How to Deal With Obsessive Thoughts

There are techniques to learn how to deal with obsessive thoughts. The key is how you interact with these thoughts. Keep reading to learn more.
How to Deal With Obsessive Thoughts
Alicia Escaño Hidalgo

Written and verified by the psychologist Alicia Escaño Hidalgo.

Last update: 25 August, 2022

Having obsessive thoughts is actually very common. As human beings, we are creatures that are constantly thinking. Therefore, we need to normalize the fact that we tend to harbor a multitude of random thoughts. The problem appears when those thoughts become obsessive and limit our daily functioning. If this is a concern of yours, learn how to deal with obsessive thoughts in this article.

How to deal with obsessive thoughts

This kind of thing usually happens because a person places too much value or importance on thinking about something. As a result, your thinking goes from being a simple mental event to becoming a psychological problem.

While we don’t have control over our thoughts, the act of giving value to thoughts is something that we have control over.

There are big differences in how we relate to our cognitive events. Some people are able to avoid becoming their thoughts and instead see them for what they are and not place too much value or importance on them.

On the other hand, other people identify with their thoughts. Often, these people share traits of perfectionism and responsibility. Therefore, they end up relating to and eventually turning into their own thoughts as if they were in real situations. However, thoughts are often creations of your mind and not the same as reality.

One of the most common treatment methods for this condition is to learn to deal with obsessive thoughts. Logically, the person will need to learn new ways to approach, interact, and relate with their thoughts. The ultimate goal is to not let your thoughts control your life.

To think or not to think? That is the question

Obsessive thoughts can become a problem over time. Therefore, it’s important to know how to manage them.

Obsessive thoughts can become tremendously annoying. Remember all those times when the song of the summer was stuck in your head and you couldn’t get it out. In fact, the more you tried not to listen and hum, the more strongly it interrupted your life.

With obsessive thoughts, the same kind of thing happens. The idea of ​​”not thinking” ironically has a rebound effect and then the thought becomes stronger. Therefore, the key is to learn to live alongside your thoughts, looking at them as if you were a spectator of your mental processes.

However, this exercise is not easy. We have already established that obsessions are very uncomfortable and the natural thing we do is try to eliminate them from our head to get rid of anxiety. This is where compulsions come into play: almost unconscious actions that neutralize the discomfort and cause the obsession to appear.

In the short term, it may seem to work, but in the long run, the “solution” becomes the real problem. We become dependent on these compulsions and use them to eliminate obsessions, which are, therefore, reinforced.

You might like: Bad Luck? Turn Negative Thoughts into Positive Ones

Strategies to manage obsessive thoughts

The idea is to not fall into a compulsion as a means of neutralizing thoughts and to avoid thinking. Therefore, the strategies that have worked best to deal with obsessive thoughts are the following:

Cognitive defusion

Cognitively defusing our mental events means knowing how to separate thoughts from reality and you as a person. That is, it’s necessary to acknowledge that you are not your thoughts: you are so much more than your thoughts. On the other hand, it’s also necessary to realize that having thoughts does not mean that they are realities.

Thoughts are nothing more than that: psychological contents, images, and perceptions. However, they are not objective and verifiable realities. Therefore, it makes no sense to act according to ideas that do not correspond to reality.

It is much more functional to treat thoughts as entities that you do not like and watch them pass. You can even greet them and stay with them until they start to decrease in intensity.

To deal with obsessive thoughts, stop placing so much importance on them

Deal with obsessive thoughts woman comforting other woman.

To control obsessive thoughts, it is essential to reduce the value granted to them.

You don’t have to give importance to a thought just because you’re thinking it. We have already said that thinking is eminently human, just like dreaming.

We all have thoughts that we would be ashamed to recognize or tell. However, that does not mean that they are important or that they define us in any way. Therefore, a good way is to decrease the value we give to thinking.

Embrace your thoughts

Not only do we not have to run away from our thoughts, but we have to try to do the mental exercise of embracing them. Embracing our demons means being open to the experience of having them present, even if we don’t like them.

Inhibit compulsions

This part is essential. For every compulsion we have, we are telling our thoughts that they are right. That is, we are carrying out a real action based on a mental idea. Reality and your mind are two different worlds, which do not necessarily have much to do with one another. Therefore, it’s necessary to make the effort to inhibit compulsion so you don’t further feed your obsessive thoughts.

Are you trying to figure out how to deal with obsessive thoughts?

As you have hopefully learned, there are several strategies to do this and prevent those thoughts from taking over your life. However, it’s a good idea to also see a psychologist for extra support and guidance. 

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Masuda, A., Twohig, M. P., Stormo, A. R., Feinstein, A. B., Chou, Y. Y., & Wendell, J. W. (2010). The effects of cognitive defusion and thought distraction on emotional discomfort and believability of negative self-referential thoughts. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry41(1), 11–17.
  • Morein-Zamir S, Fineberg NA, Robbins TW, Sahakian BJ. Inhibition of thoughts and actions in obsessive-compulsive disorder: extending the endophenotype?. Psychol Med. 2010;40(2):263–272. doi:10.1017/S003329170999033X

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.