Intrusive Thoughts

Don’t be distraught if you have an intrusive thought


Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that can spontaneously occur and are beyond our control. They can strike at any time, especially when we least want them to. Typically they have negative content which creates very uncomfortable feelings such as high anxiety.

They have been defined (on wikipedia) as

“ 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. ” 

There can be nothing worse than intrusive thoughts; we can become trapped with them, left unable to accept them and be made to believe that we are at fault for having them.

They can cause people to ruminate and be sources of high anxiety. Our minds can be our own worst enemies and these kind of thoughts can lead the people that experience them to think that they are bad.

 The subject matter of such thoughts include: unwanted sexual thoughts, unwanted thoughts about harming ourselves or others, fear of failure, delusional thoughts and negative self talk.

These kinds of thoughts can be very difficult to cope with and the content of them can be often difficult to accept, let alone talk about with others.

The content of these thoughts can be distasteful, taboo, disgusting and really not something we want people to know is going on inside us. We may fear being judged, which adds to the anxiety. 

Here is a list of the most common intrusive thoughts starting with the most frequently reported at the top:

  • Smashing into objects
  • Slitting wrist / throat
  • Cutting off a finger
  • Jumping off a high place
  • Fatally pushing a stranger
  • Fatally pushing a friend
  • Jumping in front of a car / train
  • Pushing a stranger in front of a car / train
  • Pushing family in front of a car / train
  • Hurting strangers
  • Insulting strangers
  • Bumping into people
  • Insulting authority figure
  • Insulting family
  • Hurting family
  • Choking family member
  • Stabbing family member
  • Accidentally leaving the stove on
  • Home left unlocked, intruder there
  • Taps left on, home flooded
  • Swearing in public
  • Breaking wind in public
  • Throwing something
  • Causing a public scene
  • Scratching car paint
  • Breaking a window
  • Wrecking something
  • Shoplifting
  • Grabbing money
  • Holding up a bank
  • Sex with an unacceptable person
  • Sex with authority figure
  • Strangers naked
  • Sex in public
  • Fly/blouse undone
  • Kissing authority figure
  • Exposing myself
  • Acts against sexual preference
  • Authority figures naked
  • Disgusting sex act
  • Catching an STD
  • Contamination from doors
  • Contamination from phones
  • Getting a fatal disease from strangers
  • Removing all dust from the floor
  • Removing dust from unseen places


Can you identify with any of these? I certainly can! 

They used to follow me everywhere and flare up at the worst possible times…. job interviews, university inductions, the family table, when getting ready for a night out, when volunteering. 

I thought it was a character defect, that it was my own fault. I felt bad, ashamed, embarrassed and anxious. On top of that, I also had psychosis, I thought others could sense my intrusive thoughts and I heard people in my head saying bad things about me because of them.

My mind was turning on me in the worst possible way and I felt trapped and unable to talk about the content of these thoughts. At times it was difficult to see a way out. These thoughts followed me round for years. They led me to believe that I was a bad person, that there was something wrong with me, that it would never end.


Having these thoughts does not reflect what is true for the person experiencing them.

What can we do about this menacing unwanted presence?

  • When an intrusive thought comes up, Label these thoughts as “intrusive thoughts.”
  • Remind yourself that these are automatic thoughts and are beyond your control.
  • Create a space for them, accept and allow them to be there. Do not push them away
  • Float, and practice allowing time to pass.
  • Give yourself time. There is no urgency.
  • Expect the thoughts to come back again
  • Don’t let them stop you – Continue whatever you were doing prior to the intrusive thought while allowing the anxiety to be present
  • Do not get involved with the thoughts
  • Do not take on board meaning about the thoughts
  • Allow them to pass without checking to see if its working .


94% of people have intrusive thoughts on a daily basis


George Ezra is a celebrity who has battled with a kind of OCD called Pure O, which is characterised by lots of obsessional, intrusive thoughts. He stated that discovering a name for what he was experiencing made it easier to cope / live with.

I found that too.

He states on a recent podcast: “It feels like you go: ‘in this situation the worst thing you could think is…’ and then you have that thought. And then you think: ‘gah George, don’t have that thought again’. And so you do, and then you go: ‘well, if you’re somebody that can have this thought, does this mean you are this person? And if so, you’re f**king horrible mate.”

You can see what he has to say about it here: George Ezra on his Pure OCD diagnosis | BBC Radio 5 Live – YouTube

If you have these kind of unwanted thoughts, it is important to remember that you are not alone. If I would have known that other people get these type of thoughts, things probably wouldn’t of been as bad. I thought I was the only one who had them and it drove me crazy. 

The audiobook  ‘Overcoming unwanted thoughts – A CBT based guide to getting rid of frightening, obsessive or disturbing thoughts’. May be a good place to start addressing the problem.  ( it can be bought here

When I listened to this I felt reassured to know that someone understood. It was soothing listening to my experience being talked about. This secret that I held inside of me for years, I finally could name it, someone out there really ‘got’ me, and I wasn’t at fault. Maybe I wasn’t so crazy after all?

If these kind of thoughts are dominating your brain and effecting your life in a negative way, for example, stopping you from going to school or work or stopping you from doing things that you used to enjoy, then it is very important that you reach out and get help.

Intrusive thoughts can be a symptom of OCD and can cause poor mental health. You don’t have to discuss the content of the thoughts when seeking help from a therapist or doctor.  

It is understandable that due to the nature of these thoughts, the prospect of telling someone about them may be very daunting.

 ‘What if they think im crazy?’

 ‘They will think I’m a wierdo’,

Anxious thoughts may come up when thinking about opening up to someone. It is important that if you are going to tell someone, make sure it is someone that you trust.

It is very important to remember that recovery is possible, that you’re not a monster or a wierdo, and that there are people that understand who will not judge you.

Personally, I found that talking to someone who was non-judgemental helped me to discern which of my thoughts were true for me and which ones were just nonsense going on in my mind. It took the sting out of them and helped me to  accept them a bit more for what they are.

One of my support workers told me that it is not our thoughts that make us who we are. We may not be able to control the content and frequency of these thoughts, but we can choose not to act on them. We can choose to reach out, and we can get better.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved, and this is no exception.


 For help with intrusive thoughts:

0300 123 3393. – mind – open 24/7

03444 775 774 – Anxiety UK 9.30am – 5pm Monday – Friday

0800 58 58 58 – CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably – 5pm – midnight every day

116 123 – Samaritans – open 24/

For help with OCD:

OCD-UK – 01332 588112

Sane line – 07984 967 708 – leave a message and they will get back to you or email them on,


Talk to us at The ME Project for more information about what we do.