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COME TO THINK OF IT: It’s impulsive not intrusive thoughts, learn the difference

By Kim Villafuerte


It’s amazing how a huge number of people carelessly use the term “intrusive thoughts” as if they know what it means. They are everywhere—in TikTok videos, tweets, Facebook posts, memes, and annoyingly enough, in real life too.


“My intrusive thoughts won.” Honestly, shut up.


Before I start, let me define, explain and differentiate impulsive thoughts from intrusive thoughts first. Intrusive thoughts mean they are disturbing thoughts, ideas, images, or scenarios you don’t want to think about, yet you repeatedly think about them despite your desires. According to Healthline.com, “Intrusive thoughts seem to come out of nowhere. These thoughts and images are unwanted and often unpleasant. The content can sometimes be aggressive or sexual, or you could suddenly think about a mistake or a worry.” An intrusive thought can be something like having thoughts about stabbing a baby to death or wanting to have sexual intercourse with a dog even though you know it’s grotesque and you have no desire to do so. However, your brain just keeps on thinking of doing those things again and again even if you don’t want to. To the point where you start to ruminate and feel a great deal of anxiety from those disturbing unwanted thoughts. Although everyone experiences intrusive thoughts from time to time, some people just have a harder way of dealing with them.


Impulsive thoughts on the other hand as defined by Mypsychiatrist.com, “Impulsive thoughts refer to sudden, involuntary ideas or urges that lead to impulsive behaviors. These are spontaneous thoughts that push you towards immediate actions without considering the consequences.” It’s like thinking of punching your little brother and next thing you know, he’s already crying. Another is purchasing unnecessary items online without much careful consideration. To put it simply, it is the impulsive acting out of a thought. Actions caused by impulsive thoughts tend to not go through a rational thinking process which might result in negative consequences. Unlike intrusive thoughts where you have disturbing thoughts you do not wish to have and act upon; impulsive thoughts are thoughts and urges you do without thinking.


Furthermore, impulsive thoughts are frequently observed in individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), while individuals with mental disorders like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) typically experience intrusive thoughts.


The casual use of the term “intrusive thoughts” is concerning and harmful considering there are people out there with OCD and PTSD suffering tremendously from these kinds of thoughts. The term has become pretty popular on social media platforms, mainly on TikTok and X (formerly known as Twitter.) Even in real life, I hear people using them incorrectly. The most popular phrase they say is, “My intrusive thoughts won,” referring to something they impulsively did like when a friend randomly held my leg to make it stop from shaking. No, it isn’t an intrusive thought, you act upon it. It’s an impulsive thought. If you think about it, it is an oxymoron. If they were intrusive thoughts in the beginning, you wouldn’t have the desire to act upon them. That is why it’s called intrusive thoughts in the first place. Let’s focus on the terminology for once.


As someone who has been chronologically online for about a decade now, seeing this phenomenon made me realize that the spread of misinformation on social media affects how people view certain mental conditions. Furthermore, I think it also stems from ignorance.


Intrusive thoughts are scary. Imagine having to repeatedly think about assaulting a child, killing your mom, or lighting yourself on fire when it contradicts your desires and conscience. And the fact that you can’t just stop thinking about them because the more you try to control these thoughts, the more intrusive they get. Using this term carelessly will only harm people with mental illnesses, reducing their struggles into a meme.


So please stop saying your intrusive thoughts won because if they did, you’d either be in jail or dead.



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