Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Common Types of Intrusive Thoughts

Hand washing
Hand washing can get out of control
because of contamination thoughts.
Photo by Serenity
Intrusive thoughts associated with OCD and other anxiety disorders tend to have one thing in common–they are distressing. They pop into your head and disgust, shame or scare you. People without a disorder can typically brush similar thoughts off as nothing and move on with their lives. People with OCD give these thoughts deeper meaning and are often tormented by them. Why are they so distressing? Well, they aren't exactly fluffy bunnies hopping across your consciousness. Here are some common types of intrusive thoughts associated with OCD.


I'm going to kick things off with contamination because it's one of the more well known presentations of OCD. I don't suffer from it, thankfully, but many people do. Essentially, these people have thoughts that things they touch, people around them or they themselves are contaminated with germs. In response, they may avoid touching things and clean a lot.


It is generally thought that most people have passing thoughts that go against their sexuality. For example, a gay woman may think about sex with a man. In most cases, people can brush off thoughts that might otherwise make them question their sexuality, but some people with OCD cannot do that easily. They may "check" to see if they are really gay or straight or obsess over the idea that they are "wrong."


A very common theme in OCD is harm or violence. Some people may think they have to do things a certain way or it will cause someone harm. Other people will have images of hurting others or themselves pass through their minds. This can lead to behaviors like avoiding knives, driving, vulnerable people and social settings.

Inappropriate Sexual Thoughts

Without going into too much detail, let's just say that these thoughts are really distressing to OCD sufferers who have them. Anything taboo or morally wrong is potential intrusive thought fodder. Don't worry. Having these thoughts doesn't mean you're a sexual deviant. Sure, acting on them does, but chances are you wouldn't be freaking out about your thoughts if you found them appealing. (Don't take that as a cue to check and see if you think they are appealing. You wouldn't be here reading this if you did.)


Some people with OCD are tormented by the idea that they are wrong about their relationships in some way. Do they love their spouse? Are they actually attracted to their spouse? Does their spouse love them? Does that fleeting thought about the cute guy at work mean you don't love your boyfriend? This is part and parcel of the feeling that things need to be "correct." I even have thoughts about whether my OCD is really OCD because it doesn't seem exactly right. My therapist once accused me of doubting because my OCD wasn't "perfect." People with relationship intrusive thoughts doubt because relationships are inherently imperfect. They need to learn to live with the gray areas.

There are many more forms that these thoughts can take, so don't be worried that you might not have perfect OCD because you didn't see your thoughts listed here. Talk to a professional. This is strictly for casual reading purposes only and to spread awareness of OCD and other anxiety disorders. If you want to talk about any other types of intrusive thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

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