Updated: Dec 14, 2021
By Eric Kim
Have you ever been taken away by your thoughts? Thoughts that you want to suppress, but just come to your mind continuously? If you answered yes, you are not alone. These thoughts, namely intrusive thoughts, affect roughly 94 percent of the population and are ubiquitous in our lives.
Intrusive thoughts are usually unwanted, sporadic thoughts that cause extreme distress. Although these weird situations are supported by fallacious reasons, people still buy them. For instance, after watching a horror movie, thoughts of a serial killer trespassing into your territory often pervade the mind despite its practically nil probability. Many people mistakenly believe that intrusive thoughts are exclusively pertinent to patients suffering from severe mental health conditions such as OCD or PTSD, but that is a misconception. Anyone can experience them, and though it is more prominent within people suffering from those mental health conditions, it only accounts for a small number of intrusive thoughts. As a matter of fact, intrusive thoughts are early symptoms and the underlying cause of numerous mental health conditions.
Intrusive thoughts are often caused by external stimuli but may also derive from internal stimuli. Though not all intrusive thoughts instill anxiety and fear, the majority of them do, as these thoughts usually originate from provocative or sensational material. And as provocative material is usually viewed under a negative light, it is inevitable that one feels distressed by these intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are executed within the prefrontal cortex. Interestingly, this is the same area that takes care of our ordinary thoughts. That being said, this part of the brain is not the primary source of this mental trickery, but rather, it is the realistic visualization of improbable actions from the film industry that ultimately brings these thoughts to the surface.
So, if someone watches a horror animation, the effect is often minuscule compared to when we watch a horror movie as they tend to be more realistic. Another far more natural reason is that it is our instinct to have these intrusive thoughts, because often so, they originate from our great desires for something to happen or something to not happen. Taking murder as an example, though the chances of it happening to us are slim to none, it remains with us because of the sentiment’s intensity. The strong predisposition to want to avoid at all costs or experience certain situations is what makes a thought intrusive. So how do we solve these seemingly unconquerable thoughts?
Fortunately, the adamant nature of these thoughts does not make them impossible to eradicate. But, resorting to the most straightforward approach, telling yourself to simply “forget about it,” will not do the trick. In fact, this approach is counterproductive as it initiates another cascade of intrusive thoughts in the mind. On the other hand, an effective method would be the use of distraction; you can stray from the intrusive thoughts by occupying your mind with something else. Indulging in hobbies usually does the job well as sources of entertainment such games, movies, books, and socialization with friends would leave people with no space in their minds to dwell on concerns.
Accepting the disturbing thoughts is also an effective method. As the proverb goes, “knowing your enemy is half the battle.” In theory, by conceding to the inevitable fact that there is no direct means to control these thoughts, over time, they will become the least of your concerns and eventually exit the mind.This method is often encouraged as it yields permanent results.
All in all, yes — intrusive thoughts are terrifying. But evidently, by using the mentioned effective methods, it is possible to counter them. So, next time, when you experience intrusive thoughts, remember that they are undeniably strong but not insurmountable.