What Are Intrusive Thoughts in OCD & How to Get Rid Of Them?

What are Intrusive Thoughts in OCD and Anxiety? + Treatment options

Do you ever have intrusive thoughts popping into your head, unbidden and seemingly from thin air?

You might be just going about your day when—suddenly—your mind throws a crazy image or a bizarre thought at you, and you’re left scratching your head about what just happened.

The thought could be benign, like doing something embarrassing or socially unacceptable in public, or it could be more disturbing, like a thought about harming someone that you would never really want to harm.

Whatever random thought that you’ve found squatting in your mind’s territory, don’t worry—you’re not alone.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Positive CBT Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will provide you with a detailed insight into Positive CBT and will give you additional tools to address intrusive thoughts in your therapy or coaching.

You can download the free PDF here.

What Are Intrusive Thoughts: Meaning/Definition

Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that enter your consciousness, often without warning or prompting, with content that is alarming, disturbing, or just flat-out weird.

They’re thoughts we all have at some point, but for some people, these thoughts get “stuck” and cause great distress (Seif & Winston, 2018).

 

What Causes Intrusive Thoughts and Are They Normal?

We’re not really sure why intrusive thoughts suddenly pop into our heads, but some psychologists have theories.

Psychologist Lynn Somerstein (2016) suggests that perhaps recurring or frequent intrusive thoughts are a sign that there is something difficult or something going wrong in a person’s life.

Perhaps they are struggling with relationship problems, stress at work, or frustration with parenting and trying to keep it from bubbling over. However, instead of the problem staying politely buried, it finds other ways to work its way up to the surface.

Dr. Hannah Reese (2011) posits that perhaps these thoughts manifest because we do not want to act in that way; in other words, although we would never actually consider doing some of the things we think about, our brain just spits out one of the most inappropriate things it can imagine. Why? Good question!

Anxiety and intrusive thought experts Dr. Martin Seif and Dr. Sally Winston have a particularly interesting way of describing what they believe causes unwanted and intrusive thoughts:

“Our brains sometimes create junk thoughts, and these thoughts are just part of the flotsam and jetsam of our stream of consciousness. Junk thoughts are meaningless. If you don’t pay attention or get involved with them, they dissipate and get washed away in the flow of consciousness” (2018).

Although we aren’t sure where they come from, they keep coming back to bother you sitting there, dwelling on them. The more we try not to think of something, the more we end up thinking of it.

If I tell you NOT to think about a purple elephant—you can think about anything else in the world, but do not let the image of a purple elephant come into your mind—how long do you think you can last before an image of a purple elephant pops into your head? For most people, it’s not very long before they succumb to the image they have been instructed not to see.

When we have a healthy, neurotypical brain and a good grasp on how to monitor our own thoughts and allow them to pass right on by, intrusive thoughts are nothing more than a blip on our radar.

However, if you find yourself dealing with unwanted, violent, disturbing, or bizarre thoughts on a regular basis, you may be dealing with a serious mental health issue. The two most common diagnoses associated with intrusive thoughts are anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

They can also be a symptom of depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Bipolar Disorder, or Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

If you feel you have more intrusive thoughts than normal or that you often dwell on these thoughts, you may be suffering from one of these disorders. Read on to learn more about intrusive thoughts, how they relate to each of these disorders, and what you can do about it.

 

Examples of Intrusive Thoughts: About Death, In Relationships, During Climax, and Violent in Nature

Dr. Reese describes one of her own intrusive and alarming thoughts: when her son was a baby, she couldn’t stand at the top of her stairs without getting an image of dropping her son and seeing him get hurt. She had no wishes to harm her child, and felt terrified at this thought!

She also gives a few other examples of intrusive thoughts that you may have had once or twice:

“Perhaps you’ve suddenly had the image of pushing someone off a train platform, kicking a dog, yelling in church, jumping out of a moving car, or stabbing someone you love” (Reese, 2011).

She goes on to note that, as we know by now, such intrusive thoughts are perfectly normal. If you have a hidden desire to do any of these things, that’s a different story, but having crazy thoughts pop into your head now and then is not abnormal.

Dr. Elaine Ryan at the Mood Smith website offers a sort of typology of intrusive thoughts that she has noticed in her work. She lists the following categories and examples:

  • Intrusive thoughts about sexual acts
    o Example: a normally gentle and kind person getting an image of him- or herself engaging in a violent sexual act or engaging in sex with inappropriate people or things.
  • Intrusive thoughts regarding children
    o Example: a happy and proud new mother getting a sudden image of dropping her baby out of the second story window or squeezing him too tightly and causing him harm.
  • Aggressive thoughts
    o Example: a man sees his beloved wife chopping up vegetables with a knife and has an unbidden image of stabbing her with the knife.
  • Intrusive thoughts about religion/aspects of one’s religion
    o Example: a devout Muslim has a sudden and unexpected urge to stand up during the service and start yelling obscenities.
  • Sexual identity thoughts
    o Example: a strictly heterosexual woman has a random thought about sleeping with another woman.
  • Intrusive thoughts about family members
    o Example: a brother who has never felt an attraction to his sister suddenly getting an arousing mental image of her naked.
  • Intrusive thoughts about death
    o Example: a woman in perfect health who has unwelcome and unbidden thoughts about dying from a heart attack or suffering a stroke.
  • Intrusive thoughts about safety
    o Example: a man at work who suddenly has a crippling thought about his young son getting hit by a car or slipping and falling on a sharp object (Ryan, 2017).

Intrusive thoughts usually fall into one (or more) of these categories, but they may be on an entirely different topic or in a different realm—the important thing that separates an intrusive thought from a run-of-the-mill thought is that it is distressing to you and that you’d probably rather not have the thought!

The Calm Clinic uses a different method to categorize intrusive thoughts, but it overlaps with Ryan’s typology quite a bit. They note three general categories:

  1. Unwanted memories (see the section on PTSD below);
  2. Violent thoughts (common in anxiety and OCD);
  3. Sexual thoughts (common in specific types of anxiety disorders).

Putting these two categories together, we can see that the most frequently reported unwanted thoughts often revolve around aggression and violence, flashbacks and memories, and/or thoughts of an inappropriate sexual nature.

 

Intrusive Thoughts and Other Mental Health Issues

As we learned earlier, the occasional intrusive thought is completely normal; however, if you find yourself having recurring distressing thoughts or dwelling on your intrusive thoughts, you may be struggling with one of the disorders we mentioned earlier.

We’ll cover the relationship of intrusive thoughts to six of the disorders in which such thoughts are a common symptom:

  1. Anxiety;
  2. OCD;
  3. Depression;
  4. TSD;
  5. Bipolar Disorder;
  6. ADHD.

 

Intrusive Thoughts and Anxiety

Intrusive Thoughts and Other Mental Health IssuesAlthough those diagnosed with OCD generally suffer from more graphic, more violent, or more inappropriate intrusive thoughts, those with anxiety often find themselves sucked in by unwanted thoughts of a less intense (but no less unwanted) caliber.

People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) may be especially prone to worrying about a family member’s safety. People with social-specific form of anxiety (like a social phobia) may have difficulty moving past memories of a time when they made a mistake or said or did something foolish (Calm Clinic, n.d.).

When a person with anxiety is confronted with a sudden and unwanted thought, they often take the worst possible action: obsessing over it, trying to rid it from their minds, and inadvertently giving it all sorts of power that it didn’t have before (Seif & Winston, 2018).

 

Intrusive Thoughts and OCD

Intrusive thoughts are a core symptom of OCD, and something that virtually all of those diagnosed with OCD suffer from.

Dr. Robert L. Leahy (2009) describes it this way:

“You have some thoughts or sensations that you don’t like. ‘Why am I having those bizarre, sick, disgusting, unwanted thoughts?’”

These thoughts lead to what Leahy calls a negative evaluation of thoughts—you think there is something wrong with you for thinking these thoughts, and that you “shouldn’t” have them. You might decide that you have a responsibility to address these thoughts, either by controlling and shunning them or by getting reassurance from others.

This is what sets OCD sufferers apart from others in terms of intrusive thoughts: it’s their reaction to them that causes the problems. Anxiety treatment expert Dr. Debra Kissen notes that she has a list of common intrusive thoughts—things like losing control, doing something violent, acting out sexually—that around 90% of people report having at least once or twice.

The difference between most people and people with OCD is that people without OCD are only “mildly bothered” by these thoughts, while those with OCD are often extremely distressed about them (Kissen, 2017).

 

Intrusive Thoughts and Depression

People with anxiety and OCD aren’t the only ones to face distress over intrusive thoughts; people with depression are also prone to them.

Repetitive intrusive thoughts often lead to depression, especially when they are specifically depressive thoughts. These repetitive depressive thoughts are known as rumination. When people ruminate, they focus on a problematic thought, behavior, or other issue and worry at it like a dog with a bone. They return to it again and again, constantly trying to figure out a solution but never actually solving it (Smith, 2017).

Intrusive thoughts that someone with depression may have include:

  • Evaluating oneself in extremes (i.e., seeing everything in black and white);
  • Always focusing on the negatives and expecting the worst to happen;
  • Ruminating over a specific bad experience and generalizing to all similar experiences in the future;
  • Thinking too much (e.g., getting “too in your head” and overanalyzing);
  • Trying to read others’ minds or assuming you know what they’re thinking or what their intentions are;
  • Predicting that something bad will happen and accepting that prediction as “fate;”
  • Magnifying any perceived slight or insult;
  • Considering one’s thoughts to be true and factual;
  • Feeling responsible for things that are not in one’s control, and assuming the worst will happen (Smith, 2017).

These thoughts can take over a person’s mind and keep them from being objective and seeing the truth of their situation—that these are just thoughts, that they are not necessarily true, and that they’re not reflective of reality.

 

Intrusive Thoughts and PTSD

People with PTSD can also experience intrusive thoughts, although they’re generally more specific to a previous traumatic incident than broader “what if” thoughts. These thoughts are often connected to memories of the traumatic event, and may even be flashbacks to the event itself.

You can think of this PTSD symptom as being stuck in the past—individuals have trouble forgetting what happened to them and their brain constantly recalls it through intrusive thoughts, memories, flashbacks (also known as reliving the traumatic event), and nightmares (Tull, 2018). The brain can even bring up the exact bodily sensations they felt at the time of the event, making it even more difficult to keep the past in the past.

These intrusive thoughts cause the sufferer to be on “high alert,” or in what is known as the “fight or flight” state. They are on full alert and constantly dealing with a flood of the hormones your brain releases when it detects a dangerous situation.

 

Intrusive Thoughts and Bipolar Disorder

People diagnosed with bipolar disorder can also suffer from intrusive thoughts and obsessive thinking. Common estimates are that at least a fifth of people with bipolar disorder are plagued with obsessive, intrusive thoughts (Flanigan, 2017).

This creates a sort of “hamster wheel in the brain,” in which those suffering from bipolar disorder get caught up in a new obsession every week—or even every day—and ruminate on it until another problem comes along (Flanigan, 2017).

Psychiatrist Helen Farrell puts it this way:

“It’s almost like people… grab the shovel and start digging and can’t wait to see what they find, but they wind up getting entrenched in their thoughts, and before they know it, they’re deep in a pit of nothing. All the stuff they were originally excited about is just not there” (Flanigan, 2017).

These obsessive thoughts and worries have the unfortunate effects of interrupting sleep, leading you on a wild goose chase or—even worse—to harmful or dysfunctional behaviors, taking up all of your attention and leaving you unable to focus.

 

Intrusive Thoughts and ADHD

That last bit should sound familiar to anyone with ADHD, or anyone who has a loved one with ADHD.

The classic symptom of ADHD is difficulty in paying attention, even when there is no obvious source of distraction. Those diagnosed with ADHD may simply find it hard to focus, but it turns out that many also struggle with intrusive, repetitive, or disturbing thoughts.

A study on the subject found that those with ADHD experienced significantly more distressing and anxious thoughts than those without ADHD, and reported much more worrying and rumination (Abramaovitch & Schweiger, 2009). This symptom similarity causes a large overlap between ADHD and OCD, which can make an accurate diagnosis difficult to determine (Silver, n.d.).

 

False Memories and Other Symptoms

As we covered earlier, those with PTSD may struggle with intrusive and persistent thoughts, memories, and flashbacks. However, there are other types of memories that people—particularly those with OCD—may struggle with: false memories (Hershfield, 2017).

A false memory is when “the sufferer gets an intrusive thought that they’ve done something in the past and the sufferer cannot differentiate whether the thought is a memory or an intrusive thought” (Preston, 2016).

Dave Preston, an author and blogger who struggles with his own OCD diagnosis, writes that these distressing, false memories can come at any time; it might be a few hours after the event supposedly happened, or years after. Regardless of the time frame, the common factor in these false memories is often a “sudden, striking thought that something bad happened at a specified time and place” (Preston, 2016).

The memories may be vague or hazy at first, but as the individual grapples with it more, he or she will likely find that things start to sharpen and details begin to appear in their memory; of course, these details are false, but they don’t seem false to the person remembering them.

Clearly, false memories can have a pretty significant impact on those who suffer from them. And that’s not the only symptom that those with OCD often face.

The Mayo Clinic outlines the two major categories of symptoms that someone with OCD might suffer from:

  1. Obsession symptoms: repeated, persistent, and unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety.
    1. Examples: fear of contamination or dirt; needing things orderly and symmetrical; aggressive or horrific thoughts about harming yourself or others; unwanted thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects.
  2. Compulsion symptoms: repetitive behaviors that you feel driven to perform and are meant to prevent or reduce anxiety related to your obsessions or prevent something bad from happening; they only bring temporary relief from anxiety.
    1. Examples: washing and cleaning; checking (e.g., the stove, the lock on the door); counting; orderliness; following a strict routine; demanding reassurances.

Beyond having occasional worrisome or disturbing thoughts, those with OCD suffer from a constant bombardment of anxiety, worry, rumination, and distressing thoughts.

Those suffering from severe OCD that interferes with their ability to function in everyday life can benefit from therapy, medication, or both. For those with a more mild form or just the occasional symptoms, there are other options and self-help methods to help them cope.

 

Treatment Options: Therapy, Hypnosis, and Medications

Treatment Options: Therapy, Hypnosis, and Medications

Treatment for intrusive thoughts in OCD, anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any other disorder or diagnosis is generally tackled with at least one of two methods: therapy or medication.

 

Medications

There are many medications approved for the treatment of OCD. Your doctor or psychiatrist can point you to the right medication, but generally, your prescription will be one of the following antidepressants:

  • Clomipramine (Anafranil);
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac);
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox);
  • Paroxetine (Paxil);
  • Sertraline (Zoloft);
  • Citalopram (Celexa);
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro);
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor).

According to the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation (IOCDF), these eight medications have been approved to treat OCD. If you are struggling with depression or general anxiety and intrusive thoughts, these medications are also likely to work for you, as they are classified as antidepressants.

However, medication isn’t for everyone, and not everyone needs to take medication to cope (although there’s nothing wrong with benefiting from antidepressants).

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

For those who do not wish to take medication, those whose doctor does not recommend medication, or those with milder cases of intrusive thoughts, there are several types of talk therapy that can help.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is one of the most common and widely used forms of therapy, and it is appropriate for a broad range of diagnoses. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that CBT can be as effective as medication for many people, or may result in added benefits for those also taking medication.

CBT helps clients create strategies for managing their unwanted and negative thoughts and feelings, and guides them through the development of healthy ways to cope.

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is a form of CBT that focuses specifically on accepting your thoughts and feelings for what they are instead of trying to change them. This acceptance, combined with mindfulness and the development of more flexible thinking, helps those who suffer from unwanted thoughts to accept that they have these intrusive thoughts but stop allowing them to consume their mind.

ACT is based on six core principles:

  • Cognitive Defusion: Learning to assign less weight to negative thoughts, images, and emotions;
  • Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to flow through you without feeling overly distressed;
  • Contact with the present moment: Focusing on your present state rather than worrying about the future or the past. Being open to the things going on around you;
  • Observing the self: Being conscious and aware of your transcendent self;
  • Values: Determining what is most important to you, what pillars you aim to live your life on;
  • Committed action: Setting goals based on your values and the things you are striving for, and then bringing these accomplishments to fruition (Intrusive Thoughts, Inc., 2017).

These six principles converge to create a healing and forward-thinking treatment for those struggling against distressing and unwanted thoughts.

 

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

Another form of CBT that is highly effective for treating OCD is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This type of therapy involves exposing the client to the source of his or her fear multiple times without allowing any compulsions.

The intent is to impress upon the client that he or she can face what they are afraid of and, eventually, the client will realize that the fear is irrational. The thoughts may not go away entirely, but ERP is extremely successful in turning those obsessive and all-consuming thoughts into mere annoyances (Intrusive Thoughts, Inc., 2017).

 

Hypnosis

Although the evidence for hypnosis is not as robust as the evidence for medication and therapy, there is still some confidence placed in its application for the treatment of OCD.

Therapist Mark Tyrrell outlines the three reasons why hypnosis can be effective:

  1. OCD is hypnosis. Tyrrell notes that most of his patients with OCD report “spacing out” during their obsessive behavior and compulsions, describing an almost hypnotic state of narrowing attention and a feeling of time passing quickly.
  2. Hypnosis communicates with the “problem part” of the mind. Like the man who searches for his keys in the street when he knows he left them in the house (but there’s more light to see by under the street lamp!), our conscious mind may not be able to search in the right place for the root problem—but our subconscious can.
  3. Hypnosis is a great way to extract the fear from OCD. Hypnosis helps clients learn that when they don’t give in to their compulsions, nothing bad happens; it can be used to decondition the anxiety around not carrying out OCD rituals (2013).

If you’re interested in learning more about how hypnosis can be used to treat OCD, check out Mark’s website here, or click here to learn about an expert psychotherapist and hypnotherapist Ruth Washton and her methods.

 

Self-Help: Managing Intrusive Thoughts (Including CBT Worksheet)

In addition to medication, therapy, and hypnosis, there are some self-help methods to lessen your symptoms and improve your quality of life when dealing with intrusive thoughts.

Seif and Winston (2018) suggest taking these 7 steps to change your attitude and overcome intrusive thoughts:

  • Label these thoughts as “intrusive thoughts;”
  • Remind yourself that these thoughts are automatic and not up to you;
  • Accept and allow the thoughts into your mind. Do not try to push them away;
  • Float, and practice allowing time to pass;
  • Remember that less is more. Pause. Give yourself time. There is no urgency;
  • Expect the thoughts to come back again;
  • Continue whatever you were doing prior to the intrusive thought while allowing the anxiety to be present.

Further, the researchers warn that you should do your best not to:

  • Engage with the thoughts in any way;
  • Push the thoughts out of your mind;
  • Try to figure out what your thoughts “mean;”
  • Check to see if this is “working” to get rid of the thoughts (Seif & Winston, 2018).

On a related note, the Northpoint Recovery center—an organization which provides those struggling with substance abuse and/or other mood disorders—lists 5 non-medication and non-therapy tips to dealing with your intrusive thoughts:

  1. Understand why intrusive thoughts bother you, on a deep level.
  2. Attend to the intrusive thoughts; accept them and allow them in, then allow them to move on.
  3. Don’t fear the thoughts; thoughts are just that—thoughts. Don’t let them become more than that.
  4. Take intrusive thoughts less personally, and let go of your emotional reaction to them.
  5. Stop changing your behaviors to align with your obsessions or compulsions; it won’t help in the long run (2017).

 

Intrusive Thoughts, Images, and Impulses Worksheet

If you’re interested in using a worksheet to further your self-help and self-improvement efforts, this may be exactly what you’re looking for.

This worksheet defines intrusive thoughts, images, and impulses and provides a list of 46 of the most common ones. This list includes things like:

  • Driving into a window;
  • Running car off the road;
  • Smashing into objects;
  • Cutting off a finger;
  • Insulting authority figure;
  • Stabbing family member;
  • Taps left on causing a flood;
  • Wrecking something;
  • Exposing yourself;
  • Disgusting sex act;
  • Contamination from doors.

For each of the 46 examples, the worksheet instructs the user to guess what percentage of men and what percentage of women have reported experiencing that thought, feeling, or impulse.

On the second page of the worksheet, the actual percentages from a 1993 study are listed. Comparing your answers to the facts may help you realize how common many of these strange or disturbing thoughts are, making you feel less alone, less “weird” or “bad,” and more “normal.”

Please note that you will need to create an account with the Psychology Tools website to download this worksheet; however, it’s free! Click here to see the description of the worksheet and sign up to download it.

 

Using Meditation for Intrusive Thoughts

Using Meditation for Intrusive Thoughts

You can also try meditation for intrusive thoughts. It’s another evidence-backed and calming method of accepting and simultaneously letting go of your unwanted, distressing thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation is an excellent tool for helping people cope with a lot of issues and improve their quality of life. OCD is no different—mindfulness meditation has results to offer.

It can help the sufferer recognize and understand her thoughts, find out where they’re coming from, and figure out a solution to the brain’s intent focus on the less savory or pleasant images it calls forth. It’s all about recognizing your thoughts, allowing them “in,” then allowing them out again and sending them on their way.

According to the Eco-Institute, mindfulness taps into your subconscious “90%” (this number is based on the theory that, like an iceberg, 90% of “you” is hidden in your subconscious) and allows it to clear out and promote healing instead of further pain and fear (n.d.).

To give mindfulness a try as a treatment for OCD, follow George Hofmann’s (2013) instructions here:

  1. Keep your attention on your breath and be fully aware in this moment—of sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and thoughts.
  2. Acknowledge each thought as it pops up, let it go, and return to your breath. Don’t analyze it, dwell on it, or ruminate over it, just let it come into your head and slide right back out.
  3. If you’re having trouble, try labeling the thoughts.
  4. The intent of mindfulness for OCD is to stay aware of what is going on around you, as well as what is going on inside you.
  5. Practice, practice, practice!

If you like more specific instructions and a set routine to follow, try other resources. For example, you can check out the Inner Health Studio’s guide to using meditation to tame obsessive thoughts here.

 

Book Recommendations

To learn more about intrusive thoughts, where they come from, why they have a tendency to haunt us so, and figure out how to stop them, there are many options in books that might help:

  • Intrusive Thoughts in Clinical Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment by David A. Clark (Amazon)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Psychologist’s Guide to Overcoming Depression, Anxiety, & Intrusive Thought Patterns – Effective Techniques for Rewiring Your Brain by David A. Clark (Amazon)
  • Free Your Mind: A Guide to Freedom from Anxiety, Depression, Panic Attacks, and Intrusive Thoughts by Jamie Stevens (Amazon)
  • The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts by Lee Baer (Amazon)
  • Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts: How to Gain Control of Your OCD by David A. Clark (Amazon)
  • Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz (Amazon)
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: 7 Ways to Freedom from Anxiety, Depression, and Intrusive Thoughts by Lawrence Wallace (Amazon)
  • The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD: A Guide to Overcoming Obsessions and Compulsions Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by Jon Hershfield, Tom Corboy, and James Claiborn (Amazon)
  • The Anxious Thoughts Workbook: Skills to Overcome the Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts that Drive Anxiety, Obsessions, and Depression by David A. Clark and Judith S. Beck (Amazon)
  • Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts by Sally M. Winston and Martin N. Seif (Amazon)

 

A Take-Home Message

I hope this piece has given you a good foundation for learning about intrusive thoughts and how they affect us.

If you only have room for one big takeaway from this piece, let it be this: intrusive, disturbing, violent, and shocking thoughts from time to time are perfectly healthy; it’s what you do about those thoughts that influences your character and your future.

Feel free to try any of the techniques above the next time you find yourself grappling with an unkind or intrusive thought, but know that it’s totally normal to scare yourself with your thoughts once in a while!

What about you? Do you ever struggle with intrusive thoughts? What do you do about it? Let us know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. For more information, don’t forget to download our 3 Positive CBT Exercises for free.

  • Abramovitch, A., & Schweiger, A. (2009). Unwanted intrusive and worrisome thoughts in adults with Attention Deficit\Hyperactivity Disorder. Psychiatry Research, 168(3), 230-233. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2008.06.004
  • Calm Clinic. (n.d.). Anxiety and intrusive thoughts: An introduction. Anxiety Signs. Retrieved from https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/signs/intrusive-thoughts
  • Flanigan, R. L. (2017). Bipolar disorder and grappling with obsessive thinking. BP Hope. Retrieved from https://www.bphope.com/obsessive-thoughts-thinking-obsession/
  • Hershfield, J. (2017). Did we already discuss false memories and OCD? The OCD & Anxiety Center of Greater Baltimore. Retrieved from http://www.ocdbaltimore.com/false-memories/
  • Intrusive Thoughts, Inc. (2017). Making sense of CBT, ERP, and ACT. OCD Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.intrusivethoughts.org/ocd-treatment/ocd-therapy/
  • Kissen, D. (2017). How to take the power back from intrusive thought OCD. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/how-take-power-back-intrusive-thought-ocd
  • Leahy, R. L. (2009). How do obsessive compulsive people think? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-files/200906/how-do-obsessive-compulsive-people-think
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org
  • Northpoint Recovery. (2017). 7 tips on how to stop intrusive thoughts. Northpoint Recovery Blog. Retrieved from https://www.northpointrecovery.com/blog/7-tips-deal-stop-intrusive-thoughts/
  • Preston, D. (2016). False memory OCD – When the truth eludes you. OCD Life – Dave’s Blog. Retrieved from https://ocdlife.ca/false-memory-ocd-when-the-truth-eludes-you/
  • Reese, H. (2011). Intrusive thoughts: Normal or not? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/am-i-normal/201110/intrusive-thoughts-normal-or-not
  • Ryan, E. (2018). Intrusive thoughts: How to stop intrusive thoughts. MoodSmith. Retrieved from https://moodsmith.com/intrusive-thoughts/
  • Seif, M., & Winston, S. (2018). Unwanted intrusive thoughts. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/unwanted-intrusive-thoughts
  • Smith, Y. (2017). Intrusive thoughts and depression. News-Medical. Retrieved from https://www.news-medical.net/health/Intrusive-Thoughts-and-Depression.aspx
  • Somerstein, L. (2016). Is it normal to have intrusive, disturbing thoughts? Good Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/dear-gt/is-it-normal-to-have-intrusive-disturbing-thoughts
  • Tull, M. (2018). Anticipating and managing PTSD intrusive thoughts. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/ways-to-manage-your-ptsd-symptoms-2797613
  • Tyrrell, M. (2013). 3 vital reasons why I use hypnosis for treating OCD—and why you should too. Uncommon Knowledge. Retrieved from https://www.unk.com/blog/hypnosis-for-ocd-treatment/
  • Washton, R. (2017). Hypnosis: A tool for calming the anxiety of obsessive thought. Intrusive Thoughts Blog. Retrieved from https://www.intrusivethoughts.org/blog/hypnosis-tool-calming-anxiety-obsessive-thought/

About the Author

Courtney Ackerman, MSc., is a graduate of the positive organizational psychology and evaluation program at Claremont Graduate University. She is currently working as a researcher for the State of California and her professional interests include survey research, well-being in the workplace, and compassion.

Comments

  1. Asma Majeed

    Very very informative

    Reply
  2. Bri

    Well articulated!

    Reply
  3. Embankment Stairway

    An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.

    Reply
  4. Christopher

    excellent breakdown!

    Reply
  5. Karen Heslop

    Excellent

    Reply
  6. N Root

    This is very helpful and well-written, thank you!

    Reply
  7. deb

    Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Rajat Gupta

    Great article. Thanks for writing it out.

    Reply
  9. Pablo

    This is very well written, well structured and informative, I found it VERY helpful. Thank you so much!.

    Reply
    • Craig Smith

      Hi Pablo, thanks for your feedback, it’s greatly appreciated. I’m glad to hear the article was of value!

      Reply
  10. Niall Doyle

    Ive suffered with intrusive thought since i was a child i ened up becomeing an alcholic and drug addict.. i never told anyone what i was thinking until i was 35 im now 5 years clean and sober.. i started takeing seroquel and mirap after about 6 months they stopped my intrusive thoughts. The thoughts come but they dont take control anymore.. i can cut a loaf of bread now without thinking of stabing someone which is some relief.. seroquel has helped me more then anything..

    Reply
  11. Mary

    I’m so glad I found this page. I’m going to be starting therapy for my PTSD and OCD. Thank you for writing this and making a lot of sense.

    Reply
    • Craig Smith

      You’re welcome Mary, glad to hear the article is of value!

      Reply
  12. Kundan Kumar

    Very nice article.
    Thanks a lot.

    Reply
  13. johnnie Williams

    I am trying to remember the name for these abnormal thoughts. I have a friend with this and he told me “dys—something”.

    Reply
  14. Tara

    This article helped me so much. The author was right on. Described what I deal with on a daily basis.
    Thank you so much – this changed the way I think about my OCD.

    Reply
  15. Dr Carl Osei

    Good information. My daughter was on Amitriptyline 25gm for depression treatment. On day 5 we tried increasing dose to 50mg which immediately induced train of unwanted thoughts with compulsive reactions-obsessive compulsive disorder(OCD). Dropped dose to 25mg but OCD persisted. We withdrew Amitriptyline on day 10 and started Prozac 10mg. OCD with unwanted thoughts improved immediately and stopped 3 days later. Concluding, OCD can be drug induced.

    Reply
  16. Caden Dahl

    I’ve come to the realization that I have a lot of junk thoughts that occur a lot during the day. Perhaps I do have ocd or something of that nature but I’ve never really had it checked out before. Now as you said, these thoughts are a sign that I could possibly have anxiety or ocd. It would probably be good to possibly see a doctor about it.

    Reply
  17. Dane Houtzamer

    I have been diagnosed with anxiety and ocd. I have the intrusive thoughts. I am on medication for it but thoughts persist and stay the same everyday which can be tiring. But will speak to my doctor soon.
    Peace.

    Reply
  18. Viviana Perez Rodriguez

    I’m fighting myself every day and inform about the books can help the citation. Is Tiring can’t do it.

    Reply
    • Shaubhagya

      Dont worry i m fighting with my intrusive thoughts each sec my eyes gets wet when i see others happy n see my self depressed with my intrusive thoughts which are not real

      Reply
  19. Unknown

    Great advice.

    Reply
  20. Kc

    Thank you so much for writing this! From a person suffering I can tell you this article lifted a huge weight. So much good information! Can’t say thank you enough

    Reply
  21. Owoyemi Olayinka

    My intrusive thought is imagining a crawling worm in my brain and it’s very disturbing. Thanks anyway

    Reply
  22. David

    My day is spent in turmoil dealing with intrusive thoughts. Many are repetitive and on topics in never used to give a care for. ACT methods tend to be the best method of managing these, but it’s challenging. It really gets me down, but you keep going.

    Reply
  23. Hawa

    The thought that pops up in my mind is a guy (my ex-boyfriend). I don’t want remember him. It really makes me stressed just him name popping in my head. It’s really frustrating, I don’t want remember him or anything related to him. Just don’t how to get rid of it.

    Reply
    • charmaine

      hi i am from malta i have ocd and your post is like my toughts sorry to hear whT you are experience becouse i live it every day

      Reply
      • Nadine

        Hi Charmaine, I am also suffering from OCD. Have you started any therapy? At the moment I am looking for an experienced ERP therapist in Malta. Are you aware of any good one? Wishing you all the best

        Reply
  24. Kavya Hegade

    I get sudden strong thought which tells the future that some particular disease or bad things is going to happen to my loved one..These are the things about which I had worried a lot and wished not to happen..It makes me fear all the day, I can’t do anything..All day I worry repitatively..Are these thoughts true.. Please help me.. Please

    Reply
  25. Kavya Hegade

    I get sudden strong thought which tells the future that some particular disease or bad things is going to happen to my loved one..These are the things about which I had worried a lot and wished not to happen..It makes me fear all the day, I can’t do anything..All day I worry repitatively..Are these thoughts true.. Please help me..

    Reply
  26. Courtney Holder

    I’m dealing more with intrusive memories than intrusive thoughts. They are about real events, not processes, not the future, and not self-evaluations. I am aware that there is such a thing as “Real Event OCD,” but I am not sure that fits me either. I believe that the cause is different than those listed. I also believe that in my case, it is caused in part by traumatic brain injury as a toddler. I seem to have a belief that others don’t have that it is immoral to help anyone without first getting their permission. It is a deeply-seated belief on par with being religious. I’ve told my therapist that I believe forcing unwanted help on others is as immoral as r*ping a baby. Anyway, where I run into trouble is that nearly every single memory of forced/unwanted help plays at random in my head, and I’ve tried nearly everything to get rid of them. Starting an antidepressant seems to reduce them at first, and then once my body is used to them, they resume. I’ve tried a high caffeine regimen that seemed to help, but I quit cold turkey after having symptoms that bordered on psychosis, and it took years to get the intrusive memories back to a reasonable range. I once tried finasteride (hair-loss) and found a reduction in intrusive memories, but I try to leave that one alone since there are reports of finasteride users having more intrusive memories after stopping. I recently started using nicotine and that reduced intrusive memories for the first 3 weeks. But you can guess the rest. Not only did they come back, but I am also hooked on nicotine. I don’t know if a mood stabilizer would be of any use.
    And the intrusive memories and help aversion are interfering with my life. I find that for whatever reason, African-Americans are more likely to treat me like I’m stupid or that I need help when I don’t want it, don’t need it, and the type of help they are trying to force on me is not even appropriate for the situation. It angers me, and I feel it is a form of racism on their part. As a result, it contributes to the racial tension in my own life. The other week, an African-American stranger told me that the back tire on my bike was low. I already knew that, and I had the right to ride with it that way. And when I told the person that his unwarranted “help” was inappropriate and that folks of my ethnicity don’t care about things like that, he and others around became bossy and threatening. I did nothing wrong to make them think my life was their business, think I was too stupid to already know, or somehow think I didn’t have the right to make such a decision to ride with it like that. And I don’t know why minority members seem more likely to force unwanted help on me. If I could only brainwash myself that this is appropriate and learn to enjoy what I believe with every fiber of my being is immoral and abusive, then maybe I would be more likely to avoid conflict with people outside my race. And I don’t think ethnicity itself has anything to do with it, since it seems to be common more with those who belong to the lowest perceived socioeconomic group. I can’t even deliberately leave my shoes untied until I find an appropriate place to tie them without poorer people and those in ethnic minority groups pretending I need help or pretending I am too stupid to know about something I am deliberately putting off.
    If anyone has any ideas more on how to reduce the intrusive memories or to get strangers to ignore me without forcing help on me in unwarranted situations or otherwise pretending I am stupid or them trying to assert dominance over my life which is nobody’s business but my own, please let me know. And go ahead, don’t hold back any punches, call me a racist, accuse me of having a chip on my shoulder, or whatever else. I’ve heard it all before and would appreciate new information on things to try. Is it such a crime to be a fiercely independent, self-led loner?

    Reply
  27. hamza ali

    i also have ocd and i have negative and violent thoughts every day it usually happens at night. it’s disturbing my life I am going to go to a psychiatrist tommrrow to get my treatment started please pray for me everyone. i pray that no one has to go through it god bless you.

    Reply
    • Brianna

      Praying

      Reply
  28. Amelia Palechuk

    I have thoughts such as strangling my sister, accidentally falling on one of those hook things at the store and taking out my eyeball, stabbing people ( I’m not a murderer I just have these thoughts randomly)

    Reply
  29. Neenz

    I’m so incredibly glad I found this. My intrusive thoughts are about hurting my family. I felt like a horrific monster and I should be locked away from everyone.
    Now I realise that this isn’t uncommon in people with severe anxiety & it’s really not something I should be terrified of.

    Reply
  30. RC

    Hi,
    I get intrusive thoughts of a sexual nature. Ever since i had psychosis i get images of naked body parts, it can be of my Mum, my Sister, its absoutely horrible!! I hate it! I don’t know why it happens and it can even happen with men too but not as much. I believe that i don’t want to have children because its a horrible world! I’ve been single for almost 10 years and it has happened because i feel like im depriving my body from what possibly the human body needs, like a relationship with another woman, but its not as easy of finding a woman to be with because i enjoy being in my own company anyway.. its just difficult because if i could stop them i would love it but my brain drifts off easily into this thought process. I suffer really badly from anxiety in all forms. Im diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic but i wouldn’t say im as serious as some people with this illness. I just wished that i never had to live with this, and i hope that im not geared up to live with it in the future. I want to overcome these thoughts and im trying out meditation. I watched Dr. Joe Dispenza on Gaia on Amazon Video, its called Rewired 2019 and its really good, i would recommend anybody to watch it! If anybody has suffered with naked images of body parts comment on this and i will look back and see what your experience was and what your foing to help yourself overcome these thoughts.
    Kind regards
    RC

    Reply
    • Rachel

      Thank you so much for commenting this. I was looking through the comments worrying if I was the only one having intrusive thoughts of a sexual nature. I had sexual trauma as a child, so my intrusive thoughts are about people who I should never have any thoughts about in a sexual manner and it is driving me up a wall to the point where I sometimes worry about why I’m having these thoughts and if they reflect on how I actually feel towards these people.

      Reply
  31. Michael Heard

    My intrusive thought lately is an image of a brain and then dwelling on the optic nerve connection to the brain. It’s odd, I know. Thanks for sharing this article, God bless, take care.

    Reply
    • Ben

      Mines similar to Michaels. Every time I close my eyes my thoughts feels so scattered and there’s an image of my brain bearing down on my breathing and it stops me from meditating because I can’t get rid of the thought and image. Seems to be triggered by meditation. Any help would be hugely appreciated.

      Reply
    • Guwin

      I have had these type of thought any many more bizzare thoughts, they used to scare me until I read about what thoughts actually are, then these thoughts lost their power over me. The reason they keep coming back is because you react to them as if they are important. You are telling your brain these are important thoughts that need to be watched and taken seriously so your brain complies and treats them like they are the only thing in the universe worth thinking about. Stop caring about the thoughts and in week or so they will begin to fade away. Train your brain to treat these thoughts with a whatever attitude, just ignore it it’s not important.

      Reply
  32. evelynor93

    I have suffered with intrusive thoughts for around 5 years now. It’s about harming myself. I witnessed a traumatic suicide when I was at a vulnerable period in my life and that stuck. I have chronic anxiety but normally cope quite well. I’ve only been improving since it began 5 years ago. However my intrusive thoughts come to attack me when I’m under stress – mostly in times of change. I struggle with the fear of ending my own life in a moment of feeling low. I get so so scared and this results in my feeling down and ruminating and analysing whether I am deeply depressed and actually want to die or not. This is exhausting. I am doing CBT and my therapist and psychiatrist have told me it’s OCD and anxiety. Most of the time I can function but there are times like now when it takes over and I struggle to see the light. I am searching for ways of battling this and hope there are solutions as it is really affecting my quality of life. Your article was helpful, thank you

    Reply
    • Brianna

      You’re not alone. We can get through this.

      Reply
  33. Fear Of Flying Phobia

    Fantastic article, I have bookmarked this excellent website and may learn more later. keep up the great work!

    Reply
    • Alhassan Bayomy

      Very useful article in healing OCD and negative thinking. Thank you Courtney.

      Reply
  34. Kristen k

    Giving into/ attending your intrusive thoughts isnt a great idea.. some people have very scary physcotic intrusive thoughts that you definitely should not give into. And theres thoughts that if you continue thinking about it you can get a panick attack. Like mine, I’m very afraid of death it makes me panick and get anxiety,
    if I think about it too much. I always get death intrusive thoughts and I have gave into them a few times, I ended up getting so much anxiety I couldnt stop shaking. So the whole attend to your intrusive thoughts thing isnt a good idea. And for me they dont just feel like thoughts they feel like an evil entity in my mind just messing with me for fun.

    Reply
  35. colin sherwood

    i have intrusive thoughts ,i think they scared me as a child, my mother had depression most of her life, life is not easy for me from holding down a job,i allways wanted to find a partner, and i get sad when other are constantly blessed around me, i struggled with sexuality identity and it led me to meeting all sorts of the wrong people over the years, i never meet happy joyfull people,mostly just more of the same, it makes me think i have physical problems, i get nigh sweats and can feel cold on a sunny day, it causes isolation and rumination and feeling lonely…i certainly didnt need a covid-19 epedemic to reming me of social isolation, it causes fantasy and allot of dreaming,i recently lost both parents it was nothing short of hell.. some i guess find a way of expressing it throug their talents….guards stop me on the street allot, .theirs anger that i didnt get to have children of my own..so much has happened , over the years , even relgion became complsive and let me believe tthat god had abandoned me..i go to the toilet allot …i dont have friends ,im lucky i have my brother..most of the people i meet are just people in the local town leixlip where i live in county kildare.. i find it hard to trust people now because i have met so many of the wrong people and it took me years to get away from facebook and chasing people on dating sites and going to bars to try and find love ..(theres a book on that one!) i know for sure i cant walk in anyone elses shoes .. i lookto others for reassurance that they cant give..i hope after corona virus and social distancing that human beings will treat one another a bit better , to a certain extent everybody has now experienced some of the issues i have battled with for years.. i still believe we all deserve a bit of happinees in this world.

    Reply
    • Trevor

      Hey colin thank you for sharing, Sending you all the love. All these things in life dont define you, the mind will tell you they do but they are just the things that happened along your path. Stay strong, stay present and be the least judgmental version towards yourself. We are all capable and deserve the most unfathomable sense of love so dont let your emotions run you down. just watch them and send love to it all. Wishing you the best, also il be your friend!

      Reply
    • Brianna

      Praying for you Collin. I have found some amazing people in the church. And other Christian ministries who have become so close to me and are there for me. I’m praying you find that too.?

      Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Colin,
      I’m very sorry for your recent loss, and as the other commenters have noted, please don’t give up hope. As you note, there is always a danger in looking for fulfillment outside of ourselves, but on the flip side, none of us can walk through life alone. So, I encourage you to find ways to build your self-esteem and self-confidence wherever you can (new hobbies, exercise, learning something new), while also finding people you can connect with (even if it is just through online groups or Zoom for the time being!)
      Indeed, we all do deserve happiness, and I sincerely hope you find yours on the horizon.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  36. Bethany

    Ever since I became pregnant with my second child I have not been myself. I had a rough pregnancy and lost so much of myself after he was born. When I read this ALOT of these things hit right on the nail. It’s been almost 3 months now and I am still at battle. Doing better in a lot of ways but things are still coming up. And those intrusive thoughts seem to almost always take up my whole day. It’s exhausting and debilitating. Because I’ve had some major trauma and major change around pregnancy and time of my son I’ve been battling (the most) with sleep. The fear of sleep, the fear of a nap. It is the strangest thing and never in my life before have I ever given it one thought. Amongst many other things, I will obsess over myself being tired, if I’ll get rest/nap, if I’ll sleep at night, get enough sleep to tackle the next day. And the fear isn’t just sleep but falling asleep. When trauma all started is when my insomnia started, I would try and sleep or get to sleep and wake up or be jolted awake with a racing heart (pounding) and scared. And then I would be scared to try and fall back to sleep because of that potential scare/jolt. It got so bad I had to try a medication to help me sleep, and my husband and I and the kids had to stay with the in-laws for awhile because I couldn’t cope the next day. So this became even deeper. It would get to the point that I would rest my eyes during the day with the baby and lay there feeling myself drift but instead of any jolt my mind would skip over the (falling to sleep) stage and be on over drive just left there thinking and thinking. This sometimes was an all night event, even with the meds. This became a bad pattern of always being fearful of sleep. Things started to turn around as I’ve had much support from family, God, natural herbs and that sleep aid (not sure how much it helps) but things started improving. I still dealt with anxiety off and on throughout the day, intrusive thoughts about other things and obsessing over how I felt physically, how I was mentally and how to take care of my kids etc. it’s been an on going battle. A very scary, exhausting on going battle. But one thing I felt was getting better was my sleep etc. and then one night it happened again, our bedtime routine was out of wack because we had company over and I was (not fully aware) but stressing out about things before hand. And it took me about 2 hours to finally sleep. All because I had that heart racing upon sleep and the thought of fighting sleep, behind groggy from the meds and not liking that feeling and the fear of not being able to ever go to sleep. So many irrational fears left me in internal agony. This stuff is no joke, especially when it affects your sleep, on top of having a newborn who affects your sleep already. Finally I slept about 4-5 hours of broken sleep. But I believe I slept, so it isn’t something I can’t do. But I’m not going backwards, I’m only going forwards and this was just a hiccup. This is amongst other things I’ve been trying to cope/deal with and overcome. This will not be my life forever, just a short season I have to learn and get through with the help of God, (guided drs), natural remedies and family/support. This article was good to me because it helped me see that I can have a definition for what’s going on, and other have experienced similar situations and or obsessive behaviors. We are not alone guys! I’m praying for every single one of us that we can and will get through this!!! I am nervous a bit about medications though and how they can potentially make things worse, and the only way to find out is to test them :/… I’m not sure if what I’ve taken has made anything worse, I just know I’m in the midst of all this looking for a way out, a “cure” a way to get back to quality of life.

    Reply
    • Brianna

      Thank you for sharing bethany. It too got worse for me after I had my 1 st daughter. I’m grateful to see another woman like me trusting God and working through this. We aren’t alone. Id love to connect with you sometime.

      Reply
      • Miky

        I have intrusive thoughts very often and they can vary! It’s very scary, and I find myself dwelling which makes it worse ‘like am I crazy??’ Always needing reassurance. I don’t know what to do. And I don’t want to go on medication!!! It’s causing me stress as I am an over thinker. This article was great, and made me feel some what normal and not alone. Does anyone have any advice on natural ways of dealing with this? My intrusive thoughts can be hectic from self harm, to harming someone (I know I don’t want to, of course but I feel like maybe I’m crazy if I could be thinking that?? What if it happened..) a lot of other random things… again thank you so much for this article!!!

        Reply
        • Nicole Celestine

          Hi Miky,

          I’m glad you found some comfort in this article. If you want to know what it is definitively occurring, please make an appointment with a psychologist to talk about what is happening. All I can do is speculate, and that is not a substitute for the attention of a physician who is able to interview you and make a diagnosis.

          There are ways of addressing intrusive thoughts without necessarily needing medication, and a psychologist can point you toward these options and give you strategies to help. In the meantime, I’d recommend checking out some of the books I’ve recommended to others in these comments, and also, I’d reassure you that experiencing intrusive thoughts does not make you ‘crazy,’ as you are not your thoughts. You have control over your behaviors and can take steps to reduce the impact of intrusive thoughts in your life.

          I hope this helps, and I wish you all the best.

          – Nicole | Community Manager

          Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Bethany,
      Thank you for sharing your story. What you’ve described (anxiety around falling asleep) is called somniphobia, and as you note, it can be very debilitating for sufferers and their families. I was relieved to read that you have found some relief. There are also specialized CBT therapists who can support you with somniphobia. You can read a bit about that here.
      Best of luck, and I hope you continue to see improvements in your sleep.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  37. Hassan B

    Thank you Courtney for such a great article, I will give the tools a shot so that I can beat the OCD thoughts.

    Reply
  38. John

    Thank you for this it really helps and have started recovering.I have been really bothered by these thoughts for the past few days.it really helps.Thanks once more

    Reply
  39. Lucy King

    Hi ,
    The past few days i have been really worrying about the thought that everyone i know is just full of blood and organs and bones and that’s it. Its hard to explain but whenever i look at my family i just think of whats under their skin and how the whole world is just full of this. This thought isn’t like any other intrusive thoughts i’ve had as i cant distract myself because i’m reminded of it everytime i see a person.
    I’m panicking and feel like i don’t have help because everyone in this world is human but that’s the thing i’m afraid of so how would that help.
    Please give me tips

    Reply
    • Guwin

      Do not worry, I have had intrusive thoughts for over 25 years, from when I was 20. Anyway for the first 15 years I had no idea what they were and really used to get worried to the point of a breakdown when I had an episode, which usually took 6 months for me to settle down and function 100 percent again. Then I read an excellent book about intrusive thoughts and it changed my life. It basically told me all the myths about thoughts that I believed were true, how they are not facts have no meaning unless you give them it and do not represent you or your character. It’s a great book by Sally Winston and can be bought on Amazon. No I still get the thoughts and feelings that come with them but both do not bother me any where near as much as they used to, because now I know they are meaningless thoughts that just pop into your head and then go just accept them as thoughts with no meaning and carry on, no matter what the thought just say, whatever and carry on with what you are doing. This has worked wonders for me. Anyway, I used to and still do get bizzare thoughts like a picture of a brain when I’m talking to someone or similar weird thoughts, but I let them pass on by saying whatever and they usually don’t come back again for a long time, but if they do then so what it’s just a thought that means nothing let it go and move on.

      Reply
      • Lucy King

        Hi Guwin,
        Out of curiosity, what were the thoughts you were having? I feel like it won’t get better, i can barely even look at my family or even sometimes myself. They have all noticed I’ve been acting different. I know that I just need to accept it as a thought but at the same time it is real life and I’m only realizing it now

        Reply
  40. John

    Please any help on how I can stop heart palpitations?

    Reply
    • Aidan

      John, I used to get them all the time. Stop (or reduce) caffeine. I also get them if I take any ibuprofen. Let me know if you’re feeling better.

      Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi John,
      If you are experiencing regular heart palpitations, I’d suggest going to get a check-up with your general practitioner. Chances are, they’ll refer you to a heart specialist for testing.
      Keep well!
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  41. Lyndsay

    I have had many episodes through my life of unwanted thoughts . I have learned over the years that they return at times in my life when I am struggling. Meditation has always helped as have mental images of releasing them such as undoing a zip over my head and imagining them gushing out … weird i know but works for me! Being out of my normal routine initially made me try and fill every minute which wore me out and my thoughts came back just as I gave myself permission to take time out. I now feel that I am getting back to a better balance again, and for me walking and yoga as well as watercolour painting and learning to play the ukulele amongst other activities have been my saving grace. I have even been swimming in the local river! Be kind to yourself x

    Reply
  42. Nick

    Wow, you have seriously opened my eyes on my mental health. I have checked sooo many of the boxes on everything mentioned and I had felt that I was going crazy and becoming mentally disturbed. Sometimes I would convince myself of things that never happened and it’s scary. I have always feared my mind and even though these are hard to hear and admit, I am finally doing it. I need to work through my fear and use these to develop a healthy mental future for myself and family. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Nick,
      We’re glad to read that our article has resonated with you so deeply. We sincerely hope you succeed at developing a healthier relationship with your mind.
      All the best!
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  43. Collette

    Lockdown has caused my anxiety to become a bigger part of my life and my mind tends to go overboard and obsess over something whether it happened or didn’t happen. I feel like sometimes I feel the hurt or pain even though it never happened. I never realised how powerful your brain can be. But this article makes me feel normal and like I can help ease it. I was ok before lockdown but I think being stuck just made me try occupy my time and overthinking is something my mind loves to do. So thank you!!!

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Collette,
      We’re glad you found some comfort in the article. Indeed, lockdown has been a challenging time for many around the world, so know that you are not alone. Mindfulness practice can be a huge help for getting obsessive thoughts and anxiety under control, so I encourage you to check out our free resource on the topic if you are interested.
      All the best.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  44. Brianna

    I just wanted to say thank you for this article. And any other resources or advice you may have I would appreciate it. I’m located in northern california.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Brianna,
      Glad you found this post helpful. If you are looking for more resources, I’d suggest checking out our free mindfulness tool, as mindfulness is a widely recommended practice for helping with intrusive thoughts. You can access the tool here.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  45. Lorelei

    I’ve had intrusive thoughts since 3rd grade and am still terrified of them to this day. My mind always tells me dark thoughts that give me anxiety and even though I know I’d never do them they’re still there. When I was in 3rd to 5th grade it was pretty rough, I’d be mean to kids and I also liked to steal things from them (mostly Pokémon cards and mini stuffed animals but I still regret it) and my intrusive thoughts are telling me that I’ll grow up to continue to steal things even though I haven’t stolen since 5th grade. They also tell me things like “what if you pick up this knife and stab someone” or whatever, and can get pretty scary! Thank you for making this article because me and a lot of others really needed coping mechanisms for these thoughts.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Lorelei,
      I’m sorry to hear you’ve struggled with intrusive thoughts for such a long time. What you’re describing sounds like it must be very frightening, indeed. If you’d like some more resources to help, I’d encourage you to check out the book Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts by Sally Winston and Martin Seif. The authors have excellent reputations for doing good work in this space, so I’m sure there’d be information in the book that could help you.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  46. RG

    Dear Courtney – thank you for writing this very well-researched article. I’m a male in my mid-30s. I have been experiencing intrusive thoughts since many years but it has accelerated more in the last 4-5 years and is now at an all-time high. I kept telling myself that there was nothing wrong with me, and never bothered to research. I also didn’t know what to call what I was experiencing – I didn’t know this was called “intrusive thoughts” in the field of mental health. I had my own name for this (“bad thoughts syndrome”) and only a chance play of search terms landed me on this article. Reading this has opened my eyes, and led me to realize that I suffer from mild clinical depression, OCD, ADHD and light forms of bipolar disorder in varying degrees. This is the cause of my recurring intrusive thoughts. I’m glad to know who my demons are so I can now work through a way to help myself. I’m not able to read long books associated with mental health (ADHD) but felt some solice in some tips provided at the end of the article. Are there more such short summaries or tips? Also thank you to everyone else who has shared their thoughts here.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi RG,
      I am glad you found some solace in this article and am sorry to read that you have struggled with intrusive thoughts for so long. I have two recommendations. Firstly, if you find that you are okay with listening to books, the book I recommended to another commenter ‘Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts’ is available as an audiobook. Another recommendation is to check out our post containing 25 CBT techniques, which may help you in moments when you are experiencing these thoughts.
      I hope this helps!
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
      • RG

        Thanks for the info Nicole. Appreciate it.

        Reply
        • jamie

          Hey RG,
          Please see my comment on how taking gaba helped my intrusive thoughts. They were terrible and persistent, even with cognitive behavioral therapy. It may help you.

          Reply
  47. Joe

    Hi I really appreciate this post. Ever since Lockdown I have had really bad anxiety and intrusive thoughts about things I really don’t want to see, I was mentally disturbed and everything I did I still seen these thoughts in my head. I thought this only happened to me and didn’t realise I could have one of or even two of these health issues. Just reading this post has cheered me up. Thanks you so much !!

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Joe,
      Stressful situations like lockdown can no doubt trigger or worsen intrusive thoughts and anxiety. I’m glad you’ve found some comfort in this article, and of course, you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing! I hope some of the resources throughout this post have been helpful for you.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  48. Kiyo Tan

    Thank you for this! I am well aware of the fact that I have OCD and because of the said disorder, my life has been affected so much to the point that I’ll hyperventilate if I try to fight against it or do so as much. Lately, a horror movie has triggered these intrusive thoughts inside my head, including choking a loved one to death or stabbing myself with a kitchen night I’ve felt so disgusting. I’ve felt like I’m the worst person on Earth for having such gruesome thoughts.
    BUT, thanks to this, now I know that I’m not the only one suffering because of these thoughts. To those who experience the same things as I, remember this. The repulsiveness that you’ve felt the moment that you’ve thought of those kinds of things, that is a good sign. That, itself, proves that you aren’t sick in the mind like what your thoughts have made you believe.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Kiyo,
      So glad you found some comfort in the article. What you note is true — across the board for many principles in psychology. It’s often the case that we shouldn’t judge ourselves for our immediate thoughts, but rather, our secondary reactions to those thoughts. Thinking about what we’re thinking in this way is also important and valuable for building metacognitive awareness.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  49. Jamie

    I just want to share for anyone reading the comments…
    I had terrible intrusive thoughts over the winter. All day long, it seemed. As a mom this really bothered me, because they make you feel like you are an unsafe person.
    After a little research I started taking GABA (1000 mg a day). And my invasive thoughts are GONE completely. They pretty much immediately ceased.
    I have stayed on 500 mg Gaba for maintenance.
    I hope this helps someone.

    Reply
  50. Love

    Thank you for so much for this, I thought I was going crazy but it feels so nice to see that I’m not the only one suffering from these thoughts

    Reply
  51. Wendy

    Thank you for this information & reassurance. I have had issues with intrusive thoughts for long time & usually work through them but have residual guilt & fear. Since Covid, I too am struggling more. I hate the raw feeling that I have now after these plague me. Anyway, thanks for the recommended books, I ordered a couple from Amazon

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Wendy,
      Glad this information was helpful, and please know that you’re not alone re: the impact of COVID on worsening intrusive thoughts.
      I hope you find some useful guidance in the books.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  52. Greg

    Hi! I really enjoyed this article. I’ve been struggle with intrusive thoughts for about a week now. This really helped put it to perspective. I try the method of letting the thought pass and try not to dwell on it. It works sometimes but what should I do if the thoughts keep coming?

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Greg,
      Glad you enjoyed the post. As you’ve found, some intrusive thoughts will be more persistent than others; you may need to employ different strategies for them to pass. I would recommend this book for a range of practical thought exercises (it’s available as a Kindle book so you can get started right away).
      Hope this helps.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  53. Erose Al Muttaki

    This article was really useful,because I’ve been suffering from it for several months,but didn’t know what was going on in my mind.Everytime I tried to remove those thoughts out of my mind,it would create a root of and get into my mind more. But if those thoughts come into my mind again,will I just let them through,or try to get rid of it?

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Erose,
      In their seven recommended steps to help address intrusive thoughts, Seif and Winston (2018) suggest that you do not try to push the thoughts away. They recommend, however, that you do not engage with the thoughts, act on them, or try to uncover their meaning. Rather, just let them come and eventually pass, and fully anticipate that they will return later down the line.
      So, it’s about not fighting or resisting the thoughts, but not engaging them either. Definitely check out some of the book recommendations we list for more practical exercises and techniques you can use.
      Hope this helps!
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  54. Mary Vogenberger

    Thank you for this article. This might sound crazy, but I usually don’t have particular intrusive thoughts, just the thought that I’m thinking and it’s distracts my focus in what I’m doing. I will be living normally when all of a sudden I realize I’m thinking that I’m thinking, which is in itself horribly distracting and creates anxiety and depression. I have no idea why I have recently started doing this. Rarely I think of bad past experiences some in childhood that I have not thought about for over 50 years. I am under a lot of stress as I live in an Independent Living Facility due to my husbands dementia, which is stressful in itself. I also have a friend that thinks this same way also. …just thinking that I’m thinking. I just want to be happy, and go on and lead a normal non distracting/thinking life. About 15 years ago when my thyroid was out of wack I had problems with depression and was given Paxil in which I had suicidal thoughts. I immediately quit Paxil, and at that time found a holistic doctor that took me off the Synthroid/T4med thyroid med I was on, put me on a compounded porcine thyroid med which includes all the thyroid hormones, and have been fine ever since except for now. I did a DNA Pharmacogenomic test which did state SSRI’s showed Gene-Drug Interaction and thus was warned not to take them. I am thinking about starting a SNRI drug Rffexor XR in which my DNA testing showed was OK for me & recommended to take.

    Reply
  55. Shane

    Hi there,
    I’ve been struggling with intrusive thoughts for a long time now, I was Young when it started and didn’t no what the hell was going on. It could me so long to dulge into articles about it cause quite frankly I was scared of what I’d find.
    But this post has giving me so much reassurance and help understanding how to deal with it and what it really means which is absolutely nothing. What would you recommend for been the most effective way to deal with negative intrusive thoughts is ?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Shane,
      I’m glad to read that you’ve found some comfort in this article. I wish I could recommend you one ‘most effective’ way to handle intrusive thoughts. But in reality, different techniques and approaches will work differently for different people. You may find that you need to try a range of different techniques to build up your toolkit of responses to these thoughts.
      What’s important is that you get as many tools in that toolkit as possible. That means trying lots of different techniques.
      I’d recommend checking out this book for some exercises you can use to get started. What I’ll also recommend is that you work hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle with sufficient sleep, a good diet, and exercise. Ensuring balance through these habits always tends to help.
      Good luck!
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  56. Krithika

    Hi,
    Actually I am dealing with sexual intrusive thoughts from past few months. And I was really scared of it but this post made me think this is normal.
    Thanks for that.
    I want you people suggest me some book for this thoughts

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Krithika,
      I’m sorry to hear that you have been struggling with your intrusive thoughts but am glad to hear this article has helped. I would recommend checking out this book for some resources and strategies. Much of the advice that applies to intrusive thoughts in general will apply to sexual intrusive thoughts. Please also don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional therapist if you feel that you could use some extra support or some to talk to.
      I hope this helps.
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
      • Imari

        In my first pregnancy, i had lasting intrusive thoughts about the child being albino, what if i have cancer, what if i’m lesbian. These is when i discovered that i have OCD. Recently,I have intrusive thought what if i would pack up and leave my husband. It feels embarrassing even as i type this out. It feels people would start doubting my love for him. It feels scary that i might get feedback like, “if you think it, then it means it’s true”. These Horrifying thoughts makes me feel like i am about to do it and actually is happening inside of me. What saddens me worse is that in this period of thought, it feels like am losing connection with him. I know i never had intention to leave or for divorce, but suddenly my mind started finding reasons why it would happen, because why would this thought pop. …I value my family life so much. This is almost disabling me mentally & emotionally. I feel like I’m losing my mind each time they pop. I’m scared of my mind, of being scared. This article is empowring, but it’s feel scared of relaxing. I feels strongly compelled to continue analyzing these thoughts.

        Reply
        • Nicole Celestine

          Hi Imari,

          I’m very sorry to read about your struggle with intrusive thoughts. It’s good that you now have a label for your condition (OCD). I would try to remind yourself that you are not your condition. Nor are your intrusive thoughts a reflection of how you feel toward your husband and family, who you clearly love — they’re a symptom of your condition. By reminding yourself of this as much as possible, my hope is that you will feel less shame.

          It’s also important to remind yourself that your thoughts are not necessarily true, so when you feel the intrusive thoughts coming on, as hard as it is, try to resist the temptation to overanalyze them. Rather, let them come, pass without acting on them or dedicating mental energy to them, and accept that they will likely return.

          I’d recommend checking out some of the books I’ve recommended to the other commenters here, and if possible, connect with a professional therapist in your area to get some support.

          All the best, and I hope you begin to see some improvement soon.

          – Nicole | Community Manager

          Reply
  57. Miky

    I have intrusive thoughts very often and they can vary! It’s very scary, and I find myself dwelling which makes it worse ‘like am I crazy?? And would I do it’ Always needing reassurance. I don’t know what to do. And I don’t want to go on medication That’s why I haven’t told my doc about it because I’m scared they will just prescribe medication!!! Would therapy help? It’s causing me stress as I am an over thinker, and I’ve had it since I was a very young child. It could be worse right now because of isolation.. This article was great, and made me feel some what normal and not alone. Does anyone have any advice on natural ways of dealing with this? My intrusive thoughts can be hectic from self harm, to harming someone (I know I don’t want to, of course but I feel like maybe I’m crazy if I could be thinking that?? What if it happened.. what If I did why would these thoughts come into mind??? Would I do it??? Bla bla bla then I’m over Analysing it for hours and it can make me feel very sick and scared) a lot of other random things pop up to it’s horrible… again thank you so much for this article!!! It does make me understand I am not alone.. Thank you so much!!!!!!!

    Reply

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