Have you ever been sitting, walking or doing something and then, all of a sudden, a strange, disturbing thought or image pops into your mind? It may be a recurring fear that you are not good enough, that folks won’t like you, that you will do something that causes embarrassment. It may be that you won’t get work or that you will do something inappropriate. And the more that you try to push the thought or image away, the more it seems to take hold and persist.

According to Harvard Health, “intrusive thoughts,” as these are called, are thought to affect some six million Americans.

I am sure you all have experienced paradoxical distortions at some point in your lives, or you may have had clients that, to alleviate their anxiety, do the same thing over and over as a way of self-soothing. We often see intrusive thoughts associated with mental health disorders. For example, the repetitive behaviors found in obsessive-compulsive disorder are often a way for the individual to cope with, or stave off, intrusive thoughts. They are are also common with post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be triggered by a thought, a sound, or an image of a past event.

Sometimes, however, intrusive thoughts are not associated with a mental health disorder. They can be set off by all kinds of stress and anxiety, and may only present for a short while. For example, a woman or man may have intrusive thoughts during major life changes such as pregnancy, birth, moving, etc., while others may have thoughts about the pandemic, school starting, changing jobs, or moving. People are often too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it, because they see the thoughts as disturbing, horrifying, or shaming. They wonder, ”How did this thought come into my mind? I can’t tell anyone because they will know how awful I really am. They will think something is wrong with me.”

How to Identify Intrusive Thoughts

  • Is the thought unusual for you?
    The thought may be very different from what you usually think about. It can be usually sexual or violent.
  • Is the thought is bothersome?
    If the thought is something you want to push out of your mind and make go away, then it is intrusive
  • Does it feel hard to control?
    The thought just seems to grasp a hold of you and you have a hard time letting it float by. The more you think about the thought, the more it captures you and holds you hostage.

Help Is Available

If unwanted thoughts are disrupting your life, particularly with things you enjoy or want to do, help is always available. Cognitive-Behavioral therapies, as well as EDMR, may help. Intrusive thoughts can also be addressed by dealing with underlying issues, such as anxiety or stress.

Whatever your thoughts are, help is available. Contact me today.