What Are Intrusive Thoughts?

Have you ever had an unwanted image or thought pop up in your headspace? Usually, they’re easy to get rid of – all you have to do is think of something else! But sometimes, they linger. Sometimes, they want to be seen or heard. Those are intrusive thoughts, and they can be awfully uncomfortable. This article will discuss intrusive thoughts and ways to decipher whether yours are harmless or a cause for concern.

Types of Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t always urge you to do something outside the norm. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Sexual: Sexual intrusive thoughts revolve around fears of being attracted to someone you shouldn’t be. They may also have to do with sexual orientation.
  • Religion: Religious intrusive thoughts can bring up negative feelings of faith. They can make you hyperfocus on your belief system.
  • Violence: Violent intrusive thoughts include thoughts of harming or killing others, or being harmed.
  • Other intrusive thoughts can pertain to relationships, eating disorders, self-harm, doubt, and illness. Keep in mind that these are just thoughts, not behaviors.

What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?

The cause of intrusive thoughts varies from person to person, but some of the most common reasons include:

  • Anxiety: If you’re facing high stress, intrusive thoughts will likely appear at some point. The higher the stress, the higher the likelihood of intrusive thoughts.
  • PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder develops after a traumatic event happens. Intrusive thoughts can appear in your psyche whenever memories flash, like those associated with war or abuse.
  • Postpartum Depression: Postpartum depression, experienced after giving birth, can trigger intrusive thoughts.
  • OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a diagnosable condition where obsessive, intrusive thoughts cause an increase in anxiety.


Managing Intrusive Thoughts

There’s no telltale way to completely eliminate intrusive thoughts, but there are strategies you can implement, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT requires you to work with a therapist to adapt to and learn different ways of thinking when exposed to intrusive thoughts. Triggers may be introduced to test your reactivity.
  • Medication: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be prescribed.
  • Self-Care: Taking care of yourself and recognizing that intrusive thoughts are just thoughts, not behaviors, is crucial. Practice loving and nurturing yourself to reduce the frequency of these unwanted thoughts.

When to Get Help

Most intrusive thoughts come and go without affecting your day-to-day life. But some can stick around, consuming your energy and causing you distress. If you’re experiencing challenging intrusive thoughts, it may be time to talk to your doctor. After an evaluation, they will determine whether to visit a behavioral therapist, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist.


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