Accepting/Embracing the bad Thoughts

1 January 2015 - 19:21

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I'm quite new to this forum. I've been trying to get to grips with my OCD for the past 2 years. Hard to say how much progress I've made(or if I have made any sometimes?), but I am in my 2nd round of CBT.

Something that has come up on the forum today, and has come up time and time again in books and on other forums, is this idea of not rejecting the thoughts; if you fight something it gives it more power; just let the thoughts be, accept them, dwell on them, embrace them; and apparently in doing so they lose their significance and associated anxiety, and presumably everything returns to normal.

I've got to say, that out of all the aspects of therapy, this one troubles me the most. For the obvious reasons - because OCD sufferers want to perform compulsions to put out that immediate fire and get a "hit" of short-term relief, and to begin with it feels very wrong not doing that. But I'm actually OK(well as OK as I'll ever be!) with the concept of not performing compulsions and I've made some significant in-roads with that in some areas. No, it's something else that doesn't sit right about it for me.

It seems to me that I have a problem with some of these doubts and thoughts for very good reason - because they are morally offensive to me, they are genuinely opposites, and that's why it feels so important to restate my position on them. And accepting them or embracing them feels morally irresponsible and very wrong on some level. e.g. do I really want to dwell on the thought of sexual intercourse with a child, a family member, etc? Do I really want to say "hey maybe I do want to hit mum over the head with that hammer?" and dwell on that for a while?

It feels like I am saying "yknow what, actually I don't care and it's ok if I'm into that after all". But the reality is that it is really is not OK if I am into that at all so I really struggle to say or think that about those things. It feels like I'm turning over "to the dark side" !

Now I'm also aware of the inherent trap in what I'm saying here and that, in many ways, I am simply describing the way OCD works and keeps us trapped, ... yet it feels like there is a discussion to be had here nonetheless.

So I 100% accept that we need to stop performing compulsions, and like I say I've managed to do that to some degree without this acceptance idea. But I'm not "better" if such a thing exists. So I wonder if it's really a necessary step to take, because as it stands I'm reluctant to undertake this acceptance approach unless I absolutely have to.

And by the way I have tried a few times to explore the idea but it derails pretty quickly and I end up rejecting it.

So am I doomed if I carry on this way, or is it possible to get better without doing that? Also is this acceptance idea what largely makes up ACT, as I've heard of it a couple of times but not read up about it. Clearly I'm lazy and could just google it at this point

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1 January 2015 - 19:31

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Quote:
But the reality is that it is really is not OK if I am into that at all

that should read: "But the reality is that it really is not OK if I am into that at all".

I am too slow for the 5 minute edit window!

This post has been thanked 2 times. 1 January 2015 - 20:05

Han
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I understand what your saying and no one wants to think about these things they are horrible but its the only way to cure it. By thinking this things and accepting them your not condoning them you are tricking the ocd to leave you alone and accepting that it is only a thought that can not harm anyone. Ocd plays on the worst things and it triggers feelings of guilt, when you get a thought and tell yourself its ok you are saying a thought is ok to have regardless of what it is. It really works and you judge yourself less.

1 January 2015 - 21:21

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Hi Han,

Thanks for replying.

I suppose my big problem with this is that, to me, accepting is tantamount to condoning. And if I go down a road of "right, I'm changing the way I think so I don't care what thoughts I have from now on because theyre just meaningless thoughts" then I'm concerned I will abandon any sense of morality, of right & wrong, and just start thinking about a ton of messed-up stuff on a regular basis and telling myself it's OK.

I sometimes wonder if it's a semantic problem, and whether people really mean accepting in the way I understand it. Cos its hard for me to really believe they'd want to do that. And if they do mean it that way then I can't help wondering if there is a moral consequence to that course of action that they're not aware of.

David.

This post has been thanked 3 times. 3 January 2015 - 8:55

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Hiya

Yes it makes total sense what your saying, our natural reaction to disturbing thoughts is recoil, disgust and avoidance . The problem is with ocd is that thoughts won't 'go' just because we know they are wrong or bad . We react with anxiety sometimes panic , utter fear. Our brains need to be trained that although these thoughts and compulsions are bad they are also not a real threat or possibility. To do this as Han said you let the thought be there, not talking to it or arguing no judgement as it's an enemy you hate so much you just deny there presence but are aware of their existence.

its so very hard to do as we all no and there are ups and downs in the road to recovery, but it really is the only way to rob the thoughts compulsions of their fear . It has worked for me in the past I had 10 years of peace and learnt to reject thoughts normally . But in times of great stress they may raise their ugly heads and the system needs an update, a reboot to deal with a new glitch . I'm in the process of dealing with it again after years . It's so frustrating and it's devastatingly difficult at times. But I know for sure it can be done . But it will be harder than anything else.  

Sorry if I rambled or if it's not helped but I wish u luck . You can do it 

3 January 2015 - 9:18

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Thanks Carli.

No you didn't ramble and it was helpful. Just wanted to discuss it really cos I thought it would make for a good talking point cos I'm confident I'm not the only OCD sufferer who that approach doesn't sit right with. But I was also concious it was probably just kind of describing the problem. 

I wonder if it's really possible to let a thought be without judgement, but I do get the concept. And I have tried doing this in meditation. Force no engagement, reaction, judgement. For some reason I seem to be able to do it pretty well during that but not so much in alert waking life. I was kinda hoping there was more than one way to kill a cat and some people would say they managed to get better without this acceptance step, but no takers.

Thanks for the reply,

David.

This post has been thanked 3 times. 3 January 2015 - 11:42

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I think it is a necessary step but instead of using terms like "embrace," just tell yourself that you recognise and accept that you're having ocd thoughts and acknowledge all the anxiety and pain that comes along with it. 

I don't know if you've come across the 4 R's but I think it'll actually help....The examples below deals with classical ocd , it also applies with pure o:

Step 1:  Relabel

First, you need to learn how to recognise the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. This means that when you notice the thoughts and urges you acknowledge that although they are there, they are not genuine, it is the OCD that is behind them. It may help at this point  to say out loud ‘ The thought that I am having is an obsessive thought and  the behaviour that I am carrying out is a compulsive urge’.  Get clear on what is REALLY happening.

The aim of this first step is to relabel intrusive and unwanted thoughts and urges, be as clear and as direct as you can. For example, learn to say, “My hands are not dirty. I am just having obsessive thoughts that my hands are dirty.” You must learn to recognise the intrusive, unwanted, obsessive thoughts and urges and label them as symptoms of the OCD. This will allow you to see the thoughts and behaviours for what they  really are and when you start to see that clearly, you will be a step closer to eradicating the OCD from your life.

Step 2: Reattribute

The second step of the method is to reattribute the thoughts and behaviours to their root cause, i.e. the OCD. When you start feeling increased levels of anxiety and the intrusive thoughts and subsequent behaviours take over, shout out loud “It’s not me, it’s my OCD.” (if you’re in public, scream it in your mind) This acts to remind you an reinforce that the thoughts and behaviours have no purpose and are false messages sent from the brain. The aim of this step is to reattribute the power of the thought or urge to its real cause.  You need to remind yourself that you have a medical condition called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and it is this that is driving your behaviour.  Acknowledging and accepting this fact, is the first step towards developing a deeper understanding that these symptoms are not as they appear and is a trick of the mind. You start to learn that it is ok to question the thoughts and although you may not be able to eradicate or control the thoughts immediately, you do begin to learn that you do not have to act on them.

The Relabel and Reattribute steps are usually carried out together in order to bring about a deeper understanding of what is  ‘really’ happening when an OCD thought or urge enters your mind.

Step 3: Refocus

The Refocus step is the action phase.  It is where you start actively doing something about the OCD. It is also very often the most challenging step of the method. It’s going to be tough but here, you need to begin to shift your focus and attention onto something else. You take the first steps, you acknowledge the thoughts, you create an understanding that it is the OCD and that you are being fed false messages by your brain and then you focus on doing something completely different. In the initial phase, it may only be possible to refocus for a few minutes but with practice you will learn to focus for longer periods of time. It is often useful to prepare yourself for this stage in the process.  Find something that you will be doing that is useful and positive. So for example, instead of washing your hands you may choose to take a walk around the block, listen to some music on your MP3 player or write in your journal. The thing is to choose a different behaviour to the one you normally do and stick to it. Say to yourself, “I’m experiencing a symptom of OCD. I will go for a walk for ten minutes or listen to some nice music.”

The aim of this step is to stop reacting to the OCD. You may feel anxious or feel a level of discomfort for a while as you get used to a new way of being but with practice it will get easier. You will soon learn and accept that even though the OCD thoughts are present, you don’t have to respond to them, you have choice.

Step 4: Revalue

Step 4 is really the outcome of the first 3 steps. With repetition you soon become aware that your obsessive thoughts and your compulsive behaviours are not real and they can be ignored and you now have a choice in how to react and act. With this new perspective you will be able to revalue and devalue the urges that are being fed by your OCD and challenge them until they fade. You need to revalue the thoughts as ‘messages with no significance at all.’

These four steps will empower you to take control of your life and your OCD instead of letting the OCD control the quality of your life.

This post has been thanked 2 times. 3 January 2015 - 11:43

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Hi . There may be and must be other ways . But the very fact it doesn't feel right is the reason it will work . It's doing the opposite of what feels natural or right even . It is very difficult to do I'm struggling at the moment to persevere .

You sound determined you'll do just fine. 

3 January 2015 - 17:43

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Thanks for the reply Atta,

Yes I have come across the 4 R's in Brain Lock and have mainly been trying to use my own kind of freestyle version of that method to stop my compulsions. Thank you for taking the time to lay out those 4 steps. I might just have a proper re-read of them as a refresher now, cos it's been a good while

Quote:
I think it is a necessary step but instead of using terms like "embrace," just tell yourself that you recognise and accept that you're having ocd thoughts and acknowledge all the anxiety and pain that comes along with it. 

I like that. In fact I remember someone else saying something very similar to me on another forum one time. That accept/embrace isn't really a literal thing, but more a "let it be without judgement" kind of thing. And I think that's partly why I posted here to see what it means to different people. So thank you for that. I think I can work much better with that than the literal sense of accept and embrace, which always tells me I am reversing my morality and choosing to like the things I don't.

So thank you.

3 January 2015 - 17:53

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Hi . There may be and must be other ways . But the very fact it doesn't feel right is the reason it will work . It's doing the opposite of what feels natural or right even . It is very difficult to do I'm struggling at the moment to persevere .

Thanks again Carli. Well I really hope it yields the kind of recovery people talk about and it all evaporates away. Tell me, is this ACT therapy that you are doing? Or just normal CBT/ERP?

Quote:
You sound determined you'll do just fine. 

HA - I wish! Well I have bene very persistent with certain things in life I suppose, but I have to say I'm rather disappointed with my approach to OCD on the whole, but then again since I've found I have it, it has also been a very stressful time in other regards, and I think that has significantly interfered with my progress. I keep trying to raise my game every now and then. I have started off well 2 or 3 times, then been overwhelmed by other life events that have given me a negative outlook which has sadly, in turn, wiped out my momentum with tackling OCD. But I suppose there's no fairytale Brigadoon OCD recovery haven where there's no horrible people or situations or real-life woes to contend with, so maybe the point is we need to recover in the midst of all this other stuff, somehow. Need to find a new gear maybe. I worry sometimes I'm not strong enough though, or I'm too burned out to summon the motivation. But like I said to someone else, it's the only game in town so what else am I gonna do! Just keep brushing myself off and coming back to it in different ways.

Thanks for the advice about accepting and embracing Carli,

David.

This post has been thanked 3 times. 3 January 2015 - 19:01

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Sisyphus wrote:
Something that has come up on the forum today, and has come up time and time again in books and on other forums, is this idea of not rejecting the thoughts; if you fight something it gives it more power; just let the thoughts be, accept them, dwell on them, embrace them; and apparently in doing so they lose their significance and associated anxiety, and presumably everything returns to normal.
By accepting the thoughts all it means is accept them for what they are - thoughts.

You shouldn't dwell on the thoughts, just acknowledge them and let them pass. 

The reason that we have such problems is because we give the thoughts importance when they are not important. Have a look at this topic I started last year Giving thoughts importance 

As for Brain Lock many don't get on with it simply because it in an indirect way reinforces the OCD by continually referring you back to the OCD. They are simply thoughts not OCD thoughts just thoughts the same as anyone else gets. It's the way that we react to the thoughts that's the problem

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