Someone once said to me, ''what ever you do don't think of pink elephants,'' and then laughed outloud as they watched me roll my eyes in recognition of the meaning of their little rouse. You see, when you attempt to avoid unwanted thoughts they have a tendency to pop right back up into consciousness with a vengeance.
When we try to suppress a thought we give it power by focusing on it. This allows it to build until it has other emotions attached to it as hangers on, such as stress and anxiety. If we are having trouble pushing away a thought it becomes a source of irritation like a fly buzzing around our head.
When the thought itself is one which we don't believe we should be having we also label it with guilt and then with shame. Soon the unwanted thought stands for so much more than it did the first time it innocently popped into our head.
As a counselor I have helped many people who have had consistent, unwanted thoughts. Occasionally such thoughts may stem from an underlying condition which requires medical treatment, but for most people thoughts which we may call 'bad' generally come about when we are suffering from stress already.
Thoughts which we see in our minds eye as stemming from our poor personality, or which we judge ourselves about, sometimes come from fear. When we fear losing someone or something it isn't uncommon, when under a great deal of stress, to run through possible scenarios about something bad happening to them.
This may at first seem bizarre to say the least. After-all, why would we want to picture our nearest and dearest in an automobile accident? Or falling off of a cliff?
However, there is a plausible explanation for such dreadful thoughts. Scientists have now discovered that during our dreams, a great deal of the time, we play through possible scenarios which involve danger and stress. It is thought that we do so to provide us with practice with how to cope should a real life trauma that's similar in nature occur.
The chances are that when we are particularly stressed our brain works overtime by sending unwanted thoughts like this to our conscious mind. For the people who experience such thoughts though, even more stress can follow due to a lack of understanding about what is happening to them.
At other times many of us may have the odd, unwanted thought which surprises us. We may keep picturing ourselves with a brain tumour, for example, when we are suffering from regular headaches. This doesn't mean that we actually have a brain tumour, only that our brain is running through possible explanations for what is happening to us.
Our brain will link information that we have, based on what level of knowledge we have, to our experiences. Sometimes our knowledge is limited, so our brain doesn't have much to work on! Hence it may come up with a possible theory being toyed with in our subconscious and throw it out into the open where our consciousness lays, for inspection.
When information leaks out of our subconscious into our waking daydreams as thoughts which we don't like, this is usually just our brains way of tapping us on the shoulder and saying, ''hey, check this out.'' It doesn't always mean that we have lost our minds and are going stark raving bonkers.
One of the main differences between people who need treatment and those who don't, is the ability to differentiate between what is real and what isn't. Another difference is behaviour. Someone who needs suppressive drugs in case they are a danger to themselves or others may act out their thoughts, which they assume are part of reality.
Instead of suppressing bad thoughts, the best way for individuals to proceed, assuming that they are not one of the minority who do actually require treatment, is to let the thought flow to begin with. We don't want to add weight to a thought and make it build by stressing over it and turning into something far worse than it already is.
The next thing to do, when the thought is running out of steam, is to turn it around. If the thought, for example, was that I am a bad person I would correct myself by listing all the ways that this is untrue. By reminding myself of all the times I have been good, and possibly have had evidence to support this, I would automatically be diffusing my original, negative thought.
By focusing on positive thoughts it is possible to change your mindset. There are times when we all get stuck in a repetitive groove where we feel miserable or negative about ourselves or others. By using positive language in our everyday speech, and by replacing negative self talk which takes place in our minds with joyful thoughts and positive imagery, we can make our thoughts into ones which we want to hang on to, rather than suppress.