“I’m having these weird thoughts about having sex with my mother.”
“God is telling me to kill my boyfriend.”
“I keep getting visions of having oral sex with my three year old cousin.”
“I don’t want to die, but I can’t get rid of these thoughts that I am going to kill myself.”
These are actual statements that I have heard from clients in my Psychology practice over the past few months. If you are now picturing my client as some creepy pedophile or deranged serial killer, you would be wrong. My clients are typically young (aged 18 to 30), intelligent, educated, come from loving families and are in healthy relationships with a significant other. Yet every day they face an overwhelming battle with their own minds, trying to convince them that they are suicidal, child molesters, incestuous, or potential murderers. What these young people are suffering from is an anxiety provoking phenomena called intrusive thinking.
An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate. (Wikipedia)
Generally, intrusive thoughts come in one or more of these forms:
-Sexualised intrusive thoughts
-Intrusive thoughts in relation to children
-Violent, harm causing intrusive thoughts
-Religious intrusive thoughts
-Intrusive thoughts regarding your sexual identity
-Intrusive thoughts regarding your family
-Intrusive thoughts relating to death
Intrusive thoughts tend to be about things that are valued by you. For example, if you are an animal lover, you may have intrusive thoughts about harming animals. If you are a religious person, you may have intrusive thoughts about God or a religious figure. In all cases, these thoughts are unwanted and cause great distress and anxiety for those who experience them.
Intrusive thoughts can be difficult to treat because of the air of secrecy that surround them. I am sure you have all heard of anxiety, depression, OCD, and other mental health issues, but very few people are familiar with the term intrusive thinking. Therefore, when these thoughts arise, people tend to think that they are “crazy”, or that they really are child molesters or even capable of killing someone they love. They feel ashamed and guilty for having these thoughts, and try to hide them, even from their counsellors.
I recently met with a lovely young university student whose voice shook as she told me, “I am having bad thoughts.” Before she could finish, I said, “Oh, they are probably about inappropriate sexual actions or killing yourself or someone else, right?” She both laughed and cried with relief as I explained to her that she is not alone, and that there are techniques that she can use to rid herself of these unwelcome thoughts. For the first time in many years, she felt “normal” and had hope that her quality of life would improve.
February is Psychology month, and in honor of this, I ask that you share this article to help raise understanding and awareness of intrusive thoughts. If this article reaches you and you are suffering from intrusive thinking, please remember that you are not alone and there is help. There is no need to suffer in silence.