We spend a hell of a lot of time each day thinking about things. The average person has tens of thousands of thoughts every single day. Some are nice thoughts that make you feel excited about things. Others can be upsetting and can make you feel sad or low. But there is a type of thought that many people struggle to talk about, some can’t even say the words of the thoughts that they have and can become extremely distressed at their content. These thoughts are called intrusive thoughts.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are distressing in nature and tend to be the exact opposite of what you would ever want to do. Examples of intrusive thoughts are:
- What if I accidentally hurt my baby?
- I might drown him in the bath.
- I could let go of the pram and the baby will get run over.
- What if I put the pillow over the baby’s head when she is crying?
- I love looking at my baby’s cute little bum, does that make me a paedophile?
- I want to stab my partner.
- Other people might abuse my baby when they are looking after him/her.
Thoughts just like these can randomly pop into your head and can feel extremely unpleasant to have. A loving, caring mother could end up very distressed by having a thought about harming her baby because she may start to wonder why she had that thought and what it means about her as a mother/person.
Who Gets Them and How Often?
Intrusive thoughts are normal, and we ALL get them (whether we admit it or not). The average person gets about 4-5 intrusive thoughts a day. When I work with people struggling to manage intrusive thoughts, we look at how having the thought isn’t actually a problem, it is the meaning you attach to the thought when you experience them that can change the way you live your life.
When Intrusive Thoughts Become a Problem
With the example earlier, if a mum had an intrusive thought about harming her baby, she may think that it means she is an awful mother for thinking about harming her child and that having the thought means she will act it out.
This meaning can then go on to shape her behaviour, so this mum may start to avoid spending quality time with her baby or avoid being alone with her baby because she worries she will act out her thought.
Parents can struggle to open up to healthcare professionals about intrusive thoughts for fear of having their baby/children removed from their care. Please let me reassure you, having an intrusive thought and being distressed by it in itself shows you have no intention to harm your child. There is a BIG difference between having a distressing intrusive thought and having an actual desire to hurt your baby. We know that the nature of intrusive thoughts and them being the exact opposite of your desires/values, means that you are extremely unlikely to act out your thoughts.
What To Do If You Are Struggling to Manage Them
A really simple suggestion would be to welcome your intrusive thoughts. Allow them to be there. You don’t need to like the thought or enjoy having it, but soon it will go away, and another thought will take its place. Trying not to think about the thought will only lead to it staying around longer than you want it to.
Another tip is to focus on what you get the urge to do when you have an intrusive thought. Do you want to swap the thought with a happier thought? Do you try and keep really busy to try and distract yourself from the thoughts? Notice, jot down and try and resist the urge to behave any differently. This is very much easier said than done and you may need the support of a therapist if you are finding it too difficult to work through on your own.
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