What are intrusive thoughts with causes types and treatment

Intrusive thoughts are unconscious thoughts that disturb attention, being able to become obsessions that are difficult to remove. These involuntary ideas or visions are usually aggravated by mental disorders such as depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People who do not suffer from any type of mental disorder can also have intrusive thoughts throughout their lives. However, these recurrent ideas begin to gain clinical importance when they become obsessions that paralyze the individual’s normal life and cannot be controlled.

In such cases, these thoughts can be symptoms of major mental disorders that need medical treatment, especially psychotherapy or taking medication prescribed by specialists. The practice of meditation can also help to be aware of such thoughts.


Intrusive thoughts can have an internal origin or be caused by an external stimulus, for example the sight of an object or a past experience.

The origin of this reasoning and its content depend on the mental disorder to which they are associated. The most common syndrome to which intrusive thoughts are associated is obsessive-compulsive disorder.

This disease consists of a succession of repeated obsessions and compulsions in the individual’s mind that prevent him from performing, normally, simple activities, such as going to work or spending time with friends or family.

The obsessions that occur with this disorder are involuntary, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that trigger feelings of distress. On the other hand, they can be accompanied by compulsions, such as the behaviors that the patient performs to reduce this anguish.

These obsessions usually have an unpleasant content, which is what generates this anguish in those who suffer them.

Types of intrusive thoughts

There are two types of intrusive thoughts; Negative and positive.

Depending on whether the thought is negative or positive, the influence that this reasoning has on the individual’s mood may vary.

Negative intrusive thoughts can damage mood. They are the ones that occur when you suffer from a mental disorder.

Negative intrusive thoughts are those suffered by people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Within these ideas with negative content, several common themes can be distinguished.

There are three main themes that often contain intrusive thoughts: blasphemous, aggressive, or sexual content.

Blasphemous intrusive thoughts

The role of religious beliefs is already important in the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are several scientific studies that analyze the influence of a specific faith on the course of this disease.

These beliefs can become obsessions in patients with OCD.

Some examples of intrusive blasphemous thoughts are:

– lewd images of holy figures such as the Virgin Mary.

– Believe, irrationally and continuously, that you are possessed.

– Fear of not acting properly or correctly, according to what religious doctrines say.

Aggressive and intrusive thoughts

Invasive thoughts can also have aggressive content. Mental images are recurrent, in which the patient hurts his loved ones or himself, as well as anyone he sees in a vulnerable situation on the street. For example, a child or an elderly person.

Some real cases are as follows:

– Feel the urge to viciously attack and kill a dog

– Have a mental image of throwing yourself or someone else onto the subway tracks

– Feel the desire to harm a child or someone the individual suffering from the disorder considers weaker than him.

Intrusive sexual thoughts

They are a common symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder patients.

Real examples of intrusive sexual thoughts:

-A recurrent mental image of unnatural sexual acts. For example, zoophilia or incest.

– Fear of deviating from accepted sexual behavior by society or of committing a sexual crime such as rape.

– Try lewd or explicit sex pictures with strangers

Mental disorders associated with intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts can also be experienced during the course of other mental illnesses or after traumatic experiences in addition to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

For example, people with depression may recurrently have suicidal thoughts. Although in this case they are more dangerous, as the patient can carry it out.

Those suffering from anxiety may experience excessive obsession with their own death and fear that it will come at any moment.

People suffering from PTSD also have involuntary imagery. In this case, they are usually related to trauma or past experiences.

Women with postpartum depression may also feel the urge to hurt their young children.

Finally, a study by Thorsteinsdottir and others published in 2016 in the journal Psychooncology , shows that negative intrusive thoughts can appear in people who have just learned that they have been diagnosed with cancer.

Specifically, this research focuses on prostate cancer, but it’s not surprising that these unintended ideas crop up with other traumatic news.


Intrusive thoughts are treated similarly to obsessive-compulsive disorder. This consists of a combination of reuptake inhibitor medications (antidepressants and anxiolytics) and psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy should not inhibit intrusive thoughts, as there are studies that show that repressing thoughts is counterproductive.

Related:   Omphalophobia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

In this sense, a group of researchers from the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Maastricht carried out an analysis with people who suffer from worrying thoughts.

Suppression of these effects has been shown to have short-term effects, but they exacerbate symptoms over a longer period of time.

The most common and effective method according to the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation is exposure and response prevention. Through this technique, the therapist exposes the patient to the thoughts, images or situations that obsess and torment him, so that he he learns to control them without behaving compulsively.

Facing these involuntary ideas that cause anxiety in those who suffer them is necessary to be able to treat them effectively.

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