What Are Intrusive Thoughts?

Everyone has intrusive thoughts at some point in their lives and for most people they will be gone and forgotten as quickly as they occurred.  They are sudden unwanted thoughts that pop into our heads for seemingly no reason and we have no control over them.  In most cases they have no meaning and as long as we accept that they are random thoughts that we don’t intend to act on, they cause us no harm.

For some people they can be both distressing and disturbing and if they become repetitive and they start to focus or obsess on them, they can cause feelings of extreme distress and anxiety.


There may be an underlying cause if you find that they last longer than a brief moment, happen frequently or cause you to want to try and control your thoughts.

In some circumstances intrusive thoughts can be caused by underlying health issues such as:

·      Having suffered a brain injury

·      Parkinson’s

·      Dementia

It can also be a symptom of other mental health conditions such as:

·      Anxiety this can be temporary anxiety like fear of an operation and thoughts of things going wrong, or long-term anxiety

·      OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) people with OCD use rituals and compulsions to try and control their intrusive thoughts

·      PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can cause people to have intrusive thought and memories of the traumatic event they experienced

·      Eating disorders can result in people having intrusive thoughts about their bodies or their need to achieve perfection, or being preoccupied with thoughts of food

Types of Intrusive Thoughts

There are several different types of intrusive thoughts but the most common of these are:

Sexual thoughts, whilst we all have thoughts about sex these can be upsetting if they are about violent sexual acts, having sex with infants or family members.

Violent thoughts including self-harm or hurting loved ones or children, using knives or guns and killing someone.

Eating disorders can result in obsessive and negative thoughts about body image, what we eat and weigh and unrealistic ideas of perfectionism.

Religious thoughts can be about places of worship or feeling we have lost our faith and analysing the reasons why or repeating certain prayers.

Relationships, intrusive thoughts can place a strain on relationships if we are constantly seeking reassurance or analysing how we feel about our partner or fearing they will leave.

Professional Help

If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts and they are having a negative affect on your mental health then you should see your doctor.  They will check to ensure that there are no underlying physical conditions that are causing them.  If they think you are suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD or OCD they might prescribe antianxiety medication, antidepressants or SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) to help you with your symptoms. 

They can refer you to a mental health professional who can treat you with a variety of therapies including, counselling, psychotherapy, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and clinical hypnotherapy.  They will help you to address your thoughts rather than ignore them and to accept they have no meaning and to move on from them.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK). For more free Information click above link.

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