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Treat Your Thoughts Like A Dream

By Jonathan Hoffman, Ph.D., ABPP & Victoria Cooney LMHC

The French philosopher Descartes’ quote, cogito, ergo sum, Latin: "I think, therefore I am," has had a profound influence on the way people think about their thoughts. Despite its historical significance, however, this perspective can imply that we are our thoughts, and our thoughts are us. In other words, since I am experiencing a thought and it's my thought, this must mean that my thought is me! It is easy to fall into the trap of believing what we think about equates to our identity. This notion can be even more of a problem when we experience a thought as ‘intrusive.’ An intrusive thought is one that might scare or produce disgust in our body; it could be a taboo thought, a gory image, or a thought so disturbing that we believe we are a monster just for thinking it.

But what if, instead, we think about and treat our thoughts as if they were our dreams?

If you have a weird dream, you don't wake up the next day and judge yourself based on the quality or content of the dream; if the dream is "intrusive," we call it a nightmare. We don't base our moral character on what we do in our dreams. The difference between the dream and the dreamer is like the difference between the thought and the thinker. You are not the dream; you are the dreamer: you are not the thought; you are the thinker. You are the one who analyzes, processes and chooses what to do with the information presented in the thought or the dream. When you think of yourself as a thinker of thoughts rather than being whatever the thought says you are, you have choices. You become the leader of your mind, not the person that blindly follows whatever pops into your mind at any given moment, even if it takes you down a rabbit hole.

However, there’s one important consideration. People that cannot separate themselves from their thoughts and try to neutralize distressing thoughts with rituals or avoidance behaviors to control their thoughts may be suffering from OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If you think this might apply to you, it may be helpful to consider consulting with a mental health provider that specializes in diagnosing and treating this condition.

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