Unwanted Thoughts

What are unwanted thoughts?

Unwanted thoughts are those intrusive thoughts that cause high levels of distress. They seemingly come from nowhere, stick with us, and can cause a significant amount of anxiety. Unwanted intrusive thoughts generally consist of repetitive thoughts about relationships, decisions, sexual identity, safety, religion, death, or worries about questions that have no certain answer. When these thoughts are graphic or contain “inappropriate” themes, people can feel embarrassed or ashamed by them, which can cause people to not talk about what is happening.

It is estimated that more than 6 million people in the US are troubled by unwanted thoughts. The biggest issue is how intrusive these thoughts feel and the anxious thinking that continues to spiral to what seems out of control. The more you try to avoid the thought, the more powerful it tends to feel. The harder one attempts to suppress the thought, the more intense and invasive they become.

Many people will attempt to get reassurance that their thought is not true, which may work in the moment. The issue with this is that is leads one to needing and wanting reassurance all of the time. In order to take away the power of these thoughts, we have to reduce one’s sensitivity to them, which does not come with reassurance. This happens not by avoiding them, but treating them as if they are not interesting or true. They will eventually lose their grip over you and show up less.


Steps to change these thoughts:

  • Label the thoughts as intrusive.

  • Remind yourself that these thoughts are automatic and not up to you.

  • Accept and allow the thoughts into your mind. Do not try to push them away.

  • Allow time to pass.

  • Take deep breaths and remind yourself that these thoughts are not an urgent matter.

  • Expect the thoughts to come back again

  • Continue whatever you were doing prior to the intrusive thought while allowing the anxiety to be present.

Try Not To:

  • Engage with the thoughts in any way.

  • Push the thoughts out of your mind.

  • Try to figure out what they mean.

  • Constantly think about getting rid of the thoughts.

This can be a difficult concept, especially when the thoughts are frequent. But if you are able to implement this method for just a few weeks, there’s a good chance that you will see a decrease in your unwanted thoughts.

To work with a therapist who can help with intrusive thoughts, click here.