Intrusive thoughts are one of the most cruel afflictions to live with. No-one wants to think ‘bad thoughts’ because we begin to question what must they actually mean about us. About our morality, or our very nature. Intrusive thoughts are never pleasant. That’s the nature of the beast! They’re never about ‘nice things’ and they tend to favour some of the more taboo subjects, often thoughts of causing harm to others in a multitude of ways (rape, paedophillia, murder, suicide, losing control – the list is quite frankly endless). Why would anyone get anxious about ‘nice thoughts’? They’re vivid, graphic and absolutely terrifying! The mind is a powerful devise that has the capability of imaging all kinds of strange things – bad thoughts included. But does thinking ‘bad thoughts’ make me a bad person or does thinking bad thoughts just mean I’m human? In my opinion, and many others who I have had the pleasure of discussing this topic with, the latter is absolutely true.
No-one is immune from intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts know no social, cultural or economic boundaries. We all experience them no matter how rich we are, whether we are famous, fat, thin, black or white. Purdon C. & Clark D. (1992) carried out a survey of 293 students (198 female, 95 male). Not a single one of these participants had any history of mental illness, yet surprisingly they all had one thing in common. They had ALL experienced intrusive thoughts. Click the link at the end of this blog to see the study.
So everyone and his mother gets intrusions and those who say they don’t are downright liars! Either that or they get an odd thought and instantly dismiss it, “Ughh that was a weird thought- meh, so what?” – that’s what most people seem to be able to think and do, but there are others (myself included) who start to question the intrusion. What does that thought mean about me? What if that thought means I want to do it? What if that thought means I have already done it? What if thinking that makes it more likely to happen?
I often have intrusive thoughts. I have OCD. They’re merciless in their tormenting. Mine are all centred upon causing harm to others. You might ask why these thoughts seem to plague me. Is it because I’m inherently bad? Am I a pathological psychopath? Quite frankly, NO! I’m not! I’m very much the opposite, which is why thoughts of this nature seem to plague my mind. It’s all because of the questioning of the thought as discussed above. I have a ‘bad thought’, I then experience intense anxiety and question myself – what if I have already done it? What if thinking this thought mean I want to do it? So then I do everything in my power to prevent the bad thing from happening, or try to prove to myself that the bad thought in my head hasn’t actually already occurred. I call this ‘false memory syndrome’! Once I know the bad thought hasn’t actually happened and I get a sense of relief, the cycle is complete until next time the thought is thought. And the process starts all over again!
So if everyone gets intrusive thoughts, intrusive thoughts aren’t necessarily a problem? Sort of. Of course to us who live with the terror of intrusive thoughts, they are a huge problem. But the biggest problem we all have with intrusive thoughts is quite simply our ‘thoughts about our thoughts’. The meaning we attach to the intrusive thoughts.
The message I want to get across here though is that no matter what your intrusive thoughts are, it doesn’t mean that they have any meaning about you. Intrusive thoughts are just like ‘spam’ emails that don’t get filtered properly. Every now and then they sneak into your inbox and it’s like you can’t get rid of them. No matter how much you try to eradicate them, they turn up like a bad penny!
Intrusive thoughts are normal and it always seems only the nicest of people get stuck in a loop with them. That doesn’t mean everyone who can dismiss bad thoughts aren’t “nice”, it just means that those of us who can’t dismiss them are just very sensitive, nice people who question themselves more.
If there was one book that I would recommend to anyone who struggles with OCD and intrusive thoughts, then it would be this book. I think it is a great book that clearly outlines the kinds of intrusive thoughts we have been discussing in this blog.