It’s easy to be troubled by the appearance of ‘intrusive thoughts.’
You might be a fundamentally good person — morally responsible, conscientious, and God-loving. Why, then, does your mind sometimes take you to places that are uncomfortable or even disturbing?
Such thoughts don’t mean that you’re a bad person. Many people experience distressing thoughts and compulsions helplessly due to a number of underlying factors.
To understand why you’re suffering from intrusive thoughts, what God has to say about the dark places your mind sometimes takes you, and how you might be able to get a handle on it, read on.
An ‘intrusive thought’ is the involuntary appearance of ideas, images, flashbacks, and compulsive behaviors in a person’s mind that are unpleasant or distressing in nature.
While everyone experiences intrusive thoughts to a degree, some suffer with them to an extent that’s unmanageable. It begins to have a severe negative impact on their lives and day-to-day functioning.
Intrusive thoughts often stem from a pre-existing mental disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a range of anxiety disorders, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, or even lifestyle factors like substance abuse or a traumatic event.
The experience is very distressing due to the unpleasant nature of the thoughts themselves. Violent thoughts, sexual thoughts, and altogether disturbing thoughts are reported by those who suffer from this mental health condition.
Unwanted intrusive thoughts can have a wide variety of negative outcomes. Aside from causing great distress, they can lead to sufferers experiencing panic attacks and even physiological health issues.
Fortunately, there are a number of reliable solutions.
However, before we get there, it’s worth looking to see what the Bible has to say about obsessive thought patterns.
Naturally, given when it was written, the Bible doesn’t talk about intrusive thinking with the kind of clinical precision we have today. However, as with many other areas of life, there are passages in the Holy book that offer broad philosophical guidance around excessive rumination.
Let’s take a look at some applicable scriptures.
“Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
‘Wickedness’ and ‘unrighteousness’ certainly match the character of these disturbing thoughts that we can sometimes have. Which, given the rest of the passage, should bring relief to sufferers, as you can be secure in the knowledge that God will forgive you abundantly for having them.
He doesn’t judge you for thoughts that are beyond your control, so rest assured that your obsessive thinking won’t reflect poorly when it comes to the final judgment. As for solutions, Isaiah reminds us to return to the Lord, and a passage in James offers a similar sentiment.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
With ‘the devil’ representing our unwanted thoughts, we might thankfully see that resistance is not futile, and solutions exist in the comfort of God and beyond.
If you believe your intrusive thoughts are beginning to have a significant impact on your life, there are proven ways to eliminate or reduce them.
When it comes to mental illness, your first recourse should always be to seek professional health in the form of clinical therapy with a registered mental health professional.
A clinical psychologist is expertly trained to determine the underlying cause of your negative thoughts and compulsions through conversation.
By understanding where they originate and why, your therapist can formulate an appropriate treatment plan that may include specific therapeutic strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication.
As we mentioned, it’s often the case that obsessive thinking is symptomatic of a more serious psychological condition.
Therefore, by treating the condition itself rather than the symptoms, you might get better results. In the case of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, or PTSD, your doctor or therapist may suggest a course of antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Whether medication is right for you is a decision you need to make alongside your team of medical professionals and will only be necessary in the most severe cases where an underlying condition is identified.
For less severe cases, sufferers can try self-help and wellness techniques from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Meditation, the practice of sitting still and focusing on the breath, is used by athletes, business people, spiritual practitioners, and many more to reduce stress and increase attention and concentration. These effects are supported by strong scientific evidence.
By practicing the reflex of focusing on the breath rather than your thoughts, you can gain control over intrusive thinking and reduce the stress you experience when it happens.
Finally, many people have been able to accept the appearance of intrusive thoughts and eliminate the associated stress by embracing God and His perfect love.
There are many spiritual practices within the Christian faith that can reduce obsessive thoughts. The Serenity Prayer is a beautiful thing to recite if you or a loved one is suffering from intrusive thoughts. This prayer encourages acceptance, wisdom, and courage.
Additionally, visiting your church and studying the Bible, which is full of wise meditations on thought, good, and evil, can calm your mind and ease your spirit enough to remove unwanted rumination from your life.
The first important part of removing unwanted ruminating is to stop blaming yourself. Overthinking, especially in our highly charged world, is part of the human condition. You are not alone.
Moreso, ‘thinking’ is not the same as ‘doing.’ God will have mercy on you, as He understands your suffering better than anyone. Read the words of Isaiah 55:7, and recognize that if you seek the Lord’s love, you will receive it.