Intrusive Thoughts: The Brain’s Unwelcome Guest

Intrusive thoughts can be like uninvited guests, barging into our minds and creating unwelcome chaos. People suffering from intrusive thoughts can feel isolated, overwhelmed and crazy. There have been countless times where I have worked with people that have been fearful to express their experiences with intrusive thoughts, thinking that they are going to be committed and sometimes even arrested.

There is a huge amount of relief when I tell people that Intrusive Thoughts are quite common, in fact, one study found that over 90% of people reported experiencing at least one intrusive thought within a 3 month period.

What are Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that may cause distress or anxiety. They can range from fleeting and harmless to deeply troubling and persistent. It is important to recognize that these thoughts do not define us or indicate our true desires; in fact in many instances, they are the complete opposite of what we want and/or who we want to be; making them all the more distressing. Your mind is constantly generating thoughts and ideas, and sometimes, it creates something unexpected.

These thoughts can take many forms; some examples include:

  • Violent thoughts: Thoughts about harming oneself or others, or thoughts about committing violent acts.
  • Sexual thoughts: Thoughts about engaging in sexual acts with inappropriate people or in inappropriate situations.
  • Contamination thoughts: Obsessive thoughts about contamination, such as a fear of germs or disease.
  • Perfectionism thoughts: Persistent thoughts about doing something perfectly, even when it’s not necessary.
  • Relationship thoughts: Intrusive thoughts about the status of a relationship, such as questioning the sincerity of a partner’s feelings.
  • Religious or spiritual thoughts: Intrusive thoughts that are contrary to one’s religious or spiritual beliefs.

Tips for Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts

1. Acceptance and Mindfulness : Instead of trying to suppress or avoid intrusive thoughts, practice acceptance. Acknowledge the thought without judgment. In general, mindfulness of intrusive thoughts looks something like this:

2. Reframe the Thought: Remind yourself that intrusive thoughts are normal, and they don’t define you. Reframing the thought as a harmless mental event can help you detach from its emotional impact.

3. Imagine the Thought in Another Voice: Think of a voice that you can’t take seriously. Personally, the voice I use is SpongeBob. An example, a common thought people express is hurting another person or animal. When you have the thought or even urge about kicking your new friend’s kitten, you take is pretty seriously, and it is distressing. Imagining SpongeBob saying that thought makes you take it less seriously. This is an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) strategy.

4. Sing a Silly Song: Create a silly song about your intrusive thought and sing it in your head or out loud to lighten the mood. Again, the goal here is to not take it as seriously. Even though, the thought(s) are serious.

5. Seek Support: Talking to a trained therapist about your intrusive thoughts can provide relief and reassurance. Remember, you’re not alone in this experience.

6. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself when intrusive thoughts arise. Remind yourself that they are a normal part of the human experience and that they don’t reflect your true character or desires.

Intrusive thoughts are a common experience and can cause discomfort and distress. However, it’s important to recognize that they are a natural part of our mental landscape, and it’s possible to work through them. Remember that these thoughts do not define you or your character, and they are not a reflection of your values or beliefs.

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