top of page

Intrusive Thoughts

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Everyone, whether we want to admit it or not, experiences intrusive thoughts. For some, however, intrusive thoughts can cause significant distress. This can impact both their overall functioning and sense of safety.

Firstly, what is an intrusive thought?

An intrusive thought is a socially inappropriate thought that seemingly randomly pops into your head, though they are often triggered by our environment (i.e. crossing a bridge and experiencing an intrusive thought of losing control and going over the edge) (Clark & Purdon, 1995). They can be sexual, aggressive, embarrassing, and surrounding scenarios of being in danger.

Intrusive thoughts can be triggered or exacerbated by anxiety and stress. Most people just brush these thoughts off and move on with their day. Some, however, are impacted by these thoughts and experience significant distress. This is most common for individuals with panic disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (Najmi, Riemann, & Wegner, 2009)..

OCD and Panic Disorder

Individuals who struggle with panic disorder and OCD may experience significant distress associated with intrusive thoughts and worry, “why did I imagine this? Am I capable of doing that? What if I lose control and it happens?” These thoughts and the worries associated with them can become obsessive; the thoughts persistently recurring despite being unwanted and significant effort to push them away (Najmi, Riemann, & Wegner, 2009).

In addition to Panic Disorder and OCD, intrusive thoughts are also strongly linked to vicarious/secondary trauma, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, PTSD, and generalized anxiety.

Seeking Support

If you or a loved one are experiencing this, please know that you are not alone. The first step is naming it. Therapy can be a helpful space to explore some of these intrusive thoughts, develop skills to help manage the distress triggered by them, and understanding that you are in control of your being- these thoughts are not a reflection of you and do not indicate that you have any desire to do any of these things.


Clark, D. A., & Purdon, C. L. (1995). The assessment of unwanted intrusive thoughts: A review and critique of the literature. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 33(8), 967-976

Najmi, S., Riemann, B. C., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Managing unwanted intrusive thoughts in obsessive–compulsive disorder: Relative effectiveness of suppression, focused distraction, and acceptance. Behaviour research and therapy, 47(6), 494-503.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page