The first step for processing obsessive thoughts is understanding what they are. The ones we call obsessive are the intrusive ideas that have a tendency to get stuck in your head. In a lot of cases they start to recur. They show up in a way that you’ll see as involuntary. They come out of nowhere, cut off other trains of thought, and you can’t shake them off. They’re generally about very intense things, like catastrophes and harm. They cause fear.
There are a lot of unresolved issues behind these obsessive ideas. And they’re almost always related to an unconscious or unconfronted feeling of guilt. The recurring idea is a kind of punishment for something you might have done and think was awful. But it avoids your conscious mind. And even though that’s the case, you can still process your obsessive thoughts and make them lose strength. Here are three strategies to achieve that.
1. The quicksand metaphor
One good way to process obsessive thoughts is to see them as a kind of quicksand, a trap. Imagine for a second that you get caught in a pit. Your instincts will make you want to get out as quickly as possible. But if you try to move forward or up with your legs, you’ll only end up sinking farther down.
It’s the same with obsessive thoughts. You can only get out of a pit of quicksand if you calm down and accept that you’re in an area where you have to calculate your every move. If you try to lay down on your back and float calmly, you’ll probably drift closer and closer to the edge.
And once again it’s the same with obsessive thoughts. You shouldn’t fight against them directly. There’s no point resisting. Give your obsessive thought 15 or 20 minutes of your time. Let it stay there, observe it, look for all its details. After that time has gone by try to do something else for 15 or 20 minutes. Then repeat this cycle until you feel better.
2. Holding onto emotions, one way to process obsessive thoughts
If you want to process your obsessive thoughts properly, make an effort to hold onto your emotions. Accept that you’re going to feel some emotional discomfort for a little while. If you admit to yourself that you’re feeling those emotions–especially anxiety–they’ll disappear little by little.
Let them go on flowing till they end. These kinds of emotions wear themselves out if you don’t interfere with them. To be more clear, it’s like having a pimple or a mosquito bite that really bothers you. You can feel it, but you decide not to scratch. Of course it’s awfully annoying, but you know it will go away in the end.
The discomfort will reach a certain point, then start to reduce. The key is in trying not to soothe yourself by scratching. You have to do the same thing with anxiety or any other negative emotion that comes along with an obsessive thought.
3. Good exercises to help with obsessive thoughts
Keep in mind that your goal is to process the obsessive thoughts, not prevent them. You can’t control obsessions with your mind, that’s just the way it is. They take a much deeper and longer process, usually through psychotherapy. All that being said, there are also some good exercises you can do to help you with these thoughts:
- Talk about your obsession out loud for one minute. Don’t talk to your obsession, talk about it. You should talk faster than you can keep up with. It doesn’t matter if you’re making any sense, that’s actually the least important thing. In fact, you can even say just one or two words. For example, if you obsess over the idea that robbers could enter your home, repeat “robbers-enter-robbers-enter,” fast and without no interruptions for one minute.
- Sing your obsession. Look for a melody you like and try to give it some new lyrics about your obsession. Any time these intrusive ideas show up in your head, start singing. Change the lyrics whenever you feel like it.
- Draw your obsessions. Give them a shape. Make up characters if you need to. Don’t just doodle, do the best drawing you can. Fill it up with colors, details, and anything that comes to your mind.
Like we said at the beginning, processing obsessive thoughts isn’t easy. But if you’re consistent in using these strategies to achieve that, you’ll definitely end up reducing the effect and frequency of these intrusive thoughts. To send them away forever, you’ll need therapeutic help. Don’t hesitate to get it if you need it.