Thought Action Fusion and its importance in Intrusive Thoughts

If you recognise yourself in the following statements, the following information on Thought Action Fusion is for you.

If you believe that thinking about something makes it more likely to happen and think something ‘bad’ or ‘immoral’ is practically the same as having carried out the thought, you are suffering because of faulty beliefs.

Thought Action Fusion is a term that describes the mistaken belief that having a thought might make it more possible that the thought will come true.  The term is usually associated with OCD.

If you have any form of Intrusive Thoughts, I think it is essential that you understand the concept of Thought Action Fusion; as for many people, and you might be one of them, the suffering that goes along with Intrusive Thoughts is in many ways related to a set of faulty beliefs that you might not be aware that you have.  Thought Action Fusion is one of these faulty beliefs.

Read more on Intrusive Thoughts

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What is Thought Action Fusion?

Thought Action Fusion is where you attribute some causal relationship between what you think and what might happen next; what you do, e.g. having the thought that I will have an accident, means that I will have an accident.  Or thinking about (insert thought) means that I am a bad person—a thought, followed by an action.  I shall give you more detailed examples in a minute.

Some people may mistakenly believe that having a ‘bad’ thought means that they have carried out the thought; for example, if you have the thought ‘I hurt someone’, you might start to believe that you have already hurt them.  Again, I shall explain this in more detail in the examples below.

Types of Thought Action Fusion

It is helpful to think of the following;

  • Thought Action Fusion towards yourself
  • Thought Action Fusion towards others

Examples of Thought Action Fusion

Thought Action Fusion towards self

Worrying that you will shout out something obscene in church and feeling that this is just as bad as having shouted out in church or the thought means that you will do something wrong in the church.

If I think bad thoughts, it means that I am a bad person

If I think ‘gay’ thoughts, it means that I am gay, read more on HOCD

If I think my relationship is not good enough (even though it is), I should leave my partner.

Thought Action Fusion towards others.

I could physically hurt that person and believe you are now more likely to do it because you had the thought.

I could harm my child, and feeling that this thought is just as bad as if you had harmed your child. Read more on Intrusive Thoughts that you could harm your child.

Worked examples

Thinking something ‘bad’ and convinced you have already done something immoral/illegal.

Previously I worked with someone who suffered from Intrusive Thoughts.  When I first met him, he had never heard of Intrusive Thoughts.  He came to see me as he kept having the thought that he had harmed someone in the past, even though he knew he did not.

During our sessions, we discovered that he had OCD-type symptoms in the past, although he had not been troubled with this for years.  Now he was experiencing high anxiety levels as he kept having the repeated thought that he had done something wrong in the past.  He was so concerned about this that he (in a roundabout way) tried to check with the person whether or not he had done something wrong to them in the past.

He analysed the thought, reviewing in detail everything he could remember, looking for evidence that he either did or did not harm the other person.  Initially, he did not find evidence but convinced himself that the thought must mean something.  He started to take this as evidence that he hurt the other person by believing it must mean something.

As he struggled more with his Intrusive Thoughts, his anxiety and guilt and shame started to increase.  He became worried that other people knew what he had done wrong.  He was terrified that the police would come to his door and he would be arrested for what he believed he had done in the past.  He often wanted to confess, own up to what he had done, and get relief.

I could harm my child.

Many parents with Intrusive Thoughts struggle with unwanted thoughts that they could either intentionally or accidentally harm their child in some way.  Thought Action Fusion, in this instance, could mean that you believe that.

  • Having the thought in your head makes it more likely that you are capable of doing something wrong,
  • having the thought is just as bad as actually carrying out the thought.

If you think of Thought Action Fusion as coming in the middle of your thoughts and compulsions, you can easily see why you would then feel the urge to carry out compulsions – you want to protect your child.

Further Reading:  How compulsions make your intrusive thoughts worse

HOCD Having the thought, “I am gay.”

If you have Homosexual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, having thoughts such as “What if I am gay” can falsely make you feel like your sexual preferences change.  If you experience Thought Action Fusion, it can result in

  • feeling like the thought makes it more likely that you are, in fact, gay
  • having the thought is just the same as being gay.

Find out more about treatments.

Further reading NCBI

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