Intrusive Thoughts: The Intruders You Want to Kick Out.
from Martin N. Seif, Ph.d.
Every highly anxious person has to cope with intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are frightening thoughts about what might happen to you or someone you care about, or what you might do to yourself or another person. They seem to come from outside of your control, and their content feels alien and threatening.
For some people, intrusive thoughts are part and parcel of panic or intense anxiety. In these types of intrusive thoughts, it feels like the thoughts come about as a result of the anxiety, and they function to add more fear to the anxiety you are already experiencing. The intrusive thoughts keep the anxiety going, and maintain the fear-producing spiral. So, for example, you might think, "what if I have a heart attack?" in the midst of an anxiety attack. You are already in the altered state of consciousness that I call anxious thinking, and your thoughts feel likely to happen.
However, there is another class of intrusive thoughts that I call intrusive obsessive thoughts. These thoughts seem to come from out of nowhere, arrive with a distressing whoosh, and cause a great deal of anxiety. The content of intrusive obsessive thoughts almost always focus on sexual or violent images. Here are typical examples of intrusive obsessive thoughts: "Killing someone. Torturing a pet animal. Stabbing a child. Throwing someone (or yourself) out of a window. Jumping onto a train track as the train comes into the station. Molesting a child. Raping someone. Taking off your clothes in public." This is not a complete list, but it gives you a good feeling of the content of these thoughts.
People who experience intrusive obsessive thoughts are afraid that they might commit the acts they picture in their mind. They might imagine hurting someone or committing an act of sexual violation. Intrusive obsessive thoughts can be very explicit, and most people are embarrassed and frightened of them.