Defuse Dangerous Thoughts

thoughtsWe want to spend a little bit of time talking about one powerful technique for dealing with dangerous thoughts.

Dangerous thoughts are thoughts that make themselves true in powerful and self-destructive ways.  One example of a dangerous thought is from a very attractive young woman who had a terrible childhood of neglect.  She has a powerful, dangerous thought that pops up in her mind often: she is nobody unless she is in a special, romantic relationship.

Because of this thought, she is constantly clinging to those relationships, which confirms that she’s nobody and not really worth being in the relationship with.  The men she’s with end up almost always rejecting her, which proves that she’s nobody, etc.  So here’s a thought that makes itself true.

What to do about this thought?

There are many possible techniques, but here we want to talk about one that draws on ACT treatment models.

In this view of the problem, it’s not so much the existence of the thought that is dangerous, but rather the identification with it.  In other words, it’s the fact that this woman feels that this thought, when it shows up, is really who she is, that makes it dangerous.  The ACT model focuses on defusing or distancing yourself from the thought.  In other words, not being fused with it, or over-identified with it.  Being able to step back from it and see it as a thought, one of probably many thoughts that occur in your brain.  And rather than trying to push it away or reject it or get angry with it or be afraid of it, to just let it exist, but to not get hooked into it or overly identified with it.

One interesting and fun technique involves writing down the worst, self-critical thought you can think of. Really try to spend a few seconds believing as hard as you can that thought is true, and then inserting a phrase in front of the thought that acknowledges the fact that you are not the thought.

For example, if your thought is, I am crazy, you would really try your hardest to believe that that thought is absolutely true for 10 seconds.  Then you would add the phrase, I noticed I am thinking, in front of, I am crazy.  In other words, the phrase becomes, I noticed I am thinking I am crazy.  And now think that thought for 10 seconds.  Notice how the process of identifying that there is an observer present, that there is a self that is observing the thought ,automatically begins to create some increased distance from the thought.

There are a number of other exercises that are useful in the book [amazon_link id=”B004ZLVCVG” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]ACT Made Simple, by Russ Harris.[/amazon_link]