[content warning: descriptions of common intrusive thoughts, including sexual violence, suicide, abuse, harm to children, child sexual abuse, etc]
Nearly everyone experiences intrusive thoughts.
An intrusive thought is a random unwanted and unpleasant thought, usually with violent, sexual, or blasphemous themes. A mother might be walking along the stairs carrying her infant and think “I could just throw my infant off the stairs.” A person waiting for the train might have an image of throwing himself in front of the train. A person praying might find “God is evil, God is evil” going through the back of their head. Someone might sometimes experience flashes of what it would be like to have sex with people– even people they don’t otherwise find attractive or even beings they would be horrified to have sex with, such as animals, family members, or children.
These thoughts are totally normal. Nearly everyone experiences them sometimes. In case you’re wondering “hey, what’s up with the thing where I sometimes think about throwing myself in front of the train even though I don’t actually have any desire to throw myself in front of a train and actually it’s kind of weird and upsetting?”, that’s what’s up with it.
I don’t think anyone knows for certain why people have intrusive thoughts. I’ve heard some people claim it’s the “think of a white bear” effect. Normally, you hardly ever think about white bears, unless you are a zoologist, but if you try to avoid thinking about a white bear, then suddenly everything reminds you of white bears. Normal people try to avoid thinking about attempting suicide or throwing their infants off stairs, and sometimes their brains get confused and are like “maybe that means we SHOULD think about throwing infants off stairs?” I don’t know if this is actually true but it seems like a reasonably plausible explanation.
Most people shrug off their intrusive thoughts. However, some people pay a lot of attention to their intrusive thoughts. They worry that having intrusive thoughts may make them bad people. They try to suppress them or perform rituals to get them to go away, which actually only makes them more common. In some cases, this can result in OCD.
The most widely known form of OCD is contamination OCD, OCD about getting contaminated with germs or getting sick. But in fact any of the common subjects of intrusive thoughts can result in OCD, including:
- Suicidal OCD (killing yourself)
- Responsibility OCD (failing to prevent harm to others, accidentally putting someone in danger)
- Sexual orientation OCD (being a different sexual orientation than the one you identify as)
- Harm OCD (doing violence, hurting other people)
- Pedophile OCD (sex with children)
- Religious OCD (blasphemy, failure to follow religious rules)
If you have a bunch of thoughts about hurting yourself or other people or disobeying God, and they’re really scary and distressing, and you’re worried that it makes you a bad person, and sometimes you do things to check whether you’re a bad person or to stop yourself from doing bad things, you might have OCD.
Here are some important things to know if you have OCD:
- Intrusive thoughts are normal and almost everyone has them.
- Having intrusive thoughts does not mean anything about you as a person. Intrusive thoughts about wanting to kill yourself don’t make you suicidal. Intrusive thoughts about hurting other people don’t make you violent. Intrusive thoughts about sex with children don’t make you a pedophile.
- Under some theories, intrusive thoughts actually mean you’re particularly concerned about not doing those things– that’s why your brain is trying to suppress them!
- Pedophiles and violent people do not find their thoughts and urges about the subject distressing.
- Suicidal people generally find something appealing about the concept of suicide, even if they’re also distressed by being suicidal.
- Trying to suppress the thoughts will not help.
- Trying to test whether you are violent, suicidal, pedophilic, etc will not help.
- Avoiding situations where you might be violent, suicidal, pedophilic, etc. also will not help.
- Accepting the thoughts as a normal part of life and allowing them to pass through your brain without judgment will help.
Getting treatment for OCD can improve your quality of life. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to obtain treatment for OCD if you suffer from certain kinds of intrusive thoughts, particularly suicide-related, violent, or pedophilic. Try to seek out care from a therapist who specializes in OCD. If you suffer from suicide-related or violent thoughts, you will generally be safe from hospitalization if you don’t go to a mental hospital and if you are clear that you would never act on your thoughts and that you have many good reasons not to act on them.
I do not know how to avoid triggering mandatory-reporter status if you have pedophile OCD and spend time around children, but I will update this post if any mental health professionals have any advice.