Intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts I am writing this post as response to the excellent piece on intrusive thoughts written by Ian Tomlinson of the Affinity Centre which is based in my home town of Manchester.

The thrust of Ian’s article is that our brains can and do give us bizarre messages, known in the ‘trade’ as intrusive thinking.

A few years ago I was delivering a lecture to a group of students about the subject of intrusive thoughts and how they appear at very inconvenient times.

I was explaining to the the class about an interview  I heard on Radio 4, in which a psychiatrist was asked about ‘intrusive thinking ‘.

He replied that on the way to the studio , while waiting for the Tube , his brain had told him to push the women in front of him on to the line as the train came in. .

Thankfully for both of them he realised that his brain was being a bit ‘shitty’ that day and took no notice.

He went on to explain that most of us have intrusive thinking, which is a normal process of how our brains function , he wisely reflected that thinking something and physically acting on it were in fact two different things.

At this point one of the learners let out a shriek, I asked her if she was OK and she replied that the sense of relief at hearing my lecture was immense. ( a first in it's selfShe believed that her brain telling her to do strange things (in her case jumping in front of a bus) was a sign of madness !!! 

A few years ago I was seeing a a client who worked in retail* and most days thought about killing one or more of his customers in quite novel and creative ways. Stabbing , garrotting –  something about a can of petrol and if he had access to a machine gun  taking the whole shop out in one go including the managers and a few family friends added in for good measure.

Safe to say Job satisfaction was not high on his list. 

His difficulty was the immense guilt around having these feelings and the added burden of not being able to share them with anyone  because he might get locked up.

This case illustrates the importance of psychological education, and why some therapists step out of their 'modality' to provide high quality information to help their client gain insight in to their difficulties. 

 In this case I reflected  to him that intrusive thoughts were indeed 'normal ' and enquired what stopped him going berserk with a can of unleaded petrol  and a box of Swan Vesta’s on Monday mornings.

He replied quite rationally that killing people was the wrong thing to do , and that he had no intention of doing anything like that , however the guilt of having the thoughts was becoming to much for him to bear which is why he presented for therapy.

We met for a few more sessions and eventually he moved on safe in the knowledge , that his shitty brain was just having a bad day or in his case a number of bad days. I bumped in to him a few years later in Ashton town center , he told me he no longer worked in retail and although he still gets intrusive thinking he puts it down to his brain playing tricks and takes no notice.

More to the point he no longer felt guilty and spoke to his partner about his interesting thinking  which helped him a lot.

I am not immune to a spot of the old intrusive thinking , recently while driving home from work I wondered about driving my car in to bus stop full of people, I just let the thought come and go out of my brain , and yes I carried on past the bus stop.

On arriving home I decided to share this  vision with my nearest and dearest.

She replied “that’s the third time this week “

…….. er quite!

So to sum up;

  • Having intrusive thoughts , maybe not comfortable but ok and quite 'normal' what ever that is .
  • Ordering an AK 47 to settle a grievance with a work colleague, seek help and don’t open any deliveries marked 'AK47 colleague termination kit'.​​

On a serious note , talking to your friends and family  about your intrusive thoughts will help a lot , its not a sign that you are going mad and most people when prompted will admit to having them as well … all part of being human.

*some details changed for the purpose of confidentialty

So come on share your intrusive thoughts in the comment box below we would love to read them….


  • Nicholas Duckney

     This is brilliant, I didn't realise these kinds of thoughts were normal

    • Rory

      Glad to be of help Nick, all part of having a brain that can have off days….