What It Really Means To Have Intrusive Thoughts

You've probably seen the hashtag #intrusivethoughts circling the internet — particularly on TikTok. People are using the term to describe their inner destructive thoughts, like smashing a carton of eggs or taking a bite out of someone's birthday cake; however, intrusive thoughts are deeper than that urge to swat that drink out of your friend's hand. They can make you feel uncomfortable and even worried for your safety. The term "intrusive thoughts" isn't all-encompassing either; there are several different types of these inner notions, according to Therapy in a Nutshell

Thoughts of self-harm, harming others, sexual thoughts, immoral or religiously blasphemous intrusive thoughts, self-doubts and mistakes, as well as contamination and fears about your health are common types of intrusive thoughts. You may have experienced one or several of these in your life and not understood why. With that being said, let's dive a little deeper into different examples of these intrusive thoughts and what you can do the next time you have one. 

Examples of intrusive thoughts

Certain kinds of intrusive thoughts have lesser consequences than others. For example, you may be fixating on an embarrassing moment you had when you were 13 that you just can't shake. Perhaps, it still keeps you up at night, constantly thinking about how you could have prevented it from happening. You might feel stupid or inadequate for saying or doing whatever it is you did back then and are terrified of doing something embarrassing again. While it may seem humiliating (as if it happened just yesterday), it isn't as severe as some of the other kinds of intrusive thoughts, such as harming yourself or those around you. 

Believe it or not, intrusive thoughts of self-harm aren't always connected to mental health; oftentimes, they're an indicator of mental distress, Rethink Mental Illness explains. On the other hand, ideas of harming others could mean you have harm OCD, which creates thoughts pertaining to causing harm to other people, NOCD states. If you find yourself having either of these intrusive thoughts, it's important that you seek help immediately, especially if you have them often. Reach out to someone you trust, or check out one of the many resources available that assist with these issues.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

How to deal with them in the future

Some types of intrusive thoughts are much easier to deal with. Let's use the example we talked about earlier with the embarrassing moment; HuffPost says the best way to deal with these is to address how you felt when it happened, then shift your focus to the minuscule details of the event — what you were wearing, what the weather was like, or who was with you. If you've stopped feeling that embarrassment afterward, you're on your way to forgetting it altogether (or, at the very least, stop turning red if you do).

Let's say you have thoughts about cheating on your partner. This may be an indicator you have relationship OCD. According to NOCD, this type of obsessive-compulsive disorder surrounds the idea of cheating on your partner — one you may have frequently, especially in situations where you're speaking to someone attractive or are unsatisfied in your relationship. In this case, you might consider exposure and response prevention (ERP), which can help you deal with these intrusive thoughts by exposing you to triggering scenarios. 

No matter the intrusive thoughts you're having, there are ways to deal with them. You may not see a difference right away, but in time, you can learn to control them and have a happier, healthier state of mind.