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  • Writer's pictureValerie Akins, LCSW, LCDC, LCAS

Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts



We all have thousands of thoughts each day. Often times, we are not paying attention to most of these thoughts. We can even be skilled at letting go of nagging, uncomfortable and inappropriate thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are more than just unacceptable thoughts. They are distressing and can be disruptive to our lives. Intrusive thoughts can cause changes in our behavior, socialization and sense of self.


We can use ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) to approach these thoughts. Defusion is a cognitive skill used to separate the combining or "fusion" of thoughts to emotions. When separating the thought from our emotion, this can alter our behavior to be more adaptive.


Let's take a look at the 3 Ns of Defusion:

1) Notice: Sometimes these thoughts pop out of nowhere and sometimes there are factors leading up to the presence of the thought.

Either way, practice awareness of these thoughts by saying to yourself “I am aware of the thought {intrusive thought}" or "I am noticing the thought {intrusive thought}."

2) Name: We name the thought by making it separate from ourselves.

Examples: "Here is the story my mind created of {intrusive thought}." "Here is the doom and gloom radio station I'm tuning into, broadcasting {intrusive thought}."

3) Neutralize: When we neutralize thoughts, we are normalizing them and reducing the power they have. Since it is not a helpful thought, we don't pay it much attention. You can try to think of thoughts with the following visual defusion metaphors:

-Leaves on a stream: leaves (thoughts) are floating by, you may choose to pick out the leaf, or notice it and let it float down the stream.

-Clouds and weather: the clouds (thoughts) are floating by. You can choose to focus deeply and determine what image the cloud represents, or just recognize it as part of the daily weather.

-Tug of war with a monster: the monster (thought) is on one end of the rope, and you are on the other. You can't win the tug of war, so you drop the rope. The monster is still there, but you only engage with the monster if you pick the rope back up.


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