ocd intrusive thoughts

Intrusive Thoughts and OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder characterized by unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviours that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).

In the context of OCD, intrusive thoughts are unwanted, involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that may cause anxiety or distress. These thoughts are often disturbing and can be difficult to control or stop.

Common examples of intrusive thoughts in OCD include:

  • Fear of causing harm to others
  • Fear of losing control and acting on violent or sexual impulses
  • Fear of blasphemy or committing sacrilege
  • Fear of contamination or illness
  • Fear of making a mistake
  • Intrusive doubts about one’s memory, perception, or sanity

These thoughts can lead to compulsions, which are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rigid rules.

Common examples of compulsions include:

  • Repeatedly checking things (e.g., locks, appliances) or seeking reassurance
  • Repeatedly counting, arranging, or ordering things
  • Repeatedly washing or cleaning
  • Repeatedly praying, confessing, or seeking forgiveness
  • Repeatedly repeating words, phrases, or prayers
  • Repeatedly seeking perfection or avoiding “mistakes”

Intrusive thoughts and compulsions can be time-consuming and interfere with a person’s daily activities, relationships, and functioning. They can also cause significant distress, anxiety, shame, guilt, and depression.

Some common examples of intrusive thoughts that someone with OCD might have include:

  1. Fear of harming oneself or others: This can manifest as persistent thoughts about hurting oneself or others, which can be distressing and difficult to control.
  2. Fear of contamination: This can manifest as persistent thoughts or images related to dirt, germs, or other contaminants, which can lead to compulsive hand-washing or cleaning behaviors.
  3. Fear of losing control: This can manifest as persistent thoughts or images related to losing control and behaving in ways that are out of character, such as committing a crime or acting in a sexually inappropriate manner.
  4. Fear of losing control and acting on immoral or deviant impulses, also known as “pure-O OCD.”
  5. Fear of losing or not being able to recall important memories, also known as “memory OCD.”

Watch this video for more information:

A Brief History of OCD

The history of OCD in the context of psychological study can be traced back to the late 19th century, when French psychiatrists first described the disorder. In the early 20th century, OCD was considered a subtype of hysteria and was thought to be caused by emotional conflict.

In the 1950s, psychiatrists began to recognize OCD as a separate disorder, and in 1952, the first medication specifically used to treat OCD, clomipramine, was introduced.

In the 1960s and 1970s, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was developed as a treatment for OCD, which emphasized the role of thoughts and behaviors in the disorder.

In the 1980s and 1990s, researchers began to study the neurobiology of OCD and found that the disorder is associated with abnormal activity in the basal ganglia, a part of the brain involved in motor control and habit formation.

This led to the development of new treatments for OCD, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) and the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) to target the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is thought to be involved in OCD.

Today, OCD is considered a neuropsychiatric disorder and is treated with a combination of medication, psychotherapy and other therapies that can help to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.



The good news is that OCD is treatable. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective psychological treatment for OCD.

It helps people learn to recognize, understand, and challenge their obsessions and compulsions, and to develop more adaptive coping strategies.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT that involves gradually exposing a person to the feared object, situation, or thought and helping them to resist the urge to perform a compulsion.

Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can also be used to help reduce symptoms of OCD.


In conclusion, intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of OCD. They are unwanted, involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that can cause anxiety or distress.

These thoughts can lead to compulsions, which are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform.

However, with the help of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication, individuals with OCD can learn to manage their intrusive thoughts and improve their quality of life.


Here is a video from the Youtube Channel, The OCD Stories, about intrusive thoughts.  Check it out:

Read our article, “7 Misconceptions About OCD

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