Thought-Action Fusion in OCD and Anxiety
Thought-Action Fusion is a cognitive error that is closely associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but its presence and impact can be experienced at any point along the anxiety/ Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum. While many suffer from the effects of Thought-Action Fusion, there are many things that can be done to mitigate their effects and take back the control over one’s thoughts and actions.
What is Thought-Action Fusion
Thought-Action Fusion is a psychological process where someone believes that the presence of a thought will have an effect on one’s self, behaviors, character, or world around them. In other words, having a thought, no matter intrusive or intentional, is believed to either increase the likelihood that something will happen or is seen as the moral equivalency of actually doing it.
Simply put, to the person experiencing Thought-Action Fusion, thoughts might as well be actions.
Thought-Action Fusion In Action
Think of Thought-Action Fusion as the glue that ties together an obsession and a compulsion, or a feared thought and a reactive response.
Let’s say an obsessions within OCD, or unwanted intrusive thoughts more broadly, pop into your mind. Without any context, one might say, “Who cares,” or “That’s weird.” There is no need for a compulsion, avoidance, or neutralization with a thought that doesn’t mean anything or will have zero effect, right?
Thought-Action Fusion is what gives an obsession or intrusive thought that uncomfortable and terrible story that requires a response. It is that story that makes you say, “Oh, I really don’t want that to happen, so I better do this (or not do that) to make sure it doesn’t happen,” or “That would be awful if that were true!”
Breaking Down Thought-Action Fusion
Thought-Action Fusion (TAF) has two main flavors, Moral TAF and Likelihood TAF. People suffering with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, OCD thoughts, or Social Anxiety, just to name a few, may experience both together, or only one type. Understanding what they are and how they work can help you combat and overcome their effects.
Moral Thought-Action Fusion
Moral Thought-Action Fusion occurs when someone believes that a thought is the moral equivalency of an action. They believe that thinking a thought, no matter if they intentionally thought about it or if it popped in without asking for it, they feel as guilty and responsible as if they did the action in real life.
Moral TAF is often closely associated with depression and depressive feelings within other mental health issues, such as OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. For example, thinking about harming one’s child can make someone feel the guilt as if they actually did it or want to do it even though they have not harmed them nor would ever want to harm them.
Likelihood Thought-Action Fusion
Likelihood Thought-Action Fusion occurs when someone believes that having a thought will increase the chances that thought happening. Likelihood TAF is closely associated with the Magical Thinking Cognitive Distortion which states that two unrelated things are in-fact related and will have an impact on one another. In this case, that a simple thought will cause an event.
Likelihood TAF can be broken down further into Likelihood-Self and Likelihood-Other. Some experience both of these subtypes, while others may only have one or the other. Likelihood-Self is where the thought will increase the chances of something happening to one’s self, whereas Likelihood-Other will somehow cause something bad to happen to someone else.
Examples of Thought-Action Fusion
Now that we’ve discussed what Thought-Action Fusion is, it may be helpful to see various examples of how TAF occurs in specific OCD subtypes or other manifestations of anxiety.
“If I keep thinking about other people getting in car accidents, then they might actually crash”
“I’m worse than a murderer because I keep thinking about running people over”
“I have to stop thinking sexual thoughts about children or I might actually do it”
“I’m disgusting for having these thoughts”
“Gay people have gay thoughts, so if I keep thinking about other men naked I’ll eventually become gay”
“Gay people have gay thoughts, so I might as well be gay”
“Thinking about COVID makes me feel contaminated”
“I feel so guilty because I imagined coughing on my sick brother”
“Sexual thoughts about my friend’s husband are lustful and are the same as cheating”
“If I keep thinking sinful thoughts I’ll end up doing them, so I had better avoid them at all cost”
“Whenever I pray I have the thought, ‘I don’t really believe.’ I must truly not believe.”
“I keep thinking arrogant thoughts, and I feel guilty because I must have this terrible character flaw”
“I can’t have any racist, sexist, or judgmental thoughts or I’ll become them!”
“Whenever I think about a new disease I feel like I have it”
“If I think about getting sick, especially a brain disease like Alzheimer’s, I might get it”
“I’ve got to have positive thoughts or I’ll mess up my life!”
“I keep thinking about losing my job, not being able to pay my bills, and becoming homeless, and I feel like it’s going to happen!”
“If I keep being anxious, my girlfriend will break up with me”