Ask The Therapist: Help! I am being plagued by intrusive thoughts
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This has never happened before but I feel plagued by intrusive thoughts. It all started a couple of months ago when I came across an absurd image on the Internet. Now, I can't stop thinking about it and also tend to imagine that image on other people. I've been trying really hard to forget it but the image keeps coming back. An answer would be much appreciated. - Name withheld
I feel the distress you are experiencing when I read your question. It must be exhausting for you to continuously try to forget this image, only to have it keep coming back. I can also imagine how uncomfortable you must feel when you keep seeing this image projected on other people.
As disturbing as this is to you, such intrusive thoughts and images are well known in the mental health field. Without doing a mental health assessment with you, I cannot diagnose the problem. Such intrusive thoughts can have different root causes and are often associated with anxiety.
I would like to share a few general notes about intrusive thoughts or images that may help you. Your instincts are telling you to make an effort to forget about the image and you are finding that it just keeps coming back. I would like you to take the image less seriously when it returns next time. Do not fight it at all and tell yourself: "There it is again, it's just a trick of the brain." The less you fight it, the more power it loses.
Try to listen inward by asking yourself how your life is; questions like: "Am I stressed, or anxious? Who do I want to be? What kind of life do I want? Am I taking good care of myself?" See if the persistent image has a deeper meaning for you. If you discover areas in your life you are discontent with, see if you can make the changes you need to transform that.
If the image will not fade away within a reasonable amount of time, I suggest you seek mental healthcare services for an assessment and to discuss a treatment plan. What you are experiencing is treatable. Please do not despair!
(Dr Annette is integrated psychotherapist at CHMC, Dubai. Got a query? Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org)