Have you ever found yourself thinking something just plain awful?
And then felt guilty and ashamed of yourself?
Psychologist, Eric Klinger at the University of Minnesota, did a landmark experiment nearly 30 years ago. He asked people to take a handheld device for one week. Whenever the handheld device emitted a noise, the subjects in his experiment had to record what they were thinking. His research showed that people had about 90 thoughts per day that felt unwanted and uncomfortable. These were mean thoughts such as “I’m glad my ex is unhappy” or politically incorrect thoughts such as “I would hate to have a child with a disability”. Even more shocking is that on average people had about 65 thoughts per day that were ugly, out-of-character and taboo such as perverse or murderous thoughts “I wonder what it would be like to stab or sexually assault someone”. Note these were not things the person actually wanted to do, in fact usually the complete opposite, but people reacted with horror at their own thought processes.
Klinger proposed that the brain is always scanning the environment for emotional triggers but this process is not conscious. Thoughts burst out when we get triggered emotionally. These thoughts are completely out of our conscious control and quite random. According to Klinger we have very little control of the timing and content of our thoughts and we are less responsible for the character of our mental lives that we might have thought.
The thought itself might be shocking, but having shocking thoughts is not.
91 percent of men and 84 percent of women admit having ‘bad thoughts’ according to University of Texas, psychologist David Buss. Fleeting thoughts about harming others (e.g., shoving someone off a tall building, pushing someone in front of a train) or doing something strange sexually, are all relatively common according to Buss.
What’s the worst thing you can do in response to these disturbing thoughts?
The worst thing to do is try to repress them. It just feeds the unconscious process outlined by Klinger above. The brain is always self-monitoring for these thoughts and will try to make sure you’re not thinking of it. The irony is that now you’re trying to repress the thought, the brain is scanning for ‘bad’ thoughts and calls these thoughts back up. But now it’s even more supercharged with guilt. This is the equivalent to trying not to think of a ‘pink elephant’.
The best thing to do?
The best thing to do is devalue the thought, make it unimportant, notice it but make no big deal of it. Just a random disturbing thought and most people have them. If you need a bit of extra support to stop worrying about your worrying thoughts you might benefit from the support of one of our psychologists.
Note that there is a difference between psychotic thoughts which seem real and hard to dismiss and anxious thoughts which we recognise as unwanted and annoying.
To know more about why the difference between psychosis and anxiety is pronounced click on the link below http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/psychotic-behavior