Mental Health

Let’s talk about intrusive thoughts

This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a while.  Before I go on, I want to start with a bit of a disclaimer.  As any of you who have read my About section will know, I am a Clinical Psychologist in my day job.  Whilst this post is therefore written with a bit of knowledge, it is mainly written from a personal perspective with personal reflections, not professional ones. That said, I hope that it provides some help for anyone who may be bothered by their intrusive thoughts.

It’s estimated that 94% of the population experience intrusive thoughts: that is unwanted thoughts, images or ideas that pop into your head, sometimes seemingly from nowhere.  I experience them all the time. My most frequent is thinking I haven’t locked my car (every. single. time.) but I have had some more upsetting ones too. My husband seriously considered never flying with me again when I told him I had the intrusive thought of opening the aeroplane door – during the flight. I’ve had thoughts of sticking my foot on the accelerator whilst waiting for people to cross the road, and of swinging my car off a bridge. I frequently have thoughts of jumping in front of oncoming trains.  Now, before any of you get seriously concerned about my risk to others or myself, I want to re-assure you: just because I have the thought, doesn’t mean I want to act on it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  In my experience, my intrusive thoughts are the worst thing I could imagine happening.  The things that scare me. My internal reaction when I first had them was one of horror and anxiety. But over time, and partly through my training, I learned that a thought is just a thought; it is something I have little control over, and trying to block it out will only make it worse.  So whilst I don’t find them particularly pleasant, nor do they overly distress me.

As an aside, I think it’s probably important to point out that there is a difference between an intrusive thought, which someone has no control over and does not want to act on, and a conscious thought that someone who hurts others may have.  I don’t imagine that someone who chooses to hurt others feels overly distressed thinking about it.

I noticed an increase in my intrusive thoughts when I had my first child. Truly horrible thoughts, generally involving hurting her in some way, for example, throwing her over the banister or over my shoulder.  They were scary and I hated them. What sort of mother was I? Did I want to hurt my child? What would people say if they knew?  What I have noticed is that they have reduced as she has gotten older and more self-reliant  (apart from the fairly regular ‘is she still breathing?’ thought). Reflecting on this, I have realised that the increase in my thoughts was probably due to the increase in my anxiety about caring for this tiny, vulnerable and helpless little thing. Somebody that was totally dependent on me (and her dad) to care for her.  And that comes with a whole heap of responsibility.  I think my intrusive thoughts were about my worst fears of something happening to her or me failing her in some way.

But it has made me wonder if other mothers (and fathers) experience them too – and what they do with them.  Because whilst I didn’t like the thoughts, I knew rationally that I did not, and will not, ever want to hurt my children.  I knew that what was coming into my head were thoughts that I had no control over, and they were distressing precisely because I didn’t want to act on them.

But what if you don’t know this?  What if you’ve never heard of intrusive thoughts?  Let’s be honest, it’s not the sort of thing you’re going to speak to your health visitor about (although probably should be) and I doubt very much that it’s something you’d talk to friends about for fear of judgement.  So what do you do with them?  Do you dismiss them as ridiculous? Or do you spend hours questioning yourself, your parenting, your love for your children – do you become increasingly anxious, guilty, ashamed?  I imagine for some people it is the latter.  Whilst post-natal depression is increasingly being recognised and understood, I’m not sure the same can be said for post-natal anxiety.  It is one of the reasons I wanted to write this post.  I wanted to share my experience with others, so they know that they are not alone.  So they know that just because they’ve had one of these thoughts does not mean they want to act on them. And having a thought like this does not make it more likely that it is going to happen.

If you are concerned about your intrusive thoughts, maybe a first step would be to talk to your friends about it – you might be surprised about how common they are. I think that shame and fear stop people from opening up, but I honestly think if more people talked about it – admitted that they too have experienced similar thoughts – then the less stigma there would be.  If you are really concerned, or the intrusive thoughts are impacting on your ability to function, then I strongly recommend you speak to your health visitor or GP – it is nothing to be ashamed about and help is out there. You can also find useful information at Anxiety UK which details the different forms of post-natal anxiety.

I hope this post has been helpful.

 

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22 thoughts on “Let’s talk about intrusive thoughts

  1. WOW! I have not suffered from intrusive thoughts, my anxiety shows up in other non helpful ways. I am so glad you shared, because if I did have intrusive thoughts, I would feel so alone, and probably not share them with anyone. Bless you for doing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this post. I’ve definitely been there and had those thoughts, and it’s an awful feeling. Thankfully they’ve abated now that my kids are older and I’m not quite as sleep-deprived and anxiety-ridden.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for posting this! In my experience, sharing really personal experiences like this make me feel less alone because people I know and never would have thought actually have had the same experience and sympathize. It helps so much to know you’re not the only one and that you know others who’ve dealt with it too. Kudos to you for putting this out there – you’re brave!

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  4. Wow you are very brave to post this. I’ve had these thoughts. I wondered what it would be like to walk off a moving bus or vehicle but have never actually wanted to try it. I’ve had many others. Defo having kids has heightened my anxiety as a parent and an adult in general. Xx

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  5. Wow, thank you for speaking out about this. I wish I’d seen something like this 10 years ago. I have had intrusive thoughts like this all my life but they never really bothered me as I knew they didn’t mean anything. A frequent one I can recall is keeping my foot on the accelerator and driving straight into a wall or on approach to a roundabout. I knew I wouldn’t and I just kind of ignored them. Then we had a baby. Preceded by years of fertility issues, a miscarriage, a difficult pregnancy (with a sleepy baby that didn’t move much = lots of anxiety) and an equally difficult and anxiety filled birth. My beautiful baby was perfect, I was floating on clouds for a couple of weeks. Then I started noticing intrusive thoughts again but this time I really noticed and they scared me. I’d approach the top of the stairs and think of throwing her down. I’d carry her through a door and think of (purposefully) hitting her head on the frame. Sleep deprivation made it all a million times worse I think and I was so convinced I was a horrible, useless mother and that she’d be better off without me. I daren’t tell anyone for fear they’d take her away. I ended up with pnd and had counselling on and off for years. I did not know this was a thing and after telling my counsellor the first week I was convinced I’d turn up the second week to find police waiting for me. It seems crazy and a bit laughable now but I did.

    I’ve concluded that it’s a bit like an ott health and safety officer in my head warning me of all the things that could happen before they do so I’m aware and prevent them. They actually enabled me to protect her I guess as it meant I’d shield her head going through the doorway for example where my husband didn’t think of things like that and would be more likely to have an accident. She shut her finger in a door once when with him but it wouldn’t happen on my watch because I’d have had the thought of me doing it to her which would make me double my protection from it happening. It’s horrible and it’s tiring but I guess in some ways it’s useful, maybe 😂😭

    I’ll stop now as this got a bit long! I’m in floods, I’ve never seen anything about this and I’ve never told anyone apart from my mum, husband and GP/counsellor so thank you for making me feel a bit normal. I’m sure this will help lots of people x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It really moved me reading it. I am so glad that it has helped you to read it. Sometimes the thoughts can make people feel compelled to do things, for example to keep them safe (I know I certainly have on occasion) but if you’re finding you’re doing this a lot or it’s something you don’t want to have to do, then it might be worth speaking to your counsellor about it. I hope things get easier for you going forward, and thank you so much once again for sharing. xx

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  6. My 11 year old daughter has these intrusive thoughts and it is so scary for a child to experience this. As a parent to explain that a thought is simply just a thought is quite difficult and a child doesn’t accept and understand it as well.
    Great post x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting and sharing your experience. I can imagine how scary the intrusive thoughts must be for your daughter. There are some useful self-help materials out there which might help you to explain a thought is just a thought. Here’s the link to one https://www.amazon.co.uk/What-When-Brain-Stuck-What/dp/1591478057/ref=pd_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=7X788F4GFSSYD97XYEQX.
      I’ve not used this particular book but I’ve used others in this series. I am also not suggesting that she has OCD, but the intrusive thoughts are the O part of OCD. I hope that it might be something that helps. xx

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  7. Reading this has made me think more about how common post natal anxiety is, the intrusive thoughts have completely taken over my life, to the point where I avoid using electrical appliances incase the house goes on fire, because in my head I can visualise this. It’s so difficult to rationalise sometimes and other times I can rationalise everything. I love your honesty in this post and it’s definitely something I can relate to in so many ways, I just hope I can get through it sooner rather than later x

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    1. I am so sorry to hear that you have been so affected by your intrusive thoughts. I definitely think it’s something that we need to talk more about, as I think so many people suffer in silence. If you’d like to talk to someone about them, especially if they are stopping you from doing things, then I’d suggest talking it over with your gp in the first instance so see what help is available in your area. Thanks for commenting – I hope it was helpful to read x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Knitters and Hookers, I found this very helpful to read, I have been under my GP since October, increased meds over this time however I don’t think they have made much difference. Problem is as I’m still feeding my daughter the options for meds are limited, I have a 4 month wait to see a psychiatrist, and seeing a mental health nurse who suggests ‘mindfulness’ all the time, I’m just not in a place to do this though x

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am really sorry to hear that the support you have received so far hasn’t really helped. It might be worth checking out what psychology services are available in your area and get a referral in if one hasn’t been done already. As waiting times can be long, there are some self-help materials that might be useful whilst you wait. Check out Mood Juice (www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk). Or the Overcoming series of books are also quite helpful (these are based on a cognitive behavioural therapy approach). I hope that you start to feel better soon. x

        Liked by 1 person

  8. For anyone who doesn’t have your understanding, this post could be a lifesaver for someone who is having these awful thoughts and doesn’t realise that others have them and that they are not abnormal. I think it’s so good of you to share this – thank you so much

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I didn’t know that they were called this, but I had a lot of intrusive thoughts when I had to return to work when my daughter was 5 months old. It’s cleared it all up for me, thank you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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