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Controlling Thoughts in Islam

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  • Controlling Thoughts in Islam

    The first thing such a person should realize is that thoughts come from
    multiple sources:
    a) Inspiration from Allah (e.g., a thought about Allah's unity)
    b) Whispers from the Shaytan and his army of jinn (e.g., a thought that causes doubt in one's
    belief or centers around an act of disobedience)
    c) Messages from hidden angels (e.g., a thought that centers around an act of obedience)
    d) Everyday thoughts from the person's own conscious (e.g., a thought about one's relationship
    with another human being); type (d) thoughts are usually affected by what the person sees, hears,
    smells, tastes, touches, or feels inside.
    It is also important to note that thoughts can be divided into five categories in relation to the state of the heart
    that they lead to:
    a) Thoughts that lead to wajib states of the heart (please refer to footnote 2674), such as loving
    Allah and the Prophet (May Allah bless him and give him peace)
    b) Thoughts that lead to mandub states of the heart, such as preferring others over oneself in
    one's heart
    c) Thoughts that lead to mubah states of the heart, such as happiness or depression
    d) Thoughts that lead to makruh states of the heart, such as miserliness of heart
    e) Thoughts that lead to haram states of the heart (please refer to footnote 2646), such as
    Bad thoughts above are only type (e) thoughts.
    2619 There are two basic approaches to thought control:
    a) Suppression (i.e. stopping the thought all together); this is the method taught by the teachers
    of the Path and is the harder one to learn.
    b) Redirection (i.e. to start thinking about something else (as the mind can concentrate on only
    one major subject at a time)); this method is easy to learn and employ even by those who are not
    travelling the Path.
    2620 Learn the art of thought control. In order to learn thought control, the person must understand that a
    complete thought consists of four parts:
    a) A visualization of a subject
    b) A visualization of a predicate
    c) An affirmation of a link between the subject and predicate
    d) A conviction/confirmation that the above link is true.
    For example: So-and-so is a worthless-person. I believe it. Here, so-and-so is the subject. Worthless-person is
    the predicate. Is is the word that affirms the link between the subject and predicate (this word may also be
    implied and not mentioned (e.g., in a verbal sentence)). I believe it is the conviction or confirmation that the
    link is true. These four parts make up the complete thought. These four parts do not happen simultaneously but
    happen sequentially in time one after the other. In order to suppress thoughts, the person must learn how to
    break this natural four-part process when it first starts (i.e. when the subject is first visualized in the mind). This
    can be learned by constant day-long practice for about half-a-year or more (this is done by invoking a blank state
    in the mind which crowds out the bad thought's subject and predicate every single time the bad thought starts
    occurring from the time the person wakes up until the time he goes back to sleep). Or it can be learned by
    placing oneself in extremely difficult situations (e.g., supervised continuous solitary remembrance of Allah) for
    a few days (as such will lead to a state of shock in which thoughts stop; then, the person can attempt to
    constantly stay in this state of shock by repeating his previous difficult activity at fixed time intervals but in
    lesser doses).
    [As a side note, thoughts that distinguish one thing from another are called distinguishing thoughts. Thoughts
    that center around physical things are called imaginative thoughts. Thoughts that center around non-physical
    ideas are called abstract thought. Thoughts about past experiences are called memory-related thoughts.
    Sequentially arranged thoughts are called contemplation. All of these types of thoughts can be suppressed and
    completely stopped. Likewise, the mind can also be redirected away from all of these types of thoughts.]

    (Source: Guiding Helper Maliki Fiqh Manual)

  • #2
    interesting article, however, its only enough to tease me. anyone have any other articles on controlling thoughts? Islamically, of course.
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    • #3

      One hour and a half talk on Satanic whispers.
      Go to about 1:15 for thought control.

      I'm also looking through non-Muslim sources right now, if I find anything good i'll post it.

      (Don't think that ALL knowledge from non-Muslims is not beneficial, for example when Sidi Faraz Rabbani was asked about time management he gave a non-Muslim book for time management! Same thing with Islamonline when it was asked about mood control. The fact is that some dunya problems can use dunya answers. We must stay within the bounds of Islam of course and disagree with any of such material which disagrees with Islamic principles.)

      Jazakallah wa Khayrun.


      • #4
        non-Muslim source:

        It is obvious that some people repeat over and over very unpleasant memories that continue to upset them for years. They become preoccupied with a bad experience. All kinds of distressing events are remembered--how they were abused, mistreated or unloved as a child; how someone insulted, assaulted, criticized or dumped them; how they themselves did something very wrong; how meaningless, useless and shameful they are; how life has screwed them over; how they hate someone, some event, or some group, and so on. For a few unfortunate people, the tenor of their entire life is determined by a seemingly uncontrollable obsession with these awful memories or thoughts. Yet, other people have had equally horrible experiences--war, abuse, deaths, sins--and put the memories behind them; the bad memories are not forgotten but they are avoided or seldom remembered and apparently can remain harmless.

        The belief-system that underlies the thinking of most psychotherapists and lay persons since Freud, is that highly disturbing memories need to be expressed, even if it means digging them out of the unconscious, usually in great and excruciating detail. If unexpressed, according to this theory, these toxic, partly repressed memories will seep out in the form of anxiety, various psychological symptoms (OCD, panic reactions, addictions, depression...), physiological disorders (impaired immune system, asthma, fatigue, pain...), and/or in personality disorders (suspiciousness, passive-aggressiveness, dependency, Borderline impulsiveness, social withdrawal...). The idea that bad thoughts and feelings need to be expressed is certainly not a new idea.

        St. Thomas quotes Jesus as saying: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

        On the basis of this express-your-feelings theory, treatment is often directed towards improving our memories of unpleasant events, e.g. using psychoanalysis, insight therapy, non-directive therapy, TIR, journals, autobiographies, hypnosis, and many other methods. These are not quick methods but one can understand the rationale for uncovering the festering sore, detail by detail, thus, aiding healing presumably by sharing with someone, understanding, and thinking though life's trauma.

        There are many life histories taken during therapy that support the notion that fully or partly repressed memories, often terrible abuse, are indeed associated with a wide variety of long-term psychiatric disorders and difficulties relating with others and with one's self. Actually, the data is very clear that abused children, regardless of whether they forget or have crystal clear memories of the traumatic events, suffer a wide variety of psychiatric disorders as adults. It is not always true that bad memories per se lead to psychiatric problems. Just because a bad memory is correlated with adult problems doesn't prove the cause. But if the psychological turmoil as an adult isn't caused by remembered or repressed experiences, then what are the causes? We don't really have other explanations that quickly come to mind but there are certainly possible additional explanations. For example, there is compelling evidence that childhood abuse results in significant physiological changes in the brain and nervous system (Teicher, 2000). It is possible that these trauma-induced "brain alterations" could be responsible for many of the life difficulties during adulthood--and, in that case, memories would only be the initial causal factors. Another possible theory is that an individual's genetic or physiological make up, such as a quick temper or depressive tendencies, cause both the personality traits that contribute to childhood stress or trauma and result in assorted psychiatric disorders as an adult, i.e. it isn't the memories of a bad childhood that directly cause the adult problems, both just arise from the same genetic causes.

        So, in summary, it seems that some people suffer miserably because they have repressed and can't remember horrible life experiences and some other people have miserable lives because they can't forget their awful experiences--they are upset by constantly remembering bad memories. Misery can certainly be caused in many ways. However, there are many people who cope with life pretty well even though they can, when they want to, remember well their terrible life experiences. And, there are probably happy, well-adjusted people who have partly or totally repressed awful occurrences. Clearly, we psychologists and psychiatrists know relatively little about these happy-in-spite-of-bad-experiences phenomenon because these well adjusted people are unlikely to seek treatment. So, how can we stop bad memories?

        Relevant to all this is some recent research about "Suppressing Unwanted Memories by Executive Control." in Nature (March 15, 2001) by an Oregon psychologist, Michael Anderson. The research involved first learning pairs of words, then seeing if trying to forget or "repress" the words resulted in subsequently remembering fewer of the repressed words. The more often the subjects tried to repress words, the fewer of these words were remembered. In other words, trying to keep a memory out of consciousness (Freud's suppression) seems to facilitate forgetting or repression. However, since most therapy tries to reverse this process and decrease the repression of emotionally disturbing events, there seems to be some doubt about when remembering is healthy and when forgetting is beneficial.

        Isn't it likely that many people have had... and remember... a bad experience, but they just don't think much about it or it becomes an available memory that seldom comes to mind?

        Of course, forgetting paired words, as in Anderson's study, is a long way from forgetting that you were abused or molested by a relative as a child or that your mother became psychotic when you were seven. The Anderson experiment shows, however, that in some circumstances we can intentionally increase our forgetting and repression. This is of particular interest because children abused by a trusted caretaker are more prone to forget the abuse than children who are abused by a stranger. Why? We don't know, maybe because, as in Anderson's study, the more reminders you see of some event but refuse to think about it or dwell on it, the more likely it is to be forgotten. Naturally, you would see more reminders of a close relative or family friend than of a stranger, so you get more practice at controlling the memory of the bad experience. (On the other hand, the experience of being abused by a person you know well vs. a stranger will surely arouse different emotions and intensities. Those different feelings may also crucially influence the degree of repression.)

        There is more discussion of the role of thoughts in determining our feelings in Faulty Perceptions. As mentioned there, research has shown that persons who continued to suffer intense prolonged stress following a serious trauma had many more intrusive disturbing thoughts about their experiences than persons with the same traumatic history but experienced less stress. So, is it good to try to forget bad experiences--just put them out of your mind? Well, other well-known research psychologists, e.g. Wegner (1989) and Pennebaker (1991), have reported results different from the Anderson experiment, namely, that trying not to think about something stressful actually results in more uncontrollable negative thoughts about the situation. What happens if you are asked to not think of an elephant during the next five minutes? (See These researchers and many therapists believe the deniers and people-who-won't-talk-about-it, who believe they are avoiding their problems, are actually making it worse. Different therapy and crisis workers would counsel "don't obsess about it" or "just put it behind you." Science will eventually provide an explanation of these different-sounding theories about treatment but, for now, we don't have that wisdom. Probably the best approach depends on the person and the circumstances, which doesn't say much except "try different approaches."

        A recent 2002 news report by Dr. Judith Hosie ([email protected]) and Dr.Alan Milne at the University of Aberdeen is relevant and interesting. After showing a film that arouses anger, they had male and female subjects (1) express their angry feelings, (2) inhibit those feelings, or (3) replace anger with happy memories. After showing a second emotional film and letting the subjects respond freely, they found that women who had inhibited feelings to the first film reported feeling more upset and angry than men in the same experimental conditions. That is, for women there was a "rebound effect," suppression led women to express more anger. On the other hand, substitution of happy feelings for anger resulted in women feeling less anger than men. For men, a prior attempt to replace anger with a happy memory resulted in feeling more anger than after trying to inhibit their anger. Under these conditions, anger replacement with happy thoughts works better for women while anger suppression works better for men but makes it worse for women. Surprisingly, there is little research in this area; it is badly needed. For now, find what works for you.

        Many cognitive-behavioral researchers, seeing things more as Anderson does, believe some people simply think about traumatic experiences differently than others and, thus, experience different levels of stress. Thus, using methods to change or control our thoughts, such as trying to forget, or questioning the logic of the upsetting or scary thoughts, as cognitive therapists do, could be a great advantage. Research evaluating both methods--the direct reduction-of-upsetting-thoughts/feelings vs. the uncovering-and-understanding-the-details-of-the-trauma--is badly needed.

        Dr. Peretz Lavie, a sleep and trauma researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, doesn't believe in treating trauma survivors (Holocaust and war) by having them recount or relive the trauma over and over. He advocates "leaving the memories behind." He cites some evidence for his approach: better adjusted survivors remember fewer of their dreams than poorly adjusted survivors and control subjects do, suggesting repression of traumatic experiences is healthy. Also, students in Oklahoma City who avoided watching TV coverage of the bombing had fewer PTSD symptoms. Other researchers have also reported that sexual assault victims, who practiced substituting pleasant images for unpleasant memories, had fewer nightmares. So, in contrast with what many trauma therapists believe, there may be some circumstances in which quickly moving beyond the bad memories is healthy for many people. Left on their own, this is what many victims are able to do, but some are not.

        There are things about memory you should know. There is ample evidence, as mentioned later, that memories are often are forgotten, parts are added, memory segments from different times are all mixed up, memories are simply distorted to meet our own emotional needs, parts are often changed to make us look good and innocent, and so on. In short, memories can't be entirely trusted, at least not to the extent that we should allow them, without questioning and/or confirmation, to be used to make our lives miserable. Memories may not reflect what actually happened... and certainly our assumptions about other people's motives and intentions in our memories are often wrong. Someone else being there and experiencing our "bad experience" would perhaps have an entirely different reaction to it.

        Given the fallibility of our memories, if you are frequently bothered by thoughts and memories of a bad time in your past (which makes you sad, mad, self-critical, hopeless, guilty...), what should you do? We can't give a simple clear answer. Therapists will provide, for a fee, their favorite method and confidently give you an explanation of why it should work. Here is my advice (worth what you are paying for it (:-). I suspect that all approaches are effective sometimes--with certain people, with certain problems, and at certain times. Since researchers haven't yet discovered the best method for specific conditions, I'd start self-helping with the quickest, easiest approach, which is probably a simple behavioral method. Check out Disrupt the Unwanted Behavior, Method #10 in chapter 11. If this quick thought-stopping approach doesn't seem appropriate or if it doesn't work for you, then move on to other methods as needed:

        (1) I'd then try to "put the bad memory... scary experience, horrendous injustice, deeply regretful, terrible loss, infuriating incident, embarrassing moment... behind you." Try using Anderson's method, namely, consciously trying to keep the unpleasant, unwanted memory as completely out of your consciousness as possible for a couple of weeks. This method does not involve removing all reminders of the hurtful person or incident. Actually, you can continue to expose yourself to naturally occurring reminders. However, every time exposed to a reminder (or whenever the memory spontaneously appears) either pass over it without thought or immediately try stopping the memories and telling yourself to "forget about it," "don't think about it," "let it go," "it's water over the dam," "go on to something else," "not now," "don't waste my time," "STOP!" etc., etc. This takes some intention to attend to and manage your thoughts--some people do that all the time, others don't. It isn't magic--give it a try for a couple of weeks, then evaluate (using pre and post-ratings?) the frequency and the harmfulness of the memories or thoughts/worries/fantasies.

        Note: I am not implying that your should forgive the person who has hurt you. I am not even suggesting here that you try to understand the harmful situation through determinism. Those may be good ideas, but here I'm simply suggesting trying to avoid the unpleasant thoughts so you can possibly feel better and use your time more profitably. Maybe you can gradually put the incident behind you. That's all.

        Note also: This bit of advice about "forgetting" assumes you no longer need the energy aroused by vividly remembering the wrongs in the past in order to build up the drive necessary to correct any still existing wrongs. As a source of determination to change some situation, the upsetting thoughts may be serving a good purpose (for a while, not forever).

        (2) If forgetting hasn't worked in a couple of weeks, then I'd try some other cognitive methods to reduce the harmfulness of the repetitive or upsetting thoughts. Rather than repeat myself, please refer to chapter 14 for many cognitive methods. Also, much of chapter 6, while focusing on depression, discusses many cognitive approaches to reducing sadness by increasing rationality--the basic ideas underlying the change methods are the same, regardless of what emotions are upsetting you.

        Simply learning more about the nature of memories can be a cognitive approach. For a person suffering a serious wound based on memories he/she believes to be totally accurate, just developing some doubt about the validity or completeness of those memories might radically change their emotional impact. Contrary to our usual assumption that our memories are accurate, scientific studies have consistently found that memories are almost always inaccurate, often in minor ways but sometimes in major, completely untrue ways. If you have highly upsetting memories or assumptions about causes, it might be healthy to question the accuracy of your memories. Daniel Schacter (2000) in The Seven Sins of Memory provides well researched information about our highly fallible and deceptive memories.

        Here is a glimpse of some more research findings: many parts of the actual experiences are simply left out of our memories. At the same time, many totally made-up details are added in our memories. These additions are often immediate embellishments that "complete the story" or provide us with an explanation--a "cause"--of what we saw. Our unique additions, deletions, and distortions usually conform with our personal beliefs and, thus, meet our emotional needs. Faulty memories come in many forms: believing something + or - happened which didn't; believing that something did not happen but it did; believing he/she did something + or - (even a horrible crime) but they didn't; believing they did not do something + or - but they did. Additional studies demonstrate that false memories can be created rather easily (Pickrell & Loftus, 2001). Moreover, parts of memories can be easily changed by suggestive questions, by being told what other people have done, by just being told to "think about it," and by previous or subsequent events.

        In general, very negative memories stay with us longer than pleasant memories--the exception to this is that personally embarrassing parts often fade away quickly. In truth, we know relatively little about why some people remember vividly some bad experiences but thoroughly forget others. It probably has to do with emotional needs, pay offs, and personality. Little is also known (scientifically) about how to accurately recover repressed memories. Likewise, we don't know a lot about the wisdom and risks of repressing or recovering bad memories. Therapists have their hunches but the science is limited.

        Of course, human memories are an amazing phenomena. But, at the same time, careful study should convince us that memories are seldom if ever the total truth--there are idiosyncratic distortions and omissions. For instance, there are even cultural-family influences on memories--the childhood memories of American and Chinese adults are very different focusing on different aspects of their early lives. Our memories may be our most available and direct view of the past but it could be healthy to recognize that we are seeing our past through a murky, dark, wavy glass. The total picture is almost never available to us.

        It might be helpful to find out if others who were there have the same memories. These efforts to corroborate our memories often leads to discovering that others familiar with your history have somewhat different interpretations or impressions--different opinions. Sometimes the memories of others are quite different from ours. In many situations, the consideration of other views could be realistic and healthy. Even the reduction of our certainty of what happened and why it happened might be useful in our search for insight and understanding. See woundology as an example of how people's reactions and social support can influence the content of our memories.

        (3) Psychology has developed several ways to reduce the emotional responses associated with a scary situation or object and when unpleasant memories or thoughts come to mind. They include some self-help methods:

        * Confront the scary situation over and over (exposure methods in chapter 12)
        * Vent the feelings (chapter 12)
        * Desensitization (chapter 12)
        * Stress inoculation (chapter 12)
        * Correct false beliefs (awfulizing) and develop healthy attitudes (Rational-Emotional, determinism, optimism in chapter 14) [B]


        • #5
          Excellent, wonderful, fascinating article, which serves to connect with each and every human being, including myself. May Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, reward you Soulja.
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