29 Intrusive Thoughts You're Not the Only One Having
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741
To some degree, many people experience intrusive thoughts. They’re unwanted images or words that cross your mind, making you wonder, “Where did that come from?” But they exist on a spectrum. Maybe you imagine throwing the plate you’re holding against a wall. Maybe you quickly wonder what it would be like to jump off the bring you’re standing on. While some people are able to brush off these kinds of thoughts, others have a harder time letting them go. They become persistent, repetitive — and can affect the everyday quality of their lives.
For people with anxiety, this can sound like a loop of negative thoughts or worries. The panic when a friend is running late and you not only assume it must be because they got in a car accident, but can’t relax until you see your friend and know for sure it isn’t true.
For people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these thoughts can be even more graphic and persistent, leading to compulsions devised to get rid of them. Will my mother die today? Better brush my teeth three times to get the thought out of my head. Would I hurt a baby? Better jump every time I see a baby, just to be sure — just in case.
But it’s important to remember that thoughts are not facts or actions, and many people feel unnecessary shame and guilt over thoughts in their head they have no control over. Naming intrusive thoughts and taking away that shame can be the first step in learning how to manage them — instead of letting them control you.
That’s why we asked our mental health community to share some of the intrusive thoughts they live with. If you’ve had any of these thoughts stuck in your head, you’re not alone — and you certainly shouldn’t be ashamed.
Reminder: Some of the thoughts are hard to read, but people who have intrusive thoughts are not dangerous or likely to act upon them. If you have thoughts that disturb you, know there’s nothing wrong with you, and there is help.
Here’s what they shared with us:
1. “I always feel like everyone is looking at me and laughing no matter what it is. If someone is laughing it has to be at me. If people are taking it’s about me.”
2. “[I think] people do see me as a burden — that I’m not really liked much, and my friends just tolerate me because they feel sorry for me.”
3. “[I think] something truly awful is about to happen. I’ll see really graphic and violent scenes play out in front of me in my mind. I’ll walk into a room expecting to see a dead body, or pull the shower curtain back expecting to see someone hanging in there.
It’s strange and frustrating. There never seems to be an obvious cause or trigger but it’s really upsetting.”
4. “I have random thoughts of hurting myself badly. Like, I’ll be chopping veggies with a big knife and my brain will go, ‘you could just put that through your hand.’ I never would, but it scares me that my brain chooses to acknowledge that I could. It always comes at the most random times too.”
5. “I’m not a violent person, but I used to get very violent, horrific intrusive thoughts which terrified me. It got to the point where I became phobic of knives and scissors. The phobia still lingers now, but it’s lessening.”
6. “Incest. I hate it and I’m so afraid of it that I would sometimes avoid being near family members.”
7. “’I don’t really love my significant other.’ (When really, he’s the most important person in the world to me).”
8. “My children would be better off with a better mom. My husband only stays because I’m free daycare. No one loves me and would be better if I just disappeared.”
9. “Murder. I’m afraid of losing control of myself or consciousness and while I’m out I’ll murder the person closest to me. I have dreams about the imagery. It’s a scary existence when you can’t get away from your own mind.”
10. “’Put your hand on the hot stove. Or in the hot oven. Staple your hand. Put your pinkie in the pencil sharpener. Stick a fork in the electric socket.’ I could go on forever.”
11. “I get thoughts/impulses like ‘pour the hot water on yourself’ when pouring the water from the kettle to make tea, or ‘put your hand in the flame.’ Usually when I’m feeling very pressured/anxious.”
12. “I see myself sitting on the window ledge ready to jump, or walking to the window to throw myself out, with a sudden urge to do it.”
13. “Horrible images of me hurting someone or me being sliced with a knife by someone. I could never physically hurt someone so those ones are very disturbing as I wonder if I’m an evil person who secretly wants to do those things.”
14. “I was sexually molested as a baby, so my brain decided that’s a great thing to keep throwing at me. I have three young nephews I love to death, but I’m often scared to be near them sometimes, even though I know I would never act on my thoughts because I find them so disturbing and would hate to inflict that kind of pain to my nephews, since I’ve had to live with the aftermath of that happening to me… I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on my worst enemy.”
15. “I have endless intrusive thoughts mostly due to OCD. The ones I have trouble with the most often have to do with contracting or being unaware I have a deadly disease. The ones that cause me more anxiety, but I think of less frequently, have to do with insects (if I think of them I can’t eat because I know they are inside my mouth instead of food) or extremely violent images that replay over and over again in graphic detail… like thinking of a fun outing the next day with a friend and imagining them being crushed or killed over and over again in a very specific way.”
16. “When my intrusive thoughts were really bad I would picture pulling the wheel and crashing or getting hit by a truck and burning my skin off with a lighter. Luckily I found something that helped me and those are no longer as present. Most recently they’ve presented in my dreams. I’ll have dreams that I randomly start bleeding from every hole in my body it’s pretty scary.”
17. “’I’m not good enough. I’m not thin enough. I am an evil person. My family would be better off without me.’”
18. “I get a voice telling me, ‘You should just kill yourself,’ except it’s my own voice? Kinda confusing, but it makes sense to me. It’s always more prominent when I’m having a stressful or down time, louder and more frequent. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere too. So frustrating.”
19. “I use to have repeat things in my head almost 24 hours a day. Things like who the prime minister is at the time… if I didn’t do it, I used to believe I wouldn’t know the answer and that would mean my belief of having a brain tumor would be true.”
20. “When I’m on the subway platform in New York City, I get the intrusive thought of ‘what if I jumped?’ It’s as subtle as any other thought. It makes me weary. I move back from the edge. I turn up my music. I pray for calm and peace. If I can, I avoid the subway.”
21. “‘Just drive your car into the guardrail. Hit it going 70 and maybe it’ll kill you.’ ‘Break up with him. He treats you too well, better end it before he does.’ ‘Your co-workers want you to quit. You fucked up and now they never want to see you again.’”
22. “I constantly get intrusive thoughts that I have done something morally wrong. I know I would never do those things, but the intense fear remains.”
23. “I always see things happening to my kids. Like scenes playing out in my head. That I’m dropping the baby over a railing. That my toddler runs behind the car in the driveway and the car backs over him. It makes me sick.”
24. “‘He doesn’t love you, nobody loves you, you don’t deserve happiness. It’s all going to crash around you. He’s going to leave. You do too much. He hates you. He’s using you.’”
25. “While driving, I often have the thought of driving into the oncoming lane and causing an accident. That one is scary for me.”
26. “Harming my children. Then I have all the self-loathing thoughts about what a bad mom I am for thinking that.”
27. “Since I was a kid I’ve gotten a mental image of a needle slowly piercing an eye. It’s a lot less troubling now.”
28. “’You are a failure and a burden to everyone around you.’”
29. “’I am the worst person in the world, I do everything wrong, I constantly hurt the people I love, maybe they would be better off without me.’ Before, this mixed with the idea that I am dangerous, that made things worse. Now I’ve almost gotten over that idea, but it comes back when the anxiety is really bad. When those thoughts get really bad, I isolate myself. It’s a fight, a very tough fight. But a fight I’m going to win.”
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.