Intrusive Thoughts: What Are They? When Should I Seek Help? 

What are Intrusive Thoughts? 

Have you ever had a disturbing image come into your mind during a moment of stress? Have these thoughts ever felt so shocking that you were afraid to tell anyone about them? Thoughts that are sudden, unwanted, or unexpected – that elicit feelings of shame or embarrassment – are called Intrusive Thoughts; and although they are uncomfortable, most people experience these thoughts at some point in their lives.

Examples 

Some examples of Intrusive Thoughts include:

  • Thoughts of violent actions
  • Thoughts of inappropriate sexual actions
  • Thoughts of making a scene in a public situation
  • Thoughts of forgetting something important (shutting off the stove, locking the door)
  • Thoughts of doubting your authenticity or that of your relationships

Meaning

Intrusive Thoughts are not harmful if you recognize that thoughts are not actions, and you have no desire to act upon the thoughts that are causing you distress. Intrusive Thoughts are sometimes our minds’ way of trying to protect us by showing us what we DO NOT want to happen, rather than what we do want to happen. Meaning, our mind can display to us what we are afraid of, in order to help us avoid damaging situations. During times of stress, these thoughts are more likely to appear because we are more vigilant towards ourselves + how to achieve safety. It is important to understand that we are in control of our behaviors, and that just because we think something, doesn’t mean we are going to do something.

When to Seek Help 

If you or a loved one are experiencing Intrusive Thoughts that are so prevalent that they make daily functioning difficult, then it is time to seek mental healthcare. This is especially true for repeated negative Intrusive Thoughts that are frightening and can impact sleep, relationships, or contact with the outside world. These thoughts can be related to a previous traumatic life event, or they can be related to treatable conditions that can be managed with talk therapy, medication management referrals or education on how to cope. Therapists are trained to compassionately identify and distinguish types of Intrusive Thoughts & their effects without judgment.

Schedule appointment

Phil Glickman

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Wellness Road Psychology

A leading provider of mental health services, offering a range of evidence-based treatments to help our clients improve their mental wellbeing.

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