Obsessive Thoughts, Intrusive Thoughts: Have I Lost My Mind?
People with OCD have obsessive thoughts or images that bother them. (What is OCD?) These obsessive, intrusive thoughts, a key characteristic of the OCD diagnosis, could center on fear of making mistakes, contamination, illness, preoccupation with religion or sex, fear of unwanted urges and desires, or just about anything that you perceive as dangerous, unclean, or disgusting.
What Are Obsessive Thoughts?
What are the obsessive thoughts that people with OCD have? It's impossible to list all the possible obsessive-compulsive thoughts people could have, but here are a few examples:
- I touched the bathroom door and now I have germs on me.
- I left the stove on when I left.
- I forgot to lock the front door.
- I left the dryer running and now my house will burn down.
- I committed a sinful act and God will punish me.
- If I don't touch the doorknob three times when I leave, my husband will die in an accident.
- I keep having a violent fantasy about hurting my boss and I'm afraid I'll act on it.
- If all my canned goods don't face the same way, something bad will happen.
Relief for Obsessive, Intrusive Thoughts
Many people with OCD perform ritualistic behaviors, or compulsions, in an attempt to stop the bothersome, repetitive, intrusive thoughts and the intense anxiety they cause. Those with "pure OCD" keep all their obsessive thoughts and compulsions entirely to themselves. The compulsive behaviors they perform to alleviate the distress resulting from the thoughts occur silently in their minds, such as repeating nonsense words in a certain order over and over or counting in a pattern.
If you have recurring thoughts like this, you may think:
- Have I lost my mind?
- How can I make them stop?
- What do these thoughts mean?
- They must mean something important about me.
Depending on the severity of your OCD intrusive thoughts, you may need to seek OCD help sooner than later, but you haven't lost your mind. According to Robert L. Lehey, Ph.D., and columnist for Psychology Today, thoughts are not the same thing as reality and everyone has crazy or disgusting thoughts at one time or another. He also says that thought suppression will not work to banish the obsessive thoughts associated with OCD.
Obsessive Thoughts and Anxiety
Anxiety represents a key symptom arising from obsessive thoughts that just won't go away. These thoughts keep intruding upon your mind, even when you're thinking about something else. You try to block them out, but they don't stop. The fear that something bad will happen mounts, causing severe anxiety. At this point, you may start acting out a ritual behavior that your thoughts tell you will stop the bad thing from happening. (more on OCD and anxiety)
Imagine that you keep having this recurring thought that you have a brain tumor. You've been to the doctor, had an MRI and other tests, and your head checks out just fine. But you're still convinced that you have a tumor because the thought keeps recurring, telling you that you do and that the doctor has made a mistake. This causes intense anxiety. So you research brain tumors at the library, in health magazines, on the Internet, spending hours looking up every shred of information you can find on brain tumors.
If you repeatedly have unwanted thoughts, you should seek the help of a mental health professional. He or she can help you understand your obsessive thoughts and provide you with a strategy, which includes OCD therapy, that can help you break the cycle of OCD intrusive thoughts.
Last Updated: 03 February 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD