Youth & Intrusive Thinking

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In my practice, I am finding it more and more  common for teens and young adults to experience Intrusive thinking.  These thoughts are thoughts that seem to become stuck in your mind and as much as you try to ignore them, it does not work and actually comes back with a vengeance. These thoughts that my young clientele experience can cause much distress, since the nature of the thought might be taboo and disturbing. They also occur frequently, which can make the concern worse.

Unwanted or Intrusive thoughts may be violent and aggressive and or sexual in nature, which involves fantasies.  Youth experiencing these thoughts find them to be unacceptable and abhorrent and inappropriate, hence the youth feels shameful and alone for thinking this way.

What teens and young adults need to remember is that these are just merely thoughts.  They do not and should not be something that you act upon. However, they seemingly appear out of nowhere and cause severe anxiety.  One thing you need to remember is that you do not have to add value or meaning to these intrusive thoughts.  They are simply thoughts and the more energy you invest in these thoughts the more power they have over you.  As a result,  do not give these intrusive thoughts much power and merely accept that this is something that you are experiencing which does not represent who you are as a person or does not mean that you should act on these thoughts.  Many young adults find it extremely challenging to discuss their thinking with anyone, however realize that you are not alone and this thinking in young adults is more and more common. 

Research done by Harvard Health and Harvard Medical School: By Kelly Bilodeau, Executive Editor, Harvard Women’s Health Watch

“The more you think about it, the more anxious you get and the worse the thoughts get,” says Dr. Williams. Instead of fighting intrusive thoughts, it’s better to learn to live with them. When these thoughts emerge, try taking the following steps:

1. Identify the thought as intrusive. “Think to yourself, ‘that’s just an intrusive thought; it’s not how I think, it’s not what I believe, and it’s not what I want to do,’” says Dr. Williams.

2. Don’t fight with it. When you have an intrusive thought, just accept it. “Don’t try to make it go away.”

3. Don’t judge yourself. Know that having a strange or disturbing thought doesn’t indicate that something is wrong with you.  

When to seek help

Seeking a mental health professional if unwanted thoughts are starting to disrupt and interfere in your daily life, particularly if they’re impairing your ability to work or to do things you enjoy. However, even if intrusive thoughts aren’t affecting your life in a significant way, you can still see someone to get help.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one strategy that is often successful in helping people manage intrusive thoughts. The process may help you to shift some of your general thought patterns, which can enable you to better manage these thoughts when they do occur and might lessen their frequency.

Intrusive thoughts can also be managed by addressing the presenting, covert underlying problem, such as severe stress and anxiety, or a personal history of trauma. While it may be helpful to share the particular thoughts you are having, keep in mind that even if you aren’t comfortable talking about them in detail, a therapist can still help.

Resources: Intrusive Thoughts: 5 ways to help your child take back control by Carla Buck

Research done by Harvard Health and Harvard Medical School: By Kelly Bilodeau, Executive Editor, Harvard Women’s Health Watch

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