It’s becoming increasingly important to me to be aware of my thought patterns because I’m recognizing the ways they can affect how I feel.
I may not be able to stop or control my thoughts, but I can add new ones and guide myself to dwell on the helpful ones, like I did in the “prove it” exercise I wrote about in my last post.
I still have a lot of confusion about the importance of/lack of importance of thoughts. But I’ve been doing some interesting reading that I thought I would share with you.
According to Jonathan Grayson, Ph.D., in his Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty, one common OCD cognitive distortion is the over-importance of thoughts, also known as thought-action fusion (TAF): “If this disorder is part of your OCD, then you tend to consider thoughts equivalent to action. You spend your time trying to figure out why you are having such an awful thought and whether or not it means something terrible about you” (p. 99).
If you have TAF, you may have been “thinking that the goal of treatment is either to stop the thoughts or to know that they mean nothing of importance” (p. 99). But that’s not the goal of treatment. Rather, that “goal of treatment is to learn to accept the possibility of all these meanings—even the possibilities of the worst ones” (p. 99).
Another common OCD cognitive distortion is excessive concern about the importance of controlling your thoughts. The focus is “on the belief that you should be able to control your thoughts or avoid having certain thoughts” (p. 99). This belief doesn’t have any support, though: “Such thought control is not possible for anyone to achieve. Any and all thoughts that come into your mind, no matter how evil, twisted, or perverse they may seem, are normal” (p. 99).
Therefore, “the goal of treatment is not to stop these thoughts, but to learn to allow them to be on your mind without being upset about them” (p. 100).
For me, that’s where mindfulness comes in. In his book Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life, Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness in the following way: “Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (p. 1).
Awareness of your thoughts is one aspect of mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn says, “We see that thoughts, when brought into and held in awareness in this way, readily lose their power to dominate and dictate our responses to life, no matter what their content and emotional charge. They then become workable rather than imprisoning” (p. 38).
When I become aware of my thoughts, whether it’s through mindfulness meditation, a writing exercise, a discussion with a therapist or friend, or some other way, I needn’t be alarmed or afraid. They are just thoughts.
How I respond to them is still my choice.
What are some things you’ve discovered when you started paying attention to your thoughts?