Pure O OCD: Unwanted Thoughts and Why You Have Them
In this video I describe unwanted, intrusive thoughts, Pure O OCD and why you have intrusive thoughts.
Suffering from unwanted, intrusive thoughts is a disorder of over control not under control. Under control disorders are known as impulsivity disorders. Disorders of overcontrol like OCD include doubt and uncertainty. If you try to control your thoughts, which none of us can do, and you want 100% certainty and absolutely no doubt, you then have the perfect formula for developing intrusive thoughts.
Impulses and intrusive thoughts are complete opposites. People with impulses act first and think later. People with intrusive thoughts have control over their behaviors and are over thinkers. People with OCD and Pure O are not impulsive people.
First, just to clarify, Pure O is a coined term and not a diagnosis used to describe people that have OCD with obsessions only. But, as you may know, there are compulsions that reinforce the OCD cycle. The compulsions are mainly mental compulsions that are more difficult to notice and include mental activities like ruminating, analyzing, trying to neutralize negative thoughts with positive thoughts, praying, counting, wishing the thoughts away, etc. So how does an unwanted, intrusive thought become pure O or an obsessive thought? And if everyone has intrusive thoughts, why doesn’t everyone have pure O OCD? Some people are also more genetically susceptible to developing Pure O or OCD than others. But the answer lies in how you respond to your thoughts. People that do not have OCD, do not respond to their intrusive thoughts. They frankly may not even notice their thoughts and don’t really give them any kind of meaning or significance. If you have OCD, you are more likely to experience what we call sticky thoughts. The first time you have an unwanted thought, you may get a whoosh of adrenaline because it activates your fight-or-flight response. Instead, intrusive thoughts are about things that you don’t want to have thoughts about. For example, people that struggle with violent or harm thoughts are generally people who really value gentleness and kindness and nonviolence. So, the content of your unwanted thoughts is often the opposite of what you want to think about. It’s the opposite of your values and what you care about. This is called ego dystonic. It is the opposite of your character. That’s why the thoughts bother you so much. That is why they activate your fear center, and the neuropathways of those thoughts get associated with your anxiety or fight-or-flight response, because they are the opposite of what you want to think about yourself. Next, after having the thought, you begin to react to the thought. It is this anxious reaction combined with the mental compulsions, possible reassurance seeking and avoidances that make it become obsessive and recurring. Your fight-or-flight response gets associated with that thought and your brain misinterprets that thought as dangerous. To make matters worse, you begin to give that thought attention by analyzing it and ruminating about it. Unwanted, intrusive thoughts get stuck because you inadvertently encourage them through rumination and other mental compulsions or by trying to avoid them or push them away. When something gets misinterpreted as dangerous and gets associated or connected in your brain with our fight-or-flight or anxiety response, you must then retrain or teach your brain that you are safe. That the thought or image or person or situation is not dangerous at all. In fact, you are so unconcerned that you may even think of that thought on purpose. Your brain experiences this exposure and safety learning through ERP. Have you ever tried to suppress an unwanted thought? If you have, you know that it backfires on you. It’s that old pink elephant thing. If you tell yourself not to think about the pink elephant, of course you’re going to think about the pink elephant. However, exposures are different. People sometimes get confused about this. Through exposures, we are allowing ourselves to think about the pink elephant. The brain creates new safety learning (new neuro networks) when we continually think about the pink elephant on purpose. And accepts the thoughts as normal and not alarming and therefore overrides the old fearful network that was associated with your fight-or-flight response. Just to make this clear, the wrong response to intrusive thoughts would be to try to make the thoughts go away or do anything to avoid them, suppress them, or neutralize them by any kind of mental compulsions like ruminating, analyzing, praying, or wishing them away. The same holds true for anxiety. If you try to not have a feeling or thought, your brain interprets that as that thought must be dangerous. Therefore, I am going to activate the amygdala and your fight-or-flight response, and the sympathetic nervous system. What you do by trying to not have the thought is you make it worse. You cause an anxiety response to get wired together in your brain with the very thought you don’t want to have. The right way to respond to intrusive thoughts is to allow them. So how do we treat Pure O OCD. What do you do, exactly? I said something about allowing them, is that ERP? How do I do ERP for these intrusive thoughts? There are several different strategies for doing ERP for Intrusive thoughts. If you are interested in learning more about how to treat your Pure O OCD, please join me in my course called, Free from Pure O and OCD at paigepradko.com/ocd.
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