Do Intrusive Thoughts Mean Anything?
Having unwanted thoughts does not make you a bad person.
Written by Alison Dotson
01 Many people with OCD assign meaning to their intrusive thoughts, which in turn, makes them doubt who they are as a person. It's crucial to remind yourself that these thoughts are not a reflection of your character in any way.
02 The ultimate goal with OCD is for sufferers to learn how to disregard the thoughts in their head, rather than validate them by assuming they mean something.
Essentially, no. A thought is just a thought, even when it causes distress.
Intrusive thoughts are so-called for a reason: they stick with a person, and the harder a person fights them, the stronger they get. Their intrusive nature makes them harder to dismiss, which leads the person to believe they must mean something. Why would the thoughts be there if there weren’t some truth to them? Don’t bad people think bad thoughts and good people think good thoughts? The reality is that everyone has “wrong” or “bad” thoughts, but people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) dwell on them and try to assign meaning to them.
It’s hard not to consider a thought bad when it causes so much anxiety, doubt, and guilt, but overreacting and panicking are the real problem—not the nature of the thoughts themselves. OCD is treatable, and it’s possible to learn how to react to the thoughts with some indifference. While sufferers often wish they’ll never have an upsetting intrusive thought again, the goal of treatment is to learn to accept the thoughts and let them flow through the mind as though they’re any other thought.
As advocate Jordaine Chattaway once put it, "OCD takes your core values, flips them, and serves them back to you in the nastiest way possible." This is a good way to think about it. The nature of your intrusive thoughts is normally an indication of things you'd never do, which is why they're upsetting. If you were a risk to others and tempted to act on the thoughts in your head, you wouldn't be so disgusted by them.
About the author
Alison Dotson is the author of Being Me with OCD: How I Learned to Obsess Less and Live My Life. She was diagnosed with OCD at age twenty-six after suffering from “taboo” obsessions for more than a decade. Alison is the president of OCD Twin Cities, an affiliate of the International OCD Foundation, and the recipient of the 2016 International OCD Foundation Hero Award.