Individuals who find themselves in intensive, negative emotional states (e.g., depression, anxiety, panic) desire to get rid of their emotional thoughts, but often have difficulty doing so. In particular, people will often try to suppress thoughts that are undesirable, unwanted or violate their philosophical or moral beliefs. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, thought-suppression is generally ineffective and even counter-productive, in that it serves to reinforce the strength of the unwanted thoughts in the following ways:
- suppressing a thought during emotional states associates the thought with that particular emotion,
- suppressing emotionally-laden thoughts increases their potential to elicit emotion when they return,
- suppressing emotional thoughts during stress or mental overload increases their accessibility,
- suppressing emotional thoughts increases the likelihood and frequency of the thought’s reoccurrence (the more one tries to push away the undesireable thought, the more the thought pushes back and remains in the forefront of one’s conscious level of awareness)
Dr. Mervin Smucker is an international trauma consultant and author of numerous articles and books on trauma and cognitive-behavioural therapy interventions.