Intrusive Thoughts - Unwelcome and Involuntary

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The human brain is capable of having a thousand thoughts in a single day. Some thoughts may be reasonable and worthy, while some may be unusual and dangerous. The irrelevant thoughts, ideas, and images are called intrusive thoughts, which can be frightening and can arise in anyone, irrespective of age. It is believed that intrusive thoughts arise rapidly, and are beyond the control of a person.

Image Credit: / Shutterstock
Image Credit: / Shutterstock

Types of intrusive thoughts

It is never easy to erase intrusive thoughts from one’s mind. These thoughts do not indicate or reveal a person’s character, and the ideas in these thoughts do not have any meaning and are pointless. It can occur with anyone and can transform into many forms. Some examples of intrusive thoughts are jumping out of a moving train, throwing your dog from the terrace, harming your loved ones, etc.

Clinically, people having such types of intrusive thoughts are considered as normal. Sometimes, these thoughts arise only to indicate to us that one should not act in such a manner; they are just inappropriate thoughts that the mind entertains. When these thoughts exceed the accepted levels, they fall under certain types. Thoughts may often emerge in an unusual situation and create extreme anxiety. The major types of intrusive thoughts are as follows:

  • Violent Thoughts: Violent thinking is known to be a primary factor of intrusive thoughts. People affected by this have thoughts of executing violent activities on themselves, on their loved ones, or on a stranger sitting next to them.
  • Sexual Thoughts: People with intrusive sexual thoughts have frequent concerns about their physical appearance and identity. This condition is common with people having a specific anxiety disorder.
  • Blasphemy Thoughts: Blasphemy thinkers are those who constantly think that they would be punished for their sins. These people have thoughts arising in them that are against God, their beliefs, and their culture. These give them cause for severe anxiety.
  • Relationship Thoughts: Thoughts that make a person feel unworthy in a relationship are known as relationship thoughts. Such persons may also think that their love for their partner or spouse is not true. Their extent of insecurity is that, they feel like their partner is cheating on them.
  • Unwanted Thoughts: Unwanted thoughts are not strictly intrusive thoughts, but are commonly associated with them. The thoughts created in the memory that can cause significant distress and anxiety to a person are known as unwanted thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts in other disorders

Most people with intrusive thoughts experience anxiety. Anxiety is an emotion where people undergo nervousness, fear, worry, and apprehension. There are other disorders that also associate with intrusive thoughts. Some of them are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post dramatic stress disorder, etc.

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): People with GAD have consistent worries, which they are not able to overcome. These types of worries can affect them anytime by creating intense nervousness. Their worries comprise of a sudden fear of as if their loved ones are in danger. They cannot stop worrying until they meet them in person or speak over the phone.
  • Panic Disorder: Persons with panic disorder experience different types of intrusive thoughts. For instance, some people feel that they might get a panic attack any time. They are much cautious, thinking that something could happen to them. Others of this kind may have a fear about their health condition. These thoughts can be highly stressful and can occur frequently if the person focuses continuous attention on them.
  • Social Phobia: Social phobia is considered to be a fairly common occurrence, where people worry about the mistakes made in their early life. Such people are stuck on the particular mistake that they committed long back, and still feel embarrassed about it. Social phobia can be very stressful as it could cause feelings of anxiety and guilt.

Controlling intrusive thoughts

Apart from these, all negative thoughts that occur in a situation are defined as intrusive thoughts. People with intrusive thoughts sometimes hear voices inside their head, which can create unwelcome ideas, thoughts, images, and even visuals. To defend this voice, people try to negotiate with themselves, thinking that they could resist such thoughts. However, research has found that, talking back to the voice will make it stronger and increase the frequency of thoughts.

If not handled correctly, intrusive thoughts can become a serious concern. People with consistent negative thoughts must be bold enough to try to overcome them. Giving priority attention to these thoughts is the major reason that makes it more complicated. Accepting the thoughts is a better way to win rather than struggling with them. If the frequency of such thoughts is greater and one is unable to neglect them, then it is advisable to take medical help.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Afsaneh Khetrapal

Written by

Afsaneh Khetrapal

Afsaneh graduated from Warwick University with a First class honours degree in Biomedical science. During her time here her love for neuroscience and scientific journalism only grew and have now steered her into a career with the journal, Scientific Reports under Springer Nature. Of course, she isn’t always immersed in all things science and literary; her free time involves a lot of oil painting and beach-side walks too.


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    thanks, i always have involuntary thoughts that hurt me a lot.  great research it summed me up a lot

  2. Jimmy Harpoon Jimmy Harpoon Canada says:

    Is it possible to accept the intrusive thinking or can it be redirected towards something that is useful?
    I would appreciate a response. Thank You.   [email protected]

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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