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The Irony of Trying to Make a Thought or Feeling Go Away

The mental act of checking to see if a thought or feeling still 'bothers' you is very common for everyone and becomes a compulsion for someone with OCD. The checking is done because you want it (thought or feeling) to go away and you want to feel good. Checking is a self-defeating and dangerous loop to get into. 

Acceptance means that you are willing to be present with the thought or feeling regardless of whether it's pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Checking is done because you're not willing to accept the presence of the thought or feeling. 

Lack of acceptance means you are placing value on and energy towards the thought or feeling. Trying to make it go away only moves you further away from acceptance; also giving this otherwise meaningless thought or feeling energy. Your brain literally places great importance on the thought or feeling and the thought or feeling then becomes much more powerful than the other thought that you just had about wanting a cup of iced coffee tomorrow morning in a cold glass with hazelnut creamer. 

For those of us with OCD the more you engage in a compulsion the stronger the obsession that you are trying to get away from becomes.When treating OCD one of the the key behaviours that you'll engage in is resisting compulsions. It's so very common for a compulsion to be a mental behaviour. Being mindful of an obsession and therefore not engaging in a compulsion becomes a very unique way of approaching this. I'd argue that in most situations being mindful of an obsession and the need to perform a compulsion is no different than exposure and response prevention (ERP). 

So what do you do??
  1. The first step is becoming aware that you're focussed on a thought or feeling vs. being so involved in it that it becomes your focus of awareness. In other words are you able to identify that your awareness is very much focussed on a thought/feeling or are you so caught up in what's going on inside your brain that it controls you. 
  2. Once aware, you can now choose what you're going to do with the thought or feeling. Are you going to try to reason with it, try to not think about it, tell yourself that it doesn't bother you, or engage in the mindful observance of the thought/feeling? 
  3. Okay so now comes the step in which you are actively changing the behavior pattern in your brain.  This means that you focus all of your attention on what you're doing right now. There are many ways to do this, such as paying attention to the physical senses that are occurring. Something that's worked wonderfully for me has been to first gently label whether it's thinking or feeling that has my focus of attention. Then, gently and objectively, labeling it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral; not to judge but to give the thought or feeling space. 
If you try to do the steps listed above with every thought or feeling you're aware of you'll drive yourself crazy. Catch the ones that you can and be very gentle with yourself for those that you 'miss'. Pat yourself on the back, literally, when you find yourself doing this as described. 

I'd really recommend spending time practicing this on a regular daily basis for at least 10 minutes per day so that you begin to develop the muscle in your mind that's going to help you do this. If you're not a runner, you wouldn't try to go for a 5 mile run and then be astounded and extremely disappointed that it wasn't possible to do without stopping and walking a lot. It would be obvious that your body's muscle and lungs had not been given time to practice and strengthen. 

The best tool for practicing this is Headspace.com.  It's where I learned and came to appreciate the process that I described.


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