Intrusive thoughts: why they appear and how to manage them
Have you ever been immersed in a thought loop that you don’t know how to get out of? Have you ever experienced the unpleasant feeling of not being able to “push out” of your mind an idea that hurts you? Like a catchy song, do you feel unable to think clearly because the background melody of some repetitive thought is continually playing?
If you think these examples explain your situation, it is very possible that you are a regular victim of intrusive thoughts . We’ll see exactly what they are below.
Obsessions are intrusive, repetitive, and disturbing thoughts that remain in our minds for long periods of time despite attempts to fight or flee from them. They are those intrusive thoughts that we do not want to have, because we are aware of their uselessness/dysfunctionality and yet they end up coming to us again and again, disturbing our calm and making it difficult to concentrate.
If we do not work on them , these intrusive thoughts can end up becoming the axis of our lives , because while we put all our attention on them, we exclude the reality around us. We feel unable to redirect our attention to other stimuli because obsessive thinking governs everything. Thinking and rethinking things is perhaps one of the most frequent problems of our society, being a source of anxiety, suffering, incapacity…
How are obsessions generated?
Obsessions arise because people have developed the illusion of absolute control. We want to have everything under our control because we have not learned to tolerate uncertainty, but this illusion collapses again and again when we see that certain circumstances in life are uncontrollable , for example diseases or the behavior of others.
Obsessive thoughts can also appear when we find ourselves in the situation of having to make a decision and not knowing what to choose within the possibilities. We go around for days, months, or even years falling into the trap of obsessive immobilization, not realizing that not deciding is already deciding.
Giorgio Nardone exposes in his book “I think then I suffer” that doubts are the springboard of our creative thinking, but also the spring of obsessive thinking. In the first case the doubt is dominated and oriented, leading to the discovery of new thoughts. In the second, it is combated and repressed, and becomes the tyrant that pursues the thought.
Since it is very likely that we will never be sure that the decision we make is the right one, it is advisable to take the time strictly necessary to evaluate the pros and cons and then decide, taking responsibility for the fact that we may have made a mistake and learning to give up the path we have decided not to take.
Our conscious being tends to rationally reject those intrusive thoughts that disturb us . This is normal, since if you stop to think you will realize that there are enough stressful events to make us live with constant unease if our attention cannot be detached from them.
Therefore, a struggle between rational thoughts and irrational or uncomfortable thoughts is likely to occur at times. On the one hand, these uncomfortable thoughts, by “being forbidden” have a lot of potential when it comes to attracting our attention to them . On the other hand, the part of thoughts and sensations that we can tolerate does not necessarily have to be strong enough to “cover” all of our reality, without leaving any gaps.
However, the paradox occurs that to think that we do not want to think about something is already to focus our attention on it, and the frustration of wanting to erase a thought from our mind and obtain the opposite effect appears: to strengthen it.
How can we manage intrusive thoughts?
Obsessive thoughts are a warning sign. That’s why one of the first steps must be to pull the thread (alone if we are trained, or in the company of a trained professional) to discover where they come from and why they are maintained, and to be able to work on them from the root .
If we don’t, the cause that pushes those intrusive thoughts into our consciousness will continue to do so, and not only that, but we will gradually succumb to the force of stress. Therefore, we must go beyond the immediate symptoms and look for causes that explain this phenomenon.
In addition, we can use a series of tactics to manage intrusive thoughts appropriately and lessen their impact on our lives.
1. Disconnecting thoughts
Discover and accept that you are not your thoughts. You don’t decide what comes to your mind or not, but you can select what you are interested in and want to keep, and the other thing send to your SPAM folder .
When the thought appears, it is no use fighting it, for it will become stronger. Investigate why it appears in your mind and then decide if you should focus on it. If not, say goodbye and visualize how it goes.
It is an exercise that requires effort and training, and it is normal that at first you see that the results are not as expected or that you find it difficult to disengage. But if you work constantly you will find that they end up losing strength and disappearing.
Carrying out activities that encourage concentration, attention and self-control.
Training your mind in techniques such as meditation, yoga or Mindfulness will help you gain self-control over your own thoughts and you will learn to focus your attention on other areas when recurring thoughts appear.
2. Getting regular physical exercise
Thoughts are energy, and it is much easier to control them when we have released the excess energy that our body generates. Therefore, daily physical exercise will help us to have a clearer and more relaxed mind and to reduce the intensity of recurring thoughts.
3. Daily dedication to thinking about disturbing thought
If you have been thinking about a certain thought for a long time , and you are not able to just give it up, spend 15 minutes a day, always at the same time and in the same place, thinking only and exclusively about it. You can take notes and leave your reflections in writing to gain in productivity, but as soon as the alarm sounds that warns you that the quarter of an hour has passed, you cannot think about it again until the next day.
4. Avoid talking continuously about recurring thoughts
Seeking the tranquility or opinion of people on a continuous basis is a double-edged sword . On the one hand, it produces a temporary tranquility or “relief” but on the other hand, it encourages and reinforces the maintenance of the problem as well as the feeling that we are not capable of solving it by ourselves, which generates feelings of low self-esteem and interpersonal dependence.
When is it necessary to contact a professional?
If your recurring thoughts have become an obsessive vicious circle that you are unable to let go of, affecting your daily life and considerably diminishing your quality of life, it is recommended that you visit a specialist with whom you can analyse your situation , discover the causes of the appearance and maintenance of the obsessions, and learn tools that will enable you to learn to think more healthily and effectively on your own.