photo by: Daniel Mingook
by Andrea M. Darcy
Do you have confused thoughts lately? Worried about what it might mean for your mental health?
What is confused thinking?
We all at some point have an overly busy mind. Research now shows that confusion is, for example, part of the brain’s way of learning.
If you recognise that your strange or confused thoughts are just thoughts, and if they don’t affect your identity or ability to cope, then it’s not likely an issue.
When disorganised thoughts are part of a mental health issue, they start to adversely affect your daily life. You might find it hard to have a clear enough line of thought to make a decision, struggle to speak and socialise, or start acting in ways that aren’t usual for you.
At it’s extreme, confused thinking leads to a break from reality, where you believe things to be real that actually aren’t, and you aren’t sure who you are.
Research from the University of California, for example, found that those with schizophrenia have an impaired ability to relate their memories to themselves.
What are confused thoughts a symptom of?
First and foremost check that it’s not a physical health issue, particularly if it comes with other medical symptoms. There are several things that can cause confused thinking, including a head injury, infection, a reaction to medication, and of course things like recreational drugs, alcohol abuse, or not sleeping for several days.
And if you are aged, and your confused thinking has persisted for some time and is worsening, it’s worth seeing a doctor to discuss the possibility of dementia.
Confused thoughts and mental health issues
In psychology, ‘disorganised thinking’ refers to consistent problems with the way you think that include thinking things are real that aren’t (delusions). In this case you will be diagnosed as having a thought disorder, such as schizophrenia.
But this is one end of the spectrum. Confused thoughts, or even an occasional delusion, can be another mental health issue entirely, including things like stress and anxiety, or borderline personality disorder (BPD).
What are your confused thoughts a symptom of?
So how do confused thoughts relate to different mental health issues?
- Are your thoughts racing and panicked because of a challenge ahead or unexpected event?
- Frantically going over options?
- Feel like your head might ‘explode’ with panic?
- Or you are ‘losing the plot’?
You are simply stressed. If someone helps you with the problem, and a solution is found, then your thoughts should return to normal.
- Solve one problem, only to start to have negative thoughts about something else?
- Also have feelings of fear and panic?
- Are your thoughts mostly about a possible terrible future?
Anxiety is when our mind engages in negative, future-based thought loops. It can seem close to delusions as your thoughts might start to be quite illogic. But in general, anxious thoughts are not impossible or ‘unreal’, just unlikely and ‘worst case scenario’.
Your disorganised thinking can be caused by depression.
- Do dark, twisted, or even sexual and violent things seem to jump into your mind from nowhere?
Do you feel embarrassed and ashamed?
- Then you have to think or do something to ‘fix’ the fact you had that thought?
Also called ‘intrusive thoughts’, obsessive thoughts are often of things you feel ashamed to think about. They often then lead to ‘compulsions’, where you feel compelled to do something. For example, if you have an intrusive thought that someone you love will be murdered in a horrific way, you can feel you have to tap everything you pass twice to stop this from happening.
Psychosis and schizophrenia.
- Do you find your thoughts are so strange and jumbled you aren’t sure they are your own?
- Or you can’t seem to speak clearly anymore?
- Have your thoughts made you want to avoid other people more?
- Are you worried someone is out to get you? Or think you have special powers?
- Has someone told you that what you think is not at all true?
- Have you also seen, heard, or felt things that other people say aren’t true, either?
Psychosis is a mental health symptom that can involve confused thinking, delusions (beliefs things are real that aren’t, like thinking you have special powers or someone is spying on you) and hallucinations (sensing things that aren’t actually there, such as hearing voices).
Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that involves psychosis, but can also include things like depression, social difficulties, and unpredictable behaviours.
What would all that look like in action?
So let’s take an example and look at how confused thoughts could play out, pending the mental health issue.
A woman is getting married, and finds out her dress is going to be ready the morning of the wedding instead of the day before.
Stress could lead to thoughts like, I have so much to do how on earth can I get it picked up, everyone will be at the rehearsal, and then what if someone doesn’t make it to the shop before it closes? I can’t think straight to figure this out…
Anxiety would be more illogic and go further into the future. What if I end up with no dress, the entire wedding is canceled, my partner decides I am so unorganised he doesn’t want to marry me after all, and I end up alone living in a cardboard box on the road?
Depression would think, I’m doomed. I’m just useless at being organised, how did I ever think I could pull off a marriage? I just want to cancel the whole thing and give up and crawl under the duvet.
Obsessive thinking would decide, if I don’t pick up the dress by ten in the morning then someone will have a heart attack and die at the wedding, and it will be all my fault. I have to pick it up at exactly ten. On the nose. I will sit in my car and at 9:58 get out and walk to the door and open it at exactly 10.
Psychosis could sound like, it’s because someone is trying to sabotage this. Maybe the dressmaker is actually a spy sent by my ex, trying to ruin everything. She’s sending the dress late as she’s implanting tiny cameras in it.
Confused thinking and personality disorders
A personality disorder means you see the world differently than an average person, and have done since adolescence or early adulthood. And this affects most areas of your life, including the way you relate to others, who find the ways you think confusing.
Borderline personality disorder in particular is a personality disorder that causes disordered thinking. Involving a strong fear of rejection and abandonment, the moment you think you are going to be pushed aside you can have such overwhelming fear and sadness that you think wildly negative things.
This can unfortunately lead to impulsive, destructive action. A partner doesn’t text back for several hours, so you decide they will break up with you and send mean texts dumping them first. Meanwhile, they forgot their phone at home.
Talk therapy is an excellent tool to help you if your confused thoughts are affecting you negatively. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in particular is recommended for stress, anxiety, depression, OCD and psychosis. It focuses on helping you recognise and challenge distorted thinking, then turn it into balanced thinking instead.
If you have borderline personality disorder, there are several types of therapy that help, including dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT).
Ready to put a stop to your confused thinking and gain clarity? We connect you with a team of highly experienced therapists in central London. Or use our online directory to book UK-wide registered therapists and online counsellors.
Andrea M. Darcy is a writer, author, and coach. Find her @am_darcy