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OCD and Intrusive Thoughts – Symptoms & Test

OCD and intrusive thoughts go hand in hand. Everyone that experiences OCD will also experience intrusive, unwanted thoughts.

OCD can take many forms, and it can manifest in different people in different ways. It is maybe because of this that there is so much misunderstanding about the condition – the belief that everyone with OCD loves to clean, for example. OCD is much more than wanting everything to be in order. It can be debilitating and life-altering for those that suffer from it.

OCD & Intrusive Thoughts

One common symptom of OCD is experiencing intrusive thoughts. Everyone is likely to experience some level of intrusive thoughts at some point in their lives, especially after a life-changing event such as having a baby or suffering a bereavement but for most they come and go without any problems. People without OCD are able to quickly and easily dismiss these thoughts as nonsensical and undeserving of time and attention. For sufferers of OCD, this is not so easy and their fear that intrusive thoughts mean something important can quickly get out of control and become all-consuming.

For example, many new mothers have unwelcome thoughts, such as standing at the top of the stairs and imagining dropping the baby. These thoughts are often simply your brain processing your worst fears, and the thought comes and goes. Or they may be due to stress, relationship problems or, in the case of new mothers, frustration with parenting!

While for most people, these unwelcome thoughts pop up and then are gone and forgotten, for sufferers of OCD, these thoughts get stuck. While it is true that Intrusive thoughts are a symptom of other mental health conditions such as anxiety and PTSD, what makes them different for OCD sufferers is how they react to them.

Most OCD sufferers will experience intrusive thoughts and will respond to them with the thought of “Why am I having these disgusting thoughts?”, “’What is wrong with me?”, and “How can I stop having these thoughts?”. It’s the ‘thoughts about the thoughts’ that cause the problems! Most people with these kinds of thoughts are only mildly bothered or may not give the thought any attention at all. But people with OCD will be extremely distressed and will resort to performing compulsive behaviors and ritualistic tasks in a bid to manage their thoughts.

What are Intrusive Thoughts?

As mentioned previously, everyone experiences some level of intrusive thoughts, both positive and negative. Thinking repeatedly about your dream job or a holiday could be categorized as intrusive thoughts. However, for people with OCD, the thoughts are overwhelmingly negative, unpleasant and repetitive. They are involuntary and can cause extreme distress as sufferers will repeatedly question why they are having such awful thoughts.

    Common Intrusive Thoughts with OCD

    Intrusive thoughts can be about almost anything, but the most common OCD related thoughts relate to:

    • Violence
    • Relationships
    • Sexual activity or orientation
    • Germs, illness, or other causes of contamination
    • Religion
    • Magical thinking
    • The body (inflicting injury on yourself)

    Controlling Intrusive Thoughts

    OCD sufferers do not have any control over these thoughts, and they are not impulses or fantasies on which the person will act. In fact, people with OCD are the least likely to act on these thoughts as it is the very fact that they are so appalling and disturbing that causes them so much distress in the first place!

    Common Signs and Symptoms of Intrusive Thoughts

    How do you know when these thoughts are becoming a problem and not just a reaction to something else going on in your life?

    If you know that you have OCD, you will know that intrusive thoughts are an expected aspect of the condition. However, if you do not have a diagnosis of OCD, these thoughts could be doubly disturbing. If you have the following signs and symptoms, you may be suffering from OCD-related intrusive thoughts.

    • Experiencing aggressive, unwanted, and repeated thoughts
    • Experiencing thoughts about harming yourself or others (but with no intention to act on those thoughts)
    • Repeated, unwanted thoughts about religion or sex
    • Distressing thoughts, images or urges repeatedly entering your mind
    • These thoughts create a feeling of intense anxiety or distress

    Take an Intrusive Thoughts Test

    There are many misconceptions about OCD and the myriad of symptoms associated with it. It is sometimes hard to gain clarity about your thoughts and feelings and know what path to take to treat your symptoms. It is easy to get confused by misinformation on the internet when working out whether your thoughts are a reaction to a life event and will pass or whether they are part of a more significant mental health issue such as OCD.

    Many people who suffer from OCD and experience intrusive thoughts are embarrassed by their condition and are so horrified by their thoughts that they would be mortified to speak to anyone about them. There are several online tests that you can take which will help you determine whether your thoughts could be described as ‘intrusive’ and whether they are likely to be related to OCD. Taking an intrusive thoughts test could be the first positive step to treating your condition.

    It is always recommended that you consult your physician or visit a therapist if your thoughts affect your day-to-day life. They can help you make sense of your thoughts and rule out or diagnose any other underlying psychological issues. Professional help is undoubtedly the most effective way of learning how to deal with intrusive thoughts.

    Treatment for Intrusive Thoughts

    Although it is easier said than done, you need to try not to let intrusive thoughts run your life and negatively affect your day- to- day choices. You can take steps towards managing them yourself by:

    • Practicing mindfulness
    • Not fearing the thoughts and allowing yourself to dismiss them
    • Taking the thoughts less personally
    • Accepting them when they appear for what they are

    For some people, self-help methods are not enough, and they will require professional treatment. This might include;

    • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy/Exposure and response Prevention (ERP): This is the gold-standard treatment for OCD related intrusive thoughts
    • One on one counseling with a mental health professional who is trained in the treatment of OCD
    • Medication such as SSRIs

    OCD related intrusive thoughts can have a debilitating effect on your everyday life. Sufferers may be embarrassed about their condition and unwilling to voice their thoughts out of a fear of being judged. If you have intrusive thoughts, it is vital that you seek help to prevent the thoughts from taking over your life. It is important to remember that these thoughts are involuntary and out of your control, but there are ways you can manage them to prevent them from becoming debilitating.