Setting Free the Bears: Escape From Thought Suppression

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, WJH 1470, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
American Psychologist (Impact Factor: 6.87). 11/2011; 66(8):671-80. DOI: 10.1037/a0024985
Source: PubMed


A person who is asked to think aloud while trying not to think about a white bear will typically mention the bear once a minute. So how can people suppress unwanted thoughts? This article examines a series of indirect thought suppression techniques and therapies that have been explored for their efficacy as remedies for unwanted thoughts of all kinds and that offer some potential as means for effective suppression. The strategies that have some promise include focused distraction, stress and load avoidance, thought postponement, exposure and paradoxical approaches, acceptance and commitment, meditation, mindfulness, focused breathing, attention training, self-affirmation, hypnosis, and disclosure and writing. Many of these strategies entail thinking about and accepting unwanted thoughts rather than suppressing them--and so, setting free the bears. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved).

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    • "Mindfulness has been defined as " paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally " (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4). In line with this, Wegner (2011) has suggested that mindfulness techniques may have some utility as a method of avoiding the effects of thought suppression . Studies have started to compare mindfulness and thought suppression based interventions for individuals attempting to quit smoking. "
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    ABSTRACT: Research to understand how individuals cope with intrusive negative or threatening thoughts suggests a variety of different cognitive strategies aimed at thought control. In this review, two of these strategies – thought suppression and repressive coping – are discussed in the context of addictive behaviour. Thought suppression involves conscious, volitional attempts to expel a thought from awareness, whereas repressive coping, which involves the avoidance of thoughts without the corresponding conscious intention, appears to be a far more automated process. Whilst there has been an emerging body of research exploring the role of thought suppression in addictive behaviour, there remains a dearth of research which has considered the role of repressive coping in the development of, and recovery from, addiction. Based on a review of the literature, and a discussion of the supposed mechanisms which underpin these strategies for exercising mental control, a conceptual model is proposed which posits a potential common mechanism. This model makes a number of predictions which require exploration in future research to fully understand the cognitive strategies utilised by individuals to control intrusive thoughts related to their addictive behaviour.
    Addictive Behaviors 01/2015; 44. DOI:10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.01.029 · 2.76 Impact Factor
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    • "For example, defensively accrued higher self-esteem buffers the effect of mortality Fig. 5.2 Motivated anxiety-reduction in stage two of the us-them divide process 5 On the Flexibility of the Automatic Us-Them Divide salience, however, it also relates to suppression of death-related information (Harmon-Jones et al., 1997 ). Thus, individuals with high self-reported self-esteem who counter death-related anxiety with conscious effort and high ego-involvement should be vulnerable to the many documented costs of suppression (Butler et al., 2003 ; Cioffi & Holloway, 1993 ; Wegner, 2011 ). Moreover, research shows that some so-called 'self-esteem' is insecure and defensive, involving higher explicit (i.e., self-reported) self-esteem than implicitly measured self-esteem. "

    Integrating human motivation and interpersonal relationships: Theory, research and applications, Edited by N. Weinstein, 04/2014: chapter On the flexibility of the automatic us-them divide: pages 97-119; New York: Springer.
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    • "Providing clinically safe opportunities for maladaptive perfectionists to express feelings typically suppressed may yield spillover benefits in reducing self-criticism, lowering stress, repairing the stress–response cycle, and improving mental as well as physical health. Future research should examine methods for altering emotion regulation (for examples, see Nolen-Hoeksema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008; Wegner, 2011) and whether those also change perfectionistic characteristics or relevant outcomes. Thus, future work will also be important to address outcomes of stress reactivity and poor recovery from stressors, such as psychological distress and physical health symptoms (Dickerson & Kemeny , 2004), as well as interventions aimed at improving these outcomes. "
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    ABSTRACT: To provide counseling psychologists with a greater understanding of patterns of personality, stress, and emotion regulation, the present study examined perfectionists' typical emotion regulation patterns and physiological reactivity (salivary cortisol concentration) to a social-evaluative stress experience. An initially large sample (N = 421) completed measures of perfectionism, higher order personality factors, and emotion regulation. A subset of the larger sample (N = 61) completed the Trier Social Stress Test. Latent profile analysis revealed typologies consistent with more and less adaptively perfectionistic groups, as reflected in different stress reactivity and emotion regulation patterns. The results have implications for further understanding the positive and negative effects of perfectionism and physiological reactivity to performance stress among individuals with high performance expectations. In addition, the results may inform counseling psychologists about viable targets for therapeutic interventions for stress and emotion regulation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
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