Obsessive Thinking

Its been a long time since I put a blog together. I had quite a lot going on over the Christmas/New Year period. And then settling back into work – and before you know it – its nearly March.
One of the things I felt I wanted to write about was ‘obsessive thinking’. There is quite a lot in the cognitive behavioural field that is known about obsessive thinking. Honestly, I can’t really say it any better than how Bruce Hubbard PhD at the Cognitive Health Group (www.cognitive-behaviour-therapy.com) has said it. I suggest you click over there and have a read of his page. But I would like to add my own thoughts.

First, what is obsessive thinking? Mr Hubbard defines it as “an inability to gain control over recurrent, distressing thoughts, images. These thoughts and images are embedded in a complex network of feelings, sensations, and at times, behavioural rituals and routines.” That is, you find yourself thinking about something over and over, essentially the same material without finding resolution and you struggle to change the channel in your mind. These thoughts may be associated with some form of anxiety, distress or even elevated emotion. You may even just lose periods of time lost in thought on the subject and find it difficult to get on with the tasks of life.

Where’s the line? I hear you ask. As in, how do I know I have gotten into obsessive thinking? Well, I can’t say that for sure in a blog like this one, everyone is different. We absolutely need to think things over. We need to plan for the future and review events in the past. It’s a personal thing. Getting to know your thinking style is a wonderful exercise in self-knowledge. Asking yourself the question – do I over think things? Do I tend to ruminate about ‘mistakes’ I have made? Do I then, as a result, just stay in a cycle of negative emotion about those situations (past, present or future)? Do I fear NOT thinking about something? Do I rely on my worry to give me a sense of control over things?

The first step of any self-learning is recognition. Its tricky with this one because you have to start to teach yourself that this is a thinking style, not truth.  Learning that our thoughts are sometimes not a basis for TRUTH is a major breakthrough that can take some time to get! I believe we tend to think that just because we think or feel something – this means it must be true! For example, your spouse forgot to do that ‘thing’ that’s important to you, that means he doesn’t love you or think you are important. And we believe our own conclusions, often. So, it’s difficult to step back from the certainty or truth of what we are thinking and say to ourselves – ‘wait a minute, I think I am over thinking this’.

There’s such a lot that can be said about this topic, and I am really just throwing a very small pebble in a very big pond. Please don’t hear me say that all our thinking is not useful. Or that the conclusions we draw are always false. But it is a good cognitive exercise to question our thinking, our conclusions, our certainties.

​So, if you suspect that maybe you over think things, maybe even excessively, I would suggest you simply notice this as a first step. When does it happen? What triggers it? How much time do you lose? How unhappy does it make you? What does the obsessive thinking want you to believe about yourself? About your life? About your loved ones? Does it want you to have a particularly negative outlook? Why? Ah, we could go on and on from here, about the wounds that may be fuelling this thinking style. But that’s a subject for another time. For now, just notice. How do I think about things?

​As always, remembering to breath long and deep.


Bronwyn Tough – Counselling Psychologist based in Midland, Perth.
Enquire about a session with Bronwyn