When dealing with OCD and intrusive thoughts, the question that often presents itself is “To ignore, or not to ignore?”
In the past, my answer was definitely ignore. This answer stood out to me like a flashing neon sign on Broadway. But is that really our best option? In fact, isn’t it true that the more we try not to think about something, the more we actually think about it? As counterproductive as it may seem, accepting the thoughts as they come to us is much more effective. Compare these two real-life situations:
Ignore: I touched an object that I believe to be contaminated. An intrusive thought occurs. “What if that had germs that will make me sick?” or “What if it kills me?“. I try to ignore the thought by continuing my activity. The intrusive thought grows louder and louder until I can barely focus on the task at hand. I finally have to give in, stop what I’m doing, and perform the compulsive act of hand washing. The situation is now over, but I reinforced my fears and the need to be clean.
Accept: I touched an object that I believe to be contaminated. An intrusive thought occurs. I take a moment to recognize what is actually happening. My heart may begin to race, I may begin to feel dizzy, etc. I feel the need to perform the compulsive act of hand washing, but I recognize the intrusive thought for what it is: a lie. It is the OCD telling me to wash my hands, not my rational thinking. I’m uncomfortable for awhile, but the situation passes. I have not reinforced my fears.
Okay, let me stop right here and be 100% honest. Do I think accepting the thought is easy? ABSOLUTELY NOT. It is sooo much easier to just give in, wash my hands, and carry on with my day until the next intrusive thought occurs. I know that is the easier option, but I also know that it is not effective in recovery. So while there are times that I still give in and carry out those acts, I try to practice acceptance and believe that it will all be ok, despite those lies that OCD tells us.
Much love -Aud