Dealing With Intrusive Thoughts
By Paul Rothbart
Unwanted intrusive thoughts are distressing and can cause great anxiety. If you are troubled by intrusive thoughts, you are not alone. It is estimated that 6 million people in the United States suffer with them. They can be scary and often the person experiencing them feels shame and is concerned about carrying out some of the acts involved in the thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are commonly misunderstood and therefore mishandled. Here are some facts to help deal with unwanted intrusive thoughts.
What They Are
Intrusive thoughts just pop into our minds from out of nowhere. We don't choose them and they can be difficult to control. The thoughts are often images with sexual, violent, or socially unacceptable content. Much of the anxiety stems from a fear that we will actually perform these acts. Some intrusive thoughts concern doubts about various aspects of life such as job performance or personal relationships. It is important to realize that these thoughts are just that: thoughts. They are not impulses. They run through the mind, uninvited but they are not indicative of our values or desires.
What Not To Do
Though it seems counterintuitive, trying to push the thoughts out of the mind is the wrong approach. Attempting to ignore or replace them with pleasant thoughts tends to fuel them and make them stronger. It is a matter of overcontrol. Intrusive thoughts are emboldened when they are engaged and acknowledged. It is also a mistake to try to interpret them. They don't mean anything. Analysis will also make them stronger and create more distress.
How to Deal With Them
The first thing to do is recognize and label them as intrusive thoughts. Realize that they happen automatically without any conscious or subconscious effort on your part. Accept that the thoughts are there and don't try to push them out. It's important to be patient and allow time for the thoughts to play out. Accept that the thoughts will return. It's what they do and you are only going to create more anxiety trying to stop them. Continue with the activity you were involved in when the thoughts started. Accept the anxiety and don't try to stop it. Intrusive thoughts are like the kid who wants attention. The best thing to do is to ignore them. Realize that having them does not make you a bad person.
Unwanted intrusive thoughts cause much anxiety and discomfort and can be quite scary. But they don't occur because of any lack of character on your part. Remember, many people have them and they are just thoughts, passing through without impact. It will take practice, but work on allowing them to come and go without acknowledgement.
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