The goal for many people I work with is to get rid of all thoughts relating to HOCD. The problem is, the more you try to stop HOCD thoughts, the harder it is for you to get better.
Don’t panic, though; this does not mean that you cannot recover, as effective treatments are available.
I can see why you might think that stopping the thoughts altogether will mean that you get better; once the thoughts are gone, you are okay, right? That’s not necessarily true, and I am going to explain this to you now.
Why wanting to stop HOCD thoughts is not the best solution
You (or me) can’t control our thoughts
Stop reading this for a minute and sit back and have a look at your thoughts. I did this just now, and probably because it was a forced situation, i.e. I made myself do it, I found that I didn’t even have complete sentences. I was aware of
- I wonder……… and then the sentence didn’t complete
- There’s a bird outside my window, and the thought in my head wasn’t about the bird as such, rather I noticed I was saying the word ‘cheep, cheep.’
You might find you have broken thoughts like mine, or you might have thoughts relating to HOCD, as that is why you landed on this page in the first place. I hope you see that you don’t really have much control over your thoughts; your mind wanders.
What is it about the thoughts, that make you want to stop them?
I am guessing that you want to get rid of the thoughts because
- they make you feel anxious
- they make you doubt yourself and your sexuality
- they make you question your relationship
- they make you wonder how other people see you
- they annoy, disturb or frighten you
- you experience arousal
You can add other things to the list, but you will see that it is not the thought in itself that is problematic. It is how much you believe the thought, how it makes you feel and what you do with the thought.
For example, if you have thought I am gay. If you think this might be true, you might feel confused, annoyed, worried or anxious. You then do something with the thought. Think of the ‘do’ as an action. You might search for information on the internet relating to HOCD. Stop and ask yourself why you do this.
You might be
- looking for reassurance or information
- want to check your symptoms
You will have more reasons than this, but you could well find that the things you do help you with the doubt that you experience and the confusion.
Trying to stop the thought has repercussions that you might not expect. If I ask you to try to stop the thought, ‘Am I gay? If you think about that now, it could well make you feel anxious, and being human, we do not like comfortable emotions, so you might do everything you can to get rid of the thought, but really you are trying to get rid of the anxiety it creates, and the doubt that goes along with having HOCD.
Hopefully, I am explaining this well enough that you are open to the idea that it is not the thought that is the problem; it is how you interpret it and what you do.
Furthermore, you are probably not able to ‘stop the thought.’ The more you try not to think about it, the stronger the thought becomes, the more anxious you feel, and the more compulsions you carry out. I am purposefully introducing you to the idea of what the things you do are, in fact, compulsions.
This starts to create a loop, and you keep going round in circles, each time making the thought stronger.
I would suggest that rather than trying to stop the thought, you need to react to the thought differently, and you need to change what you do. This is, in fact, working with obsessions and compulsions.
Why stopping HOCD thoughts is not effective
As I’ve mentioned above, you can’t control your thoughts. But let’s say your most troubling thought was, am I gay, and you managed to get rid of this thought. What happens when you get a related thought such as ‘did I just look at that man/woman?’ It will still trigger doubts and anxiety.
Or what if you are watching a movie and see 2 men (or women) kiss? I am guessing you will not feel okay just because you managed to stop one thought. Rather you will still feel the anxiety, and HOCD related thoughts will come into your head.
What I am trying to get you to see is that stopping thoughts alone will not work, as you have probably built up an elaborate way to cope with HOCD, such as
- avoiding things that you think might act as a trigger
- looking for reassurance or checking you are not get
- checking for arousal etc
The key to overcoming HOCD is being able to have your thoughts without
- the anxiety spike
- needing to ‘do’ something with the thought
- needing to get reassurance or check that it is only HOCD
The list above is, in fact, some obsessions and compulsions that arise in HOCD. Rather than trying to stop the thoughts, you need to consider this. It is not the thought that is the problem; it is how you interpret the thought and what you do next.