Most of us have gone through times when, due to times of anxiety, stress or difficult situations, we have experienced a series of recurrent and uncontrollable ideas or thoughts that have generated high levels of distress.

However, although these experiences are generally normal, we run the risk of these thoughts becoming obsessions . To prevent this from happening, it will be very useful for us to know what these obsessions consist of, as well as their typologies and the resources we have at our disposal to combat them.

What is an obsession?

Obsessions, or obsessive thoughts, are thought dynamics in which the person’s mind clings to a fixed idea . Usually, these ideas are associated with some event, event or situation that implies a concern for the person that generates feelings of fear or distress.

In order for a thought to be considered obsessive, it must have a number of characteristics. The first is that these ideas must be repetitive and recurrent ; that is, they must constantly appear in the person’s mind.

In addition, they must also arise involuntarily and be uncontrollable; this means that no matter how hard the person tries to avoid thinking about them or to get them out of his head, these ideas will come back to the mind, perhaps even more strongly.

The most common causes that give rise to these obsessions or obsessive thoughts are states of anxiety and psychological stress . In both cases the person experiences a series of recurrent worries or fears that also tend to worsen the symptoms of anxiety.

Therefore, the person is involved in a vicious circle in which he or she suffers from anxiety that causes a series of obsessive thoughts, which in turn contribute to further feeding the symptoms of this anxiety.

The ways in which these obsessive thoughts are externalized are many and diverse, and in most cases will be influenced by the personality traits of the subject , as well as the context around him. Obsessive behaviours related to order, cleanliness or physical appearance, are the reflection of these ideas that cloud the person’s mind.

What’s the difference between a worry and an obsession?

Although it is true that a worry can become an obsession, and this in turn can acquire a degree of chronicity that makes it pathological , there are a series of differences that allow us to distinguish between a worry and an obsessive idea.

Unlike more normative concerns, obsessive thoughts have a much higher degree of intensity, frequency, and duration, so they are also likely to cause much more discomfort.

Moreover, in the case of obsessions, the subject has almost no control over them. That is, they show much greater resistance to the person’s attempts to remove them from his head .

Finally, according to a study by Paul Salkovskis, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science at the University of Bath, it was found that 90% of mentally healthy people experienced a range of intrusive ideas related to concerns that caused a high degree of distress and discomfort, but which did not rise to the level of obsessions.

When can they be considered pathological?

As we have seen before, a large number of people have to experience a series of obsessive thoughts which do not have to be linked to any kind of psychological pathology. However, there is a risk that these obsessions may turn into chronic obsessive thoughts, which may become an obsessive disorder and interfere significantly with the person’s day-to-day life.

Recurring normative category obsessions or concerns tend to disappear over time, or once the problem has been resolved. However, these thoughts can be very distressing and stressful.

When these thoughts become serious obsessions and are accompanied by compulsive acts designed to reduce the discomfort, the person may well suffer from the well-known obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In this case the obsessions do have to be qualified as pathological, since they are part of a much wider symptomatology.

Furthermore, although it is not a general rule, the thoughts that are characteristic of this type of psychological disorder do not have to be subject to reason . That is, the ideas or concerns that flood the patient’s mind may be incoherent or have no rational basis.

For example, the person may think in an uncontrolled and constant way that if the light is left on something bad may happen to him when he leaves the house, so he makes compulsive and constant checks. Here we show how thoughts are not necessarily logical, since they join two facts that in reality have nothing to do with each other.

Finally, although a person may come to accept that his ideas are not based on any logical principle, he is not able to eliminate these obsessions at all.

Types of obsessions

As for the content of obsessive thoughts, these can be as varied as people exist in the world. However, there are a number of relatively recurrent obsessions in both the OCD population and those who, because of the anxiety or stress they suffer, experience these kinds of uncontrollable thoughts.

Some types of obsessive ideas include:

  • Obsession with order and organization .
  • Obsessive fears in relation to home. Like closing down the whole house, leaving the light or gas on, etc.
  • Irrational and obsessive ideas about cleanliness and disease .
  • Obsessive fear of physical danger.
  • Obsessive thoughts of a sexual nature .

How do you manage these thoughts?

In cases where obsessions are part of a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder, it will be necessary for the person to visit a mental health professional to initiate therapy appropriate to his or her condition.

However, if these thoughts are only due to a particularly complicated stage of life, there are some techniques or steps a person can take in order to lessen or eliminate these thoughts. These techniques include

  • Keep the mind and body active through physical exercise.
  • Do not try to stop or control the thoughts , but let them flow temporarily until their intensity decreases.
  • Know the origin of these and try to solve the problem.
  • Reflect these thoughts in writing.
  • Carry out relaxation techniques.
  • If nothing works go to a professional psychologist .