Examples and types of intrusive thoughts

The best way to cope with intrusive thoughts is to shine a little bit of light into that dark side of our minds. 

Let’s start with 5 main types of intrusive thoughts we deal with. See which of the types and examples below resonates with you the most; if none of the types or examples resonate with you, that’s OK; we are all unique, and all of the solutions to cope with intrusive thoughts will work regardless of their specific type.

5 Main Types of Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts can be categorized into several types, including:


      • Harm-related thoughts: Thoughts about causing harm to oneself or others.

      • Sexual thoughts: Inappropriate or taboo sexual thoughts.

      • Religious or blasphemous thoughts: Thoughts that go against one’s religious beliefs.

      • Doubt-related thoughts: Persistent doubts about actions, decisions, or moral integrity.

      • Violent Intrusive Thoughts: Unwanted, distressing thoughts about causing harm.

    Trigger warning – some of the harmful thoughts examples might cause distress. 

    Examples of Intrusive Thoughts

    Harm-Related Intrusive Thoughts


        • Imagining harming a loved one.

        • Thoughts of pushing someone in front of a train.

        • Fear of accidentally poisoning someone.

        • Visualizing a car accident.

        • Thoughts of hurting oneself with a sharp object.

        • Fear of dropping a baby.

        • Imagining causing a fire.

        • Thoughts of strangling someone.

        • Fear of causing a plane crash.

        • Visualizing a violent robbery.

      Sexual Intrusive Thoughts


          • Inappropriate sexual thoughts about a family member.

          • Imagining sexual acts with strangers.

          • Fear of being sexually attracted to children.

          • Thoughts of infidelity.

          • Visualizing sexual acts in public.

          • Fear of being sexually attracted to animals.

          • Imagining sexual acts with colleagues.

          • Thoughts of sexual violence.

          • Fear of being sexually attracted to inappropriate objects.

          • Visualizing sexual acts with authority figures.

        Religious or Blasphemous Intrusive Thoughts


            • Thoughts of cursing in a place of worship.

            • Fear of committing blasphemy.

            • Imagining desecrating religious symbols.

            • Thoughts of doubting one’s faith.

            • Fear of being possessed by a demon.

            • Visualizing religious figures in inappropriate situations.

            • Thoughts of renouncing one’s religion.

            • Fear of being punished by a deity.

            • Imagining sacrilegious acts.

            • Thoughts of questioning religious teachings.

          Doubt-Related Intrusive Thoughts


              • Fear of leaving the stove on.

              • Thoughts of not locking the door.

              • Doubts about one’s sexual orientation.

              • Fear of making a wrong decision.

              • Thoughts of not completing a task correctly.

              • Doubts about one’s relationship.

              • Fear of forgetting something important.

              • Thoughts of not being good enough.

              • Doubts about one’s abilities.

              • Fear of being a fraud.

            Violent Intrusive Thoughts


                • Imagining stabbing someone.

                • Thoughts of shooting someone.

                • Visualizing a physical fight.

                • Fear of committing a violent crime.

                • Thoughts of torturing someone.

                • Imagining a mass shooting.

                • Fear of being a serial killer.

                • Visualizing a brutal attack.

                • Thoughts of causing a war.

                • Fear of being involved in a violent riot.

              Intrusive thoughts thrive in shame. 

              Intrusive thoughts are not easy to talk about, but they are indeed a normal part of our lives. We all have them; the key is to learn to cope with them effectively. What I often see in my sessions is that even opening up about your intrusive thoughts might reduce their intensity.

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