Intrusive Thoughts: Egosytonic vs Egodystonic

Intrusive Thoughts (ITs) intrude upon your ongoing thought processes and startle you with attention-grabbing content or imagery.

Intrusive thoughts are common - research says that 94% of the population experience them occasionally. 

Intrusive Thoughts can be categorized in two forms:

  • Egodystonic thoughts: which are an expression of wishes that oppose your values
  • Egosyntonic thoughts: which are an expression of wishes aligned with our values. 

It is best to understand what your intrusive thoughts say about you. These thoughts usually hone in on what is important to you. You will never have an intrusive thought about a topic your brain finds irrelevant, such as “oh no, what if my shoes get untied?” Your brain will only exert the effort to offer up an intrusive thought about something you care deeply about and its fears may be threatened. 

The flip side of your intrusive thought is what you value the most.

However, these thoughts DO NOT reflect your hidden desires. Experiencing an intrusive thought does not make you “deranged” or “depraved” because the only unhealthy thing about your experiences with intrusive thoughts is how hard you are trying to not have these thoughts. What you may find to be true is that there is a difference between a bad thought and a bad behavior. 

Thought Suppression Exercise

  1. Intentionally think about an intrusive thought. 
  2. For the next minute, place your attention on anything except for the intrusive thought. (find something a sense can attract to - the sound of birds outside, the ac unit running, the pen in front of you, the mint inside your mouth, etc)
  3. After 1 minute, note your anxiety levels on a 0-10 scale
  4. Next, for another minute, practice bringing forth the same intrusive thought. 
  5. After 1 minute, note your anxiety levels again on 0-10 scale. 

With this exercise, you can teach your brain to grow bored with your intrusive thoughts as we have realized in neuroscience that repeated attention to the intrusive thought will reduce reactivity over time (not so instantly) and can be done without necessarily seeking some answer to the reasons why they are rising within our thoughts.