Continuing our session with Claire. She is having images on her mind in which her house burns down, and these are followed by compulsive checking rituals. In the previous part, part 1, we tried to help her see that the image on her mind is a thought, not the reality. In this part, we are working on her thoughts “What if I actually want to burn the house down and this is why I have these images on my mind. What if I actually hate my life and want to destroy everything?”
T: Now, if it is convenient for you, let’s work on your thoughts related to why you think you would turn on the stove, or plugged in the electric cord into the socket and leave it there on purpose. You said that you believe you could do it because you might subconsciously want to burn the house down. Can you tell me what you meant by this?
C: Yeah. Sometimes I think what if I actually hate my life and I subconsciously want to destroy everything?
T: Can you explain this to me further please?
C: I mean… You know. I think I love my life. Except when I obsess… and make everyone crazy…, but what if I actually hate it?
T: So you think you might be having these thoughts because you subconsciously hate your life and thus want to burn the house down.
C: Yes. Who knows what I really feel and think subconsciously?
T: I wonder if you have any evidence to believe this thought: that you actualy hate your life and want to burn the house down?
C: No, actually… I love my life. But sometimes when I’m really tired, and the kids won’t listen to me, I get really angry, you know, I think to myself “Jennifer…” , my friend with no kids, “…must be enjoying her bathtub right now. I can’t even have one cup of coffee in silence.” You see! I don’t love every minute of my life! There are moments that I hate in my life. You see? And sometimes I get angry at my husband too, and think “Maybe I shouldn’t have married to him.”
T: There are moments in your life that you don’t love, yes. Does that mean that you hate your life?
C: No, it doesn’t actually… but what if?
T: So, if a friend of you would tell you this “Claire. I love most things in my life, but sometimes there are moments I don’t like.” Would you think that “Oh, she hates her life.”
C: No, actually, I wouldn’t. When you put it that way, I guess it is normal not to like every thing in one’s life.
T: Right? Let’s think about it for a moment. Is it possible for someone to love every single moment of one’s life? If that would be possible, what would it look like?
C: That person either doesn’t have any problems, or she is a wall. I mean people sometimes lose jobs, or even loved ones… There are inevitable things in life. When you think about it noone can love every moment of one’s life. There will definitely be times one won’t like.
T: Tell me then, why do you expect yourself to love every moment in your life?
C: You are right.
T: Do you still believe that not loving some moments of your life is equal to hating your life?
C: No, I don’t actually.
T: I wonder if you have ever had such a difficult time that you felt you hate your life and you wanted to burn the house down?
C: Well, I don’t actually remember any such moment. But maybe.
T: Would you want to burn the house down if you had such a difficult time that you hate. Imagine such a moment. You hate your life at that moment. Would you want to, would you have the desire to burn the house down?
C: No, I guess I wouldn’t, but what if I would?
T: Alright. So if you had such a difficult time, and you wanted to burn the house down, would you actually just before leaving the house, go to the kitchen, and turn on one of the burner knobs on the stove, burn the house down?
C: No! Of course not! Why would I do such a thing! That is what I’m afraid of all along! That’s why I’m here!
T: If so, how much do you believe now that you would turn on the burner knob on the stove before leaving the house, or plug in an electric cord into the socket and leave it there because you actually want to burn the house down?
C: I don’t really believe it that much now.
T: and if there is fire one day in your house, what is the possibility that you started it turning the burner knob on the stove before leaving the house, or plugged in an electric cord into the socket and left it there on purpose?
C: It is zero, I guess.
T: What might be the other reasons that started the fire?
C: I don’t know. If you leave the food on the stove, and forget it there, it might cause fire. If you leave a candle near a curtain that might cause a fire. I also heard that a fire might start from worn-out cables of electrical equipments.
T: So, there are many reasons why a fire might start, and none of them is…
C: …me burning the house down on purpose. I see.
T: How much do you believe now that you are having these thouhgts because you want to burn the house down?
C: I don’t believe it.
T: Alright. Then, what might the reason that you are having these thoughts then? What do you think?
C: I don’t know really. I don’t know what is wrong with me…
T: Do you remember that we talked about why some people have obsessions before?
C: Oh, yes, I do. You told me that most people have such thoughts, but some people give too much importance to the thought, and the thought turns into an obsession (For more information, refer to the reference: Clark, 2005).
T: Exactly, Claire. Although there are many people having these kind of thoughts, they don’t think these thoughts are important, and the thought goes away. So, if a person goes to the kitchen and check the stove, and see that it is off, and if he has an image on his mind himself turning on the burner, he doesn’t go back to the kitchen because…
C: …because he knows that he already turned it off.
T: Yes, and also?
C: He doesn’t doubt himself. He doesn’t think “what if”? He doesnt sit down and look for the reasons why he is having that image. Right?
T: Exactly, Claire, and is it possible that you give so much importance to these thoughts because you actually don’t want your house to burn down? That you love your house? And you love your life? even though there are moments in it that you hate.
C: Oh, that makes sense, yes.
T: If so, how are these checking rituals affect your life, the life you want to protect and don’t want to destroy?
C: Oh, actually they are destroying my life! I told you I’ve spent half of my life checking things.
T: So, in this situation, where you don’t 100% hate your life, and there is no possibility that you burn your house down purposefully, and that it is very likely that these thoughts are obsessions, and you are having these because you actually love your life, and you want to protect it, and also that believing the image in your mind is not helping this goal, in fact harming it, what can you do? How can you act?
C: I guess, I must accept that the images (me turning the burner knob on the stove, or plugging in an electric cord, and leaving there) and thoughts (that I might want to burn the house down because I hate my life subconsciously) in my mind are actually obsessions. There is no reason for me to check things again and again, so if I can stop checking things, I will be acting much more in accordance with my purpose, which is protecting my life.
T: Yes, Claire. You summarized it perfectly. I am glad that we had this session today. Maybe, in the next session, we can talk about how we can help you stop your checking rituals.
C: Yes, that would be great. Thank you.
I guess this is all for today.
I would love to hear about your thoughts and ideas! Please share them with me below at the comments section, or send me a message.
Write to you soon,
Clark, D. (2005). Intrusive Thoughts in Clinical Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. The Guilford Press, New York.