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Intrusive Thoughts: How to Get Rid of Those Pink Elephants In Your Brain

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Intrusive Thoughts: How to Get Rid of Those Pink Elephants In Your Brain

Can negative ideas be extinguished by practising mindfulness and acceptance?

Intrusive thoughts: Borders are invaded by intrusive ideas. By engaging in focused mindfulness activities where we give ourselves permission to think whatever comes to mind (a “practise arena”), we may figuratively recover our limits. Sensorimotor psychotherapy is a component of this activity.


  1. Both the involuntary and unwelcome nature of intrusive thoughts serve as distinguishing characteristics.
  2. ACT and MBSR have been rigorously tested and have demonstrated their effectiveness in clinical trials. Take advantage of the opportunity to benefit from these evidence-based therapies.
  3. Difficult, intruding ideas are those that only leave behind sensory-accessible and sensory-bound representations in memory.
  4. As a regular part of our reactions to stress, intrusive thoughts are often called “sensory flashpoints.”
  5. Many people’s go-to reaction to an unwanted idea is to try to ignore it or push it out of their minds entirely.
  6. Repressing unwanted ideas can have unintended consequences, as the notion of ironic control demonstrates.
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Intrusive Thoughts, What Causes That Feeling?

 The answer to this question is contextual, meaning that it varies from person to person based on their unique experiences and perspectives. Actually, not all of your mind wanderings have to be disturbing. 

Both the involuntary and unwelcome nature of intrusive thoughts helps to define them (Bernstein, 1996). Familiar to intrusive thoughts is “emotional distress,” which, in turn, can trigger a defensive attitude of avoidance. 

Suppressing these types of ideas is particularly challenging; studies have shown that doing so involves an “effortful” cognitive engagement, which is not only tiring but can also amplify intrusive thought. 

However, recent studies show that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness practises can provide effective alternatives to reducing the influence of negative reviews.

Weird, Invasive Ideas and “Dual Representations”

An “intrusive” notion arises after a life-changing incident. Memory often retains a “dual representation,” or more precisely, a “contextualized and sensory representation,” of many things we’ve experienced. 

Based on current research, our sensory experiences play a crucial role in the process of creating and recollecting episodic memories of our past experiences. 

In other words, sensory data not only helps us encode and store information related to our experiences, but it also aids in retrieving those memories when we try to recall them.

 This highlights the significance of our senses in shaping our ability to remember and reflect on our personal history. 

Traumatic or “hard” events, according to researchers like Brewin and colleagues (1996), can only be stored as situationally accessible, sensory-bound representations rather than as wholly “contextualized” representations that may be recovered willingly. 

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What Causes This to Occur?

 When we are confronted with a threatening situation, our focus shifts to the “source” of the danger, and only those sensory representations that need the bare minimum of our awareness are stored. 

These fragmented, sensory-bound images become the free-floating artifacts of intrusive, involuntary thought (Brewin, 2014) but without crucial contextualized information about the experience.

How Can We Alter Our Perception of Disturbing Ideas?

By training ourselves to pay closer attention to our “awareness” in the present, we may better control where our attention wanders. The following methods can help anyone recover and strengthen their position as a “thinker” of thought material. Listed below are some of the first steps for dealing with disruptive thoughts.

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The point is to learn how to sort out our helpful thoughts from the noise in each given situation. Thus, reviews play a significant role in our lives since they may convey a wide range of information, including queries, imperatives, morality plays, unresolved concerns, pleas for assistance, plans, solutions, pleasant and sad memory landscapes, and more. 

But as we learn to constructively manage undesired content, we should discriminate between invasive and nonintrusive elements of our normal filtering process. 

By using a great deal of “perspective” and “realism,” the destructive power of distorted beliefs can be dismantled in an unbiased fashion. This indicates that we have applied “objective truths” to the content of our thoughts, eliminating unwanted ideas and making them stand on their own rather than determining our identities.

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Make Room For the Exercise of Establishing Limits and Thinking Critically.

Borders are invaded by intrusive ideas. By engaging in focused mindfulness activities where we give ourselves permission to think whatever comes to mind (a “practise arena”), we may figuratively recover our limits. 

Sensorimotor psychotherapy is a component of this activity. Get away from it all for ten minutes. You may use anything you desire, from socks to pillows, to create a physical barrier around yourself. 

Take a seat inside the circle you just drew; that’s your territory. Relax your shoulders, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing as you inhale deeply through your nose and out through your mouth using your stomach (diaphragm). 

Give yourself permission to relax and hush up inside your safe space. As you settle into concentration, it’s natural for thoughts to arise. Just write your ideas down on a leaf and watch as it is swept into the river.

 If you’re having trouble, it’s okay; just put your annoyance in a leaf and let it float away with you. When your mind is blank, and all you can hear is the river, it’s time to open your eyes.

 Here, more excellent adaptive behaviours of meta-cognition are prioritized above the attention and immersion prompted by intrusive ideas.

Make Up a Mental Play to Practise Dealing With Distracting Ideas.

The way we say to ourselves on the inside, or our self-talk, is crucial. The way we say to ourselves may have a significant impact on the way we see the world and feel about ourselves. 

Recognize the following as an unwanted idea enters your mind throughout this exercise: In other words, I get that you’re trying to make a home in my head in a way that runs opposite to what I value most, and I don’t consider your depiction to be literal in the way that you show yourself. 

You need help because critical components are lacking, and I respect that. Because of this, you will never feel like you belong here, and you will eventually have to leave. 

I will also work to restore this part of myself by giving mental space exclusively to ideas that are beneficial to my well-being, are grounded in reality, are not harmful, and are emblematic of what I hold dearest.

 This may be easily copied onto a little index card and carried around for quick reference anytime it’s needed. This “psychic rehearsal” script facilitates a more in-depth and eloquent self-talk discourse, leading to a more complete and satisfying sense of self-awareness.

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The Key is Mental Preparation.

Keep in mind that preoccupying ideas is not always abnormal. As we accept this as the norm, we deepen our understanding of what it is to be human. This more humane approach has the potential to expand our knowledge.

Lessen your grip on things. Suppression is ineffective, as we all know. With the help of acceptance therapy, we may let go of these restrictions and replace them with a calm acceptance that allows us to go with the flow.

Admit and acknowledge your ideas, but keep in mind that you are more than your thoughts.

Sharpen your abilities by practising often.

Intrusive thoughts: Avert Your Gaze from the Pink Elephant

Negative assumptions and distracting ideas.

When I initially started working as a counsellor at a drug rehab centre, we did a lot of group therapy. My phone was on silent, but the screensaver illuminated, showing an iconic scene from the sci-fi classic The Matrix: Neo extending a hand to deflect incoming projectiles.

A patient confronted me in front of the other patients and demanded to know why I had a photo of Neo on my phone. I started by saying I was sorry the phone wasn’t entirely off. 

We had a good laugh about it, and then I explained why; I’m really excited to share that the scene in the film acted as a potent metaphor for staying alert and deflecting distractions. 

This mindset will help me succeed, and I wanted to share it with them., negative ideas that constantly try to enter my head.

The group agreed with that interpretation, and I urged everyone to find their own daily reminder of the need to confront their own ideas in the same way. Imagining oneself in a desirable situation is a potent way to inspire oneself to take action.

Throughout the years, I have helped a lot of people deal with “intrusive thoughts.” As a normal reaction to stress, intrusive thoughts are surprisingly prevalent in clinical populations. 

Shepherd and Fordiani (2015) suggested that these experiences may be interpreted as sensory flashpoints (often visual) accompanied by a sense of the “now-ness” of a moment.

The term “intrusive thought” refers to any “distinct, identifiable cognitive event” that is frequent, unwelcome, and unexpected. It causes difficulties in maintaining focus, completing tasks, experiencing positive emotions, and regulating one’s mood (Clark, 2015).

As a result of these unwanted intrusions, we may feel a range of negative emotions. Because of this, a wide variety of problems, including traumatic events, adverse or challenging experiences, and others, can trigger intrusive thoughts.

 It may be hard to deal with persistent, unwanted ideas for many people. Suppressing a statement, which seems most rational and handy when faced with a wrong notion, is more detrimental than helpful.

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Dissecting the Mechanisms of Repressed Thoughts

Idea suppression, as defined by Moss et al. (2015), involves making a “conscious” effort to avoid giving one’s attention to an unwanted idea. Suppressing unwanted ideas is a frequent first resort for many people who struggle to manage unwanted thoughts. Experiments and research on thought suppression, however, reveal an intriguing distinction.

A new experimental study has shown that suppressing negative thoughts might have a counterproductive impact (Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000). The outcome can be a buildup of hidden ideas that makes the same intrusive notion much more readily available the next time it rears its ugly head. The term “ironic control theory” describes this phenomenon.

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Intrusive Thoughts

Suppressing unwelcome ideas increases the likelihood that the same thought will repeat since our mind is continually on the lookout for the same unwanted content. 

Because of this repression, invasions occur (Taylor & Bryant, 2007). What initially seems like a relief can sometimes come back much more robust in the form of a rebound effect in one’s dreams (Taylor & Bryant, 2007).

Mental control often involves the interaction of two parallel processes, an intentional operational process and an ironic monitoring process, when we strive to conceal any idea (Wegner, 1994; Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000). Suppressing an unwanted thought triggers a procedure that actively looks for alternative theories that might prevent the invasive one from continuing.

In parallel, a tracking procedure sets up shop. It starts looking for telltale signs of disruptive thoughts or mental lapses (Wegner, 1994). Increased demand for mental processing leaves a vulnerable, weak flank as the monitoring process keeps looking for mental contents that signal a failure to establish cognitive control.

 At the same time, the operating procedure is engaged under conscious effort in the search for alternate thoughts to replace the intrusive one. To visualize this, imagine someone tapping you on the shoulder repeatedly as you stand there attempting to solve a maths problem.

 In this way, the memory structure may be solidified over time, increasing the rebound potential and making it easier to access the following time around.

Suppressing a thought can help establish a concept in one’s mind and may promote the repetition of a response behaviour. Smokers who hid their thoughts while trying to quit actually increased their smoking habits within a week (Erskine et al., 2010). 

However, recent research reveals that one’s response to such intrusive ideas needs to be revised. Dialectical behaviour therapy, of which mindfulness is a component, and cognitive behavioural potentials can be quite helpful in combating unwanted, intrusive ideas.

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Mindfulness Training

Is that all there is to it? Being mindful is paying full, undivided attention to the here and now. Mindfulness is defined as “the ability to observe one’s own thoughts and feelings without attaching value to them.”

Thus, we need to realize that it is natural to have numerous ideas during the day but that it is time to do something about them when they become the unwelcome possibilities of intrusive persecutory introjects.

 In addition, we don’t have to be left with bleak hopes when it comes to addressing intrusive thoughts, thanks to mindfulness and acceptance practices.

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