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What Are Intrusive Thoughts and Why We Have Them

Intrusive thoughts are images or thoughts that pop unexpectedly into your mind. They are often upsetting or unusual. However, practically everyone has these thoughts every now and then.

These images and thoughts are unwelcome and usually unpleasant. The content can be sexual or violent at times, or you may instantly recall a past blunder or an issue.

You may be disturbed when you experience these, but having an intrusive thought from time to time is a normal part of life.

In many cases, intrusive thoughts have no significance or specific meaning. Intrusive thoughts are not threatening or harmful as long as you acknowledge that they are merely thoughts and that you have no intent and wish to act on them.

But if they frequently occur and are causing you serious concern, or are interfering with your everyday activities, you should consult a professional therapist.

Reach out to JarvisHypnotherapy if intrusive thoughts are causing you distress, consuming your energy, or making it hard to go about your day.

What are the different forms of intrusive thoughts?

As you can imagine, there are different kinds of intrusive thoughts. These can be about any of these:

  • infections, germs, or other kinds of contamination

  • aggression, violent acts, or causing danger/harm to other people

  • doubts about leaving tasks unfinished or doing tasks wrong

  • blasphemy (religion) or being an immoral person

  • sexual acts or lewd situations

  • saying the wrong thing or acting out in public

There are also other types of intrusive thoughts that are not outlined in these categories.

People who have intrusive thoughts may sometimes feel worried about what they mean. This can result in their attempt to stop or control the thought. They may also feel embarrassed and try to keep them hidden from others.

But remember that they don't often have any specific meaning even though they're disturbing. You can easily carry on with your day and not worry if you have no wish to act on the thought. However, recurring thoughts that involve harming yourself or hurting others should urge you to seek out professional intervention and get emergency care.

What are the causes of intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts may have no cause. They can happen at random. Some thoughts just drift in your mind and leave just as abruptly, leaving no lasting impact.

Intrusive thoughts are sometimes linked to a mental health issue, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which thoughts become so disruptive that they induce compulsions or repetitive behaviors to try to keep them from continuing. Those with post-traumatic stress disorder typically have these, which can be brought on by an extremely stressful or potentially life-threatening incident, like a violent attack or an accident.

These thoughts may also be an indication of another health problem, which includes:

  • dementia

  • Parkinson's disease

  • brain injury

But, according to Dr. Kerry-Ann Williams, a psychiatry lecturer at Harvard Medical School, many people who have intrusive thoughts do not have a mental health disorder.

Signs indicating there might be a serious and deeper cause include intrusive thoughts that:

  • linger more than a split second

  • continually spring back into your head

  • lead to distress over time

  • make you feel like you must take control of your thoughts (because you can't seem to control them)

Changes in mental health are not to be ignored or taken lightly. Early signs of some conditions can include:

  • obsessive thoughts

  • shift in thought patterns

  • thoughts of upsetting, disturbing imagery

These thoughts are not to be ashamed of. They ought instead to urge you to seek evaluation and treatment so you can begin to feel better.

Are intrusive thoughts normal?

To have intrusive thoughts from time to time is not uncommon. In fact, practically everyone experiences it. According to a 2014 study, about 94% of participants reported at least one intrusive thought in the three months before the study.

In this research, the most prevalent were "doubting" intrusions or worries about performing tasks correctly. Sexual or religious intrusive thoughts were the least to be reported.

Stress or anxiety are common triggers for intrusive thoughts. They could also be a short-term problem resulting from biological factors like hormone changes. For instance, a woman may notice an increase in intrusive thoughts following the birth of a child.

Dr. Williams explains that "any life stressor, if big enough, can increase your risk of having intrusive thoughts."

Although intrusive thoughts are normally harmless, they can sometimes become disruptive to your everyday life.

People who experience anxiety or guilt about their intrusive thoughts, or who feel they must do something to control the thoughts, may be suffering from a more serious condition. If this is so, it's recommended to talk to a therapist.

Intrusive thoughts coming from stress & isolation

According to Dr. Olivera Bogunovic, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, many women have endured significant stress as a result of isolation during the COVID pandemic. Symptoms of anxiety also become common as women move through different stages of their lives.

Dr. Bogunovic believes they may become lonelier or develop a fear of aging or acquiring physical illnesses. This can cause an increase in anxiety and, in some cases, obsessive thinking.

While intrusive thoughts can be distressing, they are not destructive or suggestive of a hidden desire to do the things that sprung to mind.

How to recognize intrusive thoughts?

So, how do you determine if you're having intrusive thoughts? There are several indicators to look for.

1) It is an unusual thought for you. An intrusive thought is very unlike your usual thoughts. "For example, it could be unusually violent," Dr. Williams points out.

2) The thought bothers you. If you have a distressing thought that you wish to get out of your head, it might be an intrusive thought.

3) The thought is something you cannot predict and control. "The more you think about it, the more anxious you get and the worse the thoughts get," Dr. Williams explains. It is better to learn to live with intrusive thoughts rather than resist them.

What are conditions that include intrusive thoughts?

Although, typically, there is no underlying condition when you experience intrusive thoughts, they are a symptom of several conditions, including eating disorders, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

If your intrusive thoughts are disruptive to your daily life and may be stopping you from going out or doing your usual activities, speak with a therapist about them. Getting treatment can help you manage your intrusive thoughts and improve your well-being. Call JarvisHypnotherapy today!


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