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How to Challenge Intrusive Thoughts

How to Challenge Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts affect all of us from time to time. They are the voices inside our heads telling us we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough. They are the thoughts that come from comparing ourselves to others, which keep us from moving forward. 

For some, intrusive thoughts serve as unwanted reminders from painful trauma or other past experiences that produce feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. For others, intrusive thoughts encourage individuals to commit a harmful or violent act towards themselves or others.

Intrusive thoughts can impair our sense of identity. Many people fail to realize that, although many people have them, living with intrusive thoughts can be detrimental to an individual’s well-being. If intrusive thoughts are not challenged, they can wreak havoc on a person’s mental and physical health. It is essential to learn how to challenge intrusive thoughts when they surface so that they do not take control over an individual’s sense of self. 

Where Do Intrusive Thoughts Come From?

There are several different sources for where intrusive thoughts come from, although for many, they surface randomly. Most of the time, they come from what we read, the shows or movies we watch, or the things that we hear. These thoughts may stick in our subconscious and surface when we feel anxiety or self-doubt. 

Intrusive thoughts do not always come from our surroundings, as many are symptoms of various mental health conditions. Conditions that are accompanied by intrusive thoughts may include:

  • Brain injuries
  • Dementia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety and anxiety-related disorders
  • Depression and depression-related disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other trauma

In other situations, there is no specific root cause for where intrusive thoughts come from. Regardless of how or why they develop, it is vital to recognize them as they surface. 

Understanding the Different Types of Intrusive Thoughts

The main commonality is that they are generally unpleasant; they may be violent, disturbing, or reoccurring. The most common types of intrusive thoughts include: 

  • Negative self-talk: This form involves thought patterns that cause us to think negatively about ourselves. Conditions like anxiety and depression often encourage negative self-talk. 
  • Sexually intrusive thoughts: These are thoughts that revolve around a person’s sexuality, gender, or sexual abuse. 
  • Religious or spiritually intrusive thoughts: These are thoughts that cause a person to doubt their place in the world or in the afterlife. People that overanalyze their faith, fear a lack of God’s forgiveness, or fear that they have lost touch with their religious beliefs may be experiencing religiously intrusive thoughts. 
  • Violent intrusive thoughts: These thoughts involve an individual being violent towards others or themselves. Examples include harming loved ones or engaging in self-destructive behavior. 
  • Delusional thoughts: These thoughts cause a person to think that they are paranoid. An example of a delusional thought pattern is hearing voices that are not there or always believing that someone is out to get you. 

Challenging Intrusive Thoughts

It is essential to acknowledge that even the most intrusive thoughts are just merely thoughts. Thinking about something does not mean that you have to act on it, nor is it a cue that you believe what your thoughts are telling you. If you or your loved one is struggling with intrusive thoughts, it is crucial to understand that there are ways that you can challenge them. 

Consider the following ways to challenge your thoughts when they surface:

  • Ask yourself, “Do I really believe this?”
  • Try to navigate where the thought came from. For example, if you have intrusive thoughts about your lack of self-esteem, think back and try to find moments or situations that caused you to compare yourself to others. 
  • Label the thoughts for what they are: intrusive thoughts that you cannot control. Take your thoughts less personally. You do not have to identify with it, as those thoughts are likely not even your own. 
  • Avoid trying to fight the thoughts, as it will only make matters worse if you try to push them away. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindful thinking allows you to recognize what thoughts are positive or negative and will help any intrusive thoughts level out over time. Mindfulness enables you to accept what you cannot directly control while learning to practice non-judgment and compassion for yourself and others. Spiritual wellness can also help. 

If your intrusive thoughts are consuming your energy and ability to function normally in your daily life over time, you may want to consider seeking mental health treatment. Contact your primary care physician, as they will be able to refer you to a behavioral health clinic or therapist. Many therapeutic approaches can help train your mind to work through and challenge intrusive thoughts much more effectively than trying to control them on your own. 

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, unpleasant, and sometimes violent thoughts that surface in our minds without conscious control. These thought patterns are involuntary, meaning that they occur without warning. They can wreak havoc on our sense of identity and overall well-being, limiting our ability to move forward in life. You can learn how to challenge your thoughts by not identifying with them, as most of the time, they are not our true thoughts. If you or your loved one is experiencing intrusive thoughts that impair daily functioning, it may be a sign to reach out for mental health treatment. SoCal Mental Health is a treatment center that recognizes how overwhelming intrusive thoughts can be. We offer several therapeutic modalities that can help you manage and challenge your own thoughts so you can experience greater peace of mind and control over your life. For more information, give us a call today at (714) 328-4760.