Home > NewsRelease > Suppressing Disturbing Thoughts May Actually Be Good for You
Suppressing Disturbing Thoughts May Actually Be Good for You
Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ
Monday, July 8, 2024


We’re often told to discuss what bothers us, but new findings suggest the opposite and favor suppression.

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

It may be a new day in how we think, what we think about, and what psychotherapists have been directing us to do all along — and it may not be what you’ve been thinking.

In the famous experiment done by experts in the mid-1980s, people were told to try not to think of a white bear. The people in the study were told to ring a bell every time they thought of a white bear for five minutes. They rang the bell more than once every minute. After that, when the same people were told to think of white bears, they did so more often than a control group that had been told to think of white bears from the start.

The results showed that trying to block out negative thoughts led to repeat effects that made it harder to stay away from them. In fact, trying to block out unwanted or negative thoughts is a way of reinforcing them. One has to wonder if there is a "cleansing effect" in therapeutic interventions that requires a person to discuss all of this material.

Many people saw the results as proof of Freud’s idea that buried memories stay in the mind and can return to haunt us. It became common knowledge that suppressing thoughts is bad for you, and this idea impacted the field of mental psychology.

And it is all wrong, according to some research exploring the benefit of inhibiting these thoughts actively. But, then, much of what Freud proferred has been deemed as misguided and ill-informed hypotheses. The “god” did, after all, have feet of clay. There was no “research” just as there wasn’t for Kubler-Ross’ plan of stages of grief that she formulated while working with a few dying patients.

It is not enough to say that Freud’s ideas changed the way people thought about studies and treatment. The effects they had on our culture are impossible to erase. These days, many people talk about ideas like the superego, transference, denial, and the unconscious iceberg.

Then, of course, there are anal retentive and other little oddities he produced to support his hypothesis. Many of Freud’s results may have been made up, as he would have ignored evidence when it did not fit with his intentions to support his own views. Whose dreams did he analyze to formulate that “theory?” His own.

This ability to forget, or lack of it, may change people in many ways. For example, if you cannot get rid of negative thoughts, you might find it easy to fall into a depressed mood. Not being able to forget does not cause sadness, but studies show that people who are depressed have trouble letting go of these thoughts.

Brain imaging studies are revealing portions of the brain that respond to various memory types, especially in persons with PTSD. One main sign of post-traumatic stress disorder is memories that keep coming back to you. Compared to memories of everyday events, intrusive memories have several traits that seem to go against each other. They, for instance, contain particular sensory and emotional details of the traumatic event and are susceptible to a variety of perceptually similar cues.

How Can We Do It?

To help them block out negative memories, some people might think about using memory-swap techniques.

Based on this method, people can change a negative memory by focusing on a distinct memory. Experts have said this method is like pulling on the brakes or steering to avoid danger. Here, we consider memory reconsolidation.

Memory reconsolidation is based on the idea that when we recall a memory, it becomes temporarily unstable and malleable. During this brief window of instability, it’s possible to modify the memory before it’s stored again (reconsolidated). This process offers a potential way to reduce the emotional impact of negative or traumatic memories.

Adding new relevant information (positive reinterpretation) after bringing up an old memory caused the positive reinterpretation to become part of the negative memory trace. This changed future memories in a beneficial way.

But people have different ability levels to control their thoughts, so this approach might not work for everyone. Any technique that requires effort to work against something, such as negative memories, takes time. As indicated, for some, it will be an effective means of handling these memories, and for others, it may not work as well. Is it worth the effort?

Undoubtedly, when we are disturbed by these types of memories that can affect our current lives, wouldn't we want to put some practice into this and see how it might work for us? If someone is working with a therapist, this might be something to explore.

As one of my professors said, everything in psychology is based on a sample of one. In effect, this means we are the laboratory and the experimenters. How it turns out depends on many factors, including our perspective, needs, and concerns. Of course, anxiety always enters into the equation, and we also consider that.

Once again, this technique will not work for everyone, and therapists may not wish to engage their clients in it because it doesn't fit into their therapeutic orientation or treatment plan. Some will say it's a bad idea; others may believe it's helpful. The advice here would be to keep an open mind because if something works, it's useful.

Website: www.drfarrell.net

Author's page: http://amzn.to/2rVYB0J

Medium page: https://medium.com/@drpatfarrell

Twitter: @drpatfarrell

Attribution of this material is appreciated.

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Name: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Title: Licensed Psychologist
Group: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., LLC
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ United States
Cell Phone: 201-417-1827
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