Welcome back, everybody. I am so excited to be here. This is my first recording since returning back from Australia, after having five and a half weeks in Australia with my family and I could not be more thrilled. I had the most incredible time. I tell you, my cup was overflowing by the time I left. My heart was full. I didn’t realize that my heart was very empty, even though I have so much love in my life and joy in my life, and in many areas of my life, my cup was so full. But I didn’t realize how much my heart needed to go home and actually just live in Australia for five and a half weeks and let my kids learn what it’s like to live in Australia and be in Australia. It was so wonderful. I’m just so incredibly grateful to have had that opportunity.
That being said, I’m really also very, very sad to be back. However, I am making a choice to love-- how can I say it? Like love all of the parts of my life – the hard parts, the good parts, the easy parts, the parts that still don’t make sense to me. I’m making a point to love all the parts and feel all the parts and be gentle with all those parts. And I’m guessing you have some-- well, it may not be that exact experience. I’m guessing there’s some part of your life that you have to practice that with as well. And I strongly encourage it because it just opens up an opportunity for compassion and kindness and no more fighting in your mind. It’s just like, yes, it’s hard being an adult or a human. It’s hard, right? But again, it’s a beautiful day to do hard things.
This week on this episode, I’ve actually been wanting to do this episode since I left, because this was one that I was almost going to record before I left and I just ran out of time. It’s funny, I do a lot of Googling for my job, not for reassurance reasons, but often will type in a keyword just to see who’s talking about certain topics and how I can talk about it better with my clients. And often when I type in “intrusive thoughts,” you know how in Google, it auto-populates what it thinks you’re going to ask? It often asks, is intrusive thoughts normal? Are they normal? And the other one that often comes up is, are intrusive thoughts dangerous? And so, I wanted to talk about that because if that’s one of the most Googled questions, well, let’s talk about it. Okay, let’s talk about it because it’s another common. It’s the question that we get asked with my staff. I have a private practice. We have 10 amazing therapists. It’s probably one of the most common questions people ask on their first session. So, let’s talk about it.
Okay. So, the first question is, are intrusive thoughts normal? Well, let’s first get a feel for what is an intrusive thought. Now an intrusive thought is a thought that is intrusive. Meaning you don’t want it. It happens automatically. It just pops into your mind. It’s usually repetitive. It’s usually distressing. Often it will go completely against your values, but not always. Sometimes it could just be a random benign thought, like if you know, we call them “earwigs” here in America. I don’t know what we call them in Australia, but it’s like where a commercial or a song just goes over and over in your mind. That’s actually technically an intrusive thought as well, even though it may not have the presence of anxiety.
But that’s what an intrusive thought is, and all humans have intrusive thoughts. They’re completely normal. Everyone has them. Even, you may have asked a close friend or a parent or somebody and say, “Hey, I have these intrusive thoughts sometimes, or really bizarre and strange. Do you have them?” And if they say no, I actually don’t believe them. What I’m guessing they’re actually saying is they have them, but they don’t distress them. But they do have them. We all have these thoughts that just randomly pop up in our mind that make absolutely no sense, that have absolutely no relation to what we’re doing. So, as you’re out to lunch with your friends, you might have this most bizarre thought. That’s what our brains do. They come up with some bizarre things, just like sometimes our brains have bizarre dreams.
So, when we’re talking about this question – the question being, are intrusive thoughts normal – the answer is yes. They’re very, very common.
Now, the next question that often gets asked is a variation of this question, which is, what intrusive thoughts are normal? And I’m here to tell you all of them, every single one of them. When we talk about normal, we’re talking about what is average, what the average human experience is, and all of them are.
Now let’s actually get straight to the weirdness, shall we? You’ll most likely find that you have these intrusive thoughts during the most peculiar times, like when you’re making love to somebody or having sexual relations with someone, while you’re making a phone call to talk to, or when you’re making eye contact with someone. Maybe it’s someone your boss, or someone who you normally wouldn’t have these thoughts about and you normally wouldn’t welcome these thoughts about – that’s when you’re going to probably have them. When you’re on a first date, when you’re changing a baby’s diaper, when you’re handing, let’s say, you’re working behind a cash register. As you hand the money to the person is when you’re likely to have the most bizarre or strange intrusive thought. That’s really, really common, so I want to normalize that for you.
Now when I use the word “bizarre” or “strange,” that still has some judgment to it. So, I want to call myself out on that. Our job is to take judgment out of intrusive thoughts. The reason we often struggle with them is because we tell ourselves, “Oh, there are some thoughts that are good and some thoughts that are bad. And there are some intrusive thoughts that are good. And there are some intrusive thoughts that are bad.” And I’m here to tell you, or I’m here to remind you that there is no good or bad thoughts. They’re all just thoughts. There is no good or bad scenario in which you can have intrusive thoughts. Meaning it’s not bad to have intrusive thoughts during sexual intercourse, because we tell ourselves that, or it’s not good or bad to have thoughts when you’re with your baby or you’re at work with your boss or you’re doing homework, thinking about your teacher, or you’re thinking about someone you deeply love. There’s no right or wrong thoughts to have. They’re just thoughts. They’re thoughts. They’re projections that show up in our brain.
The only reason they become a problem is when we frame them as a problem that has to go away. And so, again, the main core message of today is, let’s not treat thoughts like problems. Let’s not treat the anxiety associated to it as a problem. And I do understand it’s painful. I do understand there’s a large degree of suffering there, but a lot of the time, the suffering comes from the fact that we’ve told ourselves, or we’ve put this expectation on ourselves that there’s a right and a wrong way to have intrusive thoughts, or there’s a right thought and a wrong thought to experience in your mind. Let’s not do that anymore. Let’s just let thoughts be like raining cats and dogs down on our mind, and we let it rain and rain, cats, and dogs in whatever form it is. Whatever thought and whatever content it is, we just let it come. Okay?
Now, let’s look at the other big question that people have that seem to be Googling, which breaks my heart, which is, when do intrusive thoughts become a problem? And I’m here again to tell you they’re never a problem. They’re never a problem. I don’t want you to think about intrusive thoughts or frame them as a problem.
Now, let’s get a little deep into that though, because it’s not as black as white as I’m saying it is. So, if you are someone who experiences intrusive thoughts, which we all do, and yours are associated with a large degree of suffering – anxiety, panic, uncertainty, dread, sadness, grief, like again, raining cats and dogs – it’s like you’re having intrusive thoughts and then all the emotions, rain, cats, and dogs around you too. Am I right? When you’re having that experience, I totally get that that is a large amount of suffering that you experience with the intrusive thoughts.
So, again, I don’t want you to feel like I’m gaslighting you or diminishing the suffering that you experience around your intrusive thoughts. But we will say that when we get really close and we get the magnifying glass really out and look, when we have the intrusive thought and you have the consequential or resultant anxiety and sadness and suffering, it really only becomes a problem. I don’t love the word problem, but I’m just going off the question. When we respond to that thought with criticism and punishment and self-judgment, and we beat ourselves up for having a brain that created and generated thoughts, that’s the real problem that I see.
So, when do they become a problem? They’re not, but they can become a problem if we then beat ourselves up because when we beat ourselves up, now we’ve got two problems. We’ve got the suffering of the intrusive thought and we’ve got now you’re beating yourself up and suffering even more.
Sometimes when we have those thoughts, we then go on to do other compulsions to try and get rid of those thoughts as if those thoughts were problems. So, we could see where this becomes a loop. If you have a thought and you tell yourself they’re wrong and that they’re a problem, you’re probably going to beat yourself up, which is doubled the suffering. And you’re probably going to do some pretty stretching, long painful behaviors to get rid of it, which is adding even more to your suffering.
So, what we want to do is if we look at that like it’s a cycle, instead of judging and instead of responding with some kind of compulsive safety behavior, we can actually intervene at the thought at the top of this chain of reactions and go, “Okay, I’m having thoughts. I’m allowed to have them. I’m going to have them. Humans have them. They’re not a problem. I’m not going to treat them like a problem, even though my whole body wants to treat them like a problem. But I’m going to be really gentle and shift the way I respond from one of being critical and responsive to one of being accepting and compassionate.”
And the last question here is, are intrusive thoughts dangerous? That’s what I consider to be the most extreme framing of an intrusive thought, that thoughts are dangerous. And here I want to say to you, no, thoughts are not dangerous. Thoughts are thoughts.
Now, again, let’s drop down a little bit deeper and look at this a little closer. You can have thoughts about dangerous things. That’s different. Meaning thoughts about unicorns aren’t dangerous. We can all agree with that unless you have a specific phobia about unicorns. We can laugh at that, but some people do. It’s like some people’s thoughts attack many areas in our lives. So, you can have a thought about a unicorn and we can all agree that that’s not dangerous. But for some reason, if we had a thought about hurting someone we love or dying, which might have the theme of dangerousness, we then go, “Oh no, that thought is more important because it’s about danger. It’s more important. My thoughts about what I’m going to have for lunch or my thoughts about will I be late for this meeting, that’s not a big deal. But my thoughts about harming people or hurting people or something bad having to myself, well, that’s a dangerous thought.” No, I’m actually going to say, that’s not a dangerous thought. That’s a thought about danger. Or if we go a little deeper, it’s a thought about a possibility of danger, not even an actual certainty.
And so, what I’m really wanting you to do as I walk you through these is to learn to have a different perception of thoughts, and learn to be mindful about the thoughts that we’re having. So, instead of having a thought and assuming that your thought is a fact, which thoughts are not facts, instead of doing that, we’re going to go, “Oh, I’m having a thought about such and such,” or “I’m having thoughts about these thoughts,” even to go even more deep into the mindful meta response.
So, here is where we shift our reaction, and what I’m going to offer you as I finish up this episode is double down here, if you can, on how you frame thoughts and how you perceive thoughts, and how you respond to thoughts. Make it your agenda for this week, month, or year or decade or life in that you start to practice observing thoughts and without framing them as a problem, dangerous, abnormal, as there’s something wrong with you because there’s nothing wrong with you. We all have these thoughts. Some of us have more than others, yes, but that still doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Some have more suffering related to them, absolutely, but I still want to frame that it doesn’t make you a faulty, broken human. That’s not what this is about. Thoughts do not generate worth. Meaning if you have good thoughts, you have lots of worth, and if you have bad thoughts, you have very little worth. That’s not a thing. We just want to go back to thoughts being what gets projected in our mind and not give them all that power.
So, that’s the pieces that I want you to take. Take as much as you need from today. Some things may feel really true, like I’m speaking directly to you. Some may feel like, “Ah, that doesn’t land for me so much.” That’s okay. Take what you need. Consider what your experience of this conversation was, if you got triggered at some point or you feel really angry at some point or resistant or absolutely wonderful. Sometimes this can actually also start to become a compulsion in that you listen to this over and over to get reassurance that you’re not a bad person. So, check with that as well and ponder on it. Take what you need. Learn from it and what you needed to hear today.
Before we leave, let’s do the “I did a hard thing.” This one is short and sweet. This is from Natalie. Natalie said:
“I had pre-cancerous cervical cells removed yesterday and I was so anxious, but I did it.”
So amazing, Natalie. I love this. Now, it’s short and sweet, but I actually think that’s a really, really hard thing. That takes some courage. So, I’m super, super proud of you for that. You should be so proud of yourself.
And then before we finish up, we have a review from Coronacouchpotato, and they said:
“Brimming with resources. A friend referred me to this podcast and I am so grateful. I had received more helpful information in the past couple weeks listening to this podcast than I have in the past year or so in therapy. I tell everyone I can about this podcast and how it has changed my life. Thank you, Kim!”
Oh my goodness. Coronacouchpotato, I cannot thank you enough for your review.
I will tell you a little story. I realized while I was away in Australia that I need to slow down enough to really be connected with the people who I am helping. Sometimes I think I go, go, go so fast, and I have this idea of helping all these people. I actually have to slow down and think about like, wow, it’s so cool that Coronacouchpotato and I are doing this together. And Natalie and I, we’re doing this together. And for you, even though I’m not saying your name, we’re doing this together. Isn’t that so cool?
Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful. And so, thank you, thank you, thank you for allowing me to be on this journey with you. I am honored. Thank you for trusting me. And if you would love to leave a review, I would love to feature it. So, go ahead and do that.
All right, folks, have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to have all the intrusive thoughts.
I’ll talk to you next week. Thank you again. Amazing for 300 episodes and I’ll talk to you soon.