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How To Be Indifferent To Harming Thoughts In OCD

It's not uncommon that people have both aversion to a harm obsession and also a feeling that makes them think they want to act on it. The question is how to overcome it.

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One Cannot Reason With Paradoxical Thoughts

Having harm-intrusive thoughts of whether you should be disgusted that they are there but also having a desire to do what you fear doing, is an obsession. Thoughts like this belong to a disorder known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s not uncommon that people have both aversion to a harm obsession and also a feeling that makes them think they want to act on the intrusive thoughts. It’s the same with all intrusive themes. But because intrusive thoughts are invalid, it’s not possible to judge them according to your values. Legitimately, the people you want to protect, that’s your concern, not OCD’s. In other words, it’s impossible to reason with paradoxical thoughts to prove or disprove you’re not a danger to others.

Thoughts Do Not Convert To Action

Much of the problem with OCD is putting meaning to the thoughts, and these are the thinking errors that fall into the categories of moral and likelihood thought-action fusion (TAF). You may have heard of it. For context; likelihood TAF is thinking something is more likely to happen because you had a thought about it. And moral TAF is thinking you or someone else is more capable of doing something because you had a thought about it. It’s magical thinking, but thoughts do not convert to action, and therefore, cannot make someone dangerous. Such thoughts are invalid remember, and one cannot reason with nonsensical chatter. It’s the thinking errors and faulty labelling that make it feel real. For example, Because I’m having these thoughts, it must mean deep down, I’m a killer”.

You Have Two Choices

The OCD thoughts enter your mind involuntarily, but you decide what to do with them; you choose whether to place meaning with moral or likelihood TAF. You can choose whether to ruminate, analyse, check, avoid sharp objects and get reassurance about doubts and what-if scenarios. For example, reassurance thinking is on the lines of, “but what if I act on my thoughts?” or “why do I get a feeling that makes me think I want to do the terrible thing?” The doubts make you want to tell someone to get assurance that you won’t harm anyone. Such actions are the compulsions to ward off perceived danger and reduce anxiety. You can also choose to label yourself a killer, as in the example of the thinking error above. This is option one.

Or you can acknowledge the thoughts are just that, accept they are there and allow them to come and go. You would do this while resisting all compulsions and leaning into anxiety until it reduces naturally. Doing this is known as exposure-response prevention therapy (ERP), the evidence-based treatment for OCD. You can also choose to change your thinking errors and negative self-labelling with cognitive therapy. For instance, “I’m having those thoughts again, I’ll let them pass without attaching meaning.” This is option two.

Outcome

Option one means you lose direction because it increases the intensity and frequency of the obsession and keeps you stuck in a vicious circle. However, by going with option two, you lead the way. It means you formulate new helpful beliefs while systematically weakening the obsession with ERP. In time, you start to be indifferent about passing thoughts. It’s what makes uncertainty about what-ifs and doubts easier to manage. You then get to live pretty much the way you did before OCD started.

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