What are intrusive thoughts?

So, how do the experts define it? 

As Mind reminds us “It’s not about being tidy, it’s about having no control over your negative thoughts.”

This is a helpful excerpt from intrusivethoughts.org. Dr. Steven Phillipson has specialized in OCD for over 30 years and coined the term Pure OCD or Pure O.

  • Approximately 2% of the population experiences unwanted recurring thoughts, called intrusive thoughts.
  • Intrusive thoughts are meaningless and do not speak to a person’s character.

Dr. Phillipson refers to intrusive thoughts as creative associations. For this 2%, intrusive thoughts leave behind unsettling feelings whereby a person may manifest them into a serious crisis. When someone has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), intrusive thoughts are amplified. A person with OCD experiences “an avalanche of distress” associated with intrusive thoughts. In an effort to seek relief, the brain actually creates “a vicious cycle,” which reinforces the idea that something is seriously wrong.

When is it diagnosed as a disorder?

OCD UK has this to say:

For many people with OCD there is often an overinflated sense of responsibility to prevent harm and an over-estimation about the perceived threat that an intrusive thought signifies. It is these factors that help drive the compulsive behaviours, because the person with OCD often feels ultimately responsible for trying to prevent bad things happening.

To some degree OCD-type symptoms are probably experienced, at one time or another, by most people, especially in times of stress where they have succumbed to the seemingly nonsensical need to perform an odd and often unrelated behaviour pattern.

However, OCD itself can have a totally devastating impact on a person’s entire life, from education, work and career enhancementto social life and personal relationships.

The key difference that segregates little quirks, often referred to by people as being ‘a bit OCD’, from the actual disorder is when the distressing and unwanted experience of obsessions and compulsions impacts to a significant level upon a person’s everyday functioning – this represents a principal component in the clinical diagnosis of Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder.

OCD is diagnosed when the obsessions and compulsions:

  • Consume excessive amounts of time (approximately an hour or more)
  • Cause significant distress and anguish
  •  Interfere with daily functioning at home, school or work, including social activities and family life and relationships.

NICE Guidelines for OCD

If you’re living in the UK and you go to see your GP, they may not necessarily be aware of the best treatment and advice on OCD and intrusive thoughts. You may want to refer them to the NICE guidelines. 

People with OCD are often ashamed and embarrassed by their condition and may find it very difficult to discuss their symptoms with healthcare professionals, friends, family or carers. Healthcare professionals should help patients, and their families or carers where appropriate, to understand the involuntary nature of the symptoms by providing accurate information in an appropriate format on current understanding of the disorders from psychological and/or biological perspectives.

When assessing people with OCD, healthcare professionals should sensitively explore the hidden distress and disability commonly associated with the disorders, providing explanation and information wherever necessary. In particular, people with OCD who are distressed by their obsessive thoughts should be informed that such thoughts are occasionally experienced by almost everybody, and when frequent and distressing are a typical feature of OCD.

Please remember, if you need help, we are not experts. We can only share what has worked for us. For professional advice and support speak to one of the friendly people at Mind, Samaritans or- if you’re in the UK- the NHS or your local GP. 

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