Obsessive thoughts really are a drag. As if having insecure thoughts wasn’t bad enough on its own, our minds take those thoughts and broadcast them on a sadistic loop that never seems to end. And for those of us with anxiety disorders, those obsessive thought loops can be quite debilitating.
My obsessive thinking causes me a lot of problems. It loses me sleep, it prevents me from meeting people, it makes me seem aloof and distant at times. It even makes conversations more difficult than they should be. At times, it may help me stay motivated to achieve my goals, but really, the costs outweigh the benefits a-thousand-to-one.
There are a few different sorts of obsessive thoughts I tend to have. I like to think that there are four different types of obsessive thinkers in my head. No, I’m not implying distinct personalities. These are all parts of me, they just have different motives. Today I thought I would introduce them. I have a feeling you’ve met them before.
1. The Worrier. This type of obsessive thinker likes to worry a lot. (I chose a really creative name, right?)
Time frame: events that are beyond the immediate future (days to years)
Types of obsessions: approaching due dates, meetings, interviews, and exams. Also: plane rides, social functions, medical appointments, and work reviews. Basically, The Worrier likes to remind you of upcoming events when you’re not in a position to prepare for them.
Example: “I know you’re about to fall asleep,” it might say, “but I just thought you should obsess over the presentation you’re giving next week. Did you forget you’re afraid of presentations? No? Well good. Because you are. You’re terribly afraid of them. And you’re going to screw it up big time. Let’s think about that for awhile, shall we?”
2. The Panicker. This obsessive thinker comes free with one order of panic disorder. But you can also buy it if you have enough anxiety points.
Time frame: largely focused on the present moment (minutes to hours)
Types of obsession: meta-anxiety (panicking about panicking). The Panicker may think it’s helping you by constantly reminding you of possible panic attacks, but it’s really just making your life a living hell. It likes to perk up when you’re riding on public transportation, trying to enjoy a meal out with some colleagues, or waiting for an exam to be distributed. Whenever there’s waiting involved, you can be sure to meet The Panicker.
Example: “Uh oh,” it whispers out of the blue, “did you feel that? Your heart rate is going up. And now your breathing is becoming labored. Could this be a panic attack coming on? Let’s focus all of your thoughts on the unpleasant sensations you’re feeling! See!? I told you – you’re panicking! Ah!”
3. The Social Phobe. Always lurking in the back of your mind, The Social Phobe is your constant source of insecurity. Even if you don’t have social phobia, you’ve probably still met this one.
Time frame: generally focused on the present (minutes to hours), can also be found digging up the past, sometimes even looks ahead months or years
Types of obsessions: anything social. Constantly evaluating whether or not your friends secretly hate you, telling you that you’ll never find love, and convincing you that you’re incapable of speaking to people. The Social Phobe is the one that won’t let you forget about that time you said something stupid to your boss or that party where you threw up in front of your love interest. It also likes to tell you that you’re stupid, you’re unattractive, and you’re boring.
Example: “Are you sure you want to go to that party tonight?” it asks. “Remember last weekend when you made a fool of yourself at Amy’s party? Or that time when you spilled your drink on that guy that was hitting on you? I bet you’ve forgotten about all those times that you had to talk to that really annoying guy at res parties because no one else found you interesting. Please don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how boring you are? And really, do you think you can pull off that outfit? No wonder no one likes you.”
4. The Sadist. The most evil of the obsessive thinkers, The Sadist picks out your most uncomfortable thoughts, and blasts them in your head on eternal repeat.
Time frame: you’re never safe
Types of obsessions: whatever makes you the most uncomfortable. The Sadist digs up your deepest, darkest secrets and never lets you forget about them. It may borrow material from the other three, but it takes obsessions to a whole new level. This is the reason why you can’t stop thinking about that one time in first grade when you wet yourself at recess and everyone laughed at you. It’s also why you get jealous of your ex, you keep having that same awful sexual fantasy, and you can’t quite get that Taylor Swift song out of your head (like, ever).
Example: “Oh, you’re just settling into a new relationship are you?” it squawks. “Well, in that case, I’m going to play a 30-minute montage of the worst moments from your last two relationships on repeat for the next month. Enjoy.”
Next time you find yourself in a spiral of obsessive thoughts, say hi to one of these four lovelies. Or maybe you have an obsessive thinker of your own? Either way, next post I will explore some ways that we can quiet these obsessive thinkers and have a little bit of mental peace once in awhile.