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

ABSTRACT 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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    • "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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