Defusing Intrusive Thoughts

Suicides are increasing at a crazy rate right now. A few weeks ago, yet another family man and pastor in his early 30s ended his own life. Last week another, and this time a distant family member.

I had to process this one even more because I had this feeling. So much so I actually reached out to say hi and see how they were doing. They said everything was great and actually tried to see if they could help me with anything. Something they shared on social media stood out to me as a red flag. I realize now that it’s not enough to simply reach out. Not that we can save everyone, but if we are going to make a valid effort, it has to be personal, perhaps even intrusive if the concern is legitimate. It’s time for more resources to be available. I know I only have 100 followers and a little experience, but I can’t stand to see people dying.

One common symptom of the one-two punch that is anxiety and depression are intrusive thoughts. These typically accompany OCD, another variant of anxiety, but are actually common mental intrusions (or cognitive distortions) for many.

These are wild, often dark thoughts that go against your natural character. In turn, they produce more anxiety as you try to “resolve” them. These are so scary that they make you feel like something within you needs to be “fixed” so that the thought doesn’t happen again. Some examples of intrusive thoughts are:

  • Im going to molest my child
  • I’m going to fall during my presentation
  • I’m gay
  • I’m going to kill my dog
  • Life isn’t worth it

These are real examples shared by people. They typically fall into the realm of violence, sexuality, and failure.

So why mention this with this story? While we will never know what was going through these minds before they took their own lives, what if it was one of these crazy thoughts that pushed them over the edge? What if they battled them for so long and were so stressed trying to “resolve” them that it pushed them to end it all? I hope these help you take your life back, even if just a little!

1. The Flip Side

The first tool to get in your belt is training your mind to see the flip side of the fear. Wait…

Before we proceed, let’s expel that doubt that your mind can be retrained. Your memories you will not be able to cut loose, but your reactions, the way you observe your environment (seen and unseen) can be. This is the purpose of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), among other types of therapy. It is there to get you out of the fear, help you see it, find the root, and voila, change.

Back to the flip side of fear. We have to see these intrusive thoughts for what they are. Ok, you had a crazy thought. If you “feel crazy” that actually means you are not. If you are aware enough to have the scare that you’re losing control or losing your mind, you are far more coherent and in control than you realize.

What could the thought mean? Accept that if you have an odd sexual thought, that natural, pure sexuality is important you. If you have a scary thought that you’re going to harm your family in some way, accept that you simply prioritize the protection of your family. You’ll have to test this for yourself, but that foundation is finding a positive meaning behind the thought, and learn to leave it at that. More on that in a minute..

2. The Trinity

This picture represents the trinity of being that we are. Man, that sounds really spiritual and fancy. It’s true, though. We are made up of our mind (our thoughts), our bodies (our actions/instincts), and our hearts (our intentions).

A great way of defusing intrusive thoughts is to put them up against a logical test to discredit them. This will provide you a little boost of dopamine to help you shift gears and lay off the compulsive behavior to “fix.”

This triangle can be read as graduating from step to step. Intrusive thoughts start in the mind. But is the thought something we would physically do in our bodies? Is the thought something we want to happen in our heart, our intention? I would be curious to hear how often your intrusive thoughts fail this logic test of genuine truth. Mine failed 100% of the time. Our foundation of who we are is not found in our mind, it is found in our intentions. It is possible that we make an instinctual mistake in our bodies, but it is still our intentions, our heart, that establishes who we are.

This is why if you flip this triangle upside down, you can see that the mind could not stand on its own. This is consistent with what Jesus Christ says in Mark 7:15: “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

Next time you have a wild thought, leave it as powerless and neutral as it actually is. If you do not want it, it is outside of who you are. It cannot defile you. It is outside of you. Rest.

3. The Eyewitness

If you’ve ever watched the local news, you’ve seen a random local citizen sharing an awkward eyewitness account for something. They aren’t on the news to crack the case or anything other than simply to share what they witnessed.

You can do the same with your intrusive thoughts. If you’ve done these steps in order, you’ve already found the flip side and embraced it, and you’ve felt the relief that an external/automatic thought doesn’t mean you are corrupt or broken. Now, it’s time to exercise your real strength.

Your real strength isn’t in “resolving” the ghost that is your anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts. Your real strength is found in the wisdom and discipline required to leave it alone. Simply observe it. Try counting to see how long it take for the next thought to come into your mind. As Nicola Bird puts it, our minds are like the ticker tape on the news. Headlines (thoughts) are constantly running across the bottom of the screen. If you let them pass, they will soon be replaced by another.

Intrusive thoughts could be a culprit of suicide. Your life is worth it! If you are having thoughts you can’t get rid of, suicidal ideas, or would just like to talk, please reply with an exclamation point so that I know to reach out with resources. You are loved.

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