Intrusive vs. Impulsive Thoughts: What’s the Difference Between The Two?

Last Update on November 22, 2023 : Published on November 24, 2023
Intrusive vs Impulsive Thoughts

Our minds are like that flower garden maze, and sometimes, we need a moment to understand the different species of flowers that bloom within. I’ve seen many videos on social media where people talk about letting their “intrusive thoughts win” but I wonder if they understand what intrusive thoughts truly mean.

With time, I like the fact that people are choosing to speak about their thoughts, but at the same time, I feel like they don’t fully understand what they are talking about. Intrusive thoughts and impulsive thoughts are one such example.

Both these thought processes sound similar, but they can’t be more different than each other. In this article, that’s what I’ll be talking about. We need to understand the difference between intrusive and impulsive thoughts, how they each affect us, and how we can cope with them.

So, keep reading to become aware of what these thought processes mean.

What are Intrusive Thoughts?

Picture this: you’re sitting in a quiet spot, sipping on your favorite tea, when suddenly, a weird thought pops into your head. Maybe it’s an image of something scary or a thought that doesn’t quite match the soothing moment you’re in. These are intrusive thoughts also known as unwanted thoughts. They’re your uninvited guests that no one wants.

Intrusive thoughts can be disturbing, but having them doesn’t make you a bad person. Intrusive thoughts are more common than we think, and these thoughts often reflect the brain’s natural tendency to explore different scenarios. Normal, right?

What are Impulsive Thoughts?

Now, talking about impulsive thoughts. Impulsive thoughts are like the mischievous cousins of impulsive actions. Imagine seeing a scrumptious cake in front of you and suddenly feeling the urge to smash it, not because you want to, but just because the thought pops into your head. That’s an impulsive thought.

These thoughts are like quick impulses, urging you to do something without much consideration. It’s like your brain playing a game of “what if” without your permission. While not everyone experiences impulsive thoughts, they can be linked to conditions like ADHD or certain mood disorders.

Intrusive Thoughts vs. Impulsive Thoughts

Alright, let’s take a moment to explore the difference between intrusive thoughts and impulsive thoughts, and what sets these two relatives apart;

1. Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are the unwanted visitors in your head and are often unrelated to your current situation or circumstances. Intrusive thoughts are often distressing and disturbing. You can experience intrusive thoughts if you are diagnosed with anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Having an intrusive thought can make you think that you’re a bad person for having such a thought. Misinterpretation of intrusive thoughts can cause anxiety and extreme distress, which can lead you to engage in actions to find relief from such thoughts.

Some examples of intrusive thoughts can be;

  • Aggressive thoughts about harming yourself or others
  • Unwanted thoughts related to sexual or religious subjects
  • Thoughts about being contaminated
  • Unwanted thoughts of being or becoming a pedophile

2. Impulsive Thoughts

Impulsive thoughts, on the other hand, are quick and sudden urges or ideas you get that might prompt you to engage in impulsive actions. Impulsive thoughts can be related to conditions such as ADHD — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These thoughts are not always distressing but can be disruptive at the same time.

More often than not, impulsive thoughts are spontaneous and can be considered “taboo”. If an inappropriate thought comes to mind and if you’re able to move without experiencing severe anxiety and distress, then it could be an impulsive thought rather than an intrusive one.

Some examples of impulsive thoughts can be;

  • Knocking a cup off the counter
  • Seeing a bag in a store and buying it
  • Cutting your hair at 3 in the morning
  • Jumping off the couch on an impulse

Understanding the difference between impulsive and intrusive thoughts can help you create a mindful approach and strategies to improve and cope with your mental well-being. I have some strategies for you that can help you cope with your intrusive and impulsive thoughts.

How to Cope with Your Thoughts?

1. Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts

To cope with intrusive thoughts, here are some strategies you can engage in;

  • Acknowledge the Thought: The first way to cope with your intrusive thoughts is to recognize that they exist, but it doesn’t have to define who you are.
  • Try Mindfulness: You can also try to engage in mindfulness or grounding exercises to stay anchored in the present moment and not lose yourself to your thoughts.
  • Don’t Push Them: Make sure you don’t push away your thoughts or distract yourself from them. Your thoughts don’t always have to mean something, so don’t sit to analyze them. Acknowledge them, but don’t dwell on them.
  • Seek Professional Help: Another way to cope with your intrusive thoughts is to seek help and support from a counselor or therapist. A therapist can help you understand the cause of the thoughts and address the root of it.

2. Managing Your Impulsive Thoughts

To manage your impulsive thoughts and feel safe with them, here are some strategies you can give a try;

  • Pause and Reflect on Them: First, take a moment to think about the impulsive thought before you decide on engaging in the impulsive urges. This will help you control your thoughts via your actions.
  • Create a Plan: You can also create different strategies and engage in different exercises to redirect your impulsive behaviors.
  • Seek Professional Help: Another way you can learn to manage your impulsive thoughts and actions is to seek professional help and support. A therapist can help you develop healthy strategies to cope with your thoughts and urges.

Wrapping Up…

Our minds sure are mysterious and in this mystery, intrusive and impulsive thoughts are just a few of the many aspects, not the whole picture. Knowing how these thoughts affect and influence our behaviors can help you nurture your mental flower garden with care and compassion.

Remember, you’re not the only one who experiences these thoughts. Just because you have intrusive thoughts or impulsive thoughts does not mean that you’re a bad person or are wrong for having such thoughts.

Be gentle and compassionate with yourself, practice living in the moment, and remember that we’re all learning to sail in the same direction together. It will take time, but we’ll get the hang of it in the end.

Here’s to a healthier mind. I hope this blog helped you understand the intricacies of intrusive vs. impulsive thoughts and how to coexist with them. Let me know your thoughts about this article in the comments below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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