Intrusive Thoughts, OCD, and Anxiety

October 4, 2018 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Intrusive thoughts can be part of disorders like OCD and GAD. Learn facts about these disturbing ideas and images as a first step in breaking away from them.

Experiencing intrusive thoughts is one of the most terrifying aspects of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). If you are repeatedly bombarded by distressing ideas and images, you might want to hide it because you are afraid that there's something wrong with you. However, intrusive thoughts aren't an indication that you are a terrible person. This look at intrusive thoughts in OCD and anxiety can help you understand what's happening and learn how to deal with these alarming, unwanted thoughts. 

What Are the Intrusive Thoughts of Anxiety and OCD?

Intrusive thoughts are just that--thoughts that force themselves into someone's mind. They typically pounce in out of nowhere, and their content is disturbing. Common themes of intrusive thoughts include:

  • Violence
  • Death
  • Thoughts of harming your own child
  • Inappropriate sexual thoughts 
  • Worries about sexual orientation 
  • Bothersome thoughts about your religion or aspects of your faith

People are usually the subject of their own intrusive thoughts. They might see themselves violently beating a spouse, running over a stranger with a car, or pushing an elderly neighbor down the stairs. Thoughts of violent or deviant sexual acts can strike out of the blue.

Understandably, intrusive thoughts can be terrifying. People are usually alarmed and horrified that they could have such thoughts, and it causes tension and anxiety because the people who have them don't think of themselves as violent, sexually inappropriate, or sacrilegious--or at least they didn't think that way before the disturbing thoughts began. 

Intrusive Thoughts: You're Not the Only One

People often keep quiet about their intrusive thoughts because they're afraid of the thoughts: afraid they might act on them, afraid they're horrible for thinking them, or afraid they'll drive people away. Because of the silence, many people think they're alone in having recurring dark thoughts. That's not the case, though. This is the case:

The amount of people affected by intrusive thoughts is even greater than what these figures indicate. These estimates consider only people living with a mental health diagnosis. Actually, almost every single human being experiences intrusive thoughts from time to time. They become a problem when they hook you and crowd out your other thoughts and experiences. Intrusive thoughts can significantly increase anxiety, worry, and fear and decrease quality of life.

The horrific thoughts can cause psychological stress and problems in relationships, work, and other important life areas. However, you can take your life back and loosen the grip intrusive thoughts have on you. It's a matter of shifting your thinking.

The next post will provide ways you can deal with and heal from the intrusive thoughts of OCD and anxiety. For now, remember that you're not alone and you're not your thoughts. 


  1. Seif, Martin & Winston, Sally, "Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts"Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Accessed October 3, 2018.
  2. Ackerman, Courtney, "What Are Intrusive Thoughts in OCD and Anxiety? + Treatment Options"Positive Psychology Program. July 2018. 

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2018, October 4). Intrusive Thoughts, OCD, and Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Cheri Hoff
October, 6 2018 at 1:56 pm
I haveOCD omugst other things. I have been on meds many years. Still get intrusive thoughts but when they come I see the illness for what it is and let it come and go. No big deal.
October, 7 2018 at 6:00 pm
Hi Cheri,
thank you for commenting and mentioning that you are able to let your thoughts come and go without them becoming a problem. This could be a source of encouragement for a great many people.

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