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intrusive thoughts Myths

There are some myths that surround intrusive thoughts. These include:

Myth 1: A person wants to act on these thoughts

Fact: People do not want to act on their intrusive thoughts

According to the ADAA, the opposite is true. The most dangerous myth surrounding intrusive thoughts is that they will lead to action.

Those experiencing these thoughts typically work hard to fight them, which results in the thoughts becoming persistent. The thoughts are at odds with the nature of the person thinking them.

Myth 2: All thoughts are worth examining

Fact: Thoughts do not always have a significant meaning

People do not have to see every thought as a sign or warning of something. Despite how these thoughts can make a person feel, they do not carry any meaning or desire.


Intrusive thoughts are a type of OCD. OCD is a commonTrusted Source disorder that involves obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

People with PTSD can also experienceTrusted Source intrusive and frightening thoughts. PTSD is a condition that develops following a traumatic event.

People with PTSD may become hyperaroused and experience flashbacks to a traumatic situation. They might also experience intrusive thoughts that relate to the trauma.

In some cases, however, the cause of intrusive thoughts is unclear.


A person does not have to live with intrusive thoughts.

Several treatment options are available for people experiencing intrusive thoughts.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help a person change how they think and react to these thoughts.

Medications for OCD might include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other antidepressants, such as clomipramine, which is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI).

Although people typically use SRIs to treat depression, these drugs can help with OCD symptoms. They can take 8–12 weeksTrusted Source to begin working for intrusive thoughts.

The ADAA offer 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 thoughts may return
  • practicing meditation or mindfulness

A person should avoid:

  • pushing the thoughts away
  • trying to figure out what they “mean”
  • engaging with the thoughts


A doctor will ask questions about the nature of these thoughts and their frequency. They will also ask whether there is a family history of mental health conditions.

A doctor may refer the person to a mental health specialist, who will check for symptoms of a mental health disorder in case that is causing the thoughts. For example, they may ask about compulsive behaviors that indicate OCD.


It is possible to treat some causes of intrusive thoughts. Some people will overcome OCD or PTSD, but it can take time. Others may continue to experience symptoms but be able to manage them through treatment.

For some people, intrusive thoughts may persist for a long time. It is possible to learn to live with these thoughts and not let them affect daily life.

When to seek help

Many people will experience some unwanted and sudden thoughts, and it is usually not necessary to see a doctor or therapist.

However, anyone who experiences intrusive thoughts that cause regular or severe distress should see a doctor or therapist. These professionals can help the person understand what is causing the thoughts and how to treat them.


Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and involuntary thoughts that are usually disturbing in nature. People experiencing these thoughts do not act on them and often find them distressing.

The intrusive thoughts are sometimes due to an underlying mental health condition. In other cases, their cause is unclear.


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