Obsessive Compulsive Intrusive Thoughts - How to Deal with Them

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What are Obsessive Compulsive Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that “intrude” the mind and prevent clear thinking. They are often negative and can thus place a lot of stress on the person. The difference between intrusive thoughts and “weird thoughts” is that intrusive thoughts do not go away very easily and they often seem horribly realistic. Someone who suffers from this type of thinking often has a hard time redirecting their thoughts and simply letting go of the intrusive thought. Obsessive compulsive intrusive thoughts can feel debilitating to the individual and may prevent them from being able to function on a day to day basis.

There are many things that can be done to manage the symptoms that are associated with obsessive thoughts. The first step is to identify the thought as an intrusive thought that is simply a product of your OCD. This helps to minimize the power that is given to the thought, thus giving the person back the ability to feel in control. Below are some of the most common types of intrusive thoughts and some suggestions on how to deal with them.

Faulty Beliefs and Intrusive Thoughts

Most intrusive thoughts stem from some kind of faulty belief or faulty way of thinking. Oftentimes the individual puts unrealistic emphasis on the fact that the thought might be true. For example, someone with OCD may have a thought about accidentally running over someone in the road on the way home from work. The thought can become intrusive if it causes the person to believe that this may have actually happened. The anxiety behind the thought can become so strong that the person may retrace their route home to make sure that they did not run someone over. Chances are the individual will feel temporary anxiety relief from the fact that they did not find anyone on the side of the road. This is only temporary, however, and often the same thought will reappear and cause the person to go back and do the same thing again. It is a vicious cycle.

Here are some of the most common types of intrusive thoughts:

What ifs

What if __________ really does happen to me?

What if ____________ is really true?

What if _______________ really happened?

What if I have no control over the situation?

What if I go crazy?

What if I cause harm to myself or someone else?

If I don’t….

If I don’t do ___________________ then this will happen ____________________.

If I don’t make sure that I get to the daycare on time then my child will be kidnapped.

If I don’t wash my hands every 10 minutes, then I will contract a disease.

Black and White thinking (all or none)

If I do not do __________________ perfectly, then it is ruined and I failed.

If I do not get all of the answers right on the test then I am a failure.

If I’m not going to do all of the housework then I shouldn’t even try.

Challenge, Challenge, Challenge

Before trying to deal with obsessive thoughts on your own, it is a great idea to seek the help of a mental health professional. It is best to do some research about therapists and psychiatrists in your area who have experience working with OCD, as the therapy process can be a little more method based than simple talk therapy. After consulting with your clinician, ask them about incorporating this strategy into your process of healing.

The best thing that you can do is to challenge your intrusive thoughts. Avoiding them will only make them come back twice as strong. Allow yourself to think through the thought, and then challenge it. Here is a quick little intervention that you can do at home. Another great idea is to keep a journal on hand so that you can record your thoughts and evaluate them clearly.

1. Write out your debilitating obsessive compulsive intrusive thought. (Sometimes even writing it out can be a challenge, so take your time and praise yourself for doing so)

2. On a scale of 1-10 how serious or real does this thought feel?

3. Take yourself out of the equation. Evaluate the likelihood of the actual thought. If your friend said this to you how realistic would it seem? On a scale of 1-10, how realistic is this thought?

4. Now go back to yourself. After thinking through the thought rationally, how real does this thought seem now?

Usually the first number is relatively high, the second number is significantly lower, and the last number is somewhere in between the two. The goal is to get the third number as low as possible.


This article is based on my education and experience working in mental health.