Psychology Of 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 mad or insane? 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 psychiatrists and psychologists. 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 frequent and debilitating. 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. Because you feel that you can not erase them from your daily mental functioning, they are called intrusive. 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.

Why do some people have them? We do know that both genders experience them, but research studies inform us that those high on emotional resilience can cope with them more adequately and erase them within minutes while other personality types who are orientated towards pessimism have more difficulty trying to control them and eradicate them altogether. Optimists tend to have that emotional resilience so can weather the storm of intrusive thoughts. However, it’s the intensity of the content of the past event that is the real issue. A young woman in my psychological clinic told me of her uninvited sexual encounter with her boyfriend that was aggressive unwanted and hurtful physically and emotionally. 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.

Other types of intrusive thoughts are of violent thoughts. 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 violent or aggressive experiences. 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.

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 debilitating and frequent. 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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