Saturday, September 12, 2015

The "Mixing Bowl" of Obsessive Thinking

What is obsessive thinking?

Obsessive thinking is "a mental disorder that refers to the repetitive ideas or impulses in a person's mind." (Mark Hutten, M.A., 2013)
See Hutten's video for a more in-depth explanation.

He also states that while obsessive thinking can be associated with desire a person wishes to be fulfilled, the thoughts can also be "unwanted, making the person somewhat mentally unbalanced." (Mark Hutten, M.A., 2013)

How does obsessive thinking relate to Asperger's?

Obsessive thinking seems to come with the territory of Asperger's, though sometimes it can be confused with OCD. Some aspies do have OCD as a comorbid disorder, but obsessive thinking alone doesn't always result in OCD-like compulsions. 
In any case, obsessive thinking is very much tied into the way our brains work as a whole, reinforcing positive, negative, and neutral thoughts.

Here is how obsessive thinking affects me...
Disclaimer: Everyone's experience is different, This post focuses specifically on mine.

Click below to hear me talk about it.



"An analogy that I have for my obsessive thinking is my brain is kind of like an electric mixing bowl. Like the kind you use for cooking, that you'd use to whip up some eggs or something.

Every piece of information that gets thrown in my brain--whether it's something that I'm thinking about, or something that someone says, or something on TV, or something I read--every piece of information that makes its way into the mixing bowl that is my brain gets stirred around constantly.

I either have no off button for this mixing bowl, or it's really hard to find the off button, because it just keeps going around and around and around and around. So I'll think of whatever was thrown in there over and over and over. And sometimes I don't even realize I'm doing it because I'm used to it--that's just the way I think.


A more negative example--and this is a big reason why I don't read the news--let's say a bad news article comes up; not bad in the sense of written badly, but something that's kind of depressing to read about. Let's say there was a shooting or a death or something like that... politics are depressing too. But once I read an article, I'll keep thinking about it. So if it was something bad that happened, I will keep thinking about it. Like if it's something that makes me angry, I'll keep being angry about it. It takes a long time for me to shut it off.

I can't watch horror movies, either.

Because of my obsessive thinking, a lot of things bother me more than most people. I think that ties into a lot of the Asperger's issues, including my sensory issues. Let's say I'm wearing a shirt with a little tag on it, or one part of the shirt is uncomfortable on me. Most people could probably just ignore that and just get through the day. I cannot take my focus off of it, because that thing that bothered me was thrown into the mixing bowl and it won't stop going.

I keep remembering:

'Oh, there's a tag on my shirt.'

'There's a tag on my shirt.'

'There's a tag on my shirt.'

I don't necessarily think of the words in my head because I'm visual, but that's the thought that keeps coming.

➤ Here's some great advice from Hutten on how to reduce obsessive thinking.

Note: While some things are nearly impossible for me to ignore (usually the sensory issues), I find that it helps to drown out the negative thought cycles by engaging in activities that promote positive thoughts. For me it's doing something familiar to that I enjoy, like playing old games from my childhood, or watching my favorite shows.


On the flipside, while things might bother me more, I feel like I can enjoy things--not more than other people--but I can enjoy things for longer. So if there's a movie I like, and I watch it, I can keep watching. Not over and over in the same day, but I'll watch the movie one week and I'd be totally fine watching it the next week.

This is actually a good example, a more positive one--my friend Matt (a fellow aspie) will occasionally send me music that I like because he knows what I like. So let's say he sends me a nice song, and I listen to it, and I like it (and usually whether I like it or not, this happens anyway), then it will play over and over and over in my head. While that might annoy other people, that's just normal for me.

It makes me want to listen to it, so I'll listen to it over and over because that's what my brain's doing. (Hutten states that an obsession can often result in a compulsion. In my case, obsessing about a song results in a compulsion to listen to it, which for me is a good thing.) I actually like obsessing over music and music videos, or videos in general. I enjoy memorizing things, because it goes with the way my brain works.

I really like AMV's, especially.

That being said, it's a good thing because I can stick with things longer. I can get interested in something, and if it's something for work especially, that's a good thing. I'll be dedicated to it. But if it's something that's bad, something that's negative, like if someone insults me or something, that's going to keep replaying in my head--and then it's not good. That's where a lot of my depression comes from: when I hear bad things or see bad things.

Basically I just have to be careful about what I throw in the mixing bowl."

Mark Hutton - Obsessions and the Asperger's Mind: Help for People on the Autism Spectrum

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