Have you ever had a song get stuck in your head, where it just played over and over again for hours? Even worse, you tried to get rid of the song or drown it out in some way, just to find that it kept replaying in your mind. Most of us have had experiences like this, and typically we can deal with it well. However, for others these kinds of repetitive, unwanted thoughts can become a real challenge. Even worse, the thoughts can oftentimes be disturbing and difficult to accept.
Intrusive thoughts can be defined as thoughts (including images, memories, words, etc.) that repeatedly come up, despite the person’s attempts to have the thoughts stop. What complicates matters is that oftentimes the thoughts seem to be “dangerous” in a way. Intrusive thoughts oftentimes contain content that is sexually inappropriate, violent, or profane. Typically, folks who experience intrusive thoughts have absolutely no desire or intention of carrying out the thoughts, but they find that they cannot stop the thoughts from occurring.
One thing we need to become very clear about is that intrusive thoughts do not necessarily indicate intentions or desires of carrying out any behaviors. For example, there is a huge difference between experiencing intrusive thoughts about violent behavior, and actually having intentions or desires of carrying out said behavior. If there are actual intentions of carrying out the thought, then that’s a problem that needs to be addressed in its own way. However, for the majority of people who experience intrusive thoughts there tends to be no intentions or desires of acting on them.
The reality is that most people experience unwanted and disturbing intrusive thoughts from time to time. One of the key differences is that people who are more affected by intrusive thoughts tend to have a difficult time with accepting them, whereas other folks are able to accept the thoughts and allow them to come and go freely. I find that people who have difficulties with intrusive thoughts are oftentimes some of the most conscientious and kindest people out there. These folks worry that the intrusive thoughts are indicative that something is ‘wrong with them,’ or that they are ‘broken’ in some way.
Intrusive thoughts are very tricky in nature. The more that we try to get rid of them or suppress them, the more power that they gain. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but trying to abolish disturbing and unwanted thoughts is probably one of the worst things that you can do to deal with them. Why is that?
When we determine that a thought is “bad” or “evil” in some way, then it becomes a threat to us. When a thought becomes a threat, then we oftentimes mentally check to see if the thought is present. Furthermore, when you check if a thought is still present, then you remind yourself of the thought, and so the thought comes up again….you can probably see how this can become an endless cycle!
Should you be worried if you experience intrusive thoughts? Probably not. As I said earlier, in the absence of intentions to carry out inappropriate behaviors, intrusive thoughts are safe and harmless. However, they can still be personally distressing and difficult to deal with. Please stay tuned for my next blog post where I discuss helpful ways to deal with intrusive thoughts!