Why "71º & Sunny?"

I consider 71º to be the perfect temperature. Not too cold and not too hot. I also love perfect sunny days. The vast majority of days are not 71º & Sunny and yet, all days were created by God's hand and they are still gifts, even if they don't fit my ridiculous definition of perfection. My struggle with OCD has at times imprisoned me in an impossible attempt to achieve perfection. I'm now learning to love all kinds of days that don't even come close to 71º & Sunny.

Please leave me a comment below. I really want to know what you are thinking!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Our Thoughts Are Not The Problem

Our thoughts are not the problem. I have to repeat that. Our thoughts are not the problem. You see, our thoughts are normal. Yes, I know you don't believe me. You don't have to. You can believe Aureen Pinto Wagner, Ph.D. I was fortunate enough to attend her workshop at the IOCDF conference this weekend. Her talk was entitled "CBT for Violent/Sexual Thoughts, Scrupulosity, and Just Right OCD in Kids and Teens." Whether you struggle with intrusive thoughts, contamination thoughts, symmetry thoughts, or any combination of them, or other types of thoughts, the truth about our thoughts is still the same. We all have them. People with OCD, people without OCD.

Dr. Wagner cited two different studies that reported that roughly 80-90% of the general population has the same types of thoughts that torment those with OCD. Actually, Dr. Wagner even joked that the other 10% was probably just lying! I don't know about you, but I've heard this statistic before. More than once. However, I missed something truly important about this fact. If everyone has these thoughts, then we are not abnormal for having them. You might want to re-read that last sentence. Our problem is how we respond to them. When a person without OCD has these thoughts, he or she may not even notice or acknowledge them. Or, if he or she notices the thoughts, this person might just think, "Ok, that was a weird thought. Whatever." Then this person can go on with their day because they've given the thought no importance.

Those of us with OCD get into trouble because we notice the thoughts we are having. Not only do we notice them, but we pay attention to them, question them, try to figure them out, and search for their significance. Moreover, they terrify and horrify us. We make all kinds of assumptions (cognitive distortions) about these thoughts. We think, "What kind of horrible human being am I to think like this? What is wrong with me? I must be crazy. I need to do something to change these thoughts." Unfortunately, our attempts to change the thoughts (which can't be done, by the way), make things so much worse. We give terrible importance to these thoughts, and that just reinforces the thoughts and makes them come more often and more strongly.

CBT/ERP helps us to learn how to live with the thoughts so that they don't control us anymore and don't cause us as much pain. The ironic thing, is that after treatment, I get the thoughts less often now. However, we really need to understand that we will still get the thoughts and it is ok. It's alright, because these thoughts are just part of the human condition. We can't expect to never have these thoughts ever again, because that would indeed be abnormal, according to Dr. Wagner. Thoughts are just thoughts. They are only as important as we make them. So you see, we are normal. I guess we just have a hard time being normal!

Now, how does this work when I'm faced with a dirty toilet in a public restroom? The thoughts tell me that it's filthy and I will be a gross person if I touch it. I will admit that I still struggle, even though I'm starting to realize that dirty toilets don't make me a gross person. That is where ERP comes in. Slowly, but surely, ERP is helping me to move from fearing my thought, to simply acknowledging it, and living in spite of it.

So the next time you have a scary thought, of ANY type, you are experiencing what everyone does. The trick is to try to respond normally to it, which is pretty much to ignore it. Harder said than done, I know. With practice it is possible. You can do it. We can do it together.

12 comments:

  1. Great post with great and helpful information, Sunny! Thanks for sharing what you learned about this. It's a good reminder that we sometimes give too much credence to our thoughts.

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    1. Thank you, Tina. I found this particularly helpful as well, so I thought I'd pass it along. I loved Dr. Wagner. I think she must be an incredible therapist for kids.

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  2. I considered going to that session... but wasn't sure if it was ok for adults with no children to attend. Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Hi Brooke. My understanding is that they tell you what the intended audience is, but that anyone can go to the sessions if they are interested. Except, of course, for the ones that are specifically for kids - then only kids can go to those.

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  3. My therapist discussed this with me early on in my treatment. I couldn't believe that everyone had those types of thoughts but what made them so horrible for us with OCD is that we treat them like they have power.

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    1. Yes, Elizabeth, I had heard this same thing multiple times too. It just never hit me the same way though. For some reason, this time it really clicked for me. I finally understood that I'm not crazy for having these thoughts. Not only that, it also made me understand why I shouldn't expect them to go away in the future. I had such a hard time accepting that idea early in treatment. I was like, "What, you mean I will never get read of these for the rest of my life!?" That idea tortured me. But now I get it, they're just normal thoughts. I just happen to freak out about them, when the rest of the population doesn't. This is now a huge relief to me. I hope this knowledge becomes a huge relief to anyone who reads this too.

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  4. I love this post! Thanks so much for sharing this info. It truly is comforting to know that we can acknowledge ourselves as normal. It is true that it's all in the way that we respond to those thoughts. I know the thoughts will never go away, but one day I hope to be able to respond to them and be okay with it! Glad you had a good time at the conference!

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    1. Oh, I'm so glad that you found this helpful, Cara! Yes, that is my plan too - acknowledge the thoughts, then just move on. That is starting to happen for me. Sometimes, I barely notice them, which is even better. It's just practice, practice, practice, through ERP, and understanding and fighting cognitive distortions. I know, so often I think of myself as weird, and it was an amazing thing when I finally understood that our thoughts are indeed normal.

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  5. Great post Sunny, and as a person without OCD, I can certainly attest to the fact that I have all the same thoughts that I've heard mentioned by OCD sufferers. I just shrug my shoulders and move on with my life. So yes, you are definitely "normal" (though who knows if that's a good thing or what it even means)!

    So great to meet you..........

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  6. It was so awesome to meet you too and to finally put a face behind all of that wisdom-filled writing, Janet!

    Ha ha ha - yeah, I'm not so sure that being normal is "all that!"

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  7. That seems to go along with what I have been reading about people with OCD feeling ultra-responsible. If I have one of these thoughts that everyone has and normal people can ignore, I feel like I am being irresponsible not paying attention to and attending to it. I guess that is my lousy thought process. Which I need to change..it is faulty that I think I have so much control because I control very little so I may as well let go. I have been trying to leave some of it in God's hands (where it belongs anyway) and that helps me alot.

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    1. I like how you put that, Krystal Lynn, - "lousy thought process." Yep, I have plenty of that too. I can't tell you how many times I felt like a terrible, irresponsible person if I didn't pick up something on the ground, or point out something that I considered "dangerous" to others. You are right - we really are not in control of very much - except for our own behavior and reactions. It's hard to accept that though.

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