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Intrusive Thoughts are Okay with Me! Blog Clare Fisher

I saw a snail today and I thought to myself what would happen if I stepped on it……… unexpectedly my mind started exploring all the possible outcomes – a cracking then a squishing noise, a squashed mess on the bottom of my shoe, a readymade meal for a bird, one less pest to munch on someone’s prize primroses. Then confusion sets in, why would I even think such an ugly thing as I love snails and I would never purposefully kill anything. Where in the depths of my mind did this dark thought come from, a thought that goes against my core values. This out of character intrusive thought must make me bad, weird and a potential snail killer. A foreboding fear and anxiety creeps over me, what will happen if I see another snail, will the urge to step on it reoccur and will I actually one day carry out the action?

We all have intrusive thoughts, images and impulses that are personally and socially unacceptable, but very few of would actually act upon them. People tend to hide their more sinister thoughts from others due to shame, the fear of negative judgements and even reprisals.

Intrusive thoughts occur because our brains can operate automatically as they plan, interpret, organise and make judgements about our day to day experiences on autopilot. This results in some of our more intrusive thoughts being out with our conscious control.

Problems occur for people when they try to take control of their thought process by supressing intrusive images and impulses. Let’s try an experiment, please do not think of Elsa from the movie Frozen for 1 minute. I wonder how many times the unwanted image of Elsa sneaked into your conscious mind. I bet quite a few times as the more we try to not think of something, the more we end up thinking about what we are trying to supress.

So what do we do about? As I really cannot avoid snails for the rest of my life. The answer is not to avoid situations, places and people that trigger our intrusive thoughts, images and impulses. It is important to experience the uncomfortable anxiety inducing feeling that these thoughts create in order to overcome the power that they hold over us. You may wish to use mindfulness techniques to help you ground yourself in stressful situations.

Please know that having a thought about an action like squashing a snail is not morally equivalent to actually squashing it. If an intrusive thought pops into your mind, the probability of it coming true is minuscule. Also if you regularly have a thought, it doesn’t have a special meaning.

At the end of the day we all have intrusive thoughts, unwanted images and impulses, but we do not act on them. It might be helpful to accept them for what they can be; fleeting, meaningless, observations & considerations without the power to control us.

In the words of Elsa from Frozen

“Let it go, let it go

Can't hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go

Turn away and slam the door

I don't care what they're going to say

Let the storm rage on

The cold never bothered me anyway”

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