How to Manage Intrusive Thoughts

Sometimes, everyone has them; a negative thought about themselves or the world around them comes out of nowhere. Thoughts like, “What if I’m wrong?” are vital to helping us to critically think through options and make decisions


However, what happens when these thoughts become intrusive, appearing from nowhere and causing depression or anxiety? In this piece, we shall explore intrusive thoughts and how to defeat them.


What are Intrusive Thoughts?




Most people who have dissociative identity disorder (DID) live with what are termed intrusive thoughts, which are those unwanted, uncontrollable thoughts that pop in your brain and will not go away. Intrusive thoughts are often repetitive, with negative thinking patterns and words flooding your mind repeatedly and are disturbing.


Thoughts like “I’m no good” or “I’m a loser” that are counterproductive can intrude on our daily lives and worry us plus make us feel worthless. Intrusive thoughts can also make you feel hopeless, like, “Good things never happen to me.”


There are different types of intrusive thoughts, with the most common related to concerns about safety or risk. This type of thinking comes in images where someone is harmed or killed or imagining a loved one seriously injured or dying. Inappropriate thoughts about sex and blasphemous thinking are also intrusive thoughts.


There are milder intrusive thoughts that come in the form of our critical inner voice telling us we are not good enough or another negative connotation about ourselves.


People living with DID often have intrusive thoughts that traumatic events of the past and hear their inner voices telling them negative things about their role in what happened. Unfortunately, the brain is hardwired to remind us of what happened, so we have flashbacks that may come in the form of sounds or images and can be accompanied by physical symptoms.


Intrusive thoughts are ‘ego-dystonic,’ meaning they are the opposite of what we survivors living with DID would like to be thinking. These thought patterns can be shocking and appalling, and filled with thoughts that would frighten other people.


How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts



Although it is tempting, pushing intrusive thoughts away is not helpful. If you try to stop the thought from occurring, your mind will begin to feed on them, which will only serve to reinforce them.


Trying to force away intrusive thoughts causes distress and fear and can lead to negative behaviors such as ruminating, withdrawing from daily activities, and avoiding situations. Some folks resort to compulsive behavior, repeatedly checking and rechecking that the stove is turned off to reassure themselves that things are okay.


The best way to defeat intrusive thoughts is to consciously recognize them and separate the thought from any judgment you have about them. By allowing the thought to flow, you can overcome it easier because it will not have such power over you.


While some people believe that having a thought is as bad as doing it, that isn’t true. Recognize that thinking and doing are different things and that having wrong thoughts does not make you bad. Instead of fighting the thought, or worrying over it, acknowledge it, step back, examine it, and challenge it. Being self-aware and mindful will aid you in identifying what brought on the intrusive thought and help you cope better with it.


Treatment for Intrusive Thoughts



Sometimes people find that they need additional aid when overcoming intrusive thoughts, and this is where psychotherapy can genuinely help.


Number one in the quiver of arrows to healing is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of psychological treatment that has been effective in a wide range of problems and can help a person suffering from intrusive thoughts change how they think and react to their thoughts. Many research studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and the quality of life of those who have intrusive thoughts.

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) has many tips for dealing with intrusive thoughts, including the following:


  • Identifying the thoughts as intrusive
  • Clarifying that they are involuntary and irrelevant to daily life
  • Accepting their presence instead of pushing them away
  • Continuing normal behavior
  • Understanding that the thoughts may return
  • Practicing meditation or mindfulness


The ADAA also states that anyone having intrusive thoughts should not try to figure out what the thoughts mean or engage with the thoughts.


In Closing


Intrusive thoughts can be frightening but, unfortunately, are a part of living with dissociative identity disorder. However, these errors in thinking do not need to ruin our lives.


Learning to deal with them by facing them instead of running away, looking at them head-on knowing they are not true is healthy and can lead to healing.


Whatever your thoughts today, you are a valuable human being simply because you are alive. You don’t need money, fame, a family, or any other thing or person to make you worth all the happiness in the world.


Remember that.


“That something so small could be so beautiful. Worth so much. Only the strongest people can turn away from feelings like that.” ~ Anthony Doerr

“Have patience with all things but first with yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You are perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person simply because you exist. And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.” ~ Saint Frances de Sales





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