Intrusive thoughts happen. Nobody can control their own mind perfectly. As well as having a conscious stream of thoughts we also have thoughts that just happen. Thoughts that just seem to pop in all by themselves. Gut feelings, instinct, inspiring thoughts and eureka moments can be very useful. Not so useful are the unpleasant thoughts. Wondering if you left the oven on, worrying that you might have cancer or having disturbing images. As negative and unwanted as these intrusive thoughts may be they have a positive intent. Trying to look ahead and predict potential danger before it happens is a good survival technique.
Most of us (approximately 90%) experience these negative intrusive thoughts. It’s not the thoughts themselves that are the problem. The problem is how you evaluate the thoughts. What keeps OCD alive and well is not the experience of intrusive thoughts but actually your reaction to them. The more you dislike experiencing intrusive thoughts and try to repress or fight with them, the greater the frequency of intrusive thoughts you will experience.
Trying to block out thoughts
Most people dismiss intrusive thoughts. But what happens if you can’t dismiss them? The thought keep going round and round. They happen so regularly that you start to challenge your sense of self. That is you start to doubt yourself.
The thoughts can seem more and more real and you can start to become anxious that they will become real. That you will act on them. This can lead to anxiety, depression and in order to cope you can withdraw from friends and certain situations.
So you try to stop the intrusive thoughts. You try and block them out. But it doesn’t work. The act of trying not to think about something guarantees it resurfaces. In order to try not to think about something, you need to think about it first: “I’d better not think about …” or “Am I thinking about …”.
Your thoughts are not the same as reality. If they were, you’d be rich. Try to think about winning the lottery. Think about it all day. Wish for it. Pray for it. Did you win? People sometimes believe their thoughts will become real. Bad things will happen and they will be responsible because it was their idea. Thoughts and reality are not the same.
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder where people try to control obsessions by using compulsive behaviour. Obsessions are repetitive and distressing thoughts, urges, or imagery that are experienced as uncontrollable, like intrusive thoughts. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to obsessions.
Repetitive intrusive thoughts become obsessional. To prevent the thoughts from becoming reality you can start to develop behaviours to keep everything safe. You may or may not realise that the compulsive behaviours do not stop the intrsive thoughts and do not stop bad things from happening. But the need to repeat the compulsive behaviour is so strong. Because the compulsive behaviour is driven by a need to deal with the intrusive thoughts.
You can learn to dismiss your intrusive thoughts. To stop the need for compulsive behaviour. To take control.
- Trying to stop the thoughts does not work
- Your thought are not reality, they will not become real
- Everyone has intrusive thoughts