What is the difference between hypochondriasis and obsessive-compulsive disorder

Salkovski's ‘theory about obsessions

In this article we will examine the well-known theory that suggests an explanation of thinking behavior for the development of obsessions. Read on to find out more!

Last update: June 20, 2020

Obsessions are thoughts, images or impulses that you keep going through in your head and can never let go. Everyone experiences obsessions to some degree. Salkovski's ‘theory About obsessions helps us understand why they happen and how we can prevent them.

While it is true that some people are more likely to suffer from this cognitive intrusion, it is still a perfectly normal occurrence for the developed brain. Hence, it would be a mistake to call obsession pathological.

The fact, that you're obsessed with something in a way does not define you as a person. Because obsessions just pop up. It is similar to what happens when you dream. So it is normal to dream about things that have nothing to do with your values ​​or your way of thinking. When you wake up it is easy not to attach too much importance to the content of the dream and to let go of it.

However, for some people, letting go is not that easy. Instead, they put too much emphasis on their thoughts. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder often believe that the mere thought of harming someone will actually harm that person in real life as well. Or they think they are a bad person because they have a negative thought.

With this in mind, Salkovskis proposed one of the earliest cognitive explanations for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Every day we have thousands of thoughts from waking up to falling asleep. Some of these thoughts relate in some way to our personality (egosyntonic). Others seem uncomfortable, which is why we don't want to have anything to do with them.

Salkovski's ‘theory: Thoughts versus Obsessions

Salkovskis set out to investigate the processes we were talking about. In 1985 he presented his cognitive theory. Salkovski's ‘theory distinguished between automatic negative thoughts and obsessions. Automatic negative thoughts are subjective reactions, with which you react to certain circumstances. A crucial element of automatic negative thoughts is that you do not process these thoughts very deeply. Hence the name “automatic” (Rachman 1981).

According to Salkovski's ‘theory, it is possible to identify important differences between automatic negative thoughts and obsessions. These differences are based on the degree of perceived intrusion, the degree of accessibility of consciousness, and the degree to which they align with the person's belief system.

This last difference is the most important. Obsession is disturbing and distressing because it relates to something that a person values ​​very much.

Salkovski's ‘theory is that obsessive thoughts act as a stimulus that can evoke a certain type of automatic thinking. The evidence available brings to light the fact that the non-clinical population often experiences these procedures without experiencing high levels of exposure.

So these thoughts only become a problem when they give way to a series of automatic negative thoughts. This happens through the interaction of interventions that are unacceptable for the individual. Therefore, hardship means something different for each patient.

Taking on too much responsibility

Obsessive-compulsive disorder patients tend to overestimate the limits of their responsibilities. The minimal possibility of harm, real or imaginary, becomes unbearable for those affected. They will do everything possible to neutralize this possibility. This tendency could be the result of that they had to take on a lot of responsibility from a young age.

This premature sense of responsibility can lead to some problematic mindsets at an age when you are unable to deal with this type of pressure. Here are a few examples:

  • Believing that thinking about an action is the same as taking that action.
  • Failure not to stop harm is the same as causing harm.
  • The small chance that something will happen does not absolve you of your responsibility.
  • Failure to perform the neutralization ritual on obsessive thoughts is the same as trying to cause harm.
  • A person can and should always control their thoughts.

Take the blame when things go wrong

Automatic thoughts or images triggered by obsessions revolve around this sense of responsibility. Thoughts like "If something goes wrong, it's my fault" are common. What's worse, this guilt is not just a response to actual events, but also to imagined scenarios. The patient feels like a bad person just because he has a certain thought.

It's like you could be accused of sin just because you've pondered something that qualifies as such. Consequently, the patient feels the need to prevent harm and to alleviate the guilt he feels. They perform neutralizing rituals, to solve the problem". According to Salkovski's ‘theory, neutralizations are attempts to avoid or reduce the possibility of being responsible for possible damage.

The problem is that the "solution" becomes the main problem. Sufferers find themselves caught between obsessions and compulsions, which extremely limits the way they lead their lives.

This theory asks the patient to treat these cognitive interventions as "noise". In other words, to take power away from them. To distinguish between thoughts, reality and what they really are. To do this, cognitive therapy is crucial. It helps the patient learn how to end their rituals and let go of their beliefs about harm and personal responsibility.

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