Intrusive Thoughts

The following information comes direct from OCD-UK

Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts, in the spectrum of OCD, are where a person generally suffers with obsessional thoughts that are repetitive, disturbing and often horrific and repugnant in nature.  For example, thoughts of causing violent or sexual harm to loved ones.

Because the intrusive thoughts are repetitive and not voluntarily produced, they cause the sufferer extreme distress – the very idea that they are capable of having such thoughts in the first place can be horrifying.  However, what we do know is that people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are the least likely people to actually act on the thoughts, partly because they find them so repugnant and go to great lengths to avoid them and prevent them happening.

Intrusive thoughts can cover absolutely any subject, but the more common areas of OCD related concerns covers the following sub- categories:

  • Relationships.
  • Sexual Thoughts – Fear of:
  • Magical Thinking – believing that:
  • Religious – believing that:
  • Violent Thoughts – fear of:

Relationship Intrusive Thoughts – Obsessive doubts over the suitability of a relationship, one’s partner or one’s own sexuality are the main focus for the obsessional thoughts. Obsessional thoughts include:

  • Constantly analysing the depth of feelings for one’s partner, placing the partner and the relationship under a microscope and finding fault.
  • Constantly needing to seek reassurance and approval from one’s partner.
  • Doubts that one’s partner is being faithful.
  • Doubts that one may cheat on their partner.
  • Questioning one’s own sexuality, and having feelings, thoughts and impulses about being attracted to members of the same sex.

The constant analysing and questioning of the relationship and partner often places immense strain on the relationship and the result is a person with OCD will often end the relationship to rid themselves of the doubt and anxiety, which is usually often repeated with any subsequent  relationship.

Sexual Intrusive Thoughts – Obsessive thoughts of unintentionally causing inappropriate sexual harm (i.e. to children) unintentionally, or the constant questioning of one’s own sexuality are the main focuses for these obsessional doubts.   Obsessional thoughts can include:

  • Fearing being a paedophile and being sexually attracted to children.
  • Fearing being sexually attracted to members of one’s own family.
  • Fearing being attracted to members of the same sex (homosexual OCD) or for those who are gay fear of being attracted to members of the opposite sex.
  • Thoughts about  touching a child inappropriately.
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts about God, saints or, religious figures.

The constant analysing and questioning of one’s own sexual preferences, or the thought of being attracted to a child, are perhaps two of the most mentally disturbing aspects of OCD and, because of the nature of the thoughts, many sufferers are reluctant to seek help from health professionals, fearing they may be labelled.

A person that experiences these types of intrusive thoughts will avoid public places, like shopping centres, in an attempt to avoid coming into close contact with children.  They may also avoid spending time with younger members of the family. For a parent with this form of the illness they avoid bathing and hugging their own children which can lead to emotional distress for both children and parent

Magical Thinking Intrusive Thoughts – is the fear is that even thinking about something bad will make it more likely to happen – sometimes also called ‘thought-action fusion’.
Sufferers are beset by intrusive bad thoughts. They try to dispel them by performing rituals – magic rituals, in effect – that are often bizarre and time-consuming and involve linking actions or events that could not possibly be related to each other.  For example having the thought ‘I may strangle someone’ is regarded as being as reprehensible as actually strangling a person.   Another example is believing that simply imagining a horrific car crash will increase the likelihood of such a crash taking place, or a person may feel that if they don’t count to ten ‘just right’ harm will come to a family member.  Other examples of magical thinking, or thought-action fusion intrusive thoughts include:

  • A certain colour or number has good or bad luck associated with it.
  • Certain days have good or bad luck associated with them.
  • A loved one’s death can be predicted.
  • One’s thoughts can cause disasters to occur.
  • Stepping on cracks in the pavement can make bad things happen.
  • Whatever comes to mind can come true.
  • Breaking chain letters will actually bring bad luck.
  • Attending a funeral will bring death.
  • One can inadvertently cause harm to others with thoughts or carelessness.
  • Hearing the word ‘death’ will mean repeating the word ‘life’ to prevent death.

In each example listed above, the thoughts and events happening could not possibly ever be linked, but the person with OCD will believe that this possibility does exist, and as a result, this will cause them immense stress and anxiety.  As a result, their silent internal compulsive behaviours will take hours, and often prevent them interacting with anyone else during this time.

Religious Intrusive Thoughts – OCD often fixates on areas of great importance and sensitivity and  religion and matters of religious practice are prime candidates for OCD obsessions.  Sometimes referred to as scrupulosity, religious intrusive thoughts include:

  • Sins committed will never be forgiven by God and one will go to hell.
  • One will have bad thoughts in a religious building.
  • One will scream blasphemous words loudly in a religious location.
  • Prayers have been omitted or recited incorrectly.
  • Certain prayers must be said over and over again.
  • Religious objects need to be touched or kissed repeatedly.
  • One is always doing something sinful.
  • Repetitive blasphemous thoughts.
  • That the person has lost touch with God or their beliefs in some way.
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts about God, saints or, religious figures.
  • That the person has broken religious laws concerning speech, or dress or modesty.
  • Intrusive bad thoughts that occur during prayer will contaminate and ruin or cancel out the value of these activities.

The constant analysing and questioning of a person’s faith places immense strain on their beliefs and prevents the person  deriving peace from their religion.   As a result they will often avoid church and all religious practice out of fear of their thoughts.

Violent Intrusive Thoughts – obsessive fears of carrying out violent acts against loved ones or other people.  Intrusive thoughts include:

  • Violently harming children or loved ones.
  • Killing innocent people.
  • Using kitchen knives and other sharp objects (compulsion will include locking away knives and sharp objects).
  • Jumping in front of a train or fast moving bus.
  • Poisoning the food of loved ones (compulsion will include avoiding cooking for family).
  • Acting on unwanted impulses, e.g. running someone over, stabbing someone.
  • Thoughts about accidentally touching someone inappropriately, with the aim of hurting them.

Most sufferers with these types of fears often end up labelling themselves as a bad person, simply for having the thoughts.  They falsely believe that having the thoughts mean they are capable of acting upon them. The constant analysing and questioning of these disturbing aspects of OCD becomes incredibly upsetting and because of the nature of the thoughts many sufferers are reluctant to open up to health professionals to seek help, fearing they may be labelled.

A person with these types of intrusive thoughts will avoid public places like shopping centres and other places, where social interaction may be required, to avoid coming into close contact with people that may trigger the obsessive thoughts.

To sufferers and non-sufferers alike, the thoughts and fears related to OCD can often seem profoundly shocking . It must be stressed, however, that they are just thoughts, and they are not voluntarily produced. Neither are they fantasies or impulses which will be acted upon.


Remember that every case of OCD is different! If your thoughts are not specifically listed here, just focus on the theme.

The following information comes from the book ‘Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’:

Obsessive Thought, image, or urge.

Prevalence among those with OCD (%)

  • Fear of contamination from germs, viruses (e.g. HIV), bodily fluids or excrement, chemicals, sticky substances, or dangerous materials (e.g. asbestos)


  • Doubts about harm occurring (e.g. door locks are not secure)


  • Excessive concern with exactness, order, symmetry


  • Obsessions with the body or physical symptoms


  • Religious, sacrilegious, or blasphemous thoughts


  • Sexual thoughts or images e.g. being a paedophile, or a homosexual


  • Urge to hoard useless or worn out possessions (although not always regarded as such by the hoarder)


  • Thoughts or images of violence or aggression (e.g. stabbing your baby)