On our “Mormons with OCD” online chat community recently, there has been a discussion based on thoughts. It’s been really fascinating, and I’m grateful for everyone in that group. If you want to join up, click here. Anyway, someone in the group posted an article entitled, Think About What You Are Thinking About by Bruce Fordham.

Thoughts on thoughts

It’s an interesting article, but it might not necessarily have the best advice for those of us with OCD. In our group chat, a few issues were brought up, and I would like to bring up some as well. Number one, do we only really have one thought at a time? Is controlling our thoughts as simple as replacing a thought with a different thought or a song lyric or something else? Number two, having OCD thoughts does not mean that we are bad people–thoughts in general do not define our morality. And a related number three, how important are our thoughts in our self-formation?

I’m not going to answer all of these profoundly or much at all, but they are good things to ponder.

Preparing for thoughts?

I agree with Fordham when he states in the article, “we can treat the thought with indifference, preventing it from developing or becoming engaging to our minds.” This is basically what I’ve been challenged to do with my mental reviewing of obsessions and OCD thoughts– don’t engage.

In the article, Fordham makes a connection between Captain Moroni building fortifications in the Book of Mormon to how “we can follow his example by also preparing ahead of time to protect our minds from the influence of evil thoughts.”

The problem with OCD is that it’s hard to prepare ahead of time! Plus, the thoughts often come over and over and over again. It’s exhausting. Also, if you think about how to prepare against OCD thoughts, you sometimes will start thinking about the thoughts as a result (this is a thing—read about the “white bear experiment“).

Thoughts to Habits?

Because OCD has that moral dimension–that we often feel like having the thoughts or obsessions make us a bad person or if we don’t do the compulsion we will cause something bad to happen–the focus on thoughts in Fordham’s article and one that he references, Elder Boyd K. Packer’s “Inspiring Music–Worthy Thoughts”–can cause those of us OCD to cringe or worry more.

Because can we really control the thoughts that come into our mind? Can we control our dreams? Does having a “bad” or “evil” thought make us “bad” or “evil”? No! Having intrusive thoughts and obsessions does not make you a bad person. If you have sexual obsessions or harm OCD, it doesn’t mean that you are a sex offender or a violent criminal. Your mind simply has these thoughts. Thoughts come to us sometimes without our bidding them. It happens to everyone. Yes, if we act on our thoughts, then they might become habits, as Elder Packer discusses in his talk. But total mind control is something that I don’t think is either healthy or possible, no matter how many hymns we try to memorize.

We are human. We deal with human foibles and frailties, some of which are the way our brain works and the way we process our thoughts. Just like we cannot be perfect in our actions in this life, we similarly cannot be perfect in our thoughts. Yes, we can try to refrain from getting stuck in mental reviewing and rituals, but we should not feel as if we are evil or less worthy for having thoughts that we don’t like or that are “bad.” Like I’ve said before, a mental illness is not a sin.

What are your thoughts 😉 on thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Controlling our Thoughts?”

  1. Well the memorizing the hymns idea is a setup to create compulsions right there. You’re right Kari that it’s not the most appropriate advice for OCD sufferers, and could be even harmful and largely counterproductive to exposure response prevention therapy. I’m sure it was written with the best of intentions, but as with most of the world, this person is not educated in appropriate therapy for OCD. ERP is largely the exact opposite of what people initially feel might be helpful, such as providing reassurance to loved ones who are suffering. This is unhealthy and only feeds the disorder.

  2. I totally agree! I remember being in high school before I knew I had OCD tendencies and trying to use President Packer’s advice. It never worked for me and it was frustrating because it seemed to work for everyone else! For me, the exact opposite helped: not making a big deal about the thoughts and not feeling like a terrible person. Not dwelling on the thoughts or guilt kept the thoughts from growing.

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