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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Inappropriate thoughts occur to all of us. We imagine laughing at the graveside, hooting in the library, or smacking children who won't be stilled. But for some folks, these ideas emerge repeatedly, and they bring with them anguish and horror. "Bad thoughts may be about violence or sex or blasphemy and may bombard [patients] every waking hour," writes Lee Baer, Ph.D. "These bad thoughts...may cost people the most important things in their lives: Some cannot bear to be around their own children; others cannot have relationships; and others are so paralyzed they cannot perform simple everyday activities." When a person's shameful thoughts obscure the world, he or she needs help.
For example, Baer describes Father Jack, a priest beset by sexual longings. "The priest found himself staring at a woman's breasts as she walked toward him on the street," Baer writes. "He tried to avert his gaze, but...the more he tried, the more he was aware of her." Father Jack's naughty thoughts may seem like an old tale -- the priest with lust under his robes -- but, Baer explains, they are actually a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In The Imp of the Mind, Baer details the psychology underpinning these thoughts: He shows us how we become trapped by our minds and how we can be freed.
According to Baer, bad thoughts become obsessions precisely because they seem bad to us. We fear these thoughts and so suppress them too vigorously. "When [patients] first experience violent, sexual, or blasphemous thoughts, they believe there is deep down in them...an evil murderer or molester." But when patients fearfully try to vanquish their ideas, these ideas become increasingly potent. Baer notes: "Anytime we try to force ourselves not to think a particular thought, the thought is paradoxically given more energy. Further, not only are we unable to suppress the thought, but our attempt backfires by producing a rebound effect, in which the thought occurs more frequently." By running from these fiendish ideas -- these "imps of the mind," as Baer calls them -- we empower them.
The solution, then, is to face the fiends. Baer explains that his patients often cure themselves by focusing (gradually) on their most hated images. He prescribes this remedy to all his readers: "Expose yourself to the thing that most triggers your fear or discomfort for one to two hours at a time, without leaving the situation, or doing anything else to distract or comfort you." When patients face their bad thoughts straight on, Baer suggests, they often find these thoughts less threatening than they'd feared. Father Jack, for example, eased his mind simply by experiencing his sexual feelings without judgment. And Baer's other patients, too, find relief through the methods outlined in this book. The gentle, serious help in this book could work for hundreds of others who struggle with thoughts that seem out of control.
Baer's look at obsessive bad thoughts is both illuminating and useful. For those who struggle with obsessions, The Imp of the Mind provides revelations and guidance.