Intrusive Thoughts Vs Impulsive Thoughts
TikTok videos tagged with #intrusivethoughts have garnered over 796 million views as of this writing, including both people conflating impulsive thoughts such as wanting to dye their hair with real intrusive ones that involve things as scary as violence or racism. While such confusions may be understandable, many find their unwanted intrusive thoughts distressful and hard to escape; many even trigger fight-or-flight responses resulting in “sticky thoughts” that become worse the more they try to distract, suppress, or substitute these thoughts than before – making these thoughts more intense than before.
Unwanted intrusive thoughts can often be caused by stress and anxiety, like when mothers experience fear that their newborn child is going to fall out the pram, or when people on high places feel the urge to jump off (the so-called “thought intruder”). Such intrusive thoughts don’t align with your values – for instance a mother who thinks about harming her child could actually be very gentle and kind – they are known as ego dystonic thoughts which contradict what one believes of themselves and what others believe about themselves.
Impulsive thoughts differ from intrusive ones in that impulsive ones tend to be pleasurable or satisfying despite carrying some risk, and tend to fade away more easily than intrusive, repetitive ones which cause discomfort or fear. Impulsive thoughts refer to spontaneous and often unplanned thoughts that arise in the mind without conscious intent. These thoughts are characterized by their sudden and impulsive nature, and they can be influenced by strong emotions, desires, or urges. Impulsive thoughts are typically associated with impulsive behaviors or actions that may occur without considering the potential consequences. For example, an impulsive thought might be an intense desire to eat a piece of cake despite being on a strict diet.
Intrusive thoughts tend to be more dramatic and impactful in their manifestation, potentially having more serious repercussions in daily life. If someone acted upon these intrusive thoughts they could end up in legal trouble, family or social trouble, or even physically injured. Furthermore, these intrusive thoughts may cause the person feeling overwhelmed, scared and anxious due to them. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that enter a person’s mind repeatedly and cause distress or anxiety. These thoughts can be disturbing, distressing, or violent in nature, and they often go against a person’s values or beliefs. Intrusive thoughts can be intrusive obsessions, where the person experiences persistent and unwanted thoughts, or they can be intrusive images, where the person sees disturbing mental images. For example, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may experience intrusive thoughts about harming themselves or others, even though they have no intention of doing so.
How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts
Overcoming intrusive thoughts takes effort and time, but one key to succeeding in doing so lies in understanding they’re not red flags or signals for you to act upon them. By acknowledging and employing an adapted version of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques it may be possible to reduce both their frequency and intensity. Mindfulness involves bringing your attention to the present moment without judgment. When intrusive thoughts arise, try to observe them without engaging with or getting caught up in them. Recognize them as passing mental events and let them go without attaching meaning or significance to them. Engage in activities that can divert your attention away from intrusive thoughts. Find something you enjoy, such as hobbies, exercise, reading, or spending time with loved ones. This can help shift your focus and provide relief from the distressing thoughts.