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Intrusive thoughts: Where do they come from? ‘The saga of the toilet roll!'

Where do intrusive thoughts come from?

Are intrusive thoughts normal?

Why do they not go away?

Woah! That’s 3 questions straight off the cuff, so let me break it down and answer these, finishing with my intrusive thought of: ‘the saga of toilet roll’ as an example of how I managed to stop the negative thought being intrusive.

Where do intrusive thoughts come from?

There is no definite one answer as to where intrusive thoughts come from. There are many different theories that I have read, some of which I feel make more sense than others. Here are 2 examples of what made sense to me:

1. That the brain has a default of negativity bias where, as humans we tend to lean towards negative influences, this it is said develops in infancy. If we are surrounded by negativity in our early development, then that is what we are familiar with. We only have to listen to how the news is told to us to understand this better. Listen to how they draw on negativity of what is happening in the world, most of the programme is used up with negativity. Listen to what is happening to your body and mind as a result of that, you feel tired, maybe even exhausted. The negativity stays with you. The good news they talk about towards the end of the programme is insignificant, you may not even remember hearing it. Personally, I only listen to the news every few days for the headlines. It’s not good for me, it leaves me low and down. I don’t need that in my life. has more information on the negativity bias.

2. ‘The dynamics of the psyche’, a theory developed by Carl Jung. In this he tells of when he was 11yrs old and found an injured robin. Whilst trying to nurse the robin back to health Jung realised how light the bird was and so how easily he could crush it in his hand. As Jung says he didn’t like that idea, but he acknowledged that such an intrusive thought was there.

What Jung goes on to say is that by accepting that the intrusive thought (also known as a polar opposite to wanting to nurse the bird back to health) was in fact just a thought he could let it go as the action he had taken was to try and rescue the bird.

Are intrusive thoughts normal?

What I found when researching about intrusive thoughts is, that we all have them, so in a word, yes, we can normalise them.

What makes it different for some people is our ability to react rationally to them by quickly acknowledging and accepting that a thought is a thought no matter how bizarre it may seem/feel.

Why do they not go away?

When we are in a mindset of being anxious that our ability to process thoughts rationally becomes difficult (at times impossible), we tend to be hyper-vigilant and hyper-sensitive to what is going on in our minds and around us. We want to avoid danger of any kind and so will avoid it, hide from it, if I don’t think about it, it will go away. But it doesn’t go away, we need to keep it where we can see it, but we can’t face it or explore it because that would be dangerous, we need to keep it just far enough away so it doesn’t hurt us but that we still know it’s there.

When we are in these hyper mind-sets, we often feel threatened and are on the lookout for danger. So it makes sense that when anxious we will be drawn to the negative thought, believing it to be true and therefore unable to take a step back and slow down this thought process., and so we find ourselves in a vicious circle where negative thoughts heighten our anxiety and our anxiety stops us from processing the negative thought as that – ‘a thought’.

‘The saga of the toilet roll’

Recently, I was working away on my laptop, quite happily engrossed in what I was doing and bang! In came a thought – “I wonder if I will have enough toilet roll to get me through till pay day?” I looked round thinking, “Where did that just come from?” I try to shake it off thinking, “What a daft thought, get back to what you are doing.” But the thought just would not go away meaning I was unable to concentrate on what I was meant to be doing. I’d had enough. I have spent many long periods of time in my life in a mind-set of high anxiety and therefore unable to manage thoughts positively. Well not this time. My journey through my own therapy, all the hard work I put in between each session has allowed me to grow as a person and to understand that by facing my fears they cannot hurt me or make me feel any worse than they are at that time. So, I put my work down, push my chair back and ask myself the question – “What is going on?” “What does it matter whether I have enough toilet paper till pay day or not?” Yes, it took me a bit of time to work it out but the point I am getting to is, that as soon as I faced the thought that was starting to cause my anxiety to rise (because I couldn’t get my work done) I began to relax and start to see it in a different light, I saw it as a thought.

What can we do to help ourselves? Self-care:

· Try to get a good nights’ sleep. 6-8 hours is the average but if that is not possible then rest when you can.

· Breathing – think about your breathing and what is happening in your body. You can slow/regulate your breathing using this easy to remember exercise: Breathe in 2, 3, 4 and hold 2, 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4 and pause 2, 3, 4. Repeating this until you feel yourself more relaxed.

· Going for regular walks and connecting with nature can also help you to slow down. If going out in public feels too much try just being in your garden and listening to nature or if you do not have a garden sit by an open window and allow the sounds and smell of nature in.

· Take time to be in a quiet space and listen to soft/soothing music for at least 30 minutes if possible.

· Accessing support groups or counselling whether online or in person if available locally.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I hope you have found at least some of it helpful. If you would like to explore intrusive thoughts or any other concerns you may have then contact me and we can arrange a free 30 minute telephone consultation to see if counselling may be supportive for you.

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