.

If there's one thing pretty much everyone agrees on, it's that when OCD thoughts hit, we should respond by doing nothing.  Dismiss them, get on with your day, sit with the anxiety, etc.  I think for people whose biggest compulsion is rumination (which TBH I think is most of us, even those with more "physical" manifestations of OCD), this is the most important thing to master.

But it's all very well saying you should do this.  But how?

If there's one thing I've learned this year, it's this: don't push the thoughts away. 

I spent months and months trying to "dismiss" the thoughts by pushing them away.  I didn't even realise that's what I was doing. The thoughts would hit, I'd get an intense and sometimes overwhelming surge of panic, and I'd think: "oh god, an OCD thought, I need to do CBT, I need to dismiss this thought, think about something else" - and I would fiercely push the thought away by trying to do something else.  This, I believed, was the right thing to do.  And I believed this despite having quite a lot of knowledge about OCD - I wasn't new to CBT, I'd been round the block a bit.  But I still believed this, in that moment of panic. 

Except it wasn't working.  Because in pushing the thoughts away so fiercely, I was sending my brain a message: this thought is SCARY. Why else would I be trying so hard to put it out of my mind? And then as soon as I ran out of distracting activities to do, the panic would return.  I got panic about panic - if that makes sense.  I'd think: this will never ever go away.  I got obsessed with not wanting to be obsessed.

I think I read something on here which turned things around - or a few things which combined to make me reach that "aha" moment.  And it changed everything.  Instead of pushing the thought away, I started letting it in.  I welcomed it into my mind, I breathed life into it and held the door open for as long as it wanted to stay.  I imagined the thought floating around my mind, unimpeded.  I held an image in my mind.  And the anxiety came as well, thick and fast - I welcomed that in too.  I made my brain an access-all-areas arena, no thoughts were out of bounds, in fact I welcomed them all - a blanket acceptance, whether OCD or not.  Essentially it was irrelevant whether it was OCD or not - thoughts are thoughts.

The important thing though was that I let the thoughts in, freely and fully, but DIDN'T RESPOND TO THEM (at least as much as I could). Letting them in is not the same as engaging with them. You're not sorting them out or pinning them down. This is key. 

So I welcomed the thoughts in, but I didn't try and work them out, or pin them down, or label them as this that or the other - I just let them be there, I let them do whatever they wanted, for as long as they wanted.  And I allowed the anxiety to be there, the stomach churning, that horrible feeling - I allowed it to be there, for as long as it wanted to stay.   I got comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And as soon as I started doing it this way, things started to change.  My brain got the hang of it pretty quickly: it realised the thought can't be that scary if you're happy to let it stick around.  And the brain is pretty quick on the uptake if you teach it the right things.

I wanted to share this because it was such a game-changer for me, even if reading back it now seems pretty obvious.  I now find it quite habitual to respond to the thoughts like this - to take a breath, relax into the thought, let it in.  And in time, it gets bored and wafts out again.  I don't always get this right, and I am still learning, but I'm in a much better place now. 

OCD thoughts are literally no different to any other thoughts - your brain sees them as important because you teach it that through your responses.  If you treat the thoughts as unimportant and irrelevant guff - and that you are so indifferent to them you don't care if they stick around or not - then your brain will respond by letting the thoughts go.  if however you try and force the thoughts away through distraction or thought blocking or any other means, you are teaching your brain the thought is scary and intolerable.  Your brain is always listening and it will respond to what you tell it.  

 

 

Very helpful :goodpost:

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4 hours ago, gingerbreadgirl said:

Hi flipfix

I have this issue but I've had to take the view that NONE of it needs my attention. They are all just thoughts, all of it. If anything really needs my attention then life will have to bring it to me some other way, eg a conversation or actual tangible evidence. Thoughts are just thoughts and I've tried to let them all go. Am I overlooking something real? Maybe. But if it's really important then it won't just go away and I can deal with it another day. Right now my priority is ocd. 

Yeah, that could work most of the time.

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This is a great post Gbg. 

For a while now I’ve been able to deal with some of my OCD themes, through like you say, getting use to feeling uncomfortable, mainly the driving and locking door ones. With both of those I have to sit with the anxiety and I’ve found both go down quite quickly now. 

One of my therapists always used to say to me ‘don’t fight the thought’ and although I never fully understood what she meant, maybe now I do after reading your thread and likening it to being able to deal with the above themes - Just need to apply it to the other themes I have now too, which is proving harder!! 

Hope you’re doing ok Gbg x

 

 

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Amazing post. Well written. We’ll done. 

Sometimes acceptance is the first and hardest step to take. Sometimes getting back up again and again is hard but with consitant effort it gets easier. Embrace the intrusions and the feelings they bring. Show the bully your NOT playing the game. It has no where to hide. Sometimes I take the intrusion and make it far worse then it can possibly  be and make it as bad as it can be. That way really getting into it and then I feel loads better as I know it’s my worse fears and I’m playing with them, almost making fun of them. 

I try the 4 step to intrusive thoughts and this works so well. 

 

Good diet/exercise/mindfulness/CBT notes/ERP/me time are the Kay to my way forward. And I can now add to this the OCDUK forum too. 

 

Thank u for great posts everyone xxx

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17 hours ago, Dragonfly said:

This is a great post Gbg. 

For a while now I’ve been able to deal with some of my OCD themes, through like you say, getting use to feeling uncomfortable, mainly the driving and locking door ones. With both of those I have to sit with the anxiety and I’ve found both go down quite quickly now. 

One of my therapists always used to say to me ‘don’t fight the thought’ and although I never fully understood what she meant, maybe now I do after reading your thread and likening it to being able to deal with the above themes - Just need to apply it to the other themes I have now too, which is proving harder!! 

Hope you’re doing ok Gbg x

 

 

Hi Dragonfly

Good to hear from you and glad it's helped :) I'm doing OK thanks.  OCD is much better now, just have a few niggles left. Sounds like you are making good progress too? x

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14 hours ago, Dawnie said:

Amazing post. Well written. We’ll done. 

Sometimes acceptance is the first and hardest step to take. Sometimes getting back up again and again is hard but with consitant effort it gets easier. Embrace the intrusions and the feelings they bring. Show the bully your NOT playing the game. It has no where to hide. Sometimes I take the intrusion and make it far worse then it can possibly  be and make it as bad as it can be. That way really getting into it and then I feel loads better as I know it’s my worse fears and I’m playing with them, almost making fun of them. 

I try the 4 step to intrusive thoughts and this works so well. 

 

Good diet/exercise/mindfulness/CBT notes/ERP/me time are the Kay to my way forward. And I can now add to this the OCDUK forum too. 

 

Thank u for great posts everyone xxx

Thanks Dawnie :) - and so true what you say about embracing the intrusions and making it even worse.  Then OCD has nowhere to go and it slinks off. 

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1 hour ago, gingerbreadgirl said:

Hi Dragonfly

Good to hear from you and glad it's helped :) I'm doing OK thanks.  OCD is much better now, just have a few niggles left. Sounds like you are making good progress too? x

Ah that’s great to hear! :)

I’m doing ok thanks, like you still have niggles here and there and anxious times, but dealing with it a lot better :) Xx

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12 hours ago, gingerbreadgirl said:

Thanks Helen :) Hope you're OK. 

Thanks yeah I'm ok u

Edited by helen10937

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