Coping with Intrusive Thoughts in Bipolar Disorder
There are many things you have to cope with when you have bipolar disorder and one of those things may be intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that are beyond your control and can become obsessions. But they are thoughts you do not want and, certainly, obsessions you don’t want to have. Here are some ways to cope with intrusive thoughts in bipolar disorder.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts in Bipolar Disorder?
According to Wikipedia1, in psychiatry, an intrusive thought is:
. . . an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.
And intrusive thoughts can even lead to compulsions if they are strong enough.
Now, intrusive thoughts are not a specific symptom of bipolar disorder as found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5); nevertheless, intrusive thoughts are common in bipolar disorder and many mental illnesses (typical in posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] in the form of reexperiencing the traumatic event). I have them every day and I know many other people have them at various times in their illnesses.
Examples of Intrusive Thoughts in Bipolar Disorder
Intrusive thoughts can be anything that you don’t want to think but repeatedly do. These could be words or images in your mind.
Common intrusive thoughts involve thoughts regarding a trauma. If you have been raped, for example, you may repeatedly replay that experience, or not be able to get the attacker’s face out of your mind.
Other intrusive thoughts that may occur in bipolar disorder and elsewhere:
- Thoughts of self-harm
- Thoughts of suicide
- Thoughts of violence towards others
- Thoughts of self-hatred
- Thoughts of a previous, negative experience (such as a fight with a significant other)
And so on and so on and so on. These thoughts are horrible, against your will and cause great upset.
I have coped with many intrusive thoughts over the course of my illnesses. The biggest intrusive thought I have in my life right now is the sentence, “I hate my life.”
Over and over and over every single day, I think to myself, “I hate my life.”
As any psychologist will tell you, that’s certainly reinforcing the negative, which is not a place where you want to be. Regardless of that, it causes me distress and upset because I don’t want to think that thought. It’s not even a rational thought. It needs to go away.
Bipolar Disorder and Coping with Intrusive Thoughts
I have found that people with bipolar disorder are often obsessive. We obsess over things, people, places and pretty much everything else. I have obsessed over so many things in my life I can’t even recall them all, I’m sure. So, in my opinion, it makes sense that those with bipolar disorder would also suffer from intrusive thoughts.
In my experience, there is no way to get rid of intrusive thoughts psychologically (there are exceptions), but I can cope with intrusive thoughts. Try these steps for coping with intrusive thoughts:
- Identify intrusive thoughts. You need to recognize if a thought is truly intrusive. Are you thinking of something repeatedly when you don’t want to? Is the thought popping up at times when it doesn’t make sense? Is it causing significant distress?
- Acknowledge these thoughts when they occur. I know that a reflex may be to push these thoughts aside as much as possible but, in my experience, this doesn’t help. For example, when I think “I hate my life,” I then to myself, “I know.” It’s not an acknowledgment of the truth of the thought but rather that I know that my brain is simply producing it.
- Take a deep breath. I tend to take a deep breath and sigh at my intrusive thoughts.
- Don’t judge your thoughts. If you understand that these thoughts are part of an illness, then you should understand judging them is useless and inappropriate. For example, you wouldn’t judge a sneeze when you have a cold, why should you judge a mental illness symptom?
- Replace the thought with something more positive. This is the really tricky part. Every time I have an intrusive thought, I try to “thought switch.” So I try to move my brain onto thoughts that I want to think. These wanted thoughts could be anything from a predefined soothing image to something as simple as your to-do list.
Remember, intrusive thoughts are part of a mental illness like bipolar disorder. Intrusive thoughts are created in your sick brain and are not truly what you think and are not truly part of you. I know that I don’t hate my life. I know that it seems like I do because of my sick brain. But I know I can look at these intrusive thoughts rationally and fight them. This may not make them go away, but it can make coping with them bearable.
(Note: There are also psychiatric treatments for intrusive thoughts. Always report intrusive thoughts to a mental healthcare professional like a psychiatrist. Not only is it important for him/her to understand where you are in your illness but he/she may also offer medical help when needed.)
- Wikipedia, Intrusive Thoughts. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
Tracy, N. (2017, November 28). Coping with Intrusive Thoughts in Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 13 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2017/11/coping-with-intrusive-thoughts-in-bipolar-disorder
Author: Natasha Tracy
I am so glad I found this. I've be recently diagnosed with BP and it all made sense that I have been struggling with disorder my entire life. I come from a very religious mother who would never think of taking me to psychiatrist or therapy for that matter not for me or herself. I have had intrusive thoughts recently as I reached my 30th birthday and so I sought out help with this. I didn't know anything about BP or what came with it. And thinking of these things has made me question my sanity because it really hurts me when they cycle through and I'm with loved ones. Luckily ive been prescribed medication to help with these things and have just begun the journey to control and understanding. Reading this article and especially the comments have filled me with warmth and comfort knowing that I'm not alone and I'm not crazy. I'm not a religious person but I do have faith in the human spirit and in my will to beat these symptoms and always live a life of integrity. Thank you for all the help you've given me. This post really means a lot to me right now.
Wow. Talk about timing! I stumbled across this article thru Pintrest. And it fits...not just the article, but specifically some of the comments below. I was diagnosed quite recently with BP, and the intrusive thoughts part is making me question both my faith AND sanity. All of a sudden, EVERYONE seems to be a potential bedmate, and if it were a momentary temptation, I could laugh it off and go my merry way thinking, "Wow. THAT was an inappropriate thought. Wonder where THAT came from..." but the thoughts DON'T go away. They build and cycle. I can't stop thinking about my chiropractor, my esthetician, my counselor, or random attractive people on the street. I have been feeling attacked spiritually and exhausted mentally. My religious tradition IS open to the use of medication, but also acknowledges there are forces in this world who do not want me to succeed in life. My solution lies in battling this disease medically, relationally (thru counseling), and spiritually. This article helped solidify that I am neither evil (any more than anyone else) nor am I crazy. I just need to find tools for dealing and get those meds straightened out!
This is a blessing. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and I know all about intrusive thoughts. But, now my Mental health dr. Is starting to treat me for BP. It's starting to make sense. I am also a Christian who has struggled with sexual thoughts on a reg. basis for years. I thought the devil was attacking me personally.
This is very helpful for me.. I was thinking thoughts of things i would never do.. Things god would not approve of.. Now i know its not what you want.. Its the opposite
My name is Miriam since the start of this year
I have been getting intrusive throughs about another religion witch is not orthodox, it is really hard to cope because I have been Egyptian Coptic orthodox all my life and also visit other orthodox religions as well to ask for help and I have also prayed a lot as well but Recently I have not been going to church praying because I been have ride thought as well, by reading your web pages I have learn how to cope with all my throughs by blocking them or by replacing them it a contest battle and some days I just cry because all the Disease dose is wreck everything you axon and put you back to square one.
Thank you for your comment.
I know how hard it is and, quite frankly, crying about it sometimes is quite reasonable. But we can do it. We can fight. It's hard but we can do it.
- Natasha Tracy
I’m a devout Christian as well and have literally just found out about this intrusive thought disorder
And for years believed it is demonic, and still know demonic complexities are still attacking.
But I’m very relieved to find this out.there is no doubt in my mind I have this disorder, I was diagnosed with BP this year, and I’m going straight to my Psychologist.
Umm it’s good to know God is not offended by the mental illness’s thinking.
And He will teach me how