Intrusive thoughts are unexpected disturbing thoughts that pop into your mind out of nowhere. The thoughts may be violent or sexual or of a recurring fear. Though we don’t often talk about them, they are common and happen to almost everyone from time to time. Like our emotions, our thoughts are often difficult to control. Here are some ways to deal with intrusive thoughts.
Types of intrusive thoughts
There are different types of intrusive thoughts that people experience including:
- Germs, infections, or other kinds of contamination
- Violent acts, aggression, or causing harm to other people
- Doubts about doing tasks wrong or leaving tasks unfinished
- Religion, blasphemy, or being an immoral person
- Sexual acts or situations
- Acting out or saying the wrong thing in public
- Death of loved ones
Identifying intrusive thoughts
A thought is an intrusive thought if:
- It’s unusual for you. It has to be different from your usual thoughts, for example, by being uncharacteristically violent
- It’s bothersome and disturbing to you so much so that you want to push it out of your mind
- It feels hard to control including being repetitive and not going away even when you try
Ways to handle intrusive thoughts
Intrusive thoughts are normal every once in a while. One study found that 94% of participants had at least one intrusive thought in the three months prior to the study. They are often triggered by stress or anxiety. They may also be the result of biological factors such as hormonal shifts. Here are some steps to take when unwanted thoughts emerge.
Identify the thoughts as intrusive
Recognize that they are just unwanted thoughts and don’t match what you believe or want to do. There’s a common belief that these thoughts indicate what you subconsciously want to do which is just not true. Remind yourself that these thoughts are automatic and not up to you or within your control.
Don’t fight it
Just ride the wave, don’t fight it. It will pass. Also, don’t engage with the thoughts in any way including trying to push them out of your mind. Give yourself time, there is no urgency. Once it passes, continue to do what you were doing until the anxiety that came with the thoughts dissipates.
Don’t judge yourself
Intrusive thoughts are not an indication that something is wrong with you. Everyone has occasional weird, bizarre, socially improper, and violent thoughts. The brain sometimes creates junk thoughts that eventually dissipate. Do not try to figure out what those thoughts mean, that will only lead to self-judgment.
Expect intrusive thoughts to come back. This way you’re not surprised, and you don’t judge yourself harshly or them.
Intrusive thoughts don’t have any particular meaning. As long as you recognize that they are just unwanted thoughts that you have no desire to act on you should be fine. Unwanted thoughts may be related to underlying mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If they are happening often enough to significantly disrupt and interfere with your life, you should consider speaking to a doctor because they may indicate an underlying condition.
It’s also important to talk to children about intrusive thoughts so that they don’t judge them harshly and assume that those are things they want to act on.
Mental Health: Rumination – Combating Repetitive Thoughts
Mental Health: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment
Mental Health: 8 Myths About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
How Is PTSD Different In Women?
5 Ways To Deal With Anxiety And Panic Attacks