You’re probably guessing from the title that today’s thinks is going to be quite intense. My friend, you’ve guessed right! You’ve also probably stumbled on this post because of the title, or you personally have struggled with intrusive thoughts. Perhaps you are terrified of these thoughts that come out of nowhere and are searching for any answers possible before some shrink labels you as “crazy”. Have a seat, we have a lot more “crazy” in common than you think.
In today’s thinks, I’m going to go over some of my personal experiences with intrusive thoughts as well as what has helped me. I would like to add a disclaimer before you read any further though. If you are in a situation where you feel that you are going to hurt yourself or someone else, please reach for help immediately. Your safety and the safety of others is not something to take a chance with. Any advise I give today is what has personally worked for me. Please know that I am not a licensed physician. I am simply sharing this to give insight to those who may be confused as to what is happening to them. My experience may not be identical to yours. However, my hope is shed light on this issue.
I stabbed someone…
These are actual words I spoke to a counselor this year as I was describing the thoughts inside my head. This was probably one of the most terrifying things I had ever explained to anyone. Saying out loud what would go inside my head was extremely embarrassing. I was sobbing in his office as I described the violent visions that would flash through my mind. I was so ashamed that I would ever think these types of things.
The visions would usually start if I was cooking. I would be holding a kitchen knife and preparing dinner. The next thing I knew, violent thoughts of people I loved would flash through my mind. I would be the one hurting my husband, my friends, and anyone I cared for dearly. The images were so graphically vivid that it would make me physically sick. I would immediately drop the knife, run out of the kitchen, begin crying, and feeling horrible for the things I had just thought.
It happened before…
When my counselor asked me to describe further what would happen during my visions, he asked me if this had happened before as well as what my stress levels were at the moment. To my surprise, my therapist was not a bit shocked about what I was going through. I went on to explain to him that something similar had happened a few years ago when my anxiety had spiked before my husband had deployed. Earlier this spring, I was dealing with some family drama (you can read more about that here Healing from Spiritual Abuse and Forgiving My Abusers) as well as a recent move that was causing my anxiety and depression to get out of control.
But I would NEVER hurt anyone!
After composing myself from telling my therapist what was going on, I told him that I would never want to hurt anyone. The people who would be victims of my thoughts were all people I cared for, and no one that had ever hurt me. I can’t handle 5min (or trailers) of shows like The Walking Dead without getting spooked out and I have never physically attacked anyone.
He then began to explain to me something I had never heard before.
“What you are describing to me is called an intrusive thought.”
Intrusive thought? What is that?
Intrusive thoughts are ideas that flash through your mind involuntarily. In most cases the “thinker” would never in real life act upon or have any desire to act upon these thoughts. These thoughts can be triggered by things such as: fear, extreme stress, depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and eating disorders. The list he gave me were mostly of things I had previously struggled (eating disorder/anorexia) with or were presently dealing with (PTSD, depression, anxiety, extreme stress, fear).
In cases of the extreme stress, etc. the mind can begin to play tricks on you. Sometimes this can involve bombarding your mind with things you fear the most (hurting others). The thoughts can be so vivid that they make you feel like you actually committed the actions that terrify you. With things like anxiety and depression that are out of control, the brain may not have the capability to differentiate the difference between normal common sense (Things you would actually do) and fantasy (Visions that are not real).
This is actually a technique that horror film producers use to spook their audience. By creating extreme fear and stress levels with the sounds and scenes, it tampers with the audience’s mental clarity. The viewer is then spooked about things that may never logically be possible.
How do I stop…you know, loosing my mind?
The first step to gaining control of the situation was to identify triggers and lower stress levels. Both times I had experienced the intrusive thoughts were when my stress levels were extremely high. The triggers could be if I was around any type of sharp object or anything I was particularly scared of.
Before going to a counselor I was frantically searching the internet of some type of explanation to the madness. I was surprised to find hundreds of online forms of people terrified of the exact same experiences. One that really surprised me was of a grandmother who had to put her knitting needles away because she had violent visions of using them as a weapon. She was so afraid that she could hurt someone so she had to put all of her crafts away.
Lower Stress and Anxiety Levels
Stress can do crazy things to you. Extreme stress can mess with your mental stability. In some cases stress can even mimic what feels like a heart attack or cause sever migraines. I had to put my Anxiety in check and lower my stress levels to begin with. You can read my post 5 Ways to De-Stress to find out more about how I got my stress levels down. These are actual tips that helped me when I was going through this.
Leave the Feared Area
Any time I felt a thought being triggered I learned to just leave the room. There is no point in tormenting yourself with the involuntary thoughts that decide to show up without your consent. Leaving the area of what was triggering me not only prevented most of the thoughts but also kept me from feeling the shame and guilt later. The times I stuck around and said, “No I have to cook dinner!” were the times I felt the most miserable. I would even begin to cry, and it wasn’t because of onions. Usually I only had to leave for no more than 5 min to put myself back together mentally.
Captivate Your Thoughts
Although you may not have any control of the thoughts that bombard your mind, you do have control over if you want to stay there and what happens after. You have to remember that they are simply thoughts, ideas your mind has formulated out of fear. Dwelling on or desiring these actions would be a whole other issue. However, intrusive thoughts are not welcomed.
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
2 Corinthians 10:5
After leaving your triggered area, remind yourself of what just happened. You were attacked by a violent thought that was unwanted, you walked away from it, and now you are composing yourself. Captivate the thought that just happened. The thought is simply just that. It has no control over you, and you are refusing to let it control you in the form of an action or shame. You are in control of the situation not this thought. The thoughts are not real, they are a result of a warped mental state. Pray for peace and don’t allow the guilt to linger.
Do they ever stop?
I wish I had the perfect answer for you. I wish that I could tell you that this will never happen to you or I again. However, anyone that suffers from things such as ADHD, OCD, PTSD, Anxiety, or Depression knows they don’t simply just “go away”. They can, however, be suppressed to a degree. After bringing my anxiety levels down and working through my depression, I will say that these thoughts have not appeared. I have been able to think more clearly and be more in control of my mind.
My best advise if you are walking through this is to seek help from a professional counselor. You will be able to work through various mental exercises that are customized to you. I know walking into a therapist’s office can be terrifying, but trust me you will thank yourself later! Your mental health is extremely important and can affect your entire life. Getting help for intrusive thoughts also doesn’t make you crazy, it makes you in control and aware of what is happening.
Thank you for reading today’s thinks! I hope I was able to shed some light on questions you may have had about intrusive thoughts. I hope you are able to seek help and reach mental peace.