What is Intrusive Thinking?

KD Holmes, MS, LPC on Intrusive thoughts and ERP

Have you ever had a thought that just keeps popping up in your head? These kinds of thoughts can be images, phrases, even feelings that intrude upon an otherwise perfect moment. These intrusions are not hidden desires or even thoughts the sufferer wants to think. They just pop on in your head and terrify the suffer. In Obsessive Compulsive Disorder they get stuck, and play on repeat in your mind. Because once isn't terrifying enough, let's play that thought again and again, and compulsively check if it is still there.

I am one of the many people who suffers from this. I read somewhere that all humans have the same thoughts, its just people with OCD and OCD like anxiety have a higher threat sensitivity. We start wondering, "Why am I having these thoughts? What does it say about me?" Where as the non sufferer goes about their daily business thinking, "Well, that was random, next thought."

Common Intrusive Thoughts

  • Thoughts of hurting a baby or child

  • Thoughts of doing something illegal or violent

  • Unexpected reminder of painful events

  • Intrusive sexual thoughts

  • Thoughts of self dying or loved ones dying

  • Germ contamination

  • Social anxiety_ thoughts about awkward moments (I have this one too)

My intrusive thoughts are often about things I love, my fiancé when we started dating. Loving someone can be an overwhelming experience. Now these thoughts are about my precious sweet little dogs. Their safety lies in my hands and so my brain is triggered by this responsibility.

I sometimes have intrusive images of power tools harming my dogs when I am using them. Saws and grinders scare me because they are powerful. I am overly cautious about hurting myself but the intrusive thoughts are mostly about my dogs and they are disturbing. I have worked with OCD a long time and so when these images intrude upon my daily life, I breathe into them. The feeling in my body is tension and disgust, its like electricity but fuzzy. I sit with it, and stay out of memory checking or safety checking, or analyzing these thoughts.

Common Compulsions Following Intrusive Images And Thoughts

  • Compulsive Avoidance of triggers or anything related to the intrusive thoughts

  • Memory Checking

  • Desire Checking

  • Checking for safety or Reassurance checking (I use to do this one)

  • Decontamination rituals

  • Analyzing thoughts

  • Scenario Bending

Before I was trained in ERP, I would feel disturbed and fight these thoughts. Thinking they were a mark of something wrong in me. Logically I know my dogs are inside and no where near these tools. These images have nothing to do with desire. But If I reassure myself, or compulsively check, these images will not go away, they actually will increase and persist.  

ERP with Intrusive Images or Thoughts

  • Sit will the feeling, thoughts, images with out doing a compulsion

  • Purposely trigger the intrusive image and or thought daily, through real life exposure or imaginal scripts, while abstaining from compulsions

I now know I am threat sensitive, and so I can see all ways people and animals I love can be harmed.  It is a kind of genius, my brain can see 50 scenarios in 2 minutes.  It actually makes me good at my job when I allow these thoughts to flow through me without fighting them or analyzing them.  They occur, I sit with them, and abstain from checking for safety with animals, loved ones, clients, or myself.   Through this practice I can differentiate true threats to safety.  

I honor this part of me.  This part of myself has taken time to coexists with, thanks ERP. 

One last thing to remember intrusive images can occur following a traumatic event.  This is treated with trauma processes like EMDR and IMTT.  But the etiquette of abstaining from compulsive behaviors that are internal or external are important to managing this symptom.  

Of course this is often hard to do on your own so seek professional help from someone that specializes in ERP.

KD Holmes, MS, LPC

Leave a Comment