Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Why can I easily dismiss some thoughts, but not others?

By Stacy Quick, LPC

Apr 27, 20234 minute read

As an OCD specialist, I have worked with many individuals who wonder why some of their unwanted thoughts are easier to let go of than others. The answer is simple, yet not always easy to grasp for people currently living with OCD. 

In OCD, the intrusive thoughts go against your character

When someone has OCD, their intrusive thoughts are ego-dystonic: they go against their true nature, against what they value. These thoughts are opposed to who they are as a person—that is why people with OCD find the thoughts to be so disturbing. 

Sometimes people with OCD will say things like, “Why do my intrusive sexual thoughts bother me so much more than other intrusive thoughts about stabbing people? I find both completely unacceptable, and yet one causes so much more distress and anxiety. Does that mean that I don’t actually value kindness and nonviolence as much as I think?”

To be transparent, I don’t have the exact answer—there are no exact answers with OCD. Frankly, OCD might attack one area of your life for years, only to shift themes a week later. What I do know is that every single person I have ever worked with tells me that the thoughts that get stuck in their minds go against anything and everything they would stand for or ever do. However, this doesn’t mean that the things OCD doesn’t focus on aren’t central to your values or identity. It just means that there’s rarely any rhyme or reason to the way OCD attacks us.

The thoughts aren’t the problem

At the end of the day, it is vital to remember that the problem with OCD is not the thoughts. How can that be? The truth is that everyone has intrusive thoughts. I often tell people that if you look at the brain like a computer system, most people’s brains have a spam filtration system that works well. In other words, they can easily identify and promptly disregard thoughts that don’t need their attention. Unfortunately for those of us who suffer from OCD, our brains seem to be missing this key component—or, at least, it is not working effectively. Our brains seem to get overwhelmed by the possibilities suggested by intrusive thoughts, and we spend tons and tons of energy trying to suppress, avoid, or neutralize them. 

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The real problem lies in the amount of time and energy that is given to these ‘spam’ thoughts. This can impact our level of functioning, self-worth, and how we view the world around us. The problem lies not within the thoughts themselves but the idea that they mean something about us or about our lives, that we need to do something about them. The truth is that if OCD didn’t latch onto these thoughts, we probably wouldn’t even pay any attention to them. Instead, we would weed them out as unimportant and unhelpful, living our lives with confidence despite the occasional disturbing thought. 

We may not be able to change the functionality or the structure of our brains, but we do have the power of choice. We can choose our responses to these intrusive thoughts, and reduce their impact over time. We can choose to keep moving towards our values and living the life that we want, rather than getting caught up in the endless cycle of OCD.

Treatment can help you conquer distressing thoughts

If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts in OCD and you want to learn how to take their power away, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, the gold-standard treatment for OCD, is highly effective in treating all types of OCD. It can help you re-train your brain to learn that intrusive thoughts, feelings, and urges do not have to have meaning—they can just be background noise. 

ERP works by guiding people to sit in the anxiety and discomfort that result from obsessions and learn that they can indeed survive them and most importantly, they don’t need to do any compulsions to rid themselves of their distress—it will go away on its own, decreasing over time as you allow it to exist. Although it may not be comfortable, you can actually tolerate the distress. When you don’t give in and do a ritual or a compulsion your brain actually relearns that there was no danger in the first place. But it takes consistent practice. Retraining your brain takes time, commitment, and perseverance.  

Effective, specialized OCD therapy is here

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If you’re struggling with OCD and want to take the power away from your intrusive thoughts, NOCD can help. Our licensed therapists deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs—and that means the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.

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