The Definition of Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that seem to come from nowhere, get stuck in your mind, and cause distress. They cannot be controlled and they have absurd content in most cases. Intrusive thoughts can even lead to anxiety and panic attacks. They are often focused on socially unacceptable images that can be related to death, safety, relationships, and many other topics.

Intrusive thoughts make everyday life more difficult. Because of extreme distress, they interfere with daily responsibilities at work, home, or at school.

Sexual Intrusive Thoughts

Sexual intrusive thoughts may contain imagery of various sexual behaviors that are considered immoral. They can also be related to one’s sexual orientation and the opinion of other people about it. Sexual intrusive thoughts may lead to the fear of committing a harmful sexual act or being sexually aggressive. They are different from sexual fantasies because they cause worries and concerns. Sexual intrusive thoughts are not experienced as enjoyable, on the contrary, they trigger guilt and shame.

Such thoughts may be related to touching someone inappropriately on impulse, having sex with a religious figure or a child, and even having a different sexual orientation. They can also include images related to having sex with family members or animals. 

Due to the CBT model, it is normal to have intrusive sexual thoughts from time to time. According to the statistics, nearly 90% of individuals experience them throughout their lives. But if they become threatening and cause anxiety,  it can be a symptom of OCD.

Postpartum Intrusive Thoughts

Postpartum intrusive thoughts are associated with harm and sexual obsessions. They often cause distress related to the baby’s safety. 

Postpartum intrusive thoughts usually fall into three categories:

– Sexual thoughts or images involving the baby

– Violent thoughts about intentionally harming the baby

– Violent thoughts about unintentionally harming the baby

These thoughts cause guilt, shame, sadness, and even severe depression in some cases. 

Postpartum intrusive thoughts usually occur in mothers who are least likely to be a threat to their child. Unfortunately, they often target mothers who love their babies very much. 

People experience catharsis not only after observing artworks that evoke strong feelings, but also in everyday life. Probably, everyone of us had situations at home or work when it’s impossible to express negative feelings towards someone or something. In this case, they get bottled up and keep existing without being realized.

But when an opportunity to express such deep negative emotions occurs, one may burst into tears or start shouting. This way, suffering from restraining emotions for a long time stops and a person feels much better. So after the anger is completely released, some positive feelings arise.

Intrusive Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal intrusive thoughts occur in people who don’t want to die but have a fear of losing control or going insane which will lead to committing suicide. Individuals with this kind of obsession are afraid of dying by suicide, although they are morally opposed to it. They have unwanted images of dying or self-injury.

Intrusive suicidal thoughts are ego-dystonic, so it doesn’t mean that a person experiencing them is suicidal. A person having such thoughts usually find them inconsistent with their identity and values.

Violent Intrusive Thoughts

This kind of intrusive thoughts has the content of being violent towards people experiencing them themselves or others. They can include images of harming loved ones or children, killing someone, using a weapon or sharp objects, and poisoning others. Individuals experiencing violent intrusive thoughts often avoid public places and contact with people.

One should keep in mind that violent thoughts don’t mean anything about the personality, they are simply thoughts.

OCD Intrusive Thoughts Test

If you suspect that your unwanted thoughts can be a symptom of OCD, you should ask your therapist to give you a test. Don’t make quick quizzes on the Internet as their results can be invalid. Do not rely on the diagnostic tools that can be easily accessed on popular websites. 

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts

1. Don’t try to suppress unwanted thoughts

2. Refocus your energy and find an activity that fully engulfs your concentration

3. Talk to your thoughts because acknowledging their presence puts yourself back in control

4. List out your thoughts, keep a record of your mood and identify your triggers

5. Talk through your feelings with a therapist.

Anton Kurapov

Anton Kurapov

PhD, a professor assistant at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. Fascinated by the role of psychology in lives of people and simply astonished by the complexity of the brain and its functions.

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