According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America over 6 million people struggle with intrusive thoughts in the U.S alone. It’s a common issue but rarely touched on due to the stigma wrapped around it. If you choose to read on, this can be a sensitive topic for some, although I think it’s an important conversation to have.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts and What Do They Look Like?
Intrusive thoughts can come in a million and one forms however they’re typically unwanted and sudden thoughts that can cause great distress. Sometimes bringing on emotions of shame, guilt or disgust. These can be sexual, violent or extremely unnerving thoughts that don’t align with your personal beliefs or morals. Due to the nature of intrusive thoughts some people choose to keep it hidden and experience anxiety or extreme guilt around the issue.
What’s The Cause of Intrusive Thoughts?
A lot of the time intrusive thoughts can occur because of how much you would hate for that said thing to happen. An example of an intrusive thought could be anything from “What if I don’t actually love my partner,” to “What if I hurt or harmed this person,” sometimes they can get very detailed and disturbing even to the one experiencing them. It’s not that you would ever want to hurt someone it’s actually the opposite; if I were to tell you “don’t think about apples for the next 5 minutes” what’s the first thing that pops up in your head?
With intrusive thoughts the the more you struggle to get them out of your mind the stronger they become. It’s referred to as the paradox effect because by simply telling yourself not to think about something you’re effectively thinking about it.
What Do Intrusive Thoughts Mean or Symbolize?
Although in some cases intrusive thoughts can be a symptom of PTSD or OCD, anyone can experience them. Regardless of the contents of the thoughts or how socially unacceptable they are, in no way do they reflect who you are as a person. Some people worry that these thoughts signify what you truly desire but, they hold no truth about what you want or value. Most importantly they simply do not make you a bad person.
How Do You Manage Intrusive Thoughts?
Keeping in mind that you can’t force a thought out of your head, it’s best to let them flow out of your mind naturally. When you get an intrusive thought sometimes it can even be helpful to label it as an intrusive thought in the moment. Remember you are not your thoughts; you’re just the one observing them. What we think of is influenced by our surroundings all the time, so to state that everything crossing your mind has meaning wouldn’t be true. Try to distance yourself from the mind; instead of identifying as your thoughts think if them as a busy highway and you’re simply watching the cars go by.
Anxiety and distress disorders institute of Maryland: https://www.anxietyandstress.com/unwanted-intrusive-thoughts
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/unwanted-intrusive-thoughts
Note: The Free Your Mind Mental Health Society is an independent youth-led organization. The contents of this blog are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In the event of a medical emergency, please call your doctor or 911 or other local emergency numbers immediately.