Uncomfortable Intrusive Thoughts

Reader’s Question

I am not certain if this is a concern or not. I noticed many times that my mind wanders and has really bad thoughts that come to mind and I need to immediately rebuke these thoughts. Such as…thinking of hitting someone in the face while talking to them (and it isn’t that I have a problem with these people), or sexual thoughts of things I am not interested in doing or the individual either. It frightens me because I wonder when I get older whether I may not be able to control these thoughts and either act them out or talk about them verbally and be heard. Is this normal? I consider myself a normal, mild manner person and people generally like me and get along with me. Is this normal or should I seek therapy for this? I am in my late 40’s and a college educated male with a good job and I have plenty of friends and family who love and support me. I have never shared this with anyone. I had therapy many years ago for depression but have done well since then.

Psychologist’s Reply

Depression is often accompanied by intrusive or obsessive thoughts — all of which are uncomfortable — typically involving violence, sexual behavior, cursing, etc. In many cases, these thoughts are so strong that they qualify to be considered as obsessive-compulsive.

Depression is associated with a lower level of the neurotransmitter Serotonin. It’s for this reason that most antidepressants seek to make more Serotonin available. Research tells us that obsessive-compulsive symptoms are also linked to low Serotonin levels. Your history of depression has probably placed you at-risk for these intrusive and obsessional thoughts. You might consider them a left-over from your original depression. It’s like having flashbacks of a previous trauma that surface during the day — typically when your anxiety or stress level is high. Keep in mind that all people have random thoughts that intrude into their life each day such as “I need to win the lottery” or “I wish I had that automobile”.

As a helpful hint, trying to rebuke them or repress them increases their strength. It’s like trying your best not to think of a white polar bear. Rather than fighting with these thoughts, be entertained by them. Try to view them with humor. Also use them as a stress, anxiety, or boredom indicator. When they surface in conversation, it’s probably a warning that you’re developing anxiety or tension of some kind. These thoughts do not predict the future, do not cause you to do bad things, etc. However, if they reach the point that they are controlling your life — as when you don’t talk to people for fear of them — then it’s time to return to therapy and perhaps an antidepressant medication. It’s a memory and chemical problem — not a reflection of your life, values, or personality.

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