The Psychology Behind Intrusive Thoughts

What are intrusive thoughts?

We know from psychological research findings that we all men and women at some time or other have intrusive and disturbing thoughts. They are associated with anxiety and anxiety disorders but more of that later. Clients often ask me are these normal as they are disturbing? Am I going insane or mad? At the outset, they seem pathological wacky but nevertheless worrying. Because of the potential frightening nature of the thoughts, physical anxiety symptoms like these drive people to seek help from psychologists and psychiatrists. Some of my GP referrals, young women tell me about intrusive thoughts of being harmed by their boyfriend, or being in a car crash, or drowning on holiday in the Caribbean or wherever.

Are they triggered off by anything? It is the intrusive thoughts of anxiety that act as a trigger for an anxiety disorder if they are debilitating and frequent. Each disorder has its own type of intrusive thoughts and they can, in fact, destroy your emotional stability and emotional intelligence. Intrusive thoughts consistently enter your mind against your will. You did not consciously invite them but they come virtually automatically and can be real memories of very real past events that were traumatic for you. They are called intrusive because you feel that you can not erase them from your daily mental functioning. They can pop in when you are with friends enjoying a nice meal in a restaurant, or whilst in the leisure center working out. The underlying factor is they cause you psychological distress that is uncontrollable.

Optimists tend to have that emotional resilience so can weather the storm of intrusive thoughts. She explained it to me as a virtual rape followed by acts of aggression by her boyfriend, She was in a love-hate relationship, but the intrusive thought was linked to a previous real event. In some women and also men, I find the intrusive thoughts were scary to the extreme but not associated with previous real-time events.

There is a fine line between having an overactive imagination and intrusive thoughts. Men and women with specific personality types may have a tendency towards overactive imagination which we know is socially learned from grandparents or parents but they are not usually associated with real or historical traumatic events. Intrusive events fall into several categories. There are the unwanted memories though not considered intrusive thoughts in a clinical or medical sense. I see many people who have had PTSD associated with perhaps a sporting event such as a horse-riding accident, or a young female soldier traumatized from serving in Afghanistan, or a young high achieving woman who has just lost her career and so on. Other types of intrusive thoughts are of violent thoughts. Thoughts of violence and aggression may also be seen as common in those with anxiety especially Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These clients of mine often have some sort of daily rituals which influence their lives negatively such as an OCD with buying shoes, or expensive lingerie, or very expensive winter coats on the credit card. Some GP referrals I see have intrusive thoughts associated with exposure to social media especially meeting males online and on cyber-dating sites which have led to aggressive or violent experiences. These become extremely intrusive and can affect the woman’s self-esteem self-confidence and future relationships. The other category is sexual thoughts and like violent thoughts, unwanted sexual thoughts are associated with profound acts of aggression or scenarios where the woman might feel guilty as having been the trigger for the sexual encounter and its horrific consequences. When you just arrive at your luxury apartment in Greece, those men and women with phobias may randomly experience a flash of the object that is upsetting such as spider phobia. Enough to cause low mood or anxiety for all of your holidays.

Those with panic attacks have very different types of intrusive thinking patterns. Their thoughts are usually about the panic attack or their health, such as overworking at the gym or being terrified by what seems like bullying from my male boss. Some constantly think about their panic attacks so are in a constant state of hyper-vigilance which reinforces the anxiety and produces a series of intrusive thoughts of fainting or dying.

Those with intrusive thoughts can overcome them with professional help from Clinical Psychologists, Health Psychologists or CBT Cognitive Behaviour Therapists. This innovative approach helps you to come off your daily thought rituals which include intrusive thoughts, and focus on self-awareness. CBT will help you to control your intrusive thoughts and improve your tenacity to build up emotional resilience and increase your ability to remain calm enjoying peace and happiness.

It is the intrusive thoughts of anxiety that act as a trigger for an anxiety disorder if they are frequent and debilitating. In some women and also men, I find the intrusive thoughts were scary to the extreme but not associated with previous real-time events.

Other types of intrusive thoughts are of violent thoughts. The other category is sexual thoughts and like violent thoughts, unwanted sexual thoughts are associated with profound acts of aggression or scenarios where the woman might feel guilty as having been the trigger for the sexual encounter and its horrific consequences. Some constantly think about their panic attacks so are in a constant state of hyper-vigilance which reinforces the anxiety and produces a series of intrusive thoughts of fainting or dying.

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