intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are strange or disturbing thoughts that can pop into your head without warning, at any time. They are completely normal but some people may experience them more frequently or severely than others

Intrusive thoughts can be violent, upsetting or sexually graphic and reflect values that the person having them finds repellent or completely unacceptable in reality. 

They can include:

  • Harming yourself

  • Hurting people you love

  • Sexually graphic fantasies

  • The death of loved ones

  • Putting yourself in danger

  • Imagining yourself in an accident

Thoughts are not actions

Intrusive thoughts can be very alarming or distressing for some people, especially if they are happening regularly.

However, although it might seem obvious to state, please remember that they are just thoughts, they are not actions. And they may stem from another part of your subconscious that you’re not even aware of yet.  

An underlying reason

For example, it’s perfectly healthy to be curious about sex and the changes that happen during puberty. Studies by human sexuality researchers indicate that these kinds of thoughts or fantasies can occur out of guilt avoidance.

In other words, when we come from a background that perhaps sees sex as taboo, engaging in thoughts about graphic or violent sex helps us experience the sexual exploration without carrying the guilt of engaging in an act that others may look upon as “dirty.” 

In real life, when having an intimate relationship with someone, it’s really important that both people consent and feel safe with one another. Remember that no one has the right to touch you without your permission. When consent is obtained this can result in healthy, safe, respectful and enjoyable sexual experiences for all involved. You can learn more about consent here:    

How to manage intrusive thoughts

There are lots of things you can do to calm your mind and manage intrusive thoughts: 

  • Meditation – guided meditations can help you slow down and refocus on other things that will make you feel calmer and more at ease with yourself.

  • Reframing – instead of berating yourself for having the thoughts, treat yourself with compassion and ask yourself why they might be coming to you. Are you upset with someone? Are you worried about something? Are you feeling frustrated about an aspect of your life? These things could be contributing to your thoughts and if you voice them, journal about them or even acknowledge them, they may become easier to understand and less frequent.

  • Sleep – you cannot put a price on a good night’s sleep. If you’re tired, everything that you’re worried about is magnified and seems far more upsetting than it actually is. We all face challenges better when we’re well rested and are better equipped to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

  • Nature – it might seem simplistic but going for a walk in a green area or beach is incredibly calming for your mind as well as being restorative for your mood and physical wellbeing. Take deep breaths as you walk, inhaling for a count of 4 seconds, holding for 4, releasing for 4 and pausing for 4. This technique is known as box breathing.

For more information, you could read 

Talking things through

We feel that it’s important to talk about our feelings and what’s going on for us. Sharing worries and concerns can be helpful for our wellbeing. Sometimes speaking with a trusted adult, such as a relative, teacher or youth worker who can listen and support us can be really helpful. You could also contact us at Childline. We are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can get in touch by calling 1800 66 66 66 or via online chat at We’re here to listen to whatever is going on for you. 

Remember you are not alone and Childline is always on hand to listen; no problem is too big or too small.   

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