Walking in East Lansing, Michigan some 50 years ago, a woman pushing a stroller approached. “What if I throw the stroller, kid and all, into the street?” It was one of my first intrusive thoughts.
I can’t tell you the huge measure of relief I experienced 30 years ago when I learned about what had been happening to me. And the learning, in and of itself, had such a major positive impact…
And so it began, during my college years. How ‘bout this one…
Half asleep in my room, I’d hear the midnight Grand Trunk freight coming down the tracks about three hundred yards from the dorm. I’d wrestle with the thought of jumping out of bed, running to the tracks, and throwing myself in front of the train.
Believe me, there were many more of these horrifying mind intrusions, and the variety of the perceived madness was stunning.
What are intrusive thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are obsessions. Here, take a look at the definition of obsession from the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5…
Obsessions are the recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety.
The most common obsessions are perfectionism, relational, contamination, causing harm – and intrusive thoughts.
Maybe you knew that.
If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts, does attaching some “official” identity to them make you feel a little better? Perhaps you thought they were some sort of super-freako anomaly.
You don’t necessarily have OCD
Now, experiencing intrusive thoughts doesn’t mean you have OCD. Symptoms (I emphasize the word) such as intrusive thoughts can be a part of most any anxiety disorder.
And, really, if the thoughts aren’t banging away at your life and causing big-time distress and interruption, a disorder doesn’t exist.
Sharing intrusive thoughts: A relief
I can’t tell you the huge measure of relief I experienced 30 years ago when I learned about what had been happening to me.
And the education had such a major positive impact on the frequency and intensity of my intrusive thoughts.
She shared with me
You know, I remember 20 years or so ago a friend asked if she could confide in me. I couldn’t believe my ears when she revealed she’d been experiencing intrusive thoughts.
Of course, she had no idea what they were and was frightened silly. Do you suppose she felt waves of relief when I shared my experiences with her?
No doubt about it.
How to treat intrusive thoughts
I wish I could say – for both of us – there was a way to make intrusive thoughts go forever bye-bye. But you know how that goes.
So it has to be about management. And it really can make a difference. Consider these…
- Just knowing what’s going on will have a positive impact on the psychological fallout of intrusive thoughts.
- Keep an eye on your lifestyle management skills. I noticed many years ago that the frequency of my intrusive thoughts significantly increased when I was under a lot of stress and fatigued.
- When an intrusive thought occurs, immediately transition your thinking to what you’ve learned, and accept what you’re experiencing within its true context. I mean, do you really, really believe you’ll actually do what you’re thinking?
- Don’t try to force an intrusive thought away. Not only will it not work, it’ll make matters worse.
- If you need reassurance regarding what it is you’re experiencing, talk things over with your therapist or psychiatrist. And if you don’t have one or the other, why?
- Do all you can to continue to learn about what’s going on. Education’s positive impact will amaze you.
- Most of all, understand you’re not insane and you’re not a bad or dangerous person.
Do they make sense?
Turn to insight and management
Intrusive thoughts – no fun at all, right? But you know what? We’re wired the way we’re wired, and it isn’t likely to change.
So I guess that means we’re forced to turn to insight and management.
They work well.
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