Mental Illness

The Dark Side of Intrusive Thoughts

How Could I Have These Thoughts?

Have you ever been immobilized by an intrusive thought that comes out of nowhere? An idea that could be so dark it scares you? After giving birth to my first son, these thoughts kept on plaguing my mind. The more I tried to ignore them; it seemed like the more they would come. I couldn’t control them, and they were so dark and twisted.

It felt like no matter what I was doing, washing the dishes, taking a shower, or driving; one would haunt my mind. And, it wouldn’t go away. It would play over and over and over again. It was exhausting. Did it mean that I wanted these thoughts actually to happen? They were intruding my mind. It had to mean that I, deep down, wanted to do these things. Right?

It turns out it’s not.

What’s an intrusive thought?

It’s an involuntary thought, image, or idea that is unpleasant and unwanted. These thoughts often become obsessive, hard to get rid of, and distressing. While these thoughts may be disturbing, it’s essential to understand that it is normal. 

You did not invite these thoughts. They happen without invitation or warning. One out of four people will suffer from an intrusive thought or image. A person that does not have a mental illness can have intrusive thoughts. However, for a person with a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD, these thoughts can become harder to dismiss. 

Intrusive Thoughts Are Involuntary 

After envisioning harming my child, I spiraled into a nervous breakdown. I had no desire to hurt any of them. Yet, when I closed my eyes, all I saw was this scene on repeat. At that moment, I could not remove the thought from my mind. It was impossible to move, sleep, talk, or think. My husband stayed up all night, soothing my nerves, and brought me to the doctor the next day. After my assessment, I went to a Center for Women’s Mood Disorders to start treatment.

 It was there that I learned that I suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Agoraphobia. After seeking treatment, I felt as if I could breathe again. The thoughts lessen after therapy and medication. But, most importantly, I was able to recognize them as thoughts and nothing more. Intrusive thoughts are simply that: thoughts. The reason why intrusive thoughts are traumatizing is that the idea is not a typical action of the person who is having it. The obsessive behavior of the intrusive thought overplaying manifests into anxious thinking: to the point that we cannot rationalize the behavior. The intrusive thought itself becomes irrational. 

How To Deal With Intrusive Thoughts

It’s important to remember that these thoughts are not voluntary. When confronted with one, here are some tools that you can use to help control anxious thinking.

  1. Remind yourself that intrusive thoughts are not harmful. 
  2. Recognize these as only thoughts and not actions that you desire to act out.
  3. Change your scenery: removing yourself from the area or situation that the idea appeared. 
  4. Complete a task: Focusing on something else allows our mind to shift focus on intrusive thoughts. 
Treatment is available

Although intrusive thoughts are rational, it is valuable to seek treatment if the thoughts become overwhelming and cannot control them. Treatment options are available. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your doctor.