8 Thinking Traps in Eating Disorders & OCD
Do you know what cognitive distortions are? You can think of them like ‘thinking traps.' Many people struggle with these, and if you have an eating disorder, OCD or anxiety- chances are you are getting trapped in these thinking styles more often than not. Becoming aware of when and how these distortions are showing up for you is a real game changer in recovery and makes it easier to catch when your true self is talking vs. when your eating disorder or OCD is running the show. What all of these have in common are rigidity- and treatment helps you become more flexible with thinking and tolerating uncertainty. Becoming more flexible in our thinking helps us have more psychological freedom, too. We can't control what thoughts pop in to our brain, but we can control how we respond and this makes all the difference. Read through the following common thinking traps below and try to reflect on which ones keep you stuck the most- then try to adopt a more flexible and realistic outlook instead.
Thought- Action Fusion.
Thought action fusion basically means 'over-importance of thoughts.' Those who struggle with this distortion tend to believe "If I think it- it must mean something!" It's common for the person to try to figure out why they are having such thoughts. For example if you have the thought of harming someone, you might think that means you actually want to harm them.
In reality we all have over 70,000 thoughts a day and many are not facts. The goal of treatment isn't to get rid of the thought, but rather to accept the uncertainty of all thoughts and not try to figure it out. We all have scary, dark, weird, gross thoughts sometimes but a vast canyon lies between thought and action.
All or None Thinking.
All or nothing thinking leaves no room for 'grey areas.' Every decision or judgement you make feels dichotomous. This is common in perfectionism, anxiety, OCD and eating disorders.
It may show up in OCD as "If I tell one white lie, I am a liar and terrible person."
It may show up in eating disorders as, "I just binged on a bag of chips, I might as well eat the whole cake too." Or, "If I eat 'good' all week, I will allow myself one cheat day."
Need for Certainty.
Intolerance of certainty may show up as excessive reassurance seeking, checking compulsions, googling symptoms, ruminating, calorie/macro counting, body checking, weight checking, etc.
Those with the genetics for OCD and eating disorders tend to have a very hard time with 'not needing to know.'
Part of treatment involves acceptance that everything in life is inherently uncertain, and no amount of compulsions will lead to a lasting feeling of safety. Instead, freedom = learning to tolerate uncertainty.
Mind reading involves constantly worrying about what others are thinking- and assuming it must be something negative.
The therapeutic goal here involves accepting that people could be thinking a wide range of things about you- both good and bad, and to learn to live comfortably with not needing to know what others are thinking about you.
Responses to this thought:
"I don't know and it's not my job to know."
"Maybe, maybe not."
"Yep, anything is possible!"
This cognitive distortion involves avoidance of feeling difficult emotions. Those with OCD or an eating disorder may fear they will 'go crazy' or be 'out of control' if they allow themselves to feel difficult emotions. In an attempt to avoid this discomfort, compulsions around exercise, food, body movements and more may occur.
The goal here is to practice feeling a wide range of emotions and show yourself you can tolerate difficult feelings.
Magical thinking occurs when we think two unrelated events are causally connected, even though there is no proof of a causal link.
Examples include the idea that personal thoughts can influence the external world without acting on them, or that objects must be causally connected if they resemble each other or came in contact with each other in the past.
For example: "If I wish these two people will get hurt, then they will get hurt!"
Just because you have a thought- does not mean it is true or is going to happen. We all have twisted, dark, weird, uncomfortable thoughts. The difference is, for those with OCD, eating disorders or anxiety, thoughts tend to be a little more 'sticky' meaning, they don't pass by as easily for other folks. The scary thoughts often become repetitive and cause a great deal of anxiety. This isn't your fault! It is literally how your brain is wired and it thinks it is protecting you by scanning for threats constantly.
The goal of treatment with all of these distortions is to be able to tolerate uncertainty and to stop giving thoughts so much importance. ERP therapy can help you get unstuck! Reach out today for support- or take one of my online courses for more education on recovery. I'm rooting for you!