Where do intrusive thoughts come from

Managing intrusive thoughts - Harvard Health

Disturbing thoughts that pop into your mind unbidden may make you feel uneasy, but they are common — and there are strategies you can use to manage them.

It seems to come out of nowhere — a strange, disturbing thought or a troubling image that pops into your mind. It might be violent or sexual, or a recurring fear that you’ll do something inappropriate or embarrassing. Whatever the content, it’s often unsettling and may bring on feelings of worry or shame. The more you try to push the thought from your mind, the more it persists.

Intrusive thoughts, as these are called, are thought to affect some six million Americans, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Sometimes intrusive thoughts are associated with a mental health disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, where thoughts become so bothersome that they prompt repetitive behaviors or compulsions to try to prevent them from occurring. They are also common in post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be triggered by a life-threatening or extremely stressful event, such as an accident or violent attack. But many people who experience these thoughts don’t have a mental health disorder, says Dr. Kerry-Ann Williams, a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Intrusive thoughts are often triggered by stress or anxiety. They may also be a short-term problem brought on by biological factors, such as hormone shifts. For example, a woman might experience an uptick in intrusive thoughts after the birth of a child.

"Any life stressor, if big enough, can increase your risk of having intrusive thoughts," says Dr. Williams.

Periods of stress and isolation

These days many women have experienced significant stress from the isolation caused by the pandemic, says Dr. Olivera Bogunovic, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Anxiety symptoms may also commonly occur as women transition to a different stage of their life. They may become more isolated, or develop a fear of aging or of developing physical ailments, she says. This can lead to an uptick in anxiety, and in some instances, obsessive thinking.

While intrusive thoughts may be disturbing, they aren’t harmful or a sign that you have a secret desire to do the things that popped into your mind.

People are often too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it, says Dr. Williams. "A lot of times when patients bring it up to me, they might preface it with something like, ‘I’m not crazy, but this weird thought comes into my mind,’" she says. "They might think about hurting a family member, such as a baby. When the thought happens, they’re horrified—‘I can’t even believe that came into my mind. I shouldn’t tell anyone; they might think something is wrong with me.’"

Identifying intrusive thoughts

So, how can you tell if you are experiencing intrusive thoughts? There are some signs to look for.

The thought is unusual for you. An intrusive thought is usually very different from your typical thoughts. "For example, it might be uncharacteristically violent," says Dr. Williams.

The thought is bothersome. If a thought is disturbing and it’s something you want to push out of your mind, it might be an intrusive thought.

The thought feels hard to control. Intrusive thoughts are often repetitive and won’t go away.

"The more you think about it, the more anxious you get and the worse the thoughts get," says Dr. Williams. Instead of fighting intrusive thoughts, it’s better to learn to live with them. When these thoughts emerge, try taking the following steps:

1. Identify the thought as intrusive. "Think to yourself, ‘that’s just an intrusive thought; it’s not how I think, it’s not what I believe, and it’s not what I want to do,’" says Dr. Williams.

2. Don’t fight with it. When you have an intrusive thought, just accept it. "Don’t try to make it go away."

3. Don’t judge yourself. Know that having a strange or disturbing thought doesn’t indicate that something is wrong with you.

When to seek help

See a mental health professional if unwanted thoughts are starting to disrupt your daily life, particularly if they’re impairing your ability to work or to do things you enjoy. However, even if intrusive thoughts aren’t affecting your life in a significant way, you can still see someone to get help.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one strategy that is often successful in helping people manage intrusive thoughts. The process may help you to shift some of your general thought patterns, which can enable you to better manage these thoughts when they do occur and might lessen their frequency.

Intrusive thoughts can also be managed by addressing the underlying problem, such as anxiety, stress, or a personal history of trauma. While it may be helpful to share the particular thoughts you are having, keep in mind that even if you aren’t comfortable talking about them in detail, a therapist can still help. Women should also know that intrusive thoughts typically respond well to therapy, says Dr. Bogunovic.

"Keep in mind that you might not need help forever," says Dr. Williams. "It may be a very short-term thing."

Image: © Aleutie/Getty Images

Why We Get Them and How to Stop Them

Intrusive thoughts are unexpected images or thoughts that seem to pop into your head. They’re often strange or distressing. But these thoughts happen to almost everyone from time to time.

Intrusive thoughts seem to come out of nowhere. These thoughts and images are unwanted and often unpleasant. The content can sometimes be aggressive or sexual, or you could suddenly think about a mistake or a worry.

You might feel distressed when this happens, but having an intrusive thought once in a while is a typical part of life.

In most cases, intrusive thoughts do not have any particular meaning. As long as you recognize that these are only thoughts, and you have no desire to act on them, intrusive thoughts are not harmful.

However, if they’re happening often, causing significant concern, or interfering with your daily activities, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor.

Read on to learn more about why intrusive thoughts happen and how you can manage them.

There are several different types of intrusive thoughts. Some people may have intrusive thoughts about:

  • germs, infections, or other kinds of contamination
  • violent acts, aggression, or causing harm to other people
  • doubts about doing tasks wrong or leaving tasks unfinished
  • religion, blasphemy, or being an immoral person
  • sexual acts or situations
  • acting out or saying the wrong thing in public

It’s also possible to have other types of intrusive thoughts that do not fit into these categories.

Sometimes, people who experience intrusive thoughts become worried about what they mean. This can lead to someone trying to control or stop the thoughts. People may also feel ashamed and want to keep them secret from others.

Keep in mind that the image or thought might be disturbing, but it does not usually have a particular meaning. If you have no desire or intention to act on the thought, and you can easily move on with your day, then it’s probably nothing to worry about.

Thoughts of hurting yourself or others are a reason to reach out for help. If you’re thinking about hurting yourself or someone else, get emergency care right away. Go to the nearest emergency room or contact your local emergency services.

It’s common to have an intrusive thought every once in a while. In fact, it happens to almost everyone. A 2014 study found that about 94 percent of participants had at least one intrusive thought in the 3 months prior to the study.

In the 2014 study, “doubting” intrusions — or worries about doing tasks correctly — were the most common. Intrusive thoughts of a sexual or religious nature were the least likely to be reported.

Although intrusive thoughts are usually nothing to worry about, sometimes they can start to interfere with your daily life.

People who feel fear or guilt about their intrusive thoughts, or feel like they need to take action to control the thoughts, may be experiencing something more serious. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor.

Intrusive thoughts may not have a cause. They can just happen randomly. Some thoughts wander into your brain. Then just as quickly, they exit, leaving no lasting impression.

Less commonly, intrusive thoughts are related to an underlying mental health condition, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These thoughts could also be a symptom of another health issue, such as:

  • brain injury
  • dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease

Signs that there might be an underlying cause include intrusive thoughts that:

  • last longer than a brief moment
  • continue to pop back into your head
  • cause distress over time
  • make you feel like you need to control your thoughts

Changes to mental health are nothing to take lightly. Early symptoms of some conditions may also include:

  • changes in thought patterns
  • obsessive thoughts
  • thoughts of disturbing imagery

These thoughts are nothing to be ashamed of, but they are a reason to seek a diagnosis and treatment so that you can start to feel better.

Intrusive thoughts are not always the result of an underlying condition. Anyone can experience them.

But there are several conditions that include intrusive thoughts as a symptom. They include:


In OCD, intrusive thoughts cause serious distress. A person with OCD often makes significant efforts to try to suppress or stop their unwanted thoughts (obsessions). This usually involves repeating particular behaviors or habits over and over.

The behaviors and habits, known as compulsions, can interfere with a person’s quality of life. But it’s possible for OCD to improve significantly with treatment.


People living with PTSD may have intrusive thoughts related to a traumatic event they’ve experienced. These thoughts or memories can bring forth other symptoms of PTSD, such as insomnia or an unpleasant state of overalertness.

PTSD can interfere with a person’s daily functioning. However, with trauma-focused treatment, it’s possible to get relief from symptoms.

Eating disorders

People with an eating disorder may experience intrusive thoughts about their body, losing weight, or what they eat. This can include guilt, shame, or fear related to food or body image. These intrusions can cause serious distress.

Eating disorders can also cause significant changes in behaviors related to food and eating.

It’s important to talk with a doctor if you have eating disorder symptoms. With treatment, it can be possible to avoid serious complications.

Intrusive thoughts are powerful because they seem to “stick” in your mind. They’re upsetting because they feel so foreign.

The best way to manage intrusive thoughts is to reduce your sensitivity to the thought and its contents. The following strategies may help.

Ways to manage intrusive thoughts
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, you’ll work with a therapist to learn ways of thinking that can help you become less sensitive to the intrusive thoughts. In a controlled setting, your therapist may also expose you to triggers for your intrusive thoughts so you can learn to react to them differently.
  • Medication. Sometimes, medications are used to treat conditions like OCD and PTSD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed to treat these mental health conditions.
  • Self-care. A good step toward treating intrusive thoughts is recognizing what they are: just thoughts. You can learn to label them when they happen and recognize that thoughts are not the same as intent or behavior. This may help reduce the frequency or intensity of unwanted thoughts.

The first step toward a diagnosis is talking with a doctor. They’ll review your symptoms and medical history. They may conduct a physical exam and, in some cases, use questionnaires or tests to find out more about your symptoms.

If they find no physical issue that could be leading to intrusive thoughts, they may refer you to a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. These individuals are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of possible causes for intrusive thoughts, including OCD and PTSD.

A psychologist or psychiatrist can work with you to identify the thoughts when they occur and how you respond to them. This will help them come to a diagnosis and decide whether there’s another possible cause.

Intrusive thoughts can feel distressing, but if one pops up once in a while, it’s probably nothing to be concerned about. In many cases, they are not caused by anything in particular. By recognizing that it’s only a thought, you can help yourself move past it.

When intrusive thoughts are related to an underlying condition, like OCD or PTSD, getting started with a diagnosis and treatment may take some time.

But sticking to your treatment plan can help ease symptoms and make the thoughts less frequent. Options like medication and CBT can help you cope with the thoughts when they do happen.

If your intrusive thoughts are interfering with your day-to-day life, talk with a doctor about your experiences. Getting treatment can help make intrusive thoughts more manageable.

treatment, causes, how to deal with obsessive thoughts

Obsessive thoughts (obsessions) are images or urges that uncontrollably, against the will of a person, invade consciousness. Attempts to get rid of these thoughts lead to outbreaks of anxiety and bring great discomfort. A person experiences constant fears and bad thoughts. If you do not seek help in time, obsessions lead to psychological exhaustion, social isolation and depression.

Obsessive thoughts are found in many diseases: neurosis, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and even schizophrenia.

Features that distinguish obsessive thoughts syndrome:

  • a person cannot influence the appearance of such thoughts, thoughts arise against desire;
  • obsessive thoughts are not connected with the usual thoughts of a person - they are separate, alien images;
  • the syndrome of obsessive thoughts cannot be overcome by an effort of will;
  • the disorder is associated with intense anxiety, irritability;
  • clarity of consciousness and critical perception of one's condition are usually preserved.

The disorder is extremely difficult to bear. Usually a person realizes what obsessive thoughts mean, understands all the irrationality of the images that arise in the head, but cannot fight them. Attempts to stop the appearance of thoughts and the coercive actions associated with them are unsuccessful and lead to even greater experiences.

It is not difficult to convince people who suffer from this disorder that their obsessive thoughts have no basis. But it doesn't help to get rid of the problem. Situations repeat themselves over and over. A necessary step to get rid of painful conditions is to seek help from a specialist before complications arise.

What are obsessive thoughts

Obsessive thoughts torment a person, they are unpleasant and disturbing, you want to hide from them, run away. There are all kinds of obsessions.

Here are some examples of intrusive thoughts:

  • concerns about pollution and disease;
  • pathological need for order and symmetry;
  • obsessive and uncontrolled account;
  • obsessive thoughts about the bad: a person constantly thinks about accidents that can happen to him, to his relatives, to his property, or even to humanity as a whole;
  • groundless and unreasonable avoidance of certain actions or objects;
  • religious, sexual, aggressive or any other thoughts that are alien to the patient's thinking and arise against the will.

Constant intrusive thoughts cause unbearable discomfort. Of course, a person has a desire to succumb to these ideas and try to correct the situation. In this case, compulsions appear - actions that a person is forced to periodically perform, even if he does not want to, in order to control what is happening in his head. When obsessive thoughts (obsessions) and obsessive actions (compulsions) are present together, time-consuming, disruptive, and distressing, it indicates the presence of a disease such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

A person begins to avoid cracks in the asphalt or touches every tree on the road because alien thoughts “tell” him that if he does not do this, something bad will happen.

Usually compulsions make you do something over and over again, like a ritual. By giving in to coercion, the person hopes that they can prevent or reduce the anxiety that accompanies obsessions. For example, he begins to avoid cracks in the asphalt or touches every tree on the road because alien thoughts "tell" him that if he does not do this, something bad will happen. Unfortunately, such actions do not bring relief and only get worse over time, taking the form of an endless ritual.

In addition to OCD, there are other diseases in psychiatry that are characterized by different types of obsessive thoughts. Here is some of them:

  • phobias,
  • neurasthenia,
  • schizophrenia.

A phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by panic and an uncontrollable, irrational fear of certain situations or objects. Strong anxiety can arise even when thinking about a frightening situation, so the patient tries with all his might to avoid a terrible object. All terrible obsessive thoughts and anxieties are associated exclusively with this object.

There are different types of phobias. The most common:

  • agoraphobia — fear of open spaces or crowded places;
  • social phobia - fear of social interactions. There are other specific phobias that can relate to anything: airplanes, specific animals, the sight of blood.

A phobic disorder may include panic attacks - attacks of fear, which are accompanied by a feeling of impending death and physical sensations: retrosternal pain, interruptions in the heart, dizziness, feeling short of breath, numbness of the extremities, intestinal disorders. All this significantly limits the personal life and performance of a person.

Neurasthenia is a disorder that is associated with exhaustion of the nervous system. It happens after a long illness, physical overload, severe or prolonged stress. Characterized by persistent headache, symptoms of cardiovascular disorders, indigestion and sleep.

Intrusive delusional thoughts may be one of the manifestations of schizophrenia, but the diagnosis is made only in the presence of other signs of schizophrenia.

The disease has three forms-stages that develop one after another. In the hypersthenic form, emotional lability, irritability and intolerance are observed. In the second phase, which is called "irritable weakness", aggression and irritation are quickly replaced by emotional exhaustion and impotence. In the third, hyposthenic form, the patient arrives in a state of constant fatigue and bad mood. He focuses on his inner feelings, which depresses him even more. This phase is characterized by obsessive thoughts of a hypochondriacal nature.

Schizophrenia is a complex polymorphic mental illness characterized by a fundamental impairment of perception and the breakdown of thought processes. The clinical picture is varied and depends on the form of the disease: hallucinations, delusions, loss of natural mental functions, personality distortion, and much more.

A sick person who suffers from this disease needs full treatment from a psychiatrist. Intrusive delusional thoughts may be one of the manifestations of schizophrenia, but the diagnosis is made only in the presence of other signs that are specific, diagnostically significant criteria for this disorder.

Causes of obsessive thoughts

The occurrence of obsessions is directly related to the underlying disease. For treatment to be effective, an accurate diagnosis is essential. It is not always possible to accurately answer the question of where obsessive thoughts come from. Factors that contribute to the occurrence of this disorder have been identified:

  • genetic predisposition;
  • brain dysfunction due to organic or biochemical causes, including imbalance of neurotransmitters;
  • mental trauma and stress;
  • personality traits: people with sensitive and labile temperament;
  • the presence of somatic and infectious diseases, disability, pregnancy are predisposing causes of obsessive thoughts.

There are many disorders in which this syndrome occurs, so the diagnosis should be carried out by a highly qualified psychiatrist who can understand the intricacies of the clinical picture and understand why obsessive thoughts arise. When conducting diagnostics, the following methods are used:

  1. Psychiatric examination: a specialist will collect an anamnesis, understand the clinical manifestations and personal characteristics of each patient.
  2. Pathopsychological study: an effective and comfortable technique that, with the help of special experiments, surveys and observations, allows you to conduct a qualitative analysis of mental disorders and understand why obsessive thoughts come.
  3. Laboratory and instrumental examination: modern diagnostic tests, such as Neurotest and Neurophysiological test system, allow assessing the severity of pathological processes and making an accurate differential diagnosis. Functional methods will help to exclude organic pathology.

How to deal with obsessive thoughts

Mental illnesses that underlie the syndrome in question are a reason to immediately consult a psychiatrist. The symptoms vary greatly, and it is not always easy to notice the distinctive features. Therefore, it is necessary to address the question of what to do with obsessive thoughts to an experienced specialist.

It happens that a person is afraid to seek help or tries to independently find a way to cope with obsessive thoughts that are so annoying. One of the most common decisions is the use of alcohol and drugs. If a person manages to be distracted, the illusion may be created for a short time that the problem has disappeared. In fact, the situation is only getting worse. You should not try to "kill" intrusive thoughts in this way, because it is likely that obsessions will only intensify when intoxicated.

Talk to someone you trust, such as your parents or friends. A great option is to go to group therapy, in a society of people with similar problems. This will allow you to share experiences and get support.

The consequences of drinking alcohol can be unpredictable. Even if there is a brief relief, thoughts will still arise again, and with even greater force. As a result, new health problems are added, dependence on alcohol or drugs develops, and the disorder worsens. With neurosis of obsessive thoughts, only a specialist will tell you how to get rid of or alleviate the condition.

In addition to the stages of treatment that the doctor will select for you, you need to remember about self-control, rehabilitation and prevention. Here are a few tips beyond basic treatment to help you deal with intrusive thoughts:

  • Learn more about your disorder. Learning about your condition will help you quickly accept the problem, calm down and motivate you to better adhere to the treatment plan.
  • Talk to someone you trust, such as your parents or friends. A great option is to go to group therapy, in a society of people with similar problems. This will allow you to share experiences and get support.
  • Normalization of lifestyle: proper sleep, diet, avoidance of alcohol and strong psychotropic substances, moderate physical activity.
  • Do not give up your normal activities. Build a career, study, devote time to your favorite hobby. Spend time with family and friends. Don't let illness interfere with your life.
  • Avoid Stress: The idea that a strong outburst of emotions will make the fight against obsessive thoughts more effective is false. It will be possible to be distracted only for a short time, but then the nervous system will become even more vulnerable.

Treatment of obsessive thoughts

With the help of modern medicine, it is possible to mitigate the intensity of manifestations, and often completely get rid of obsessions and compulsions.

For obsessive thoughts syndrome, treatment is most effective when combined with psychotherapy and medication. In some cases, one thing is enough. A competent specialist will select an individual program, which will depend on the clinical picture and the severity of the condition.

For obsessive thoughts, treatment may consist of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.

Psychotherapy allows you to fully analyze the situation and work out behavioral, psychological and social problems. Communication with a highly qualified psychotherapist teaches you how to manage symptoms, overcome fears and protect yourself from stress. The arsenal of a modern specialist includes cognitive behavioral therapy, hypno-suggestive techniques, auto-training and other effective approaches. Psychotherapy for obsessive thoughts is a key treatment that will help you understand the problem and deal with it.

Pharmacotherapy. Modern medicines help to correct neurotic symptoms, relieve fear and anxiety, and keep mood under control. Mild antidepressants, antipsychotics and tranquilizers are used.

Fortunately, modern psychiatry knows how to cure obsessive thoughts, reduce or completely eliminate symptoms. Thanks to effective treatment and rehabilitation provided by a competent specialist, patients return to an active life without fears and restrictions.

Obsessive thoughts - how it works and principles of self-help

Obsessive thoughts - how it works and principles of self-help

What supports obsessive thoughts/images?

  1. Traumatic experience experienced (accident, death/injury of a person, participation in hostilities, other events that caused strong emotional experiences, usually negative). Otherwise, such a phenomenon is called psychopathological re-experiencing, or flashback. A bit of a separate topic, because. can occur in any person not because of his personal qualities, inclinations, response characteristics that predispose him to the emergence of stable obsessive thoughts, but because of the severity of the experience. Such phenomena can often pass quickly enough with the use of certain psychotherapeutic techniques, for example, EMDH.
  2. Excessive control, the desire to control what is impossible to control. During a boring conversation, the mind of any person begins to wander. Just because you can think purposefully doesn't mean you can control your thinking. There are thoughts of insight, and there are uncontrollable thoughts of the opposite plan that are unpleasant to us, frighten us, cause horror, disgust, shame, etc. It's like trying to control dreams - just let them dream. And if such thoughts are comparable for you to nightmares from which you wake up in a sweat, then, of course, it is simply impossible not to do anything, however, fighting them with direct confrontation is the same as cutting off the heads of the Lernean Hydra (the mythical many-headed hydra, - if you cut her head, then two new heads immediately grew in its place). Because the more attention you give to such thoughts, the more meaningful they become. The more you try to control them and fight them, the more attention and importance you yourself give them.
  3. Giving excessive attention and importance to these thoughts which we have already touched upon in the previous paragraph. They seem to become overvalued if you constantly fight them. But what if they are like horror and a nightmare? We will talk about this further.
  4. Fear that thoughts can become actions. The logic is this: if my thoughts do not obey me, then where is the guarantee that my actions will not become uncontrolled? In fact, it rather depends on the innate temperament - the type of reaction of the nervous system. There are people with predominant impulsiveness - they first react, act, and then cognitive processing takes place, then thoughts. And there are people who will think everything over, sometimes it’s too late to do it, but they thought everything through. And it's like two separate railway tracks, which are laid in such a way that one does not pass into the other. If you think obsessive thoughts while others act impulsively, then you can not disturb yourself in vain: it is as if you are walking on a different railway track, you have a different type of response of the nervous system. (In obsessive-compulsive disorder, both obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions occur, but actions are performed to prove that obsessive thoughts are erroneous, far-fetched, they are not actions confirming these thoughts and arise as an apotheosis of direct opposition to obsessive thoughts. For example, a person who has obsessive thoughts about a fire in the house because the iron is not turned off, can check several times before leaving and after leaving the house whether the iron is plugged in. He will not impulsively start a fire in the house, which obsessive thoughts scare him, but will do the opposite). You decide what actions to take, guided by your own will, mood, personal preferences, and also depending on your personality type. And if you have all this, then where will it disappear, and what kind of cow can lick all these characteristics of yours with its tongue so that they don’t remain, and you begin to be guided by behavior incomprehensibly by what? You just struggle with obsessive thoughts, and they fight back - they scare you, including impossible things. Well, how impossible - very unlikely. This can happen in acute psychosis, when consciousness, perception, often memory become clouded, then the behavior behind them all becomes inadequate, but these are rare phenomena and are in no way associated with obsessive thoughts, they can rather be associated with a long history of alcohol, with schizophrenia , dementia, etc.
  5. Self-flagellation about the fact that "others would not have thought of it", a judgment that thoughts allegedly speak about a person's character or about his intentions. Character is shown in the way you lead your life. It is about what you decide to do or not do. Thoughts are just flashes in your mind. It is not you who decides whether thoughts arise or not. Your character is not shown in any way if there is no place for making a decision. A thought is not a fact or a statement about you as a person. Character is the decisions you make in life, not something that randomly pops into your mind.
  6. The belief that the more you think about something, the more likely it is to happen. The belief that thoughts are material. Here, certain features of perception play against a person. It is more true, I think, to say that the more you think about something, the more likely you are to notice and remember that it happened. And if the way we think does not happen, then our psyche tends to forget it as a failure, as a mismatch, as a failed connection (the synthesis of the two parts failed), as something unimportant. The brain analyzes and synthesizes, this is its job. What has not succumbed to synthesis does not deserve special attention. Therefore, we tend to remember those moments when our thoughts became reality, and many thoughts that cannot be connected with reality simply go unnoticed and unappreciated, and can emerge even after a long time if the brain finds for one of such old, abandoned thoughts communication in the real world. Therefore, people tend to remember those few forebodings that were justified (because they had personal significance), forgetting about the numerous cases when all doubts and fears were not justified in any way by subsequent events. Thoughts themselves are often based on guesses about the world around us and how it works, on our previous personal experience, etc. Thoughts rather influence whether we will try to do something, whether we will be afraid of what something to do, etc. They affect our attitude towards reality and our response rather than changes in reality per se.
  7. The conviction that every thought is worthy of attention, and repetitive thoughts are of particular importance. Our consciousness and brain function in general can be compared to cable television. And sometimes our attention to our inner world can for a moment switch to one of the unnecessary, uninteresting, not characteristic of us or even alien to us channels - this moment can become an obsessive thought if we give it significance and start fighting it. Especially if you also believe that all thoughts are worth paying attention to, and that there are no and should not be useless channels in the mind. Then your attention may be absorbed by meaningless nonsense. If you begin to act impartially towards such useless thoughts, and not fight them just because they are, and if in the end you admit that they have no meaning, then in time they will simply disappear.

Regarding the greater importance of repetitive thoughts - we have already discussed this feature of perception, that thoughts are repeated the more often, the more importance we attach to them - both in a positive context (we think about something with interest), and in a negative one (obsessive thoughts ). However, in a positive context, we do not make a problem out of it, and in a negative one, we can make a big problem over time if we try. It is as if a whole searchlight is directed at this thought - as soon as its significance increases - if this thought is tacitly declared a problem. However, if the issue is already declared, i.e. in fact, you feel that this is a problem for you, then just saying that this is not a problem can be tantamount to a waste of time. We need consistent actions, an analysis of our feelings and experiences.

  1. Strengthening the “importance of thought” on a sensory level. Here's how it works: when you're frightened or surprised or in danger, the area of ​​the brain responsible for signaling alarms (amygdala/amygdala) sends signals of danger. In a stressful situation, the biological systems of the body are activated, supporting a clear strategy of behavior: “fight/flight/freeze”. Such a reaction occurs automatically, regardless of whether a false threat exists or a real one. The amygdala is not "specially smart". And it can't tell a real threat from a false signal. She just reacts to the trigger - real/imaginary - in the only way she can. She sends out an alarm. If you are frightened by a thought, and the amygdala automatically gives out a signal of danger, then the emotional reaction will be the same as in real danger. Feelings in the body appear such that the thought may seem dangerous or very important. But neurons in the cerebral cortex analyze and are able to distinguish a real threat from an apparent one. The cortex is responsible for rational thinking and judgment. The problem is that the impulses from the higher brain arrive about half a second later than the first automatic alarm. Therefore, the feeling of danger arises before the cerebral cortex has the opportunity to intervene. And we tend to consider the first impulse to be true and true, so we can no longer listen to the second, devalue it, wind ourselves up and worsen our life out of the blue.

For lovers of a deeper understanding of the work of the brain - a paragraph about the peculiarities of the response of the amygdala, which in general we have already discussed in the previous paragraph. The amygdala (tonsil) can only be in two states - active or passive. Since the purpose is to warn you, the amygdala is activated at the slightest hint of a possible threat. Her job is to protect you, not to take care of your comfort, so she would rather give a thousand false signals and cause as many panic attacks when there is no problem than miss even one real danger. Initially, it was supposed to provide primitive survival. She reacts very quickly, trying to protect you from any possible threat. The amygdala learns to be afraid: loud noises and loss of support are two innate fear triggers. Children begin to use protective behavior near a hot stove, a socket, a sharp knife much later. The amygdala in people with obsessive thoughts has learned to "ring the alarm bell" because of certain thoughts. Now imagine if someone came up behind you and scared you with a loud sound, the startle reaction starts instantly. But then, turning around and realizing that this is such a stupid joke and nothing terrible happened, your fear passes. In this example, I will talk about two neural pathways to the amygdala. Loud sound comes from the ear through different structures, transforming into nerve impulses. Reaching the thalamus (the "control panel" in the brain), they are sent to the amygdala (one way) and to the cortex, where the signal that something may be wrong is analyzed, compared with additional factors, and the result is also sent to the amygdala (one more way). This path is about half a second longer. This means that you get scared before you know the reason, and this is due to the neurophysiology of the brain. Your reaction in such a case is swift, automatic and unavoidable. The first fright passes quickly if the amygdala receives a message from the cerebral cortex that the trigger was not a threat. Assuming that the first fright attack is a reaction to the obsessive thought that you could jump off the balcony, then you might think: “Does this mean that I have suicidal tendencies that I did not know about?” or “How can you be sure it won’t happen?” etc. Thus, you would give a signal to the amygdala to continue to sound the alarm (to catch up with yourself a secondary fear, which can also increase the feeling of danger several times from the original).

  1. Fixing unnecessary associative connections in the brain. Our thinking creates many associations: "up-down", "north-south", "more-less", etc. So in general, nerves that react simultaneously - as if soldered together, are associated with each other (the concept of conditioning). Overcoming intrusive thoughts involves creating new associations that eliminate fear.

Anxious thinking - a change in the state of consciousness when the amygdala is activated. Its characteristics:

  1. Merging thoughts and actions, imagination and experience of the situation. Questions like “What if…?” no longer look like conjectures, but are perceived as a reliable vision of the future. Thoughts seem to be predictions. "Fear has big eyes".
  2. All risks seem unreasonable. Anxious thinking requires absolute guarantees that the nightmares you may have thought will not happen. Everything else is cause for continued concern. Uncertainty is unbearable. Any uncertainty is perceived as a threat. And to complete this picture of the post-apocalypse, it should be noted that the brain during anxious thinking is in a functional mode of increased sensitivity to the threat.
  3. Thoughts tend to become intrusive. They seem to get stuck in the mind.

Some Exercises

Now imagine opening the following email: “Congratulations! Your lucky day has come. Your distant relative, who headed the diamond corporation in Chicago, died, leaving you a legacy of 14 billion dollars. To receive the inheritance, please follow the link below and provide us with your bank details for money transfer. Once again, let me congratulate you from the bottom of my heart."

Will you send this letter to spam or will you study and think about its content for a long time and in detail, about why it was sent to you, why now, etc.? If you just spam it, then why don't you do the same with intrusive thoughts?

An exercise explaining the mechanism of involvement.

  1. Please answer how strong emotional connotation do the words “cut” and “transfer” have for you (from 1 to 10)?
  2. Delete the letters from each word so that "beat" and "betray" remain. How powerful are these words?
  3. Now go back to the words "hack" and "transfer". Has their emotional perception changed?

If it has changed in the direction of strengthening, then you have become emotionally involved, because the words have emotional associations with other words that you cannot yet ignore. These words may already seem negative, speaking of danger, unpleasant. But words are just words. They don't have any color until you start to interpret them, and then it becomes very easy to get involved in the process.

Solving the problem

Alternative methods to what will be offered here may help someone, and they may even make someone worse. For example, prayer can reduce anxiety, but it can also increase involvement in those intrusive thoughts that a person wants to forget. Yoga and meditation can be used by a person who is intrinsically motivated to reduce the tendency to get "stuck in the mind" and get involved in thoughts, or maybe motivated to learn to control thoughts. In the latter case, the condition is likely to worsen.

This article suggests the following: acceptance of these thoughts. One should actively allow thoughts to emerge, not wanting them to disappear, because. it helps to realize that they are not important. Concentrate not on the result of a false alarm given by an overly cautious amygdala, but on how your thoughts are not an alarm signal to the amygdala.

You should also practice allowing reasonable uncertainty in your life. Certainty is a feeling, not a fact. If you continue to reassure yourself, then you can never get used to the fact that there is uncertainty in life, and constantly worry about this. Try to focus on the present as well. if you think about the future, you think about more uncertainty than if you think about the present. Yet too much uncertainty is hardly a good atmosphere for the absence of anxiety. Therefore, accept the uncertainty that cannot be reduced in a natural way, and if the uncertainty can be reduced without sacrificing anything, then do it. For example, focus on the present rather than the future. What do you hear, what do you feel, is it cold now or hot? These are simple questions for yourself in a more definite present that is and exists.

Feeling the need to do something urgently (panic) when obsessive thoughts arise - also arises from an attempt to deal with uncertainty. Panic sensations indicate discomfort, not danger, and discomfort should be tolerated if it proves to the brain that this discomfort is not dangerous. Actively and in a panic try to do something - like putting out a fire, fanning the flame. It happens that passivity is much more effective than effort. It's like peeling off a crust from a wound - supposedly it will pass faster, heal faster. Sometimes you just need to understand how to wait for the right time so as not to interfere with natural processes to fade away on their own.

False response of the brain makes one consider the thought dangerous and stay away from it, and in order to retrain the amygdala, one must evoke a reaction in it and then show that in this case there is no danger. So she will be retrained. And if you stay away from these thoughts, then they will be associated with danger, and with a decrease in cortical control (during stress, discomfort, in some situation reminiscent of these thoughts, etc.), they will be able to arise again and remind themselves through panic and a sense of danger that the amygdala will turn on. The amygdala learns not to be afraid only when the fear response is activated. To compromise and evoke in your mind not the most terrible thoughts of those that periodically torment you means forgetting that any thoughts are just thoughts. The best results come from regular practice in a variety of situations and conditions.

Intrusive thoughts seem so frightening because the anxious type of thinking wins and the thought begins to look extremely plausible. You can compare the tormenting obsessive thoughts with a fairy-tale city, where the road of fear is the central one. If you use the method suggested here to dispel these intrusive thoughts, you can imagine that you are building a freeway next to the road of fear in this city. As a result, the built motorway will be used more and more often, because. this is energy-efficient (the brain exists according to the laws of conservation of energy, and if we offer a less energy-consuming option for solving a problem, in particular, dealing with obsessive thoughts, then this option is most likely to take root). But the path of fear has not disappeared either. Fear may arise even after many years, during times of stress or extreme fatigue, etc., but this does not mean that your achievements will be lost in an instant. The achievement is that the freeway is used much more often. This achievement is still with you, even if one or more cars drove along the old road. It is important to understand this in order not to destroy your own achievements, accepting for the truth that supposedly everything has returned to what it started. If you allow this fear into yourself, then this can indeed happen, but this can all become so only because you agreed with the amygdala's false signal of danger and also confirmed the almost emergency situation in the city with this thought that “everything comes back”, or “everything came back”, or “it didn’t work out for me again”, well, or “this method didn’t work either”. If you switch to the fact that nothing terrible has happened, these are just thoughts and you are able to endure these thoughts, then further on, based on its properties, the brain will continue to use and strengthen new mechanisms that are not associated with fear. This will become possible because you will remove the imaginary danger mode, and the brain will no longer need to solve the primary task - to survive.

Here is an example of a possible internal dialogue: (after the dialogue, the division of the replicas into certain colors is deciphered, but I recommend that you just read first, then familiarize yourself with what the colors mean and read it again) *

- What if this does not work? What if I lose control of myself so much that I actually do what I fear?

- Don't be stupid, drop all these thoughts. This has happened so many times already, and not once did thoughts turn into actions.

- Please don't react to these thoughts. These are just thoughts.

- No, it will drive me crazy someday!

- You shouldn't even answer these thoughts.

- It really can happen, what will you do then?

- This is just an obsessive thought. Thought is just a thought.

- Oh, I might have a nervous breakdown right now from all this!

- However, I accept these thoughts and allow them to manifest. I have already tried other methods of struggle, you should not return to them.


- I know that some other obsessive thought may follow.

- I don't think I can take it anymore!

- Let the time pass.

- I'm so worried about all this. What if I never settle down?

- I relax and observe.

- What if I actually do it?

- It's not even worth answering this question.

- Not sure if I can control myself.

- I allow thoughts to manifest.

- (softly) This has been going on for so long. What if it never stops?

- I accept thoughts

- (even more subtly) I'm not sure I can control myself.

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