All Thoughts Are Created Equal (Yes, Including "Scary", "Yucky" and "Bad" Thoughts)

anxiety mindfulness ocd May 18, 2018

Ok, so you had a thought that scared the "you know what" out of you. 

It wasn't a pleasant thought.   

And, this thought did not line up with the way you wanted your life to go. 

The really hard part is that this thought was coupled with a big sting of anxiety.  Panic, maybe. 

If this sounds like something you have experienced, you are not alone. 

One of the biggest challenges I see my client's struggle with is their instinctual reaction to specific thoughts.   They treat them like they are SUPER important and they feel they must be solved immediately. 

Actually, let's be honest.  It isn't just my clients.  We ALL do this sometimes.  Please don't feel blamed or ashamed of this.  We are all in this together, remember! 

THIS WEEKS PODCAST IS ALL ABOUT GIVING TOO MUCH VALUE TO OUR THOUGHTS. 

If you prefer the audio version of this blog, see below for the links.  Otherwise, keep on reading.

You can listen to the episode for FREE on iTunes HERE

You can listen to the episode for FREE on Stitcher HERE

You can listen to the episode for FREE streaming HERE

There are certain thoughts that we segregate off into a special questioning room and we interrogate them like these thoughts have broken some legal, immigration or universal law.  There are some thoughts where we give no attention to at all.  But, there are other thoughts or fears that we give a LOT of attention and moral weight.   

If I am honest, this is probably one of the most difficult parts of managing significant anxiety.  Objectively, we can see that other peoples fears are irrational, but when it comes to our specific fear, we become unglued, confused and reactive

Let me ask you a few questions and we can see if you resonate with this concept at all.  I will also ask very specific questions to really define the way in which you might be engaging this in behavior and you can become better at noticing when you are giving too much value to some thoughts and not others.   

Have you caught yourself saying any of the following?

 1.  “It's easy for you to say to "just accept the thoughts".   You don’t have thoughts about hurting someone all day like I do (Or insert your specific fear here....changing Sexual orientation or saying something offensive or painful lovely death or having a panic attack or getting fat etc)  This thought is WAY worse than other thoughts.”

2. “This isn’t any old thought.  This would destroy my life if this thought came true.”

3. “I know I have to accept the uncertainty, but this isn’t just a thought”

Eg. "A “weird or strange thought”  is fine, but if it has anxiety with it, it must mean something".  Or, "having a strange urge in my body while I have this thought must mean something". 

These are all examples of getting caught up in our thoughts content and giving some thoughts more value than others. 

When we give one thought a lot of value (or more value that other thoughts), we can lead towards a continued cycle of anxiety.  Again, please don't feel like this is all your fault.  We all do this from time to time and I don't want you to experience blame here. 

You see, when we overvalue a thought, we are most likely engaging in self-judgment also.  We create a narrative about ourselves for having the presence of that thought.  We might then feel shame and self-doubt, which makes us resist that thought even more.   This is where it becomes a painful cycle and we end up reacting to these thoughts in compulsive ways.  

 Don’t miss the most recent podcast episode! 

You can listen to the episode for FREE on iTunes HERE

You can listen to the episode for FREE on Stitcher HERE

You can listen to the episode for FREE streaming HERE

 If you find you are giving a LOT of value to some thoughts and not others, here are 5 helpful ways to manage this. 

1. We have to acknowledge that our thoughts are NOT important.  I know, I know! It's not that easy.  But, let's really consider how many thoughts we have a day and how many of those are strange and aggressive and dissimilar to our own personal values.  MANY, right?  I might have a thought that I want to ram into the car in front of mine because I am stuck in traffic and late for work.  Or, I might have a thought about my child that is quite aggressive, as I am feeling frustrated and exhausted.  Again, these are thoughts.  Allow them to come and go.  Allow them to wash over you.     We have to work towards giving no additional value to those thoughts.  They are no different to thoughts about binging on a whole cake or leaving our partner for a life on the beach with mojitos and sunsets.  We all have thoughts.  Let your brain be creative! 

2. Try to give equal value to each thought, sensation, feeling or urge. 

We all have thoughts.  Some will ignite fear, some will ignite humor, some will ignite love, some will ignite dread some will ignite pure panic.   None of these thoughts are more important than another.   

A thought about a terrible, horrible event does not warrant an immediate reaction.  However, a terrible horrible event does. If something is actually happening (like an earthquake or an illness or a huge life change, then go for it.  Consult with your values and do what you have to do.  But, if you are having a thought about a bad thing happening, SLOW DOWN and allow it to be a thought.   

Let's make sure we don't mix the two up! 

3. We must understand that the presence of anxiety does NOT mean that this is an important area that must be resolved. 

This is a hard one.  Remember, your brain sends out messages to our body when there is a danger.  It prepares our body to run long distances or freeze or hide.  Sometimes our brain sets of the alarm of danger too early or at a time that doesn't warrant the alarm going off.   I know it is hard, but if you see that there is a pattern going on here, maybe allow the feeling of "danger" to be present and do nothing at all about it.  

4.  We cannot Judge our worth or moral values based on what thoughts we have.

See point one again! :)  If I judged myself for every thought I had, I would be one a yo-yo of feeling good and then bad and then wonderful and then horrible....all day long!!! What a roller coaster that would be.   You see, worth doesn't change because of thoughts.  In fact, your worth doesn't change, period.  I will be talking a lot of more about this in the future.  Stay tuned! 

And last of all, number 5! 

5. We must TRY not to Judge one thought as worse than other thoughts.

You might feel like this is getting repetitive.  That is on purpose! :) A thought about harming someone is not "worse" than a thought about picking flowers.  What, you say?  Yes! You heard right.  It might not feel the same, but again, thoughts are thoughts.  Not events.  If we allow them to be thoughts, words, and images that get strung together in our mind, we can stop the ongoing tally system of whether we are good or bad people.  

You may notice I put TRY in all caps.  That is because I know this is all very hard.  Just do your best.  We don't need perfection.  We just want progress. :) 

Here is your Challenge:

Observe your thoughts and ask yourself if you could start to make any of these changes in your life. 

If you do notice that you are giving too much weight to a thought, try to practice The Skill of Non-judgment (Your Anxiety Toolkit Ep 1) or Beginners Mind (Ep 6) or What you say to yourself Matters (Ep 17). 

Thank you again for supporting CBTSchool.com

If you want to learn more about these skills, please check out our online course called MINDFULNESS SCHOOL FOR OCD.  It costs only $99 and includes all the mindfulness skills I give my one-on-one clients to manage intrusive thoughts, urges to do compulsions, panic, and self-judgment.   There is a BONUS module for applying mindfulness to Exposure And Response Prevention also.  Check it out! 

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