Do you or someone you know, struggle with negative thoughts that threaten the quality of life and performance at work or home? Perhaps you (or your friend) have a mental disorder that causes obsessive thoughts.
The obsessive thoughts enslave an individual in what appears as a vicious cycle of thought-driven compulsive behavior. The common effect of these thoughts is an unhealthy worry. The numbing bit id that the condition takes over an individual’s ability to control their most recurrent and distressing thoughts, as well as images.
According to brain imaging studies, obsessive thinking has associations with some neurological dysfunctions whose causes are unknown. The causes force the images and thoughts into what appears to be a repetitive loop. Think of it like a wheel that never stops turning but with different things getting into and out of it all the time.
The common, most devastating side effect of these thoughts is detachment from the present so that one lives in the future or the past – the thoughts server an individual’s connection to the present.
When the obsessive thoughts get linked to obsessive-compulsive behavior, body dysmorphic disorder, depression, or even attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, all those thoughts flooding your system become persistent, paralyzing, and anxiety-provoking.
Some of the common phenomena associated with the thoughts include anxiety disorders, episodic memory, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorder, psychosis, and other anxiety disorders.
Anxiety, the most common mental disorder affecting millions of children and adults across the world appears to be a symptom of obsessive thinking with persistent negative thoughts being the common indicator of anxiety. This is the case because anxiety intrudes and stunts the ability to shift focus from the things you don’t wish to focus on. Eventually, these thoughts result in obsessions.
While we all have things we are obsessed with, the obsession turns into an anxiety disorder when the thoughts are always negative and when they cause more stress or anxiety.
From studies and experiences, all types of anxiety result in obsessive thoughts. Some of these obsessive thoughts include:
- OCD Obsessions – These thoughts are fearful, sexual, or violent and they range from you having obsessive thoughts about getting sick, not having everything organized, worrying over little things, thinking about hurting your loved one, a stranger, or yourself. Though the degree of negativity varies, these thoughts are distressing and impossible to shake hence the resultant compulsions (what you think you need to do to reduce the obsessive thought).
- Phobias which cause phobia obsession or social phobias
- Panic disorders which may cause hypochondria and other health phobias.
- Generalized anxiety disorder.
Fear of making mistakes, getting rejected, being embarrassed, causing harm to others, having doubts, evil thoughts running through the mind, or being afraid that a place isn’t as clean or precise.
Types of Intrusive/ Obsessive Thoughts
Relationship-related obsessive thinking: these are thoughts and doubts over the suitability of relationships, partner or sexuality. Here, one constantly analyzes the depths of their feelings for the other party, they need to seek constant reassurance, doubt the partner’s faithfulness, and they even question their sexuality.
Sexual: this is where an individual obsesses over unintentionally causing some form of inappropriate sexual harm to kids or when one questions their sexuality. They could worry that they are pedophiles, attracted to members of their family, homosexual, or they could have thoughts of touching kids inappropriately.
Religious thoughts: one has obsessive thoughts about saints, God, and other religious figures. Often, these individuals will have thoughts fixated on the importance as well as the sensitivity of some religious matters
Magical obsessive thinking: with such thoughts, an individual worries that if they think about something bad, that thing will happen. This is also called thought-action fusion. As a result, the sufferer will beset the negative thoughts by trying to perform some rituals to dispel the thoughts.
Violent, obsessive thoughts: this is where an individual has fears over acting violently against their loved ones or even strangers.
Though the exact cause of the disorder is not known yet, a combination of environmental and biological factors are believed to be among the causes.
One of the biological causes is a low concentration of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that increases positive feeling and a general feeling of wellbeing.
Other causes include
- Brain chemistry imbalances
- Chronic drug use
- Childhood traumatic injury
How to deal with the thoughts
You may be wondering: wouldn’t it be easy for you to mask or will away those thoughts by thinking about everything good in your life? Well, contrary to this ‘often misguided’ thought, you cannot while away these thoughts or the images because they get embedded within a complex network that intertwines feelings and sensations, as well as behavioral routines and rituals. And it gets complicated in that: doing that thing you are obsessed with reduces your anxiety, but it only increases the urge to do that which you didn’t want to.
But, that does not mean that you cannot control your thoughts and reduce the compulsions. All you have to do is to recognize that the bad thoughts don’t make you an evil person. Acceptance is an alternative to suppressing those negative thoughts.
- Be kind to yourself
Compassion rather than self-shaming works wonders in controlling obsessive thinking. So, learn to be comfortable with those thoughts for that they are, don’t push them away. As mentioned above, pushing that thought to the back if your mind will fuel the compulsion to grow stronger. You should also be around people who appreciate, rather than condemn you.
- Journal your thoughts, especially the persistent ones. By keeping these thoughts somewhere else, your mind stops to focus on them too much.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Medication to increase the levels of serotonin in the body.
- Addressing the causes of stress or dealing with the childhood trauma.