Just don’t think about it. Trying to stop smoking? Avoid eating sweets? Get over a relationship? Stop thinking about it. This is surprisingly bad advice. Suppressing thoughts may actually be counter-productive. We have all seen bad things in life and our mind is a castle of protection designed with ourselves in first person of protection. Thought suppression is when an individual consciously attempts to stop thinking about a particular thought. It is often associated with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). This internal battle can be anything from the attempt to suppress an occasional minor irritation (did I turn off the cooker?) to a near-constant obstacle to everyday life.
Regardless if it is RAPE, a death at work, or just a event you REALLY want to forget for each person WHITE BEAR Syndrome can consume you if you don’t understand the CURE!
- Suppressing negative thoughts only empowers them
- You are not your negative thoughts
- You cannot write to rid yourself of them – the circuits are permanent
- The writing separates you from these thoughts
People often try to control their thoughts in the hope that they will therefore be able to control their emotions, behaviors, or performances. It is clear from everyday life that the control of mental activity meets with some success: people can sometimes concentrate or study at will; they can sometimes eliminate bothersome worries from mind; they can sometimes relax, sometimes get aroused, sometimes get in a better mood.
How many times have you resisted thinking about something because you were afraid you might do it? Something perhaps unthinkable, or merely mildly wanton. For example, you may try not to think about an attractive co-worker in an effort to avoid difficult entanglements, or you may try not to think about crème brûlée when on a diet. But what are the consequences of these avoidances? Do they work, or do they somehow propel us towards the very act we are attempting to avoid? There is a certain predictability to unwanted thoughts, a grim precision in the way our mental clockwork returns such thoughts to mind each time we try to suppress them. As a result, it is tempting to attribute special significance or power to suppressed thoughts, to see them as expressions of sinister workings of mind—and in fact, it was exactly this approach that led Freud (e.g. 1953) to focus his attention on the nature of thoughts that are expelled from consciousness. The classic response to this mental wrangling — whether relatively trivial or deadly serious — is to try and forget about it, push it to the back of our minds or some other variation on the theme.
Our disobedient minds
So what is it about our minds that makes them so disobedient? Why, when we want to get rid of a thought from our heads does it come back stronger?
First, people experience difficulty suppressing thoughts. Trying to suppress is not 100% effective – that white bear continues to inhabit your thoughts instead of the polar icecap. When suppressing, most people keep other thoughts in mind and keep in mind the idea that they are not thinking about something. Every now and then you think about what you are not thinking about just to make sure you are not thinking about it and there it is: The white bear, or chocolate bars, or cigarettes, or that old flame.
The second, and more important finding, is that people experience a rebound effect after trying to suppress a thought – they think about the white bear more following suppression attempts. Compared to people encouraged to simply think about the bear, people who first tried to suppress thoughts of the white bear have many more occurrences of the white bear thought
By not thinking about it or saying something is not good! Don’t think about it is bad advice. Although people can have limited success suppressing thoughts for a while, the thought will rebound.
Empty that HEAD! Don’t pay rent on a bad event!
Emptying the Head
The irony of thought suppression, then, is that actively trying to manage our own minds can sometimes do more harm than good. Although it makes perfect intuitive sense to try and suppress unwanted thoughts, unfortunately the very process we use to do this contains the seeds of its own destruction. What exactly does it mean not to think of something? If thought suppression were a perfect process, it would ideally leave a person with no vestige of the unwanted thought at all. The initial “white bear” experiments of Wegner et al (1987) compared thought suppression to this ideal and found it wanting. It was assumed in these studies that college students in Texas would almost never think of a white bear spontaneously, and therefore that any evidence of such a thought during suppression was an indication that suppression had failed. And indeed, many such indications were observed. Participants’ signals that the thought was occurring during a 5-minute suppression session—in the form of verbal reports or bell-rings to indicate the thought’s return—on average exceeded one per minute.
This frequency of thinking seems excessive if people can indeed suppress a thought completely, but perhaps this is too much to ask. After all, the instruction to suppress is a sort of reminder of the unwanted thought. Perhaps this instruction cues people to think of the target more than they would have normally. To control for such cuing, investigators have examined several comparisons, each implying a different baseline level of spontaneous thinking.
Harness the WHITE BEAR before you are Eatten from the inside out!
- Pick an absorbing distractor and focus on that instead: In one study, Wegner and his colleagues asked participants to think of a red Volkswagen instead of a white bear. They found that giving the participants something else to focus on helped them to avoid the unwanted white bears.
- Try to postpone the thought: Some research has found that asking people to simply set aside half an hour a day for worrying allows them to avoid worrying during the rest of their day, Wegner said. So next time an unwanted thought comes up, he suggested, just try to tell yourself, “I’m not going to think about that until next Wednesday.”
- Cut back on multitasking: One study found that people under increased mental load show an increase in the availability of thoughts of death—one of the great unwanted thoughts for most people.
- Exposure: “This is painful,” Wegner said, “but it can work.” If you allow yourself to think in controlled ways of the thing that you want to avoid, then it will be less likely to pop back into your thoughts at other times.
- Meditation and mindfulness: There’s evidence that these practices, which strengthen mental control, may help people avoid unwanted thoughts,