Last week we discussed coping skills for intrusive thoughts, especially when you are cooped up inside for any reason. What makes intrusive thoughts so horrible is literally their intrusiveness. They come up unwanted and unbidden. No matter what you try, intrusive thoughts seem to never stop or go away. I hear it so frequently “I can’t stop these thoughts.” Or “I’m doing things I enjoy and all of a sudden these thoughts come up.” It is so draining and so frustrating. For many people it makes day to day activities difficult. How do you conquer these thoughts when they just don’t seem to stop?
Another frequent complaint I hear is “people tell me I should be over this by now.” Or “I should be over this by now.” The first question I always ask is why? Why should you “be over it” even if it is many decades later? The second question I ask is would you tell your best friend, child, or someone else very close to you to “get over it” if they were going through this? Sometimes I get a “yes” to this second question because it is hard for loved ones to see someone they live in agony. Often people don’t know what to say.
What if intrusive thoughts had a purpose? Often people handle things easier if there is a purpose to it. What about you? If you understood somethings purpose, does it seem easier to deal with? Well, intrusive thoughts actually do have a purpose…and not just to frustrate or upset you. Have you ever obsessively thought about something small you did that you regretted? You ruminated over it and what you could have done differently for awhile. Eventually the obsessive thoughts ended; you realized there is nothing you can do about it now and let it go.
Intrusive thoughts are the brain trying to make sense of an event. It does this by bringing up parts of the event it hasn’t made sense of in an effort to file it in the proper place. It’s like holding a book and not being able to figure out where to put it on the shelf. It isn’t quite a mystery…not quite a drama. You end up putting it down with the mysteries, but it seems misplaced; it doesn’t seem to quite fit there. You keep looking at it until you pick it back up and put it with the dramas. However that also looks misplaced. The cycle continues until the book (or memory) is placed in the right place. The brain does not give up trying to file it away correctly.
Understanding the purpose doesn’t make the thoughts stop, though. Even with therapy, the thoughts haven’t seemed to stop completely. The only thing that will stop traumatic intrusive thoughts is the brain filing the event in the right place. The brain is very complicated, making this no easy task. Complicating matters more is the body also stores memories. Have you ever noticed that when someone vomits, you can taste it? Or your own stomach flops? Or you look at someone’s injury and feel it in your own body? The body holds memories of events being brought up again in the present causing current symptoms. There is quite a bit of current research regarding the importance of healing both the brain and the body memories in order to help the brain file events properly. That being said, intrusive thoughts can be significantly minimized without working on body memories. If you’ve had a lot of therapy and still having intrusive thoughts, talk with your therapist about techniques that will heal body memories.
There are some very awesome techniques including EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), ART (Accelerated resolution therapy), and body-centered psychotherapy (or somatic psychotherapy) among others, that I may not be aware of. It is very important to work with someone fully trained in these modalities instead of someone who is partially trained. Practitioners of EMDR for example can start using EMDR after the first part of training, but aren’t fully trained until they have completed the full basic training, or level 2 training.
If you aren’t sure where to find a therapist trained in one of these techniques, there are many websites that can help you find someone, or feel free to call or email me. I will help you find someone in your area, even if you aren’t in CT or FL. 860-501-9767; 941-462-4807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.