top of page
  • Writer's picturedmitryzenin

Are intrusive and obsessive thoughts really uncontrollable?

Each of us has ever had automatic, intrusive and/or uncontrollable thoughts. In some people these thoughts appear very frequently, take a long time to go away, affect other areas of life and seem to control it. People come to assume that these thoughts are really uncontrollable and there is no way to make them go away.


Imagine that you are ruminating on a problem and suddenly the phone rings or somebody knocks on the door. At this time these thoughts disappear. That is, they are not so uncontrollable or intrusive if they vanish with a change of activity. Perhaps it would be useful to find activities that allow you not to sink into your ruminations and, little by little, train your control of thoughts. This way they will not occupy all the space and time of your life.

Over time some of us may begin to think that ruminating and constantly reflecting on problems helps us to solve them. However, the solution really comes through action and not through thought. Moreover, although this solution of rumination does not help to solve our problems, we continue to do so.

On the other hand, we often get used to fighting automatic thoughts. It turns out that it's unproductive. If you’re in quicksand, you probably want to move and escape. However, the more you move, the deeper you sink. Many experiments show that trying not to think about something only makes us think about it more. Don't you think it's better to accept your thougts, instead of fighting them, and let thoughts pass as something temporary? The clouds come and go but they never stay forever in the same place...

Change your attitudes and cognitions towards obsessive thoughts:

  • Do not fight them. If you are away from the shore, it is probably better to relax and float to soon reach the shore than to constantly struggle with the waves and lose all strength. Try to accept your thoughts. What’s more, you can purposely devote a few minutes of your time to them. Observe them and detail all their content. Then you change your activity by devoting the same time that you dedicated to thoughts.

  • Accept emotional distress for a while. With intrusive thoughts come negative emotions but if you don’t fight them, they will disappear. You can scratch a bite to ease the itch for a moment but then it will come back stronger. It is better to hold on for a while to feel the relief later.

  • Don’t judge. We tend to judge everything that happens to us. Even though it hurts us, we still do. It is better to get less involved in the judgments we make because excessive discomfort is useless and serves no purpose.

There are several techniques and strategies that might help you when you have problems with you authomatic thoughts, for example:

  • Here and now. We’re often overwhelmed by thoughts about the future or the past, generating a lot of anxiety. Try to look at the present moment by paying attention to what is around right now: What objects are around? What colors do they have? What does it smell like? What does the fruit taste like? What’s the texture of the chair you’re sitting in? or Do you hear birds or cars on the street? Practice this exercise more often and gradually it will come out automatically.

  • Rewarding activities. It is crucial seeking pleasurable activities that occupy all your attention. Some people find it at work which helps enough for obsessive thoughts. But apart from this, it is crucial to look for other meaningful activities, such as reading, walking with the dog, going to the movies, listening to the radio, playing on the computer, swimming or running, and it's better to do it with other people nearby. These activities aside from diverting your attention, give you pleasure.

  • Response prevention. Some obsessive thoughts are followed by rituals or compulsive behaviors. If we do not do them, we feel a lot of anxiety. The exercise is just to prevent performing the ritual when intrusive thoughts appear, for example, not to answer the person who hurts us, not immediately clean the dirty hands, not to go home to check if the fire is off or not to close all the windows or leave some lights on at home at night having fears of thieves. As it has been said before, anxiety increases when thoughts appear but if you do not perform the compulsion to relieve it, it will gradually decrease. If you see that you can’t stop doing compulsive behavior at once, try setting a limit (5 or 10 minuits) or delaying the period between thoughts and behavior.

  • Counterritual. If this doesn’t work for a ritual, you can force yourself to do the ritual more times than you normally do. For example, if you have to go home to check the fire or if you have locked the car door properly, do it 3 or 5 times instead of one. It’s a pretty radical technique but it works.

  • Violation of the ritual. If you have several compulsions, you make a list of them and each day you choose one that you are not allowed to perform today. You forbid yourself to perform only 1 but you may perform the rest of them.

  • Projection. Draw your obsession as best you can, write a poem about it, sing a song you know but changing the lyrics or speak aloud about your obsession with yourself.

  • Social support. Stay with friends and family but talk with them about other issues and concerns without saying anything about your obsession. They may have noticed your obsession. There’s no need to talk about it every time.

  • Don’t be alone. You could go to a self-help group of people who have the same problems or go to a therapist to improve the problem.

There are many techniques and strategies but they must be sought and adapted to each specific case. Remember that the treatment of obsessions, whether on your own, or with a specialist, requires time, commitment and patience. Through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and professional support, you can free yourself from the control of your obsessions and find the way to a fuller and quieter life.


bottom of page