Intrusive thoughts are recurring ideas that enter your mind at seemingly random times, and generally unsavory ones. Imagine you’re going the street with some friends, and have faded from the conversation. You notice a bicyclist in the bike lane zooming ahead. In the adjacent road is a garbage truck. You think, “Boy, it sure would stink if the biker left his lane for a second and got hit by that truck.” Can’t relate? Ever picked up something delicate, like a glass or a phone, and wondered what would happen if you dropped it? Maybe while driving, you get a sudden urge to press the gas pedal down all the way. There are countless examples. Immediately after these thoughts, you say to yourself, “Are you crazy?! What the heck is wrong with you??” You resolve never to think or do something remotely similar ever again… until it happens again. These are intrusive thoughts, and they can suck. Some common ones are:
- Thoughts of doing something violent, illegal, immoral, or amoral
- Fear of doing something embarrassing
- Worrying that you’ve somehow contracted a disease with no basis to support it
- Inappropriate thoughts or images of sex
- Flashbacks to unpleasant things from your past (Ex. PTSD)
Intrusive thoughts are linked to OCD, PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, Eating disorders, and other mental health disorders. Additionally, intrusive thoughts can be a common ground between multiple disorders, ie. PTSD and depression being linked by the intrusive thoughts regarding a negative experience of the past. I’m no expert on intrusive thoughts and have only had mild experiences with them. But knowing how common they can be, I wanted to share a little about them, so those who aren’t familiar with them have the opportunity to understand themselves better.
Our Natural Reaction
Such a thought pops into your mind out of the blue. You scold yourself, “How could you think such a thing?!” Maybe you even question your sanity and morality. Horror, guilt, shame, or embarrassment can overcome you. This mental state can be overwhelming. Calm down pal, it’s okay. We logically want to reprimand ourselves for thinking such things. Even the most basic psychology will tell you if you get punished for doing something, you’re less likely to do that thing. Eureka! Out of fear of what these thoughts mean, we ask ourselves questions about who we are and why we think these things. However, overly fixating on these thoughts and searching for their subconscious meaning will have adverse effects. Most of the time, these strange thoughts have little to no significance and don’t define our internal feelings and qualities.
If you do have intrusive thoughts, worry not, it’s normal. Many people have similar experiences, though they can vary in subject matter and general “wrongness.” You should note that there are circumstances where intrusive thoughts can be a cause for concern, keep reading to learn more about those cases. But in most cases, these thoughts should be brushed off. Just think about it, you get these thoughts, and as soon as you become conscious of them, you realize that they’re bad. Just the awareness of right and wrong, and that these thoughts are wrong should comfort you to know that you’re a good person. These thoughts can be treated in several ways, even if there is cause for worry. It’s a bit like the bacteria in your body. You have tons of it, both good and bad, some better and some worse than others. The bad ones don’t cause too many problems, and by eating healthy and maintaining your hygiene, there’s no need to worry. Contrarily, the good ones do their job without you even needing to think about it; they independently go about their business. It’s When you start giving these bacteria more of your attention than they need, they can begin to cause a problem. So you see, it’s natural to have these thoughts, and your best bet is just to chill, and let them come and go.
If it becomes Obsession
There are cases when intrusive thoughts should be concerning, and in these cases, it is essential to take action for your mental wellbeing. Generally, if the feelings aren’t severe or extremely persistent, they aren’t signs of an underlying health condition. However, if the thoughts become so prominent that it becomes difficult for you to live your life normally, it could point to something more serious. This point could describe when the thoughts become a signal to Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder. In cases like these, it could be a good idea to seek a mental health professional’s attention. With their guidance, you can receive different options to get rid of the burden intrusive thoughts may have on your life. One method is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which has shown to be 70% effective in patients with OCD. Other methods include medications, counseling, and talk therapy. All of these methods have pros and cons, so it’s best to speak with a professional if you feel that you could benefit from expert advice. While on the subject of OCD, many people don’t fully understand what it is. It is commonly referenced by people who don’t have OCD when referring to a knack for organization and a desire to have things clean. What OCD is, is an obsession with irrational thoughts or fears which leads to compulsive behavior. One manifestation of this is intrusive thoughts, where the obsession with the thoughts becomes hard to deal with and extremely prominent.
Keep in mind that we’re still teens. We need to realize that we are in the part of our life where we mature and experience many changes. Per these changes, we feel and think about various things. Be open-minded with yourself and limit your judgment. That’s step one. From there, you need to understand that your thoughts are just thoughts. They aren’t real. By searching for the deeper meaning of these thoughts and worrying that there’s something wrong with you, you give the thoughts more presence in your mind. And as you let them fill your head, your brain delegates thought space for them. Why? Because you’ve been telling your brain that these thoughts are important, merely by indulging in what they mean. It starts small but has the potential to spiral amok.
So all you have to do is let the ideas come and go. Don’t give them any more attention than they deserve. Like water in a river, let the thoughts go through you, as they naturally do. You are free to acknowledge them and understand that in the present moment that they are nothing but a thought. In most cases, this simple understanding of them can be easing. There are multiple ways to deal with intrusive thoughts, and how you do so can depend on who you are. Based on your mind, intrusive thoughts can manifest in different ways. For example, intrusive thoughts can be notably stressful while dealing with depression or anxiety. Depression is frequently characterized by constant thinking, and these thoughts tend to be negative. The thoughts build on each other and can be challenging to control. Similarly, you might fear these thoughts and what they mean about you, which can lead to feelings of anxiety.
Look, I’m no professional. I have very mild experiences with intrusive thoughts and know of others who do as well. It’s a common thing, and few people understand what they are. If this is something seriously concerning to you, I hope that your main takeaway from this article is finding someone to talk to. I mean a professional, or someone who will be able to fully understand what you’re going through, and be able to provide you with whatever support you seek. There’s a lot to intrusive thoughts, and I even encourage you to do some research. Lots of people share their own experiences all over the internet, and you can learn a lot. Just keep in mind, not all of these experiences are easy to read. It’s up to you to take charge of intrusive thoughts, so I encourage you to do your best to control them.