Worrying intrusive thoughts

What are worrying intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts (ITs) are something that virtually everyone experiences at some point in their life. They are the distressing, senseless, unwanted thoughts, images or urges that suddenly pop into your mind. They can be very varied but usually take the form of:

Doubts: ‘What if my baby stopped breathing?’ ‘What if I  molested my baby?’ ‘What if I shook the baby?’

Images: The image of the house burning down because the hair straighteners were not switched off

Impulses: Urge to crash into the car in front of you, urge to  plump up cushions every time you go into the lounge, urge to slap baby across the cheek when she won’t stop crying.

Thoughts: ‘The kitchen surfaces must be disinfected before I cook’, ‘The baby’s milk is contaminated’, ‘Everything must be in the right place before I leave the house.’

Who has intrusive thoughts?

Research has shown that the majority of people experience intrusive thoughts (ITs) usually about the things that are important to them.

Single people tend to have thoughts about their jobs, their families and their relationships. Pregnant women and new parents tend to have distressing ITs which concern the unborn or new baby. Sometimes they involve thoughts about harm coming to the baby and these cause intense distress and often make parents question their ability to be a good parent.

A recent study of new mothers showed that 100% of new mums had worrying thoughts about their baby being harmed accidentally and 50% had worrying thoughts about harming their baby in some way. These thoughts were the ones that were most worrying for new mums

Although such thoughts tend to decrease naturally over time they tend to be more common when new parents are under stress and have little support.

What can help?

  • Remember no-one can control their thoughts
  • Try not to worry about the thoughts that pop into your mind, almost everyone has upsetting, senseless thoughts at some point in their life
  • Try not to pay too much attention to them, they are meaningless
  • If you pay too much attention to them they tend to occur more often
  • Also if you deliberately try to push them out of your mind they will also occur more frequently—try not to think about a pink elephant in a tutu. See, the moment you try not to think about something the more you do!
  • Remember having thoughts is not the same as doing something, try not to confuse thoughts with actions
  • Having thoughts does not increase the chances of something  happening. If you don’t believe this test it out. Think repeatedly about winning the lottery jackpot. Buy a ticket – Did you win the jackpot? I doubt it

When to seek help

Although the majority of new parents experience fleeting, intrusive thoughts which tend to disappear naturally over time sometimes such thoughts are associated with mental health problems which need
professional treatment. Such problems include:

  • Depression
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Postpartum (puerperal) psychosis

In such situations the thoughts experienced tend to occur more frequently, often many times per day, cause intense distress and on occasion interfere with their ability to look after the baby. All of these conditions are treatable and respond well to a combination of medication and/or psychological therapy, so if you are concerned it is essential to seek professional help as soon as possible.


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