What are Intrusive Thoughts and Why Do People Have Them?

What are Intrusive Thoughts and Why Do People Have Them?

Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that enter a person’s mind against their will. They can be disturbing, scary, or just plain weird. Many people experience intrusive thoughts from time to time, but for some people, they can be a real problem. In this blog post, we will discuss what intrusive thoughts are, why they happen, and how to deal with them.

What Are Intrusive Thoughts?

What Are Intrusive Thoughts?Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, involuntary thoughts, images, or unpleasant ideas that may become obsessions, often related to anxiety or depression. These thoughts can be extremely distressing and affect a person’s ability to concentrate on everyday tasks.

These are also known as “automatic negative thoughts” because they appear without conscious effort and can be difficult to control or change. It is estimated that the majority of people experience intrusive thoughts at some point in their lives.

Are Intrusive Thoughts A Mental Disorder?

While intrusive thoughts can be a sign of an underlying mental disorder, they don’t always indicate that someone is mentally ill. In fact, intrusive thoughts are quite common in healthy individuals. It’s only when they become so frequent and intense that they interfere with a person’s daily functioning. And can cause significant distress that the thoughts may signal a mental disorder.

Some of the most common mental disorders associated with intrusive thoughts are:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Bipolar disorder

Intrusive thoughts can also occur in those going through a period of extreme stress or grief. In these cases, these thoughts usually pass over time as the individual heals and adjusts.

Most commonly, these thoughts are associated with OCD and PTSD. However, you should consult with a professional for an accurate diagnosis and to create a treatment plan.

What Are Examples Of Intrusive Thoughts?

When you have intrusive thoughts, you might find yourself thinking about things like:

  • Fear of harming yourself or someone else.
  • Thoughts that you’ve done something wrong and should be punished.
  • Unwanted sexual images or thoughts.
  • Violent imagery or graphic images.
  • Involuntary swearing.
  • Feeling like you have to do things in a certain way.
  • Fear of contamination or dirt and germs.

These are just a few examples, but these thoughts can be about anything. It’s important to remember that just because you have an intrusive thought doesn’t mean it’s true or something you should act on.

But be sure to talk to a mental health professional or doctor if you’re struggling with these thoughts more frequently. Because the condition can be disrupting to your daily life and it’s often a sign of an underlying mental health issue.

Why Do People Have These Thoughts?

Why Do People Have These Thoughts?Everyone has intrusive thoughts from time to time, but for some people, these thoughts become more frequent or harder to ignore. It’s not clear why some people experience more frequent or intense intrusive thoughts than others. But research has suggested that these thoughts are often linked to some causes. These might include:

  • Stress and anxiety: Intrusive thoughts are more common when people are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.
  • Personality traits: People who have certain personality traits might be more prone to intrusive thoughts. This includes perfectionism, worry, rumination, self-criticism, and obsessive tendencies.
  • Traumatic experiences: Experiencing a traumatic event can increase the likelihood of these thoughts.
  • Neurochemistry: People with certain brain chemistry might be more vulnerable to these thoughts.

Regardless of why people have these thoughts, they are usually not a cause for concern and will pass in time. If someone is feeling overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts or finds them distressing, there are steps they can take to manage them.


In addition to the causes, there are certain triggers that can cause these thoughts to occur. These might be:

  1. Death of someone close: If someone close to you dies, this can cause these thoughts to occur as part of your mourning and grief process.
  2. Uncertainty: Uncertainty about the future or situation can cause these thoughts to appear as a way for your mind to try and predict what might happen.
  3. Major changes to routine: It is also possible for these thoughts to appear when major changes are made to your daily routine.
  4. Intense emotions: Intense emotions, such as anger or frustration, can cause these thoughts to occur.
  5. Feeling overwhelmed: Feeling overwhelmed and stressed can also be a trigger for intrusive thoughts.
  6. Certain medicines: Finally, certain medications can also cause these thoughts.

Overall, these triggers can cause these thoughts to appear, either on their own or in combination with the causes listed above. It is important to recognize and understand these triggers in order to better manage intrusive thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts can be frightening and distressing, but it is important to remember that they are a normal part of living. With the right support and understanding, these thoughts can be managed in a healthy way. So, do not lose hope – help and support are available.

How Do I Stop Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, involuntary, and recurrent thoughts that often cause distress. While it is normal to experience these kinds of thoughts from time to time, for some people they can become a serious problem.

Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help reduce the frequency and intensity of these thoughts. Some of these are listed below:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

It is important to recognize that these thoughts are not inherently bad. Learning how to reframe and cope with them can be a useful skill in improving mental health. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an evidence-based treatment for this type of issue. This approach involves identifying, challenging, and eventually changing the patterns of thinking that lead to unwanted feelings and behaviors.

Mindfulness practices

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment without judgment. This can be helpful in managing intrusive thoughts as it allows you to gain perspective and distance from them. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, journaling, and yoga can help cultivate a sense of calm and acceptance toward difficult thoughts. And allows you to address them in a more constructive way.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, and guided imagery can help reduce stress levels which may be exacerbating these thoughts. Taking breaks throughout the day to practice these activities can be especially helpful for managing intrusive thoughts on a regular basis.

Professional help

If intrusive thoughts are disrupting your daily life, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can help you identify the underlying causes of these thoughts and develop strategies for managing them more effectively. Talking to a professional can also provide support and understanding during difficult times.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changesFinally, your lifestyle is important to consider when managing these thoughts. Incorporating healthy habits such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in meaningful activities can help reduce stress levels and foster more effective coping skills.

As you can see, there are several strategies that can help reduce the frequency and intensity of these thoughts. It is important to remember that everyone has these thoughts from time to time and that it does not mean you are “crazy” or “broken.” With the right support, these thoughts can be managed effectively. And, be sure to practice self-compassion and patience with yourself as you navigate these difficult experiences.


In conclusion, intrusive thoughts are often a normal part of life and can be managed without professional help in mild cases. However, if the intrusive thoughts become overwhelming or are causing significant distress in a person’s life, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Otherwise, this intrusive thought cycle can become difficult to break without help. If a person is able to identify the triggers and underlying causes of their thoughts, they can be more successful in managing them.

For more information and guidance, please contact OCDMantra. It is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessions and compulsions. If you have any queries regarding OCD treatment, ERP therapy experienced therapists at OCDMantra can help: Book a trial OCD therapy session