Mental Health

Suppression of Unwanted Thoughts

ACT for anxiety disorders book cover

I was browsing the web for interesting therapy materials, when I came across the worksheets for Acceptance & Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders on the website of one of the authors, Dr. John Forsyth.  I’ve never done ACT, but I’ve done a lot of reading about it, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

One thing that I found particularly interesting is the White Bear Suppression Inventory, which I’ve copied verbatim from the linked site; the material is copyright (1994) by Blackwell Publishing Company.  All questions are rated from 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree:


1) There are things I prefer not to think about.

2) Sometimes I wonder why I have the thoughts I do.

3) I have thoughts that I cannot stop.

4) There are images that come to mind that I cannot erase.

5) My thoughts frequently return to one idea.

6) I wish I could stop thinking of certain things.

7) Sometimes my mind races so fast I wish I could stop it.

8) I always try to put problems out of mind.

9) There are thoughts that keep jumping into my head.

10) Sometimes I stay busy just to keep thoughts from intruding on my mind.

11) There are things that I try not to think about.

12) Sometimes I really wish I could stop thinking.

13) I often do things to distract myself from my thoughts.

14)  I often have thoughts that I try to avoid.

15) There are many thoughts that I have that I don’t tell anyone.

I was already aware that I tend to use avoidance as a fall-back strategy, but this inventory reminded me just how much I end up doing this.  I would rate myself a 5 (strongly agree) for questions 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, and 14.  Yikes.  Yet with the current state of my treatment-resistant depression, I wonder if this suppression is the only way that I can manage to keep it together most of the time.  That sounds avoidant in and of itself, but I think it’s a legitimate question; with an illness that’s only partially responsive to treatment, are there limits to how much my conscious mind can handle?  And from a mindfulness perspective, is it useful to think about things related to past and future that I have limited control over, or is it better to just keep on chugging in the present moment? I really don’t know, and to be honest, I don’t know that I’m prepared to trust anyone enough to dig into that further.

Did this suppression inventory tell you anything new about yourself, or did it confirm anything you already knew?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Fundamentals mini-ebook

The ACT Fundamentals mini-ebook/workbook provides an introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy.  It’s also available as part of the Therapy Mini-Ebook Collection.

10 thoughts on “Suppression of Unwanted Thoughts”

  1. yes and no
    so thoughts
    in my head
    want to have
    so i can obtain
    a physical release
    but without ya love
    it is a mess
    i do confess!

  2. I really didn’t need to read the list to know I’m an avoidant suppressor! 😀
    Sometimes it’s all we can do to hold ourselves together.
    You’re definitely not alone.

  3. I scored similarly to you. I can guarantee you that if I were unmedicated or less medicated, I’d be living in a constant flashback hell. I definitely think you should try EMDR if you haven’t yet. It helped me a lot with some of these memories. I don’t think suppression is a bad thing. It keeps our minds happier and more present than thinking bad thoughts. I do think it’s a problem when those thoughts pester you or harass you. “Give me attention! Give me attention!” Some things are better off forgotten, and if they weren’t forgotten at the time, EMDR is the only answer I know of. I say this knowing I need a touch more EMDR myself, but I don’t want to get it. I’d have to find a good therapist. (Enough said right there, I’m sure.) I’d have to pay money. GROAN. Whether it’s useful to think about things from the past depends on whether you’re reprocessing it (like I was in my latest blog post) or feeling traumatized all over again (in which case, you’d need EMDR). I think.

  4. This most certainly coincides with how my thinking is. I have several flashbacks to when I was a kid and relationship with my ex-husband. I far worse times dealing with all of the above around holidays. No matter how hard I try to live in the present moment, intrusive thoughts seem to peak around the holidays the most.

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