Intrusive Thoughts in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Intrusive Thoughts in OCD. Getty Images Credit: Aleli Dezmen

Intrusive thoughts (sometimes called obsessions) are a common OCD symptom. Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that are unwanted, feel uncontrollable, and often pertain to disturbing or distressing themes, such as:

  • worrying constantly about catching a deadly disease and/or that you will contaminate others with your germs.
  • fears about contamination with environmental toxins, such as lead or radioactivity.
  • an intense fear that something horrible will happen to a loved one.
  • profound worry that you will do something extremely embarrassing, like screaming out an obscenity at a funeral.
  • believing you may hit someone with your car or injure someone unknowingly.
  • aggressive or disturbing ideas, such as thoughts of murdering your partner or child.
  • disturbing sexual and/or religious imagery that might include sexual assault or inappropriate sexual acts.
  • a strong need to re-order things until they feel "just right."
  • a fear of harming inanimate objects.

Intrusive thoughts are often very disturbing because the person experiencing them may believe that these thoughts are a reflection on their morality or betray "secret desires." However, it is important to realize that intrusive thoughts in the context of OCD actually reflect those things that the individual finds to be the most offensive, repugnant or disgusting.

For example, intrusive thoughts related to sexual obsessions are not sexual fantasies. Whereas sexual fantasies are normally pleasurable, harmless, and guilt-free, sexual obsessions are unwanted, distressing, and do not lead to sexual arousal.

Up to 90% of people have strange, bizarre and even disturbing thoughts on a daily basis.

As such, it is not whether you experience such thoughts that is important; rather, it is how you react to them that counts. Learn more about whether intrusive OCD thoughts can be stopped.

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