Have you ever had sudden thoughts or images appear in your mind, unwanted? These thoughts could seem bizarre, inappropriate or even weird. An example of such a thought could be when you were standing at your local train station waiting for your daily commute to begin when an unexpected feeling of wanting to jump across an incoming train comes to mind. Perhaps that thought could be a creeping doubt questioning you whether you remembered to lock your house properly before leaving for your train in the first place.

The interesting thing is that intrusive thoughts are actually experienced by everyone; this includes me, your colleagues, friends and family members. Intrusive thoughts can be defined simply as unwanted thoughts coming to mind. They can appear not only as thoughts but as sudden images, urges and doubts too. Intrusive thoughts are personal to the individual, meaning that what intrudes our minds can vary from one person to another. The important matter in all of this, however, is how we react to these intrusions.

Most people, when faced with these infrequent thoughts brush them off as exactly that, “random thoughts” that don’t need any further pondering or questioning. Most realise that intrusive thoughts don’t necessarily equate to real actions i.e. just because I’ve had this thought, does not mean that I will act on it. Furthermore, they understand that intrusive thoughts have come to them out of their control; subsequently, there is no need to attend to them. Alternatively, not everyone reacts this way. Those suffering from OCD, also known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder tend to attach personal meaning to intrusive thoughts that make the experience of having them, very negative, both to the mind and to one’s behaviour.

Let’s take that thought of not remembering to lock the house properly at the start of the day. If you are suffering from OCD you may be more likely to start thinking about this intrusive thought in more detail. Did I lock the door? I do remember locking it but I didn’t check the door handle, what if the door is still open? Did I even lock the door or am I not remembering properly? Should I go back to check because what if someone breaks into my house? These are just some examples of the ways in which a random intrusive thought can now have a huge impact on one’s thinking because this time, a personal meaning has been attached to it. Inevitably, this may lead an individual to do things to make sure that such a thought does not creep in again, perhaps by spending extra time locking the door, placing more than one lock on the door or even having someone do it for you.

Intrusive thoughts when left alone cannot affect our behaviour as we do not allow them to do so, even if they seem out of context and inappropriate. Those with OCD do the opposite; they pay extra attention to them and thus expend a lot of time and effort in dealing with them. The issue with this is that intrusive thoughts are often interpreted negatively i.e. because I experienced a random negative urge/thought/doubt, it must mean something negative about me as a person. In doing so, you may become pessimistic and try to do everything in your power to stop that. OCD sufferers, therefore, tend to become stuck in a vicious cycle of having random thoughts -out of our control- concluding that these thoughts mean something about the self- and thus engage in rituals and compulsive behaviour in attempts to get rid of them.

The downfall of such a cycle is that it is incredibly difficult to get out of because you start believing that intrusive thoughts come to you for a reason and ultimately, by engaging in lots of ritualistic and compulsive behaviour to stop these thoughts, you never let yourself find out what would happen if you did not do any of this behaviour. You never let yourself find out that intrusive thoughts, are just thoughts that don’t require special attention, time and effort and that your day would have gone just fine if you did nothing about the intrusion. If you feel that you are stuck in a vicious cycle of your own, where intrusive thoughts become so over-bearing that you feel a need to deal with them in some way, then perhaps it would be helpful to partake in talking therapy such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to help you break free. CBT is a highly effective and research-backed form of therapy that deals with changing both negative thinking and behaviour. Harley Therapy Clinic offers CBT for a range of mental health concerns, including OCD. Feel encouraged booking a consultation appointment today to start the process of coming out of your vicious cycle that has consumed a lot of your life.