Hi! I believe I can be of help with this issue.
First, let me say I can imagine how frustrating and worrisome this situation must be for your sister. You are clearly a loving and caring brother and it is very wonderful that you are trying to help her through this problem. Good for you.
I have worked with teenagers who have had obsessive thoughts or thought patterns. And it sounds as though this is what is happening to your sister. This is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). A thought comes into her mind and she obsesses on it. This obsessing causes more of these thought "events" to occur. So, let me address the rest of this directly to her and you can share it with her and discuss my answer with her and help her implement the strategies. If she is not able to control this on her own, she should see a psychologist who is experienced in OCD to help with this. It is not good to let this become too entrenched in her thinking pattern, so she should get help soon if it doesn't abate. The therapist should be practicing some form of Behavioral Therapy for OCD, which is the most effective way to treat this.
Okay, let's start:
You have these sentences that come into your mind and they scare you. You are CONVICING yourself of something that has no reality other than your inability to stop convincing yourself. It's a vicious circle that is caused by anxiety and increases anxiety. At the end of this posting I’m going to include a technique to use when the anxiety from these thoughts and worries rises. It will give you a little relief so you can use some of the other techniques I will be talking to you about.
You need to know that this is not as uncommon as you think. Intelligent people, both male and female, tend to have these obsessive thoughts. And there is no way to predict or know why each person's subconscious mind chooses one thing to obsess about instead of another. We can theorize about fears driving the subconscious choice of subject, but it's only theorizing at this time. Therefore, I need you to reorient your view of what is going on.
EVERYONE has strange thoughts come into our minds! So what's the difference between all of us and those who have a psychological problem or a mental illness? What we DO with those strange thoughts!
Here's what I mean:
It is very common to have a thought, sentences that come in, about jumping or falling off a subway platform or onto the tracks of a train. Why? Because we've all seen images of this in movies, etc. Same with jumping off balconies or falling. And other such calamities. BUT, most of us let these thoughts just go. We don't hold on to them. We treat them like all the other type of fleeting thoughts we have throughout the day about whole sorts of things. We just let them go and don't attach any importance to them. When someone CAN'T let the thought go, then that could be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for example, or some other anxiety disorder. When someone embroiders the thoughts into voices saying they SHOULD jump or into whole elaborate stories about jumping or falling on the tracks, then that could be a sign of schizophrenia or some other thought disorder, for example.
Do you see the difference here? It's not in the thought, the sentences that come into our awareness. It's in what we do with it. So you had thoughts about religious figures you revere that were sentences of an awful nature. Okay. That is not so uncommon. But rather than letting the thoughts go like any other stray thoughts, you obsessed on these particular sentences/thoughts and they became anxiety triggers for you.
By the way, you may be interested: about 5 months ago I actually treated someone with the problem you describe! His obsession was that whenever he thought about his family members and said to himself that they were okay, that he REALLY meant that he wished them to have awful sicknesses. Thoughts of that nature. What did we work on? What I'm telling you. We worked on changing his view from never having such thoughts as being normal to recognizing that we all have stray thoughts that are horrible or awful. The important skill that most people have is how to just let strange thoughts go the way of any other fleeting thought.
So, that is the key and I hope you will apply it. You may need to do this in therapy. So you may want to try working on this first on your own. Apply the strategy. Every time you have the thought, consciously tell yourself that it is just a stray thought, a strange thought. This is just a stray thought. If it persists, use the technique below and remind yourself it's just a stray thought like everyone has because you still have residual anxiety. Got the technique?
Okay, I wish you and your sister the very best!
Here are instructions on a therapeutic protocol called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). It's really quite easy to do almost anywhere. My patients suffering from anxiety and stray thoughts, when I teach them PMR at first are amazed how simple it is and that it is a psychological protocol. It was first used in the 1920s! Since then, of course, it has been refined and many studies have been done showing its effectiveness. You will practice PMR at first when you don't wake up with an attack so that you will be familiar with it. I want you to practice the PMR at least 5-6 times before acute anxiety. Why? Because when you're in the throes of anxiety, you will only remember to do something you are very familiar with it. So practicing 5-6 times is really a minimum.
I want to stress the importance of breathing as well. Part of the physiology of what is happening to you in anxiety from stray thoughts is that your breathing is getting shallower. This reduces the oxygen in your blood to your brain. That increases the anxiety reaction, which strengthens the attack and you are in a vicious cycle! Not good. So breathing is the primary tool. I have found in my practice that learning breathing techniques can be helpful. But some of my patients are not interested in learning more than one thing at the beginning, so I have found that just reminding you to BREATHE deeply at the same time you are doing PMR is almost as good. If you are willing to take a yoga class and learn breathing techniques, that's the best. But, breathing deeply with your PMR will help.
So, we're ready for learning PMR. I want you to print my instructions below my signature and have a copy in each of the rooms of your home where you may be when you have an attack. And again, you need to practice this easy technique at least 5-6 times as soon as you can. It needs to become as natural to you as breathing. Ah, remember breathing?
- After finding a quiet place and several free minutes to practice progressive muscle relaxation, sit or lie down and make yourself comfortable.
- Begin by tensing all the muscles in your face. Make a tight grimace, close your eyes as tightly as possible, clench your teeth, even move your ears up if you can. Hold this for the count of eight as you inhale.
- Now exhale and relax completely. Let your face go completely lax, as though you were sleeping. Feel the tension seep from your facial muscles, and enjoy the feeling.
- Next, completely tense your neck and shoulders, again inhaling and counting to eight. Then exhale and relax.
- Continue down your body, repeating the procedure with the following muscle groups:
- entire right arm
- right forearm and hand (making a fist)
- right hand
- entire left arm
- left forearm and hand (again, making a fist)
- left hand
- entire right leg
- lower right leg and foot
- right foot
- entire left leg
- lower left leg and foot
- left foot
- for the shortened version, which includes just four main muscle groups:
- neck, shoulders and arms
- abdomen and chest
- buttocks, legs and feet
Quickly focusing on each group one after the other, with practice you can relax your body like ‘liquid relaxation’ poured on your head and it flowed down and completely covered you. You can use progressive muscle relaxation to quickly de-stress any time.
What You Need:
- A comfortable place.
- Some privacy.
- A few minutes.