Self Help

The psychology behind intrusive thoughts

Disturbing thoughts

In day-to-day life, everyone has several thoughts which can be positive and negative. Each thought generates certain emotions that can impact day-to-day life if people give enough importance to such thoughts and emotions. Most of the time people try to suppress thoughts which are negative to avoid its impact. But what to do when suppressing negative thought increases its occurrence. In this situation person can feel that they are becoming crazy as a high no. of negative thoughts are related to the mentioned health concern. If the nature of thoughts is violent, sexual, or antisocial people hardly discuss such thoughts as they are fearful of being judged and tagged as abnormal. Intrusive thoughts are one such type of thought that people hardly discuss with each other because of the content of the thoughts. If given much emphasis such thoughts can lead to mental health concerns. Let’s talk about what it intrusive thoughts in detail-

What is intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, involuntary, repetitive thoughts, images or ideas that occur persistently and intrude on the thought process. Such thoughts are distressing or upsetting in nature and it’s hard to eliminate or manage. Intrusive thoughts basically contain inappropriate content and occur on inappropriate time. It can make uncomfortable to the person uncomfortable as it is completely out of the context of the present situation and let the person keep wondering why they got such type of thoughts.

Also Read: Understanding Unwanted, Repetitive and Distressing Thoughts and Compulsions

Intrusive thoughts can make the person feel scary, irritated embarrassed, awful, and disgusting. The person tries to get rid of such thoughts but these thoughts come again and again. The person can feel stuck because of this. Examples of common intrusive thoughts:

  • Thoughts of doing something embarrassing in a public place.
  • Thoughts of yelling, hitting boss or family members.
  • Thoughts of self-harm.
  • Thoughts of harming others or being violent to others.
  • Though of unnatural sexual act
  • Thoughts of crashing car or vehicle.
  • Thoughts of going to be sick or get any serious chronic illness.
  • Flashbacks of bad memories.
  • Fear of doing something illegal.

Intrusive thoughts can also be associated with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) Tourette’s syndrome (TS) depression, and sometimes Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Eating disorders, Anxiety disorders, Post-traumatic stress disorder, and Psychosis can also be associated with intrusive thoughts.

Also Read: Signs of Emotional Manipulation and How to Respond to It

Myths and facts about intrusive thoughts:

1) Myth: Experiencing Intrusive thoughts person what on do such act.
Fact: Intrusive thoughts are not reflections of a person’s actual thoughts. Getting such thoughts does not mean a person wants to do such behavior or action.

2) Myth: These thoughts reveal something about a person’s personality.
Fact: Such thoughts do not reveal anything about a person’s characteristics or personality. The person should not feel ashamed/guilty/embarrassed because of this.

3) Myth: A person has to fight back against intrusive thoughts.
Fact: The best way to manage intrusive thoughts is to acknowledge and accept them as natural thoughts. The frequency of these thoughts can increase when a person faces a difficult phase in life.

4) Myths: Intrusive thoughts are always related to mental health concerns.
Fact: Intrusive thoughts are brain junk or fog.

5) Myth: Only a bad person will get intrusive thoughts.
Fact: Almost everyone experiences Intrusive thoughts. it’s just most people don’t accept it.

6) Myth: Intrusive thoughts are warning signs of any big problem.
Fact: Intrusive thoughts does not indicate any warning signs of a future problem.

Living with intense and frequent intrusive thoughts: When given enough attention intrusive thoughts can make a person feel:

  • Fearful: Am I being crazy?
  • Alone: Nobody understands me. I don’t know why I am getting such type of thoughts.
  • Anxious: Something is wrong with me or something bad is about to happen.
  • Lack of focus: Became sexual, violent, and antisocial content person faces difficulty in on focus daily tasks or activities.
  • Overwhelmed: A person can feel that they are thinking about this all the time and this makes them feel uneasy.

Also Read: There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t

Difference between Intrusive and impulsive thoughts:

  1. Impact on life: Intrusive thoughts cause greater anguish/ torment/ Guilt/shame/ embarrassment than impulsive thoughts. They are more repetitive and scarier than impulsive thoughts.
  2. Intrusive thoughts make the person feel they are a bad person as it contain mostly violent or unethical content whereas the person experiencing impulsive thoughts does not hold the feeling of being or becoming a bad person.
  3. Impulsive thoughts are easier to control than intrusive thoughts.
  4. Intrusive thoughts are often related to OCD or OCD-related conditions whereas Impulsive thoughts are often related to ADHD or Impulse control Conditions.

Intrusive thoughts and pregnancy:

During the prenatal period or after the child’s birth intrusive thoughts can be explained by parents. Such thoughts can be related to accidental or intentional harm to the upcoming baby or after the baby has arrived. These thoughts can create anxiety, distress, and also compulsions (rituals) to reduce distress. Sometimes such thoughts can be experienced even before the lady is pregnant. Stress, Trauma, or Anxiety can increase the intensity and frequency of such thoughts. It is estimated that around 70 of mother experience Intrusive thoughts related to harm of their baby. Example of Intrusive thoughts in the context of pregnancy or newborn child:

  • Dropping down baby while walking downstairs
  • What if the baby gets infected because of mother’s carelessness
  • Mothers get the image or thoughts of hurting the baby
  • Throwing the baby on the ground or against the wall
  • Shaking the baby
  • Hitting the baby too hard during winding.

Also Read: Why Do People Want To Live In Their Dreams?

Types of intrusive thoughts:

1) Violent Intrusive Thoughts:

A person might experience thoughts of being violent to themselves of others. Examples of Violent Intrusive thoughts are:

  • Harming loved ones or Children
  • killing others
  • Poisoning food for loved ones.
  • Harming or killing oneself
2) Sexual Intrusive thoughts:

Sexual intrusive thoughts contain Sexual content such as sexually hurting other person or about person’s own Sexual behind. Examples of sexual Intrusive thoughts are:

  • fear regarding their sexual orientation
    -Fear regarding sexually attracted to an unknown person
  • Fear of committing an illegal sexual act
  • Fear of being sexually attracted to any family members.
3) Racial Intrusive thoughts:

Racial intrusive thoughts are the least common intrusive thoughts that person experiences. Such thoughts contain fear of going against the religion or decreasing faith in religion. Examples of Racial Intrusive thoughts are:

  • Constantly analyzing their faith.
  • Continuously repeating a certain prayer
  • Fearing they have lost touch in religious belief and faith
  • Having negative emotions in a religious building
4) Negative Intrusive thoughts:

Negative Intrusive thoughts are negative thoughts about oneself. Such thoughts can make a person feel like they are a failure or burden or others. Examples of Negative Intrusive thoughts are:

  • I am such a lose
  • I will never amount to anything
  • I will not be able to fulfill my dream
  • I cannot be successful in life

Also Read: Frequently Asked Questions about Anxiety and GAD

How to overcome Intrusive thoughts:

  1. First label such thoughts as intrusive thoughts which are natural to occur. This will make the person not take such thoughts as their personal hidden desire or who they are. This will release them from thoughts of being or becoming a bad person or impulsive.
  2. Reminding oneself that this thought is not their fault. These are automatic thoughts and it’s not up to the person. Such thoughts can come without any significant reason or cause.
  3. Give time for such time to pass. Accepting and allowing such thoughts will decrease their frequency.
  4. Do not try to push them forcefully away. While you are trying to ignore such thoughts you are indirectly giving more attention to it.
  5. Continue to do normal activities or tasks in which the person is involved. Getting involved in another task will reduce the emotional impression of such thoughts which is shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
  6. Practice acceptance of Intrusive thoughts. There is no urgency in overcoming such thoughts. Have patience and let the thoughts come and go.
  7. Don’t try to find the reason behind such thoughts and try to interpret what it means to you.
  8. When a person feels that intrusive thoughts are hampering a person’s life on a larger scale and they are experiencing highly distressing emotions they can seek professional help to reduce the impact on a person’s life.

These are common but as it’s a less-spoken topic people hold more misconceptions about it. It’s time to discuss more about it openly to save people mental peace and let them focus on their basic demands of life.

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