Intrusive thoughts are everywhere. I personally often have the intrusive thought, “I should lie down on the floor right now” or sometimes, “What would happen if I just bear-hugged this friend I’m talking to?” If you have never experienced an intrusive thought like this, it is as odd as it sounds. It is an idea that I did not choose to have, it just appeared. Often unrelated to the conversation at hand, not triggered by something that happened, just a random but powerful thought.
But sometimes the ideas that come to our minds are much darker than a light-hearted or harmless impulse. Sometimes these intrusive thoughts feel dangerous — horrific thoughts of violence, acting out sexually, tragic accidents, obsessive fear, inappropriate or embarrassing behavior. They feel farthest from what we would actually want to be thinking about.
Intrusive thoughts bring with them feelings of shame, powerlessness, fear, doubt. One wonders, “What does this mean about me?” But the thought feels so foreign, so our minds spiral quickly to, “maybe I’m going crazy.” They are completely uninvited and not welcome. [Like when the neighbor drops by and you’re in your underwear, “I just hope they go away and think that no one is home.” And unfortunately, sometimes they don’t go away. They have a spare key and find a way inside, make themselves comfortable. This leads to a whole myriad of other thoughts, “Oh no, what do they think of me?” or “Did I invite them and forgot?” and “How do I get them to leave?” along with the overwhelming shame of being vulnerable. Exposed, trying to hide, and very confused.
While sometimes passive, these thoughts can also come with a sense of compulsion. In these cases, a person doesn’t really want to act out violently, sexually, or impulsively, it just comes to mind. And our gut responds, “This doesn’t make sense.” The more we try to stuff them, the more they seem to come back, and we find more uncomfortable or unreasonable thoughts turn into a web of confusion. We start to feel trapped.
All of this can leave one feeling powerless and fearful even of themselves. And continuing to spiral leads to panic attacks, compulsions, withdrawal. Are these thoughts really our own? Are they dangerous? What do we do with them?
At the end of the day, intrusive thoughts really are just thoughts. They come and they go. Everyone experiences them to some degree. But it is important to note that these thoughts are not at all indicators of your identity or desires. Usually they represent the thing we are most afraid of, the most heinous idea our brains could come up with. As our brains process this deep-seeded fear, it bubbles to our consciousness. These thoughts are like comets falling to earth, they blitz through and then they’re gone. They were never meant to hit the earth’s surface. Our brains are working through so much and sometimes things fire off in directions we would not expect. It can be very startling and alarming, but research shows that having intrusive thoughts does not correlate to an increase in these types of actions. You are no more likely to put this thought into action that anyone else. It is truly just a thought.
“Great, glad they aren’t dangerous, but I don’t want them here!” you say. They still induce so much stress, anxiety, fear. Let’s see what we can do.
Whatever your experience with intrusive thoughts, know that you are not alone. Everyone has them and it would make sense that a pandemic could trigger these thoughts even if you’ve never experienced them before. If you feel your intrusive thoughts or compulsions are more than you can manage alone, tell someone. As counselors, our greatest joy is to be able to walk alongside you through some of the darkest places in life, journeying together toward wholeness and healing. We would love to be a part of helping you find your way back to yourself if you don’t have someone walking with you already. These thoughts do not have to take over your life or your mind. At Alethia Counseling Center we believe that in Truth there is healing. Focus your mind on what is true, what is known, and what you can control. The rest is a beautiful mystery.
You’re not alone and we would love to join you as you take steps toward a stronger, healthier future.
I believe we all need a safe place to explore the issues that may be preventing us from experiencing a full and satisfying life. My greatest reward as a therapist is helping my clients examine ways to make the changes in their lives that will allow them to look forward to the future with hope. I am a bilingual (Spanish-English) LPC.
Our team will reach out to you soon!