How Can I Stop OCD Thoughts?

Why Suppressing Your Obsessive Thoughts Actually Makes Them Worse

Woman clutching her head in mental anguish

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Many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) ask, "How can I stop having OCD thoughts?" It is important to remember that up to 90% of people have strange, bizarre and even disturbing thoughts on a daily basis. If bizarre or disturbing thoughts are actually normal, what matters is not whether we have them, but how we react to them. 

Why People With OCD Thoughts Find Them Overwhelming

Through a process called thought-action fusion, some people with OCD often believe that simply thinking about something disturbing, such as molesting a neighbor or killing a spouse, is morally equivalent to carrying out such an act. In another example, someone with thought-action fusion might believe that by just thinking about a car crash or contracting a serious disease it makes these events more likely.

Some OCD sufferers may feel that such thoughts are dangerous and want to monitor them closely, just as you might monitor a suspicious car driving around your neighborhood. Once you've labeled some of your thoughts as dangerous, you may try to push away or suppress them, but research shows that this cycle of monitoring and thought suppression can actually lead to the development of obsessive thoughts.

Even if you don't have to deal with thought-action fusion, if you have OCD, you likely have to deal with obsessive thoughts on a daily basis. It can become so overwhelming that you would give anything to stop the thoughts that are invading your brain and making your life so difficult.

Don't Try to Stop OCD Thoughts

Although it is easier to say than to believe, try to remember that thoughts are just strings of words that pop into your mind and are not inherently dangerous. You are not obliged to take them seriously just because your brain generated them. Moreover, they do not necessarily say anything about you, your values or your morals. In fact, OCD thoughts very often reflect the very things that the person having the thoughts finds the most offensive.

As hard as it may be, don't try to push your thoughts away because that actually makes them come back even more and may even cause you to obsess over them. Try to just let the thoughts occur and not get upset about them or try to shove them out of your mind. Acknowledge that your thoughts are real, but don't analyze them or question them too much.  

Take It Easy on Yourself

Try not to beat yourself up, particularly if your thoughts make you feel guilty or fearful. We have very little control over the things that pop into our minds unbidden, so give yourself a break. Recognize the thought or feeling, but don't let it set you back in your treatment or your day. Crazy or upsetting thoughts come and go for everyone, even people without OCD, like ripples on a pond.

Get Help for OCD Thoughts If You Need It

If your OCD thoughts are too many or too stressful, be sure to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about treatment.

Many patients report that mindfulness techniques can be helpful in gaining a more objective picture around one's thoughts. Of course, treatment with medication and psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) can also help.

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  1. Whittal, M.L., Thordarson, D.S., and McLean, P.D. "Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Cognitive Behavior Therapy vs. Exposure Therapy and Response Prevention." Behaviour and Research Therapy 2005 43: 1559-1576. DOI:


Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., 2000 Washington, DC