Intrusive thoughts: what, when and why
Intrusions are thoughts or mental images that come to mind unbidden and interrupt what we were doing at the time. Wondering whether you turned off the gas when sitting at your desk is a normal intrusion as everyone experiences this from time to time and it usually doesn’t cause a lot of problems or distress. However, intrusions become problematic when they are very disruptive and/or distressing. This can be a symptom of a mental disorder. For example, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can have unwanted intrusions about things that might happen if they don’t act in a certain way.
Intrusions: clinical examples and how to treat them
Intrusions are also common after traumatic experiences, where people might suddenly re-experience the smell of burnt rubber, the sound of explosive blasts or someone screaming. Such intrusions usually abate with time, but in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), distressing intrusions persist, and people tend to do things to stop them (e.g., avoid certain situations that trigger intrusions), which is often counterproductive. Fortunately, we have treatments that are effective at reducing intrusions.
PhD Student - Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
University of Amsterdam