Who Else Feels Guilty About Their Thoughts?

Do You Feel Guilty for Having  Certain Thoughts?

Is this dog guilty for thinking what he’s thinking? Should he be experiencing shame?

We mostly agree that if I steal a banana I should probably pay a penalty of some sort, even if it’s just guilt and shame.

But what if I only think about stealing a banana? Should I pay a penalty for thinking? And what if I didn’t deliberately think about stealing banana. What if it just popped into my head out of nowhere?

I certainly won’t be arrested for thinking about stealing a banana, right? Okay, but what about an emotional penalty for thinking about it? I should pay penance with guilt and shame, right?

For how long should I pay this penance? A lifetime? For every next time I think about stealing a banana? Maybe I should give my banana away in an attempt to resolve my guilt feelings? Or should I just accept that since I thought about stealing a banana, I deserve to feel guilty

This kind of guilt doesn’t even come from mis-behaving. No action required. It was just a thought but shame on me. 

All I know is that I had a thought about doing something that would have violated my Code of Conduct. “Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” I wouldn’t want someone to steal my bananas. So it’s wrong for me to steal someone else’s.

But wait! I didn’t even steal anything! I didn’t actually do anything wrong! Why should I feel so guilty about something I didn’t even do???

Guilt Beyond Circumstance:                  A Different Kind of Guilt

Let’s talk about (Harm Avoidance) OCD; a kind of OCD that involves unwanted, intrusive thoughts about harming self or others.

Nobody’s lifted a finger. They’re just thoughts. They come with a punch in the stomach and a ton of guilt.

It’s guilt beyond circumstance. No event or circumstance has occurred other than in the mind.

You’re not walking on eggshells, you’re “thinking” on eggshells.

When you’re walking on eggshells you’re trying very hard to not upset someone who is hypersensitive and easily agitated.

When you’re “thinking” on eggshells you’re tiptoeing around your mind. Your mind is hyper-responsible. Hyper-aware. Hyper-sensitive. And easily agitated. You try to tiptoe around these thoughts. 

Thought Action Fusion: When Thinking Is Considered to be the Same as Doing.

A person with OCD gets confused. They falsely believe a thought is just as bad as an action. This is a cognitive error called, Thought Fusion Action. This cognitive error interrupts lives. 

If thoughts are felt to be equivalent to action then you can understand why people with (Harm Avoidance) OCD experience so much guilt. They haven’t done anything, but in their minds thinking about it is just as bad as doing it.

When it comes to a thought vs. an action, a person with OCD says there is no line in the sand. Thought = action = responsibility = guilt. The guilt is the emotional penalty for the wrongdoing of the mind.

People with OCD have an inflated sense of responsibility. Thought Action Fusion is a type of hyper-responsibility, of feeling responsible when you’re not.

The Emotional Penalty of Being Hyper-Responsible is Guilt and Shame

Another example of hyper-responsibility is to believe that you ought to be able to stop what you’re thinking.

The guilt is the emotional penalty for not controlling the mind. 

In a room full of 100 people, not many of them are worrying about why they can’t stop having certain thoughts. They don’t have OCD.

Geez, I don’t even know if it’s possible to “be” and not think? Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am.” In other words, “I know I exist when I am thinking.” 

To believe you ought to be able to control what you think about is a false belief. It’s a cognitive error that’s interrupting your life. If you had the power of mind control you’d be rich and famous. Because, you’d be the only one out of 7 billion people who have such control.

We all get weird taboo thoughts. This is a proven fact. You don’t have to have OCD to get weird thoughts. But, if you have OCD then you’re at risk for spending way too much time analyzing these thoughts.

I thought about not reporting that I underpaid for a banana. I didn’t violate my Code of Conduct. Whatever unwanted, intrusive thought you’re having is absolutely no different than my thought.

Nothing has meaning except the meaning you attach to it.

No thought has meaning except the meaning you attach to it.

Tips:

  1. Stand up for yourself. You can’t just let OCD push you around with cognitive errors.  Recognize them and bulldoze through them. 
  2. You don’t have to pay penance for thoughts unless you want to.
  3. Be as kind to yourself as you would to your best friend. (Code of Conduct: Don’t do to yourself what you wouldn’t do to others.)
  4. Trying to control your mind is impossible. If 7 billion other people can’t help what they’re thinking how can you?
  5. Notice your thoughts and do nothing to get rid of them. They mean nothing unless you attach meaning to them.

This publication is part of a series of posts about OCD and guilt. The next one will have to do with how guilt can cause compulsive behavior.

3 thoughts on “Who Else Feels Guilty About Their Thoughts?”

  1. Well, since this post began with a dog, I figured I’d tell a story about two canines. For the purpose of this story, both of these dogs are extremely intelligent and capable of introspection. The names of the dogs are Eleos and Hybris (the owners wanted to get creative with the names, I suppose…).

    It’s the spring, and that seems like a bad thing for Eleos. She remembers all too well last spring, when she had to be outside much of the time. She likes it outside – she likes to smell the flowers and look at the trees, but there’s one big problem: the mail carrier. The very first day of last spring, she saw the mail carrier and had an awful thought: “What if I bite him?” The mail carrier came and went, but she reassured herself that she wouldn’t dare do such a thing, that she wasn’t like that, that she was good, etc… The very next day, she got the same thought and tried the same mental ritual. After one hundred days or so, she’d walked to a part of her yard far away from the mail carrier, and waited (impatiently) for a time when she could be inside all the time so she wouldn’t have to worry about her mail carrier obsession. She never actually bit the mail carrier, but did that matter? What if she just hasn’t done it YET? She feels guilty for her thoughts.

    Eleos has a reason to think that this spring may be different from the last: she has a new neighbor named Hybris. Eleos only knows Hybris’ name because the neighbors seem to use it quite a lot. The first day of spring, Eleos goes out to greet Hybris at the fence separating their two back yards, but Hybris just prances around, then growls at Eleos … Eleos thinks that she just may be nervous about her new surroundings. Eleos had forgotten all about the mail carrier, but she suddenly sees him out of the corner of her eye and has that terrible thought again, “What if I bite him?” She shakes as the mail carrier delivers the mail, then sighs as he finishes delivering it. About to lie down due to her anxiety, Eleos hears a loud noise. She peers next door, and Hybris has charged at the letter carrier and bitten him! Hybris goes back to prancing around in her back yard as the letter carrier has some choice words for Hybris’ owners and Hybris is taken back inside. Eleos decides from then on that she isn’t going to suffer anymore: Even if she has the thought, she’s not going to argue with it. Maybe she’ll bite the mail carrier and maybe she won’t, but she has better things to do, like smelling the roses! Now, who should feel guilty in this scenario? And, more importantly, who’s a good girl!?

    1. Great story that ends with an excellent question!!! Thanks for using your storytelling talent to highlight the point!!!

  2. The part about how people with OCD have an inflated sense of responsibility is really hitting home with me. I’ve been trying to let go of the “responsibility” thoughts as they come in. Example at work today, there is a working meeting through lunch and before that, there was disorganization about ordering a group lunch. I went out on my own, got lunch for myself and got back before the meeting. As the meeting started, the group lunch still wasnt ordered yet. By deciding to make sure I was healthy, and fed, prior to the meeting, I met my personal responsibility to my job, and also I saved myself a lot of stress. I was even asked to go pick up the group lunch when it was ready at the deli, but said no thanks I am committed to this meeting. I think that developing this sense of “NO is ok” and not focusing on these initial feelings of over-responsibility are going to be good muscles to divest in OCD.

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