Intrusive Thoughts

What are they

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, spontaneous thoughts that can often cause distress and discomfort. They can range from fleeting, petty thoughts to violent and often traumatizing thoughts. The thing about intrusive thoughts is that they are unwanted. It can sometimes be concerning when you experience so many intrusive thoughts in such a little amount of time.

According to Healthline, "Intrusive thoughts may be violent or disturbing. They may be thoughts of a sexual nature, including fantasies. They can also be about behaviors you find unacceptable and abhorrent. These thoughts, however, are just thoughts. They seemingly appear out of nowhere and cause anxiety, but they have no meaning in your life. They’re not warning messages or red flags. They’re simply thoughts." It is important to not dwell on intrusive thoughts because they don't mean as much as you may think. They aren't a determiner of your inner personality and they do not reveal anything about your character. Intrusive thoughts do not make you a bad person and recognizing intrusive thoughts for what they are means you acknowledged them as unwanted.

Here are some examples of intrusive thoughts:

  • Thoughts of dropping a prized possession(like a phone) into a well or out of a moving vehicle

  • Thoughts of committing illegal acts

  • Thoughts of committing violent acts

  • Thoughts of doing something embarrassing (EX; Thinking you may rip your pants in front of an audience)

  • Thinking you have a disease/illness out of fear or thin air

  • Reliving terrible/embarrassing events from your past

  • Thoughts that doing/not doing something will ruin your chances at something else. (EX; If I don't wear these lucky shoes, I will fail my math test)

Are they common

Intrusive thoughts are super common, though they appear differently in different people. Sometimes, you may not even notice that you've had an intrusive thought because they go hand-in-hand with anxiety. Having extreme anxiety significantly increases your chances of experiencing intrusive thoughts.

If you ever feel like you're the only one who ever had these types of thoughts, you're not. So many other people experience this too, it is completely normal.

Common Misconceptions

  • Intrusive thoughts are true: False. Intrusive thoughts are not reflective of a person's actual desires because they are involuntary and unwanted.

  • Intrusive thoughts and obsessive thoughts are the same: False, they are not the same at all. While intrusive thoughts can be fleeting, obsessive thoughts can reoccur.

When help may be needed

Intrusive thoughts can, unfortunately, go hand-in-hand with other illnesses. These include OCD, Depression, PTSD, Eating Disorders, and Addiction. Consult your doctor if you feel any of these may apply.

Combating intrusive thoughts can be hard. Here is a list of things to help you get through them if you need to:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  • Recognizing they are just thoughts

  • Treating other illnesses that may cause it

  • Understanding why they disturb you

  • Not running away from them.

  • Don't take them to heart. Don't assume you're a bad person.

It is important to remember that intrusive thoughts aren't acted upon and are simply unwanted, distressing thoughts.

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