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How do I rid myself of inappropriate thoughts?

How do I rid myself of inappropriate thoughts?

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Question:

I am a happily married man. But for a reason I don't know, this past week my mind has been driving me nuts with thoughts of other women, etc. These thoughts are so powerful. Is there a way to stop them? Are there any extra prayers I can be reciting? Is there so extra type of learning I can take on?

Answer:

The most powerful tool in all these matters is perhaps the most counter-intuitive. It's called "hesech ha-daat." AKA: think about something else.

I know it sounds stupid, but this is how it works: When you fight against your own thoughts, you only engrave them deeper in your neurons. It's something like struggling against quicksand, which serves only to dig you in deeper and deeper.

So as long as you are chastising yourself for your thoughts, trying to determine where they come from, trying to convince yourself more and more how bad they are for you and even just remarking to yourself "why is this happening now?"--all you are doing is burning those thoughts further into the woodwork of your mind.

You need to do two things:

1. Recognize that you and I and 99.9999% of the male gender are beasts of prey with oversized brains. It's no wonder we react to a woman much the same as we do to a steak. That's how we were designed. The brain software is supposed to kick in and modify that, but sometimes the hardware just gets whacko out of control. So there's nothing to be shocked about--or to chastise yourself about when those hormones start flowing and those thoughts start bubbling.

On the contrary, you should be delighted that you had an opportunity to do battle with your yetzer hara (your animal desires) and you won, because you still have not committed adultery or any similar such sin. For more on this, you need to see chapter 27 of Tanya. We have that text online, or click here for an audio class on the subject (but learning it inside from the text will help you even more).

2. You need to have something else ready in your mind to think about. If you're not learning, you're sinking. Always have some ideas in Torah ready at hand to think about. Memorize as much as you can. Listen to tapes. Learn stuff that engages and fascinates you. An empty mind is an open door to empty thoughts. Keep that brain stuffed with good thoughts.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for Chabad.org

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (13)
November 6, 2014
Thought is not the action
You know the turmoil your thoughts are giving you ... just think of how you might never forgive yourself if you did the action and it destroyed you and your family.

Words not spoken don't hurt -- but speak hurtful words and they are never forgotten.
Meira Shana
San Diego
synagoge-karlsruhe.de
November 5, 2014
not true . just think about your own woman
Anonymous
January 10, 2014
Having needs met
Inappropriate thoughts might be your body telling you that you need more intimacy from your wife.

Either more often or more fulfilling. Intimacy is a basic part of a marital partnership and to be able to speak with each other about such needs is important.
Meira Shana
San Diego, CA
synagoge-karlsruhe.de
August 28, 2013
after many years, at age 59, this worked for me.
Nobody wants to be caught in or accused of inappropriate behavior. we'll, most of us can distinguish between inappropriate thoughts and inappropriate behavior. but for those who go over the edge the edge, I assure you it started with inappropriate thoughts. Inappropriate behavior repulses me, so once I realized what inappropriate thoughts can lead to, I began to catch them and acknowledge that I must eliminate them to avoid inappropriate behavior. Since I have done this my life has been blessed with insights and accomplishments I have awaited my whole live for. You may come up with whatever reason for this you wish, but for me and my house...we are happy with the change.
michael w.
san diego
August 2, 2012
You are a hero.
Many men out there with the same issues are not ready to take the right step.
You did it.
.You are asking and seeking for help.
That's awesome.
Anonymous
Chicago, IL
July 29, 2008
Controlling Yourself
I recommend thinking about what the zitzit feels like in your hand at the temple during prayers. It has a tremendous amount of power given to us by G-d.
Ezra
san diego , ca
August 5, 2007
Re: Just another comment...
"Another point is desire is often caused by a feeling of a lack of love from people in our lives or maybe a feeling that life seems a little bit overwhelming or not what we expected."

This is so spot-on. With regards to anything that seems to be "missing," the Yetzer haRa's favorite trick seems to be to transmute good, G-dly desire for something into some related but negative low and animalistic desire. And it's really quite annoying
Anonymous
August 2, 2007
Just another comment...
Building on the idea of an increased Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination).

I remember the days when my bodily urges didn't give me so much trouble. But I know that I have to just let the episode pass and know that it's not real because often it will occur at a time when whatever I'm looking for at that moment is not available for one reason or another.

So, we have to focus on our love for G-d. What's the last special thing that G-d did for us that made us smile and feel good.

When our thoughts wander we're not sinning against our spouse or body but rather we (as a collective unit of body and soul) are rebelling against G-d at that moment. So, do I want my desire or do I want G-d?

Another point is desire is often caused by a feeling of a lack of love from people in our lives or maybe a feeling that life seems a little bit overwhelming or not what we expected. If that's the case then you talk to a Rabbi and/or have a good friend to talk to.
Linda Haniford
Buffalo, NY
August 2, 2007
Inappropriate thoughts
Thank you for this discussion. It is good to remember how very human we all are. I too struggle. I've found one very good tool which helped me to overcome a serious problem with alcohol. That is "One day at a time". As trite and as silly as this expression may sound, it has enormous might. Anyone can refrain from whatever it is RIGHT NOW. What many of us cannot do is refrain forever. It's just too much all at once. But if I can just pull the idea back down to a manageble size, I've got a better shot of overcoming myself. I'll deal with tomorrow when it get's here
Paul Bennick
Davis, Ca
July 31, 2007
it's one thing if a bird flies over you, it's another to let it build a nest on your head
Anonymous
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