What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, intrusive thoughts are involuntary impulses or ideas caused by anxiety and are a common symptom in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, also referred to as OCD. Individuals with OCD experience intrusive, unpleasant thoughts that typically revolve around danger, illness and violence and often leave the sufferer in a sense of despair. Intrusive thoughts are sometimes referred to as obsessions.

The Mayo Clinic explains that intrusive thoughts and obsessions often contain themes of aggressive behavior, harming oneself or others, shouting obscenities and acting inappropriately. In order to minimize the anxiety created by unwanted thoughts, sufferers often perform rituals that include counting, checking repeatedly, washing and cleaning and asking for reassurance from others.

OCD-UK explains that intrusive thoughts can have extreme power over anxious individuals. Individuals without anxiety or OCD can easily brush off intrusive thoughts, but sufferers can quickly become caught in a repetitive and distressing cycle of imagining the worst and performing compulsive behaviors until the anxiety surrounding the intrusive thought has dissipated. Individuals with OCD are aware that their intrusive thoughts are irrational, but their anxiety drives them to obsess continually. OCD sufferers tend to have an inflated sense of responsibility when it comes to the safety of others and perceive their intrusive thoughts as a true threat, regardless of their own awareness of the irrationality of their intrusive thoughts and ideas.