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How You Can Overcome Intrusive Thoughts

intrusive thoughts“Meditation, mindfulness and other tools can help us avoid unwanted thoughts,” says social psychologist Daniel Wegner in this month’s edition of Monitor on Psychology.

Have you ever wanted to avoid thinking about a particular experience or topic only to find that it continually intrudes into your thoughts and activities?

9 thoughts on “How You Can Overcome Intrusive Thoughts

  • October 4, 2011 at 6:11 pm


    Thanks for the great article. As a therapist who works with many clients who struggle with intrusive thoughts, I found this information extremely beneficial. I will use some of Dr. Wegner’s techniques with my caseload and report back on their effectiveness.


  • October 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Christy,I don’t brand thoughts as intrusive or non-intrusive. I watch them flow without interfering. If one of them suggests action, I perform that action if my mind decides I should perform it.As a result I am in a state of great calm while being productive at the same time.Cheers,Lucky

  • October 6, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I battle with my thoughts every moment of the day. I avoid them with sleep, which keeps me from enjoying life. I’m very insecure an feel weak if I’m not acknowledged by my boyfriend. I hate this cycle, I feel like a prisoner.

  • October 8, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Instead of expending so much energy figuring how to overcome intrusive thoughts, shouldn’t we rather learn how to just accept these thoughts for what they are…….just thoughts? I think learning the right way to deal with intrusive thoughts is more beneficial than fighting their existence.

  • October 13, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Here’s my strategy:

    When I have a “thought” that keeps coming up and gives me an unresolved feeling, I focus on it and determine why I’m feeling that way.

    Then I figure out if there’s a way I can give myself what I’m wanting from the situation, or something to cause a shift in my perspective or relationship to the issue.

    Having an action plan gives me something positive and active to focus on.

  • February 19, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Please forgive my skepticism, but I tend to think this is all more snake oil. I just have to try something. The intrusive thoughts are about every time anyone has wronged me or disrespected me, and they come automatically without effort nor responsibility on my part.

    Today, I’ve been hitting myself in the head each time they come. I am sick and tired of them and am willing to do anything I haven’t already tried to stop them. I just wish I knew which part they are originating from and maybe I could cause lasting injury to that area. Nearly anything I hear, think, or read can trigger them.

    I beg and plead to God daily to love me enough to do a miracle and take them away forever. If God is loving, He will remove the thoughts, and I am still waiting for Him to love me in that manner. I’ve even sank to blasphemy and lashing out against God in revenge, but I try not to go to that place.

    Picking something absorbing to do seems to be a form of repression. I guess in a last resort situation, that could help. If you could focus on a good movie or something, that may offer temporary relief, but it does nothing to deal with the underlying issues. If you are going to kill yourself if you have one more thought, even this strategy is better than nothing.

    • February 19, 2012 at 10:50 am

      You are right, there are no easy or quick answers. Even these strategies take time to learn and practice to be effective. If you are not already seeing someone, I encourage you to seek help from a professional (hopefully one that is experienced in DBT or other treatment that have specific strategies for reducing self-harm). As I’m sure you have experienced, self-harm can provide temporary relief, but the painful thoughts return. Someone with knowledge of you and your specific situation, as well as effective strategies for dealing with intrusive thoughts can help you find ways of coping that work for you. It sounds like you’ve struggled with this for awhile and continue to search for strategies that will work for you, which takes a great deal of strength.

  • April 21, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    For me, the worst of unwanted thoughts takes a lot of work to be able to get to be at peace with them. I have been in therapy to deal with these. I have found that I can sometimes promise myself time for the thoughts, and postphone to a more convenient time, say 15-30 minutes in the evening. This has worked for me if I continually do this. I have to consciously work on these thoughts by writing or drawing about them during this 15 minute time.

  • July 5, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I have researched this on my own and have purchased a few books on the subject when I started having unwanted racial slurs pop into my head. Unfortunately when I started reading more about case studies on what other people have experienced, I started to get additional unwanted thoughts on other subjects!

    The books I read led me to the conclusion that this is a form of OCD not many people talk about. I’ve seen it on message boards referred to as so-called “Pure O”.

    The individual who commented about hitting themselves on the head reinforces this conclusion that it is what we label OCD. You obsess about something you don’t want to think about and then have a compulsion to make it stop somehow, whatever means necessary. Sometimes you can’t observe the compulsion but you probably are doing it mentally.

    I’m no expert, but I’ve been in therapy for a while and also on and off meds. All I can say is that my therapist agreed that I have a type of OCD that wasn’t that obvious since I don’t do a visually observable compulsion, like light switch flipping or any number of other behaviors. That does not make it any less debilitating at times of high stress.

    I am better now through a combo of medication which I am no longer on, talk therapy, meditation, and perhaps most importantly, working on a more positive self-image. I wish anyone going through this luck! There are many many people like us, obviously, or they wouldn’t bother writing an article about it. Hang in there, things will get better.


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