Intrusive Thoughts, Causes, Conditions, Diagnosis & Effective Treatment

We Level Up FL Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about intrusive thoughts and other aspects of treatment.

By We Level Up FL Treatment Center | Editor Yamilla Francese | Clinically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: March 29, 2023

What are Intrusive Thoughts?

Everything You Need To Know About Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that seem to become stuck in your mind. They can cause distress since the nature of the thought might be upsetting. They may also re-occur frequently, which can make the concern worse. Intrusive thoughts [1] may be violent or disturbing. They may be thoughts of a sexual nature, including fantasies. They can also be about behaviors you find unacceptable and disgusting.

These thoughts, however, are just thoughts. They seemingly appear out of nowhere and cause anxiety, but they have no meaning in your life. They’re not warning messages or red flags. They’re simply thoughts. What gives them power is that those who experience them become worried about their significance. As a result, people may fixate on them and become ashamed, intent on keeping them secret from others.

Intruding thoughts are harmless as long as you are aware that they are merely thoughts and you have no desire to act on them.

  1. What is the intrusive thoughts definition?

    If you are wondering, “what is the intrusive thoughts meaning?”, “what’s an intrusive thought?”, “whats an intrusive thought?”, “what is the intrusive thought definition?”, or “what is the definition of intrusive thoughts?”, the answer is unwanted ideas, images, emotions, or urges are referred to as intrusive thoughts and can strike on their own or be triggered by both internal and external factors. These thoughts typically cause distress (thus the term “intrusive”) and tend to recur.

  2. What are OCD intrusive thoughts?

    If you are wondering, “what are intrusive thoughts ocd?”, “What is ocd with intrusive thoughts?”, or “what is the connection between ocd and intrusive thoughts?”, the answer is obsessions with OCD are intrusive, recurrent, unwelcome thoughts, desires, or visions that are distressing or anxious. You might try to avoid them or get rid of them by engaging in a ritual or compulsive habit. These obsessions usually interfere with your ability to think clearly or complete other tasks.

  3. What are intrusive thoughts anxiety?

    If you are wondering, “why do I have intrusive thoughts?”, “why do I get intrusive thoughts?”, “what are intrusive thoughts causes?”, “why do intrusive thoughts happen?”, “what are anxiety intrusive thoughts?”, “what is the connection between anxiety and intrusive thoughts?”, or “why do we have intrusive thoughts?”, the answer is stress and worry are frequent causes of intrusive thoughts. They might also be a temporary issue brought on by biological elements like hormonal changes. For instance, a woman may notice an increase in intrusive thoughts following the birth of a child.

  4. What is adhd intrusive thoughts?

    If you are wondering, “what is the connection between adhd and intrusive thoughts?”, the answer is furthermore, repetitive, upsetting, or plainly bizarre intrusive thoughts might be experienced by ADHDers. Although intrusive thoughts are typical, having them frequently could be a sign of ADHD (if you have ADHD) or something else entirely.

  5. Does everyone have intrusive thoughts?

    Almost everyone has intrusive thoughts, or ideas that seem entirely arbitrary. Even though intrusive thoughts can be positive or bad, it is generally the latter that causes the most pain. Intrusive thoughts may be a sign of a mental health issue for some people.

Common Types of Intrusive Thoughts

  • Sexual intrusive thoughts.
  • Relationship Intrusive thoughts.
  • Religious intrusive thoughts.
  • Violent intrusive thoughts.
What are intrusive thoughts examples?

If you are wondering, “what is an intrusive thought?”, “what are examples of ocd intrusive thoughts?”, “what are examples of intrusive thoughts?”, “what are intrusive thought examples?”, “what is an intrusive thought example?”, “what are common intrusive thoughts?”, “what are ocd intrusive thoughts examples?”, or “what is intrusive thoughts?”, the answer is examples of intrusive thoughts include, the idea of harming a child or infant, the idea of committing a violent or illegal act, and the idea that casts doubt.

Causes from Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are a type [2] of OCD. OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is a common [3] disorder that involves obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. People with PTSD can also experience[4] intrusive and frightening thoughts. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a condition that develops following a traumatic event. People with PTSD may become hyper-aroused and experience flashbacks to a traumatic situation. They might also share intrusive thoughts that relate to the trauma.


It’s not necessary to endure bothersome ideas. Several treatment options are available for people experiencing intrusive thoughts.

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants, such as clomipramine, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, may be prescribed for OCD (SRI).

Although people typically use SRIs to treat depression, these drugs can help with OCD symptoms. They can take 8–12 weeks[5] to begin working on intrusive thoughts.

The ADAA[6] offers some tips for dealing with intrusive thoughts. These include:

  • 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 ideas may return.
  • Practicing meditation or mindfulness.

A person should avoid the following:

  • Pushing the thoughts away.
  • Trying to figure out what they “mean”.
  • Engaging with the thoughts.
How to stop intrusive thoughts?

If you are wondering, “how to deal with intrusive thoughts?”, “how to stop repetitive intrusive thoughts?”, “what is the process of stopping intrusive thoughts?”, “how to manage intrusive thoughts?”, “how to cope with intrusive thoughts?”, “how to control intrusive thoughts?”, “how to beat intrusive thoughts ?”, “how to get rid of suicidal intrusive thoughts?”, “what is the process of overcoming unwanted intrusive thoughts?”, “how to get rid of intrusive thoughts forever?”, “what is an option for intrusive thoughts treatment?”, “how to stop intrusive thoughts anxiety?”, “how to handle intrusive thoughts?”, or “how to get rid of intrusive thoughts?”, the answer is one method that is frequently effective in assisting people in managing intrusive thoughts is cognitive behavioral therapy. Your general thought patterns may be altered as a result of the exercise, allowing you to better control these ideas when they do arise and maybe reducing their frequency.

Intrusive Thoughts Statistics

There are those who also wonder if their hands are clean or worry that their house is on fire. According to recent international research, 94% of people occasionally suffer unwelcome, intrusive thoughts, visions, or emotions.


94% of people occasionally suffer unwelcome, intrusive thoughts, visions, or emotions.

Source: National Institute on Mental Health

2.5 Million

2.5 million adults in the US suffer from OCD.

Source: National Institute on Mental Health


According to statistics, 1.1% to 1.8% of the world’s population suffers with OCD.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

What conditions include intrusive thoughts?

Anyone can experience intrusive thoughts. More than 6 million[1] people in the United States may share them. Unfortunately, many more people may not report them to their doctors or therapists. Intrusive thoughts aren’t always the result of an underlying condition. However, they’re also not likely to indicate you have a problem that requires medical attention.

However, intrusive thoughts can be a symptom of a mental health condition for some people.

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) occurs when intrusive thoughts become uncontrollable. These thoughts (obsessions) may cause you to repeat behaviors (compulsions), hoping you can end the views and prevent them from occurring. Examples of this intrusive thought include worrying about locking doors, turning off ovens, or fearing bacteria on surfaces. A person with OCD may develop a routine of checking and rechecking locks or washing their hands multiple times a day. In both cases, this is an unhealthy result that interferes with their quality of life.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience intrusive thoughts connected to a traumatic event. These thoughts may trigger some physical symptoms of PTSD, such as increased heart rate and sweating. Sometimes, these thoughts can be so severe they lead to flashbacks and intense psychological distress.
  • Eating Disorders: Those who struggle with eating disorders may have disturbing ideas that are bad for their mental health. The thoughts can eventually damage their physical health. People with an eating disorder frequently worry about the physical impact food will have on their bodies. That, in turn, leads to significant distress about eating. Moreover, it could lead to other actions, such purging, to block the thoughts.

How are intrusive thoughts diagnosed?

Speaking with a healthcare professional is the initial step toward receiving a diagnosis. They’ll review your symptoms and health history. Then, they may conduct a complete physical exam and, in some cases, a preliminary psychological evaluation.

If they discover no physical condition causing your intrusive thoughts, they might recommend that you see a mental health expert. These people have received training in identifying the warning signs and symptoms of conditions like OCD and PTSD that could result in intrusive thoughts.

You and your therapist will investigate the thoughts through one-on-one sessions to learn when they happen and how you react to them. This will assist them in making a diagnosis and determining if there is another potential cause.

The primary difference between intrusive thoughts in clinical anxiety and those that do not is how these thoughts are appraised. The likelihood that people with clinical anxiety would perceive their intrusive thoughts as destructive, immoral, or hazardous increases. These interpretations typically result in emotional arousal, which heightens the perceived intensity of intrusive thoughts and causes attention to be drawn to the idea.

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or mental images that make people feel uncomfortable.
 Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or mental images that make people feel uncomfortable.

Individuals who suffer from clinical anxiety are also more inclined to dwell on the implications of these thoughts and take actions to try to stop the anticipated outcomes from happening. Also, they are more likely to exaggerate the likelihood of experiencing these feared events. Individuals without severe anxiety are more likely to brush such ideas off as unusual and carry on with their day.

Others may advise those who experience intrusive thoughts to divert their attention, get their minds off of them, or “just” not worry about them. Despite the good intentions behind this advise, clinical anxiety patients typically find it impossible to follow it. It is also not supported by research. Thought suppression (or attempts to banish a thought otherwise) tends to have a boomerang effect: no matter how hard you push them away, they return to your consciousness.

Imagine being at a pool with a giant inflatable beach ball in the water. In this comparison, the beachball represents your thought(s). You make an attempt to submerge the beachball in the water (i.e., you attempt to stuff down your intrusive thought). It takes a significant amount of strength and effort to accomplish this. You’ll probably be unable to accomplish it, or at least not successfully, for very long. The beach ball/intrusive thought will reappear as soon as you even slightly relax, bringing it back into your awareness.

Intrusive thoughts can cause distress since the nature of the thought might be upsetting. 
Intrusive thoughts can cause distress since the nature of the thought might be upsetting. 

Learn More:

There is a very BIG difference between thinking and doing. In the presence of anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, these thoughts should especially not be stopped, but rather, they should be examined, confronted, and worked through.

This approach is embedded within Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). Individuals can effectively deal with intrusive ideas in ways that offer far more than the momentary respite provided by thought suppression, compulsive routines, monitoring behaviors, and frequent confessing/apologies by learning how to come into contact with intrusive thoughts methodically. In essence, these therapies will lessen intrusive thoughts’ intensity and frequency. The cycle of intrusive thoughts, false perceptions, emotional activation/distress, and compulsive behaviors can be broken using CBT and ERP.

Intrusive Thoughts
Seek help if you are experiencing severe symptoms of having intrusive thoughts that affect your life. Reclaim your life and enjoy it once again.

What are Intrusive Thoughts? Video

Intrusive thoughts are those pesky, unwanted thoughts that seem to linger in our minds, often causing distress. They can be of various natures, ranging from violent or disturbing scenarios to sexual fantasies or socially unacceptable behaviors. The critical thing to remember is that they are just thoughts. They arise seemingly out of nowhere and should not be taken as warning signals. They become powerful when we attach undue significance to them, leading to fixation and shame.

Intrusive thoughts are not limited to a specific group of people; anyone can experience them. Unfortunately, many individuals may not report them to professionals, which can hinder their mental well-being.

What Causes Intrusive Thoughts and Are They Normal?

Although we don’t know why these ideas just come to us out of nowhere, some psychologists have theories. For instance, psychologist Lynn Somerstein (2016) contends that persistent or frequent intrusive thoughts could be indicators of a person’s life being challenging or going wrong.

Perhaps they are trying to contain their frustration as they deal with relationship issues, stress at work, or parental challenges. However, instead of staying politely buried, it finds other ways to work up to the surface.

We don’t know where they come from, but they keep coming back to disturb you while you sit there and think about them. We think about something more often the harder we attempt to not.

Suppose I tell you NOT to think about a purple elephant. Then you can think about anything else in the world, but try to resist having a mental picture of a purple elephant appear. How long do you think you can resist before doing so? The majority of individuals quickly give in to the image they have been told not to see.

Are intrusive thoughts normal?

Yes! Yes is the short response. Thoughts are all that are intrusive. Even if you are mentally well and have no significant mental health conditions, it is still possible to experience intrusive thoughts out of the blue. However, you shouldn’t be very concerned about this.

Does everyone have intrusive thoughts?

Almost everyone has intrusive thoughts, or ideas that seem entirely arbitrary. Even though intrusive thoughts can be positive or bad, it is generally the latter that causes the most pain. Intrusive thoughts may be a sign of a mental health issue for some people.

Do intrusive thoughts mean anything?

If you are wondering, “what if my intrusive thoughts are real?”, “what does intrusive thoughts mean?”, or “what are intrusive thoughts a sign of?”, the answer is they often pose no threat. But if your daily life is disrupted by your obsession with them, this may be a sign of a deeper mental health issue. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, sadness, or anxiety can all show symptoms of intrusive thoughts (OCD).

How long do intrusive thoughts last?

The duration of an intrusive thought cannot be determined with ease. The truth is that it differs from person to person.

These ideas are little more than a blip on our radar when we have a functioning, neurotypical brain and a solid understanding of how to monitor and let them go. However, you may have a severe mental health issue if you regularly deal with unwanted, violent, disturbing, or bizarre thoughts. The two most common diagnoses associated with intrusive thoughts are anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

You might have one of these diseases if you believe you have more intrusive thoughts than usual or if you frequently think about them. Continue reading to find out more about intrusive thoughts, how they connect to various disorders, and how to deal with them.

People can also experience “intrusive thoughts,” meaning passing thoughts such as “What would happen if I killed myself?” that don’t necessarily signify intent or major mental health disorders.
People can also experience “intrusive thoughts,” meaning passing thoughts such as “What would happen if I killed myself?” that don’t necessarily signify intent or major mental health disorders.

There are some self-help techniques you can use to reduce your symptoms and enhance your quality of life when coping with these thoughts in addition to medicine, therapy, and hypnosis.

We Level Up FL Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about intrusive thoughts and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and answer any of your questions.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.

  1. What does it mean to have intrusive thoughts before period?

    Some women and girls experience PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) in the week leading up to their period. Extreme mood swings, irritability, depression, and physical complaints are all indications of PMDD. Typically, symptoms appear 5-8 days before a person’s period and disappear once it starts.

  2. What is the most common medication for intrusive thoughts?

    If you are wondering, “what is a good intrusive thoughts medication?”, the answer is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, benzodiazepines, and tricyclic antidepressants are typical medicines.

  3. Is it normal to have postpartum intrusive thoughts?

    If you are wondering, “is it normal to experience intrusive thoughts postpartum?”, the answer is many new mothers find it shocking when they have anything but positive thoughts after the birth of their child. But, it’s usual for the vast majority of new mothers to experience frightening, unwanted intrusive thoughts after giving birth. Intrusive thoughts after giving birth frequently entail harming the baby.

  4. What are intrusive suicidal thoughts?

    Actually, having passive suicidal thoughts is a common occurrence when dealing with something upsetting, uncomfortable, or challenging, or when your mood is particularly low. We don’t like having to deal with uncomfortable emotions, therefore our reaction to them is to desire to run away or escape them. Our minds search for a means to accomplish this, and ceasing to exist is one method. Even while it is completely normal, it is not a good answer.

  5. What are intrusive thoughts about death called?

    The fear of dying or the act of dying is known as thanatophobia. If you have thanatophobia, you may feel intense worry and discomfort whenever you consider dying or death. Extreme emotions like anxiety, rage, guilt, or agitation are also possible in you.

  6. What is the difference between intrusive vs impulsive thoughts?

    One significant distinction between impulsive vs intrusive thoughts or intrusive thoughts vs impulsive thoughts is how they affect the person. The intrusive thoughts of the OCD sufferer are a tremendous source of pain and suffering. They are scarier and more often than impulsive thoughts.

  7. What are intrusive thoughts depression?

    Individuals with depression usually become trapped by one or even several persistently bothersome ideas. Rumination is the term for these kinds of invasive, recurring thoughts. Ruminators are those who find it easy to get agitated and rehash a topic in their daily lives.

  8. What is intrusive thoughts schizophrenia?

    It may be an indication of schizophrenia OCD if you have persistent unwanted thoughts about going insane, turning psychotic, or getting schizophrenia. You can notice that you’re overly preoccupied with feeling different from normal because you’re always doubting your mental condition.

  9. Is it typical to experience intrusive thoughts of self harm?

    If you are wondering, “what is intrusive thoughts self harm?” or “what are intrusive violent thoughts?”, OCD that causes harm is linked to disruptive thoughts. Unwanted ideas, urges, or “mental images” are referred to as intrusive thoughts. These worries might be related to the anxiety of engaging in behavior you deem to be violent or damaging to others or oneself.

Search We Level Up FL Intrusive Thoughts Topics & Resources

[1] ADAA –

[2] NIMH –

[3] NIMH –

[4] NIMH –

Eating disorders: About more than food. (2021).

Fenske JN, et al. (2015). Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Diagnosis and management.

Kissen D. (2017). How to take the power back from intrusive thought OCD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder. (2018).

Obsessive-compulsive disorder: When unwanted thoughts or repetitive behaviors take over. (2020).

Pascual-Vera B, et al. (2019). The cross-cultural and transdiagnostic nature of unwanted mental intrusions.