Did you know that more than 6 million people in the United States experience intrusive thoughts? And those are just the people who report them.
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts, images, impulses, or urges that can pop into our minds spontaneously at any time. Intrusive thoughts are often experienced over and over again and can be extremely stressful due to their disturbing nature, causing significant anxiety. Some examples of intrusive thoughts may be thinking about hurting yourself or others, sexual or inappropriate thoughts, thoughts about committing illegal or violent acts, flashbacks to unpleasant memories, relationships or even related to having health issues with no basis to support them. While these thoughts can be extremely distressing, they are just that, thoughts. What gives these thoughts so much power is the worry about their significance. Because these thoughts often lead to feelings of guilt and shame, they aren’t talked about as much and the person experiencing them may suffer in silence. If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts and have no desire to act upon them, they are completely harmless. The real cause for concern is learning ways to take the power away from these thoughts. Here are some tips on how to let go of intrusive thoughts.
Label the thoughts: When an intrusive thought comes into your head, acknowledge it. If you have the self-awareness, use it as power. “I’m having an intrusive thought.”
Don’t push the thoughts away: The more you resist your thoughts, the harder it is to get rid of them. “Your inner world doesn’t work the same as the outer world, if you want a table moved, you pick it up, move it or push it. You put in the effort, you get what you want. In the inner world, that kind of effort works backward. The harder you try not to feel something or think something, it comes back double. Putting in the effort is not the solution.” Winston.
Separate yourself from the thoughts: What makes intrusive thoughts distressing is that they often go against our values. Intrusive thoughts do not define who you are or say anything about your character. Once you’ve labeled the thought as intrusive and acknowledge they are not you, it makes it easier to detach from them. Separating yourself from the thoughts will decrease the amount of power they hold which will in turn decrease the anxiety and worry.
Leave the thoughts alone: Imagine a STOP sign when the thought pops into your head and resist the urge to analyze the thought. As described above, the more effort you put into thinking about the thought, the less effective it will be to get rid of them. Instead, leave the thought right where it is. I have some clients that tell me it’s helpful to imagine it floating away in a balloon.
Reality check: Intrusive thoughts feel real. It’s important to give yourself a mindful check and remember that these thoughts are not based on reality. Again, they are just thoughts that hold no validity.
There’s no doubt that these meaningless thoughts can provoke actual stress and anxiety, disrupting the lives of many people. If you or your child are experiencing intrusive thoughts that interfere with your life, counseling is a great option. At A Little Counseling, we help our clients learn to take the power away from intrusive thoughts by increasing mental strength, learning techniques and developing coping skills. “You don’t have to learn how to control your thoughts; you just have to stop letting them control you.” Let’s go, YOU GOT THIS!