OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder/Intrusive thought



So I wanted to know what an "intrusive thought" was. I don't have OCD myself, but I've been reading up on it for an assignment, and I'm still not sure what it means to have an intrusive thought...? Is it just a thought someone doesn't like, or are they sort of like a psychotic symptom that comes from nowhere, (like a voice etc.)?


Hi Rick,

OCD is an intricate process of neurobiology and psychology, and can be difficult to understand its subjective experience from an outsider's perspective. For your assignment, I suggest to keep it simple and simply refer to an intrusive thought as an unpleasant, disturbing & often repetitive thought, or "cognition".

The reason you might want to call it a cognition, is because such a "thought" can actually come in all kinds of mental forms. It can be thoughts with images, sound, sensation, and even thoughts about a smell. If the "intrusion" is more influenced from a stimuli (such as fears about germs on a door handle), then the intrusion usually comes in the form of a thought about the germs and the door handle, or the appraisal of what the germs will do (i.e., the significance of potential germs and the judged consequences).

The word "intrusive" denotes the unwanted nature of a thought. A thought that is unpleasant, disturbing, "unbalancing", unrealistic, emotionally provoking, and doesn't match the desires or the real views of the OCD sufferer. Although OCD sufferers sometimes perceive such thoughts as coming out of nowhere, or possibly even as a psychotic symptom or "going mad" - the thought is really just a thought,a thought that anyone could technically have if they were aware of the information used to arrive there.

The difference is in the OCD person's brain, how that person treats and responds to certain thoughts, where their attention is directed, how a person appraises those thoughts, the importance they place on them (or the situation in which they had them), and the feedback they get from rituals and more thoughts.

Thoughts in OCD often change form, becoming more complex, gaining more meaning, and getting more bizarre, more precise, more judgemental - which significantly distinguishes them from the content of any similar unusual thought that any healthy person might encounter briefly in their daily lives. The reasons for this are many, but I'll elaborate only if you think necessary for your purposes.

Good luck on your assignment.

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OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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Alan Baker


I can answer questions relating to OCD, such as:

*Order & Symmetry
*Gender Identity
*Magical thinking/superstitions

Please note: I can not give you a diagnosis or give you medical advice. I also do not offer therapy or counselling. I advise you to see a doctor or mental-health professional for appropriate treatment of OCD.


I've been a research associate in clinical psychology, written numerous essays on OCD diagnosis & treatment, and been quite active in the local OCD community (as we do group-therapy and workshops). I also consider myself an ex-sufferer of OCD.

B.A Science
PGDip Applied Psychology
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