Hi, this might help anyone suffering from intrusive thoughts (sorry it's a bit on the long side!).
Intrusive thoughts are usually inappropriate, disturbing and shocking in terms of their content and cause high levels of anxiety and distress. They tend to represent the complete opposite of your true intentions, desires and beliefs and regularly focus on things which you find particularly unpleasant and upsetting. Usually anxiety causes initial intrusive thoughts to occur which consequently raises your level of anxiety. Increasing anxiety causes more of these intrusive thoughts to occur which raises your level of anxiety even more - a vicious cycle. The longer this cycle goes on, the level of attention that you give to these thoughts (and your thoughts in general) increases which in turn makes you feel they have increasing credibility and importance (which they don’t actually have). Intrusive thoughts therefore feed on your anxiety which is extremely cruel and can make you feel like you’re going mad. As a consequence, there is usually a very strong urge for you to seek reassurance from others. The level and occurrence of your anxiety generally dictates the strength and frequency of your intrusive thoughts. This is because your brain acts on any anxiety which is present and conducts a risk assessment based on the level of that anxiety and the environment which you are in. It looks for anything present which it can attach the anxiety to (for example, something which could be perceived as a threat to either yourself or someone else in your vicinity) and uses your highly creative imagination to construct a catastrophic ‘what if’ thought based on it, thus prompting a strong emotional response from you as it suddenly enters your head. Your emotional response is likely to be higher if you have an overly sensitive personality or if you have very strict/irrational beliefs (for example, ‘only bad people have bad thoughts’). If instead, you are already troubled by a particular thought then your brain may act on the anxiety by reminding you of it or it may create new ‘what if’ thoughts which are often associated with it. After experiencing many of these thoughts you may start to develop a conscious fear of certain things potentially appearing in them. Your brain acts on this fear and creates intrusive thoughts based on these things.
However, you have the right to disassociate and detach yourself from these intrusive thoughts (i.e. you don’t have to own them) because
1. you have no desire to have these intrusive thoughts in the first place! You detest them and certainly don’t ever intend to act on them. Therefore the content of these thoughts does not apply to you. It is also important to understand that having intrusive thoughts does not mean you like or agree with what is being suggested - how you choose to view these thoughts is down to your conscience and moral beliefs. For example, if you think about something horrible then you are bound to experience thoughts which you don’t like or that you don’t agree with. Having intrusive thoughts and being affected by them actually shows that you are a very sensitive and caring person (the majority of people who experience these thoughts just treat them as background noise and don’t tune in to them - they dismiss them automatically without any consideration). They also show that you have a very creative imagination (even though your brain is choosing to use it in a very disturbing way). At the end of the day the simple truth regarding this issue is that it’s completely acceptable for you to have any horrible disturbing thought enter your head as long as you recognise that it is only a thought and that you feel the correct way about it (i.e. that you actually think it is a horrible disturbing thought and you experience genuine disgust). That’s all there is to it. It has to be said that this simple truth is often lost when you are focussing so much of your attention on analysing what the intrusive thoughts imply and dealing with the emotional distress they cause (faulty-thinking and a loss of perspective usually occurs when dealing with this problem). One positive way to view intrusive thoughts (and there are not many positives to having them!) is that they are a really good means of constantly testing your conscience and moral beliefs.
2. you don’t have total control over your thoughts (i.e. you can’t control everything which comes into your head). At best, you can only influence them through your general behaviour. The worst thing you can do is try to mentally suppress intrusive thoughts. Any attempts to do so messes up your normal brain function, increases anxiety and actually causes more intrusive thoughts to occur - the ‘pink elephant’ complex (actively trying not to think of pink elephants actually causes you to think about pink elephants. Similarly, consciously not wanting to think about pink elephants causes you to think about pink elephants).
3. they may not even make sense, are out of context or are somewhat abstract in nature so have no meaning in the real physical word in which we live. Again, it’s just your brain using your creative imagination.
Since you can disassociate and detach yourself from these intrusive thoughts and can see them for what they truly are (as you now understand the process which causes them - they are purely hypothetical ‘what if’ thoughts that have arisen due to catastrophic thinking, a direct consequence of your brain responding to inappropriate levels of anxiety and fear that were present in your system - they have no importance or credibility i.e. they have nothing to do with your ‘true’ self) you can dismiss them as they come into your head. If it helps you can think of the thought as an object and by dismissing it you are throwing it into a fire where it is destroyed. Don’t have any feelings of guilt or shame about having experienced these thoughts - they were completely appropriate for the level of anxiety you were experiencing at the time (whether you were consciously aware of the anxiety or not). Any emotional response you do have is due to the fact that you are a very sensitive caring person and the way in which your mind is currently operating (as a result of high anxiety) - you need to recognise that this is a disproportional response (an overreaction) to your intrusive thoughts (just like excessive hand washing is a disproportional response to germs).
Once you have really come to terms with what is going on and you start immersing yourself in normal activities (e.g. spending time with friends and family, listening to music, exercise, work etc) your emotional response to these intrusive thoughts will hopefully become more of a neutral response which will cause your anxiety level to drop which in turn should reduce the frequency of the intrusive thoughts you experience considerably. They won’t go away completely as all human beings have inappropriate thoughts from time to time as they are a normal part of the human condition (i.e. you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have them).