In this counseling answer:
• I encourage you to examine how many times a day these thoughts come and what are the thoughts.
• Let these thoughts pass without giving them thought, fear or power.
• I would like you to contemplate on Allah and His attributes.
• Seek out counseling in your area for the mental health issues you are going through.
As-salaam alaykum sister,
Thank you for writing to us with your question. As I understand it, you’re a high-school student and you really love Islam. You stated for the past few months you haven’t been able to focus on your prayers due to negative intrusive thoughts, and that you struggle to keep your concentration.
As you stated that you learned the meanings of prayer and how to make the correct intention to pray, you sound as if you may be a new Muslim. If so, congratulations! You have made a wonderful decision and you were guided by Allah. It is a blessing, indeed, to find Islam, the true religion and way of life. Allah guides whom He did he will. It is a blessing, indeed! If you are not a new Muslim, congratulations for learning the meanings and how to make correct intention. Insha’Allah your growth and sincerity will be rewarded!
Negative Distractions & Intrusive Thoughts
With that said, I understand that you get distracted easily and thoughts come to your head. You stated these thoughts even come outside of your prayers. They are so terrible that you start crying and you repent to Allah. Sister, I am not sure what your background is concerning family or a prior religion, or if you have experienced some negativity, threats or harassment from non-Muslims. Often times, there may be opposition to Islam which we may hear in our day to day activities in school and work. Sometimes that can play on one’s subconscious. Many of us go through it. This may have an effect on how you think and feel. It may produce unwanted thoughts that may occur from time to time.
For instance, say you decided to make a meal with spicy ingredients and someone told you it would hurt your insides. It is possible that just hearing this message will remain in your unconscious thoughts. Even though the food that you cooked is perfectly fine, you may begin to feel that you should not have eaten it. Perhaps you may think it was not good for you. These are thoughts that are related to what was said to you which trigger emotions such as fear, guilt, anxiety and so on.
Sister you didn’t say what thoughts you were having or how often you were having them. I encourage you to examine how many times a day these thoughts come and what are the thoughts. By keeping track of these thoughts in terms of frequency and content, you may be able to insha’ Allah pinpoint where they are coming from.
As stated earlier, it may be subconscious reactions to negative reactions you may have heard concerning Islam. If this is the case sister, I encourage you to let these thoughts pass without giving them thought, fear or power. By thinking about these thoughts and worrying and getting upset we often give them the power to grow and take root. I would kindly suggest insha’Allah that when these thoughts come that you imagine a big red stop sign and replace the thought with an Islamic one such as reciting a surah or making dhkir. Insha’allah this will help reduce the thoughts and create different associations in your mind.
Sister, on the other hand, if you have a history of distracting, negative, intrusive thoughts, or if it is frequent and uncontrollable, it may be something called obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) / intrusive thoughts. This is in fact related to anxiety and many people do suffer from OCD.
There are many types of OCD. If, indeed, this is what you are suffering from, I would kindly advise you to seek out counseling in your area for an assessment. As you are young, it is best to address this now than to suffer for many years with something that is treatable. I cannot state that this is what you have, I can only suggest that you find out.
Guilt & Mental Health
Regarding your good thoughts such as reading the Quran, these are positive things. However, you are taking them as a negative and feeling guilty because when you get these thoughts you are in situations such as work or in bed and you’re unable to follow up on them thus you feel guilty. Sister, this is self-imposed guilt and it could be related to your depression, anxiety or even OCD if you do have OCD. Often times when are depressed or suffer from anxiety/OCD, we may feel every little thing must be done then and there or disaster will occur. We tend to be hard on ourselves in terms of expectations and abilities.
Normally, when one suddenly thinks of praying or reading the Qur’an and they cannot at that moment, it indicates a consciousness of Allah and a love for Allah and Islam. However, given the fact that it is at an inappropriate time, they will usually pray or read Qur’an later when it possible without feeling such impending doom or guilt. This ability to wait until an appropriate time is not concerning our five daily prayers which is required at specific times.
Sister, you acknowledged that these thoughts are good. You stated that you love and wish to please Allah but that when you don’t follow up on these thoughts, you feel extremely guilty and like Allah may punish you. You also feel that any wrong you may do, even the smallest thing will bring punishment.
Sister, I would like you to contemplate on Allah and His attributes. Allah is very merciful. He loves us so much. Allah loves to forgive. The fact that you get thoughts of reading Qur’an and praying shows that you love Allah very much as well.
Sister, I feel that the guilt and fear for not following through with your with your good thoughts is a result of your anxiety and depression. It seems that your anxiety and depression has gotten so severe that you are unable to control or even rationalize what you are thinking and feeling at times. Sometimes we get so stressed out in life especially when we have a condition such as anxiety and depression that things tend to snowball. What we could rationally deal with at one time, think through as being an irrational thought we now accept as a rational thought. For example, you fear that Allah is going to punish you in many ways in this world for not following through with your initial thought to read the Quran when you were busy. As Allah is loving, merciful and forgiving, this is an irrational thought.
Sister, I kindly suggest that insha’Allah you seek out counseling in your area for the mental health issues you are going through. A therapist who evaluates you can best determine which therapy (if any) is best for you. Insha’Allah, you will find counseling to be very helpful in regards to reducing these thoughts as well as reducing your anxiety and depression.
The Importance of Islamic Knowledge
If you are a new Muslim, often times we want to learn everything as soon as possible. We want to follow up on every positive thought we have in regards to actions of worship. However that’s not always possible. I would kindly suggest that you take some Islamic courses at your Masjid or an Islamic community center. Learn more about Allah, His forgiveness and mercy as well as increase your Islamic foundation of knowledge. This should bring you much peace and comfort in regards to your feelings of guilt as well as intrusive thoughts during prayer. In fact that is a problem that many Muslims have.
We do tend to get distracted and often times thoughts to come to us which are negative. For instance, we could be getting ready to pray and a thought will pop into our head such as “oh I wondering what time the show is tonight” or “I don’t want to be praying now I’m too tired”. However, as we gain knowledge, we get stronger and we learn how to have greater concentration in prayer so that these things do not interfere.
Islamic classes can help with this and other concerns you may have regarding worship. Again, sister, it is not just you. There are many Muslims who have difficulty with concentration. We are human and imperfect but with work and dedication we can overcome it.
Counseling, Islam & Healing
Sister, please do go to a counselor for an evaluation and treatment to address you anxiety, depression and possible OCD. In addition, take some Islamic courses to gain further knowledge about Islam as well as Allah’s love and mercy. Insha’Allah, this will begin your journey towards healing from these issues. We wish you the best, please let us know how you are doing.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.