Intrusive Thoughts – Knowing the Causes, Types, and Treatment

What are intrusive thoughts?

Ever been in a normal social setting like your classroom or office, and suddenly an unwanted thought or image pops up that makes no sense? In most cases, you overlook these thoughts and continue with your day, but some of them become persistent and keep coming back up. It seems as though intrusive thoughts just emerge out of thin air. These come uninvited and frequently are unpleasant thoughts and images. Sometimes the thought is hostile or sexual, or you can suddenly be reminded of a worry or a mistake.

Although you could feel upset when this occurs, having an intrusive thought now and again is a normal part of life. The majority of the time, intrusive thoughts are meaningless. Intrusive ideas are not dangerous as long as you are aware that they are merely thoughts and you have no desire to act on them.

Insane and violent thoughts, such as hitting someone in the face or hurting oneself, can be present, as well as illogical pictures. They often pose no threat. But if your daily life is disrupted by your obsession with them, this may be a sign of a deeper mental health issue.

Common types of intrusive thoughts-

The majority of the time, intrusive thoughts are unpleasant and upsetting. It is crucial to realize that intrusive thoughts are uncontrollable. Those who encounter them frequently find their nature repulsive.

The most common intrusive thoughts include

  1. Sexual intrusive thoughts- The focus of sexually intrusive thoughts is frequently on one’s sexuality or on sexually abusing others. Examples of invasive sexual thoughts include: Fear of being attracted to children sexually. Nervousness about being drawn to family members. Anxiety about their sexual orientation.
  2. Violent intrusive thoughts – It’s possible for someone to have violent thoughts regarding either oneself or other people. Violent intrusive thoughts are common: Using knives or other objects to injure others, which may lead to a person locking away sharp tools. Injuring loved ones or children; poisoning food for loved ones; and thus, avoiding cooking. People who have these views may stay away from social situations and other people.
  3. Relationship intrusive thoughts – People might worry about their relationships, which could be strained by these thoughts. Examples of intrusive thoughts in a relationship include: Wanting frequent reinforcement from their lover while excessively evaluating the intensity of their affection for them finding worries about fidelity
  4. Religious intrusive thoughts include – They think negatively while praying at a church believing that God won’t pardon their imagined sins and will send them to hell. Apprehensions that they have forgotten about God or their beliefs Continually questioning their beliefs Though they may be on a completely different subject or operate in a different field, intrusive thoughts typically fall into one (or more) of these categories. What distinguishes an intrusive thought from an ordinary one, however, is that it distresses you and that you’d probably prefer not to have the thought.

What do these intrusive thoughts come with?

As we mentioned previously, having an intrusive thought now and then is perfectly normal. However, if you notice that your intrusive thoughts are becoming more frequent or that you are lingering on them, you may be experiencing one of the underlying conditions.

We’ll discuss the connections between intrusive thoughts and six different disorders where they frequently manifest as symptoms:

ADHD– While those with OCD typically experience intrusive ideas that are more violent, graphic, or inappropriate, people with anxiety frequently become ensnared by less severe intrusive thoughts. For example, concerns regarding a family member’s safety may be more common in those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

OCD – One of the primary OCD symptoms is intrusive thoughts, which almost everyone with the disorder experiences. People without OCD are just “mildly troubled” by these ideas, whereas individuals with OCD are frequently very distressed by them. This is where the two groups of people diverge.

Depression – Depression is frequently caused by persistent intrusive thoughts, especially when such ideas are expressly depressive. Rumination is the term for these depressive thoughts that repeat themselves. When someone ruminates, they repeatedly think over a negative thought, action, or other problem, trying to come up with a solution but never succeeding.

PTSD – Intrusive thoughts are another symptom of PTSD, although they tend to be more focused on a single traumatic event than more generic “what if” questions. These ideas are frequently associated with traumatic experiences and may even trigger flashbacks of the actual trauma.

How to deal with such thoughts-

Here are some actions you can do to alter your mindset and get rid of unwanted intrusive thoughts.

  • Give these ideas the designation “intrusive thoughts.”
  • Remind yourself that these are automatic ideas and not your own.
  • Accept the thoughts and let them enter your head. Try not to shoo them away.
  • Float and get comfortable letting time pass.
  • Do not forget that little is more. Pause. Adapt your schedule. No need to act quickly.
  • Allow the anxiety to be there while carrying on with whatever you were doing before the intrusive thought.

Various therapeutic approaches, as well as medications, are also beneficial to people dealing with intrusive thoughts, depending on the degree or intensity of such thoughts. Here are a few of those interventions-

  1. Exposure and Response Therapy – Exposure and response prevention therapy involves two segments within CBT – Exposure is the intentional exposure of oneself to intrusive objects, ideas, and visuals that cause anxiety. Blocking the obsessive behavior that a person takes as a result of these ideas is response prevention. All of these observations are conducted with the therapist in charge.
  2. ACT – ACT, also known as acceptance and commitment therapy, is a type of CBT that emphasizes accepting your ideas and feelings as they are rather than attempting to alter them. The ability to accept that they have intrusive ideas but cease allowing them to dominate one’s attention is facilitated by this acceptance, mindfulness, and the development of more adaptable thinking.
  3. CBT – This kind of talking and behavioral treatment is effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder and intrusive thoughts. CBT aids patients in comprehending how thoughts affect their behavior. Both cognitive analysis and behavioral analysis are used in this therapy.
  4. Mindfulness – If you have OCD-related intrusive thoughts, practicing mindfulness practices may enable you to view your obsessive thoughts with more objectivity. You might already be doing mindfulness exercises as part of your therapy, but you can also give them a try on your own.
  5. There are various drugs that have been approved to treat such intrusive thoughts. The appropriate drug can be recommended by your doctor or psychiatrist, but typically one of the antidepressants listed below will be prescribed.

Five suggestions for managing your intrusive thoughts without drugs or therapy:

  • Recognize the deeper reasons why you find intrusive thoughts bothersome.
  • Pay attention to the distracting thoughts; accept and permit them to enter before permitting them to leave.
  • Thoughts are just that—thoughts, therefore don’t be afraid of them. Don’t allow them to grow to a level where it hampers your daily routine.
  • Reduce your personal attachment to intrusive thoughts and let go of your emotional response to them.
  • Stop altering your actions to satisfy your compulsions or obsessions; doing so won’t be beneficial in the long run.


People who experience intrusive ideas need to develop a new relationship with their thoughts, understanding that sometimes their contents are unnecessary and irrelevant and that everyone occasionally has strange, odd, inappropriately violent ideas. Junk thoughts are occasionally produced by our brains and are simply a part of the debris in our stream of consciousness. Meaningless thoughts are junk. They vanish and are swept away in the current of consciousness if you don’t pay attention to them or become interested in them.

A notion, even one that is really frightful, is not an instinct. Overcontrol rather than lack of impulse control is the issue. On the continuum, they are on the opposite ends. However, many who experience it become frantic for confirmation as a result of their anxiousness. Reassurance does not last forever, and it might lead to reassurance addiction.

A professional psychologist is well trained in dealing with the identification of trigger points that leads to intrusive thoughts. The most effective way to deal with intrusive thoughts is by consistently working with a professional psychologist and gradually eliminating the cause of intrusive thoughts. You can start with online counselling since it is quite affordable and accessible.

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