List of Common Intrusive Thoughts (19+)

In this blog, we are going to provide a list of common intrusive thoughts and cover topics like properties, causes of intrusive thoughts, types, differences between nonclinical and clinical intrusive thoughts, and their treatment. 

List of common intrusive thoughts

In 1993 two psychologists conducted a research in which they asked a number of students whether they have experienced some type of intrusive thoughts and since then data is being replicated and represents how often people experience these common intrusive thoughts. Below is a list of common intrusive thoughts:

  • Driving into a window
  • Swerving into traffic 
  • Running a car off the road
  • Smashing into objects 
  • Hitting animals or people with a car
  • Cutting off finger
  • Slitting wrist or throat 
  • Fatally pushing a stranger or friend
  • Jumping off a high space
  • Pushing a stranger or a family member/friend in front of car/train
  • Jumping in front of car/ train
  • Hurting or insulting a strangers
  • Insulting any authority figure or a family member
  • Bumping into people 
  • Hurting, stabbing, or choking a family member
  • Accidentally leaving the heat/stove on 
  • Taps left on in the house which makes it flooded 
  • Home left unlocked, intruder there  
  • Swearing in public 
  • Throwing something like glass, plate etc. 
  • Breaking wind in public 
  • Causing a public scene 
  • Breaking a window of a house or care
  • Scratching car paint 
  • Wrecking something 
  • Grabbing or snatching money
  • Shoplifting 
  • Holding up a bank
  • Having Sex with an unacceptable person or an authority figure
  •  Fly/blouse undone 
  • Exposing oneself 
  • Kissing authority figure 
  • Acts against sexual preference 
  • Sex in public
  • Authority figures or strangers naked 
  • Disgusting sex act 
  • Contamination from doors or phones 
  • Catching a sexually transmitted disease 
  • Getting fatal disease from strangers 
  • Giving everything away like money, personal belongings etc. 
  • Giving fatal disease to strangers
  • Removing all dust from the floor and places which are unseen by the person 

These thoughts can be used as a worksheet in which a person identifies their common intrusive thoughts as it was researched in 1993. 

Some other common intrusive thoughts are:

  • People do see me as a burden
  • People are looking me 
  • People are laughing on me 
  • People are talking about me 
  • Violent scenes plays in my mind like seeing dead body 
  • I don’t really love my significant other
  • No one loves me 
  • My children would be better with my husband 
  • I am not good enough 
  • I am worst person 

What are Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are sudden and involuntary which can be disturbing for the people. They often appear without any warning having content which is alarming. 

We all have these types of thoughts but for some people these thoughts get stuck and cause great distress. 

These intrusive thoughts make it harder for the person to carry out daily activities and responsibilities at school, home, and work. 

The Primary Properties or Dimensions of Clinically Relevant Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts, Images, or Impulses

  • Any thought, impulse or image which is distinct enters in the conscious awareness of the person 
  • That thought, impulse, or image is attributed to an internal origin
  • It is not considered to be acceptable and wanted 
  • It interfere with the daily thought process or cognitions and behavioral activities of the person 
  • These thoughts are unintended, involuntary and non volitional
  • These thoughts are repetitive and recurrent
  • These thoughts can easily capture the attention and are highly distracting 
  •  These thoughts are mostly linked with negative affect like dysphoria, anxiety, guilt etc. 
  •  These thoughts are uncontrollable (dispel)

Causes of intrusive thoughts

Nobody is sure about why they popped in our minds all of sudden but there are some theories given by psychologists. 

  • Psychologist Lynn Somerstein in 2016 suggested that these intrusive thoughts which are recurring or frequent is a sign that something is going wrong in the  life of the person e.g. relationship problems, struggles at work, frustration with parenting etc. 
  • Dr. Hannah Reese in 2011 suggested that these thoughts manifest because we do not work in that way although we do not consider doing anything which we think about and our brain just spits out one of the most inappropriate things it can imagine. 
  • Dr. Martin Seif and Dr. Sally Winston, experts of anxiety and intrusive thoughts believe that our brain creates junk thoughts which are part of our stream of consciousness, these junk thoughts are meaningless therefore if we do not pay attention to them then they get washed away in the flow of consciousness. 

Types of Intrusive Thoughts 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health,  intrusive thoughts are the symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive stress disorder.

Many counsellors will use the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding technique.

 It can also be because of Parkinson’s, dementia, or any brain injury. 

According to OCD-UK, a charity in the United Kingdom, common topics of intrusive thoughts are:

  • Sexual Intrusive Thoughts in which thoughts of harming others sexually come. 
  • Relationship Intrusive Thoughts in which a person worries about their relationship. 
  • Religious Intrusive Thoughts in which a person thinks about sins and praying. 
  • Violent Intrusive Thoughts in which a person thinks about harming oneself or others. 
  • Negative Self Talk which is common in depression and people have thought like ‘I am worthless’.
  • Delusional Thoughts which are bizarre and paranoid. 

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Dimensions which differentiate nonclinical unwanted intrusive thoughts and clinical obsessions 

Nonclinical unwanted intrusive thoughtsClinical Obsession 
Less frequentMore frequent 
Less unacceptableMore unacceptable 
Less distressingMore distressing 
Little associated guilt Significant feelings of gulit
Little resistance to intrusion Strong resistance to intrusion 
Considered meaningless or irrelevantConsidered to be very important 
Some perceived controlNo control at all 
Brief intrusion therefore no conscious awareness Time-consuming therefore dominates the conscious awareness
Less concern with controlling of thoughts Heightened concern in controlling the thoughts
Less interference in daily lifeSignificant interference in daily life

Treatment 

A person does not have to live with these thoughts, they can seek treatment if they fall under the clinical population or have clinical obsessions. There are several options, some of them are as follow: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help a person change how they think and react to these thoughts. It helps clients create strategies for managing their unwanted thoughts and feelings, and helps in the development of healthy ways to cope with them. 
  • Mindfulness and other relaxation techniques can be used to deal with the thoughts. 
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy is a part of cognitive behavioral therapy which helps a person to change their intrusive thoughts by accepting them and without changing. 
  • Medications might include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other antidepressants, such as clomipramine, which is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI).

Self-Management of Intrusive Thoughts

There are self-management methods to deal with intrusive thoughts to improve the quality of life. This self-management method can be used with the nonclinical intrusive thoughts by the person himself. 

Seif and Winston suggested in 2018 that there are seven steps to change your attitude and intrusive thoughts which are as following:

  • Identification of thoughts as intrusive
  • Clarification to oneself that these thoughts are involuntary and irrelevant
  • Accepting the presence of these thoughts instead of pushing them 
  • Continuation of normal behavior
  • Understand that these thoughts can return back 
  • Practice meditation or mindfulness

A person should avoid:

  • Pushing thoughts away
  • Trying to figure out the meaning of the thoughts 
  • Engagement with the thoughts

Northpoint Recovery Centre dealing with substance abuse and depression suggested five ways to deal with intrusive thoughts:

  • Understand why these intrusive thoughts are bothering you. 
  • Attend the intrusive thought, accept it, move on 
  • Do not get afraid of these thoughts because they are just thoughts. Do not let them be more than that. 
  • Do not take these thoughts personally and let go of your emotional reaction to them. 
  • Stop changing your behavior according to your thoughts because it would not help in the long run. 

Conclusion

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and involuntary thoughts that are usually disturbing in nature. People experiencing these thoughts do not act on them and often find them distressing. The intrusive thoughts are sometimes due to an underlying mental health condition. 

In other cases, their cause is unclear but it can be because of any psychological issue like depression, PTSD, bipolar, anxiety, and OCD or it can be because of any physical issue like dementia, parkinson’s, and brain injury. 

There is a significant difference between nonclinical intrusive thoughts and clinical obsession. Treatment by CBT, ACT, and medication for the underlying condition might help reduce the clinical obsessions. There are self-managing steps which can be used to deal or cope with intrusive thoughts. 

In this blog, we provided a list of common intrusive thoughts and covered topics like properties, causes of intrusive thoughts, types, differences between nonclinical and clinical intrusive thoughts, and their treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): list of common intrusive thoughts

What are intrusive thoughts?                                

Intrusive thoughts are sudden and involuntary which can be disturbing for the people. They often appear without any warning having content which is alarming.

Are these intrusive thoughts same for everyone? 

No, these intrusive thoughts are not the same for everyone as we all have these types of thoughts but for some people these thoughts get stuck and cause great distress. 

What can distress from intrusive thoughts cause? 

The distress from intrusive thoughts makes it harder for the person to carry out daily activities and responsibilities at school, home, and work. 

What are common types of intrusive thoughts? 

There are many types of intrusive thoughts for example: sexual intrusive thoughts, relationships intrusive thoughts, religious intrusive thoughts, violent intrusive thoughts, negative self talk, and delusional thoughts. 

What are the most common intrusive thoughts?    

Most common intrusive thoughts are fear-based thoughts that you will do something inappropriate or embarrassing, flashback from past memories, inappropriate images or scenes of sex in imaginations, thoughts of commiting illegal or violent acts etc. 

Are intrusive thoughts normal?                            

Yes, if these thoughts do not cause an urge to act upon these thoughts and occur less frequently then they are completely normal.

What are the treatment options for these intrusive thoughts?                                                          

Intrusive thoughts can be treated by cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, medications if they occur more frequently and by self-management ways if they occur less frequently. 

References 

C. Purdon and D.A. Clark (1993). Obsessive Intrusive Thoughts in Nonclinical Subjects. Part 1 Content and relation with depressive, anxious and obsessional symptoms. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 31, 713-720  

Reese, H. (2011). Intrusive thoughts: Normal or not? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/am-i-normal/201110/intrusive-thoughts-normal-or-not

Ryan, E. (2018). Intrusive thoughts: How to stop intrusive thoughts. MoodSmith. Retrieved from https://moodsmith.com/intrusive-thoughts/

Bouvard M, et al. (2016). Intrusive thoughts in patients with obsessive compulsive disorder and non-clinical participants: A comparison using the international intrusive thought interview schedule. DOI:
10.80/16506073.2016.1262894

Clark, D. A., & Claybourn, M. (1997). Process characteristics of worry and obsessive intrusive thoughts. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 35, 1139–1141. 

Clark, D. A., & de Silva, P. (1985). The nature of depressive and anxious, intrusive thoughts: Distinct or uniform phenomena? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 23, 383–393.

Seif, M., & Winston, S. (2018). Unwanted intrusive thoughts. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/unwanted-intrusive-thoughts

What are intrusive thoughts? Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/intrusive-thoughts

Courtney, E., Ackerman, 2020, what are intrusive thoughts in OCD and how we get rid of it? Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/intrusive-thoughts/

Sarah Schuster, 2017, 29 Intrusive Thoughts, you are not only having them. Retrieved from: https://themighty.com/2017/02/intrusive-bad-violent-thoughts-ocd/

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