We all have intrusive thoughts. The difference comes in when we pay attention to those intrusive thoughts. Many of us will think bizarre thoughts and ask ourselves where on earth the odd thought has come from. Instead of dwelling on the thought, we will dismiss it, laugh it off and carry on with our day. We will see it as just a thought that is NOT fact and NOT reality.
For people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), they find it incredibly difficult to dismiss these types of thoughts. They catastrophise and begin to imagine the worst case scenario and torture themselves mentally. Despite being aware of this they are unable to stop.
Allowing the thoughts to dominate without testing the reality of these thoughts maintains the power of the thought. Challenging intrusive thoughts is important in reducing their influence. For example – common thought for someone with intrusive thoughts is to believe that everything is contaminated and that something bad will happen if they do not constantly clean and disinfect. When they clean and disinfect, the anxiety is temporarily relieved but it returns relatively quickly and the whole process will begin again. In order to reduce the thoughts, a person with intrusive thoughts needs to start with baby steps and start to reduce the amount of times they clean and disinfect. Initially, anxiety will increase but when they realise that nothing awful happens, they begin to break down and challenge the validity of the intrusive thoughts.
It is thought that psychological and biological factors play a part in the causes of intrusive thoughts although there is disagreement on how much influence each factor has OCD has been linked to abnormalities with the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is thought to play a role in regulating anxiety.
Cognitive behavioural therapy as well as medication work well in minimising symptoms.
Common intrusive thoughts
- Harm to oneself or someone else either deliberately or accidentally
- Fear of contamination, disease, infection
- Fear of humiliation or embarrassment in public
- The possibility that one is a paedophile or will harm a small child
The main route to dealing with intrusive thoughts is through finding a manageable way to cope with the anxiety. This involves acknowledging that fears are thoughts, not reality. Separating thinking from reality is a positive first step. Engaging in behaviour that challenges the thinking also helps to extinguish the intrusive thoughts. Visualisation can help too – by imagining that the level headed, clear thinking and strong aspect to your personality can come out and manage the scared, fearful you that believes the intrusive thoughts.
This visualisation process of imagining two characters within you can help to mentally compartmentalise the issue and lead a normal life more rapidly.
Seek counselling for help with intrusive thoughts especially if they interfere with day to day functioning.
Try the Counselling Directory for a counsellor near you.