Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that unexpectedly enter one’s head. These are usually disturbing and impure. It is common for those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder to have a series of these thoughts.
Intrusive thoughts are based on fear, fear of offending God which overly concerns the persons with scrupulosity.
What are the examples of intrusive thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts can be in a form of ideas, images, or words. Usually, violent, disturbing, or upsetting enough to cause discomfort.
For scrupulous, the feared situations which they feel likely to displease God converts into these thoughts.
One example is lust.
If one is extremely afraid of lust, there is an enormous chance that this fear would turn into lustful thoughts.
Another one is blasphemous thoughts.
These are the hardest thoughts not to react to because they directly relate to the One scrupulous are terrified to offend resulting in inordinate mental pain.
The more you are careful not to think about these thoughts, the more they bother.
When do intrusive thoughts happen?
Intrusive thoughts can attack anytime, anywhere. But, normally, they come during prayer time, at Mass, or at any point in time while praying.
Is having intrusive thoughts an illness?
No. Having intrusive thoughts is not an illness. But, it may suggest an underlying mental health condition such as OCD.
My Experience with Intrusive Thoughts
Delving into the apologetics, I fell in love with the Church. With the knowledge of what the Church teaches, I decided to practice my faith again. I started attending the Holy Mass regularly, and go to confession after a decade.
With continuous studies of the faith, I went the extra mile by making a vow every year. In my first year, I promised to attend the Mass every week. Next year, to record all the homilies for the entire year, and last 2019, to receive Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist the whole year. The latter commitment triggered my OCD. I became scrupulous.
Pressured to receive the Eucharist each week, I made sure that I am in a state of grace to be worthy to accept Him to a point that I began to be too conscious of my actions. I was doubting everything I did.
Was it a sin? Did I sin? Was it intentional?
I always attached my actions to sins. I was focused on not falling short of grace. And every time I felt I did, I quickly went to the nearby Church for confession. In the last quarter of the year, I experienced going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation four (4) times a week.
What normally happened was after confession, I was becoming rigid. I always felt my confession was invalid because I was not able to confess a particular sin or because specific thoughts bothered me.
These thoughts were salacious and blasphemous. I was having images and words that were difficult to erase. They kept on getting into my head.
With that, I was forced to go back and confess, tricking me that I sinned again.
These intrusive thoughts bombarded me while praying and most frequently right after confession, especially on Saturdays. The reason was, on Sunday, I would partake in the Eucharist thus the extreme compulsion of confession would likely occur the day before.
Searching what and why I have these thoughts, I figured out that these are intrusive thoughts and they are not new for those who are struggling with Religious OCD. They happen because OCD individuals are fearful of displeasing God and this fear triggers intrusive thoughts.
RELATED– Prayer Journal for Scrupulous
Are intrusive thoughts sin?
Having intrusive thoughts is not a sin. But it could lead to sin. To be a sin, one must have the intention of thinking about these thoughts.
Being disturbed with impure thoughts does not make you sinful. It is when you take pleasure in it.
For example, when a lustful idea or image enters into your head, it is not a sin until you let it stay there and enjoy it.
Having Intrusive thoughts is common for those who suffer scrupulosity. This is actually one of its signs. This becomes an obsession and the response is different depending on the person.
If one has a compulsion, the tendency is to perform the ritual to minimize distress brought by these unwanted thoughts.
Should I confess intrusive thoughts?
No. You do not need to confess intrusive thoughts unless they result in actual sins such as murder, blasphemy, sex outside marriage, etc.
Have a difficult time confessing your sins because of scrupulosity? You might want to check this Confession Guide for Scrupulous.
How to stop intrusive thoughts?
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy is best for dealing with this obsession.
What this technique does is to let these thoughts come without doing anything.
If intrusive thoughts register in the mind, scrupulous would normally feel discomfort and do compulsions such as mental exercises or repetitive actions to reduce the anxiety.
But with ERP, these compulsions are forced to stop gradually through exposure to the feared stimuli. Instead of performing a ritual, once thoughts come, you will get exposed to ignoring them until the compulsion is fully eliminated. It will take time but it works.
For example in my case, before, I had lustful images while praying plus I developed a compulsion (Act of Contrition), these thoughts were extreme that I recited a Rosary for almost an hour.
I then discovered ERP Therapy.
What I did was, one time, albeit hard, while praying, intrusive thoughts chimed in, instead of stopping and performing my compulsion, I went on until I was done.
It was so difficult that I was thinking of getting back to praying and repeating it, but with my eyes closed, I walked out of my room and moved on. That moment became my standard. For the next few days, whenever I thought of repeating a prayer, I would always remind myself that I had already broken the compulsion.
Intrusive thoughts can deceive us that we are sinful. We may feel bad about ourselves because of the torture they bring, usually, depression, and despair to the point of hurting ourselves, but there is something greater than them, we have God.
We just have to trust that God is powerful enough to see our real intentions.
Once we distinguish our intrusive thoughts from our intentions, we would realize that we are not sinful but are courageous, having the courage to carry this heavy burden for His greater glory.
For the best resources on scrupulosity, check this out.