How To Identify and Act When OCD Hijacks Your Thoughts and Memories

Why The Brain Is An Incredibly Complex Organ 

Our brains are responsible for everything from basic functions like breathing to advanced cognitive processes like problem-solving and decision-making. However, sometimes our brains can work against us. For example, it can generate intrusive thoughts and false memories that can be both frustrating and confusing.

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that can intrude on our consciousness and cause anxiety, stress, or discomfort. These thoughts can take many forms, ranging from mild distractions to disturbing images or ideas that can be difficult to shake.

Why Our Brain Generates Thoughts

One of the reasons why our brains generate thoughts is because they are constantly trying to make sense of the world around us. In some cases, these thoughts may be triggered by real-life events or experiences, but they can also be entirely random and disconnected from reality. 

For example, imagine you are walking down the street, and a car backfires loudly. Your brain may automatically generate an intrusive thought that something catastrophic has happened, even though you know this is not the case deep down. In other words, you know the sound, but the intrusive thoughts make you question it and doubt what you already know. 

But Why False Memories?

False memories can also arise when our brains try to make sense of things that never actually happened. These memories can feel just as real and vivid as genuine memories, but they are based on a misinterpretation or distortion of real-world events.

In some cases, false memories can be harmless or even fun – for example, remembering a childhood holiday in vivid detail, even though you know some of the details are exaggerated. However, they can also be very distressing, particularly if they relate to traumatic events or experiences.

So why do our thoughts try to make sense of things that never happened? One explanation is that our brains are constantly trying to construct a coherent narrative about our lives and experiences. This narrative helps us make sense of things that have happened, are happening, and may occur. In addition, it gives us a sense of identity and meaning.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

However, intrusive thoughts and false memories can sometimes be hijacked by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which can disrupt our sense of self and undermine our confidence in our own perceptions and experiences. In this case, we start doubting the brain’s ability to produce a straightforward narrative, and it becomes an obsession. We can become preoccupied with figuring out or making sense of this narrative. When we do this, we tend to add information, such as assumptions we believe could be true, which begins to scare us. Then, we fear it could mean something awful. We’re so afraid of imagined consequences associated with the obsessional narrative that we do compulsive behaviours to eliminate the envisioned outcome—for example, compulsively seeking reassurance about a horrifying false memory turning out to be true and fearing we won’t cope. Such compulsions bring down our anxiety, so we do them again, and it becomes a vicious circle. 

Identify Intrusive Thoughts and False Memories 

Therefore, it’s crucial to identify when you get intrusive thoughts and false memories to stop what you’re doing, take a breath, and observe what’s happening objectively. For example, what do you know to be true deep down? What’s making you question the opposite of what you know to be true? Is it an intrusive thought, abstract fact, general assumption or something in the environment? Maybe an earlier conversation or something someone said triggered the unwanted thoughts and ideas. Or perhaps it’s something from personal experience or fearing the possibility because the narrative feels so real. Finally, you might feel too afraid to trust what your authentic self knows to be true against OCD “just in case” you’re wrong. Perhaps it makes you feel safer to be guided by OCD to avoid your feared consequences despite knowing it is a brain disorder, not an entity.

When you’ve stopped what you’re doing and taken a breath, and observed the situation objectively, next, put some perspective on the situation and practise being mindful of your authentic self. In other words, guide yourself from an unrealistic narrative to the here and now and reason with your senses and common sense. Nothing terrible will happen when you do this. Instead, it will help you see that leaning on your own reasoning is okay. When you ground yourself and lean on sound reasoning, you can learn to manage your thoughts, false memories and emotions more effectively and regain control of your life. In addition, it allows you to trust your brain’s ability to filter out the rubbish when constructing a narrative that will eventually make sense, as it does with other areas of your life. In other words, your job is to let the brain’s misinterpretations pass and let it sort out the narrative itself. Finally, these things can help you live your life the way you did before developing OCD.

My book, 3 Effective Ways To Treat OCD and Reclaim Your Life, can help you understand intrusive thoughts and manage obsessive-compulsive disorder. Find it on Amazon today!

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