How to manage intrusive thoughts?


I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in the three years since I started my recovery. I am grateful for what’s present. I can receive love more than before. I can say no or yes and mean it. I can be aware of myself for significant amounts of time every day.

Currently the intrusive negative thoughts are draining though. Every day, but especially in the morning and in intervals throughout the day. They don’t have the weight that they used to, but they are so persistent! I must have laid down a thick rope of neurons dedicated to negative thoughts in my past.

I am writing to ask for ideas and strategies which have brought you some relief, even if temporary.

Strategies I use:
+ Ignoring
+ Countering with a positive message
+ Moving my body

Maybe I just need to keep doing those things but I would like to know of anything else that might help.

Something which I think might help, but haven’t tried yet, is setting aside time to give myself positive messages every day, rather than just using the positive messages when I need to battle the negative thoughts. I can feel the resistance in my chest to doing something like that, but it’s an idea.


You have made amazing progress on your healing journey!! So wonderful to see this!

All the things you are doing is great and also agree that doing some positive self-work during times there is not something negative going on is a great idea.

One thing I do is what I call 'thought stopping'. When my mind just will not shut down. @MrMoonlight has also made reference to 'thought stopping', but don't know if our methods are the same.

I simply tell my brain to STOP. Just STOP. It does shut down for a little while. With all the extra noise that has no significance to my day. Sometimes I have to do it more than once, but it does help.

Another thing I do, I learned from the book The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, is, ' what is my next thought going to be?' and for whatever reason, my mind just goes blank. such a beautiful relief!!!!

Don't know if these will help or not, but did want to say you are doing some awesome work on your recovery. Keep up the positive work!!!


Ignoring works some times but is usually not highly effective in stopping looping/intrusions for me. If it is the critic sending negative messages, I talk back and tell it to stop.....and give it good reasons is doesn't need to criticize.....Saying "No loudly" seems to stop the intrusisve thoughts or negative looping or clarify what the real issue is-very important.

Prep Work in Dealing with Insiders: I have had to do a lot of communication work over the past several years in dealing with insiders.
Knowing what concerns them, what motivates them, and what they find pleasure in doing......three very important things to know about my parts in being successful in working with them. It's like your own family, you know whose relatively happy and easy to get along with, whose the sour pus, who feels jaded, why they feel the way they do, and what they enjoy that helps to get them out of their funk. If you have a good handle on your insiders behavior, rationale, and motivations, you can use internal behavior modification in making your whole system work more cooperatively together. This takes active work.....and it can be a fun adventure.

So, I've come to believe that I can make sour lemons into lemonade....almost always, if I keep adding sugar and keep trying. Sugar is most often in the form of sensory stimuli (movement/kinesthetic-(dance video, line dancing, yoga-focused activity, an hour walk-till I'm good and worn out, aerobic exercise), food/cooking-making homemade pizza, then having food and a movie-a focused activity), tactile (like making clay animals, anything artsy that requires attention and feels good to do like visual arts-a focused activity like painting, drawing, nature photograohy, or an art class. I keep little Zen puzzles (50-75 pieces) which are highly focusing, or engage auditory senses with-loud favorite music on my Sonos speaker, or play my recorder-practicing, playing in a group of musicians, or even focused fun work. I made a list of all the different senses, and the different activities I could do to refocus from the negative to something that in the end, would make me feel much more positive......and stop the dwelling/internal negative rehearsal. I do not go do an activity that is not highly positive or engaging when I'm trying to change my thoughts...........I'll just there would be no strong motivation behind it.

Step 1: Figuring out what is causing your sour lemons (intrusions):

However, if you can determine whether the negative looping is "safety related" or not, that can be a helpful in determining what direction to go in. If you are dealing with anything related to safety, in my case, the looping/negativity doesn't stop until I actively address the problem.
So, let's say my T wanted to do teletherapy, and I started getting awful intrusive messages "No T's allowed in this house." I know it is a safety issue. If it's strong enough-intrusive enough to derail my daily plans, I know it's not going away till I address it so taking time to deal with it will improve my day. I also know that I might wake up, with it looping in my head and that will just kill another day. So, I sit down, craft out an email about my dilemma to T, and hope T will find a workable solution for all of me that is concerned. Actively acknowledging their fear (whether is feels dumb or not), then actively doing something to reduce the fear, gains respect from parts, bides time and reduces the intrusions, and getting help may provide a workable solution I personally hadn't thought of..............but because I've acknowledge the issue and acted......the intrusive messages slow to a dull roar/or may even stop. If I choose not to act.....they just keep getting louder, longer, and more negative and can interfere with sleep.

Step 2. Flipping sour lemons (internal fears) into lemonade
After making a good faith attempt to acknowledge and act on the issue, ask inside what would make things better... I say aloud to all of myself, "Time to make lemonade!" a verbal cue for flipping what has been a negative situation, to a much more positive and fun situation..

Then, I usually generate a mental list and say them outloud or write them on a paper (movie and popcorn), cut the grass, music and painting, a long walk with the camera, etc. ) I usually get some kind of response back to do something positive that's on the list......and then I follow through with what I hear the loudest. It could be several things in a row that I will do that are positive (this is not the time to add laundry, clean the cat pan or toilet, or clean up a huge mess). Several things redirect my attention for a "block of time" and typically, this seems to really help change the thinking, and mood to be more positive.

If I try step 2 before doing step 1, I usually find myself dealing with the noise, ruminations, looping, at 3 am or the next morning like when I open my eyes. I hate that dealing with the problem sooner rather than how I handle it. Hope this helps!


I find, since I am highly visually oriented, that if I purposely look at something I was not looking at when the thought occurred, I get released from the intrusive thoughts(s).

Other things that work are going out for a walk and appreciating nature, doing something creative, rocking in my rocking chair, singing or humming.


Not sure this would translate over, but usually I need to track & place.

It's intrusive only because some part of it bugs me badly, I don't know what it is, where it's from, which version of it is true or closest to what went on or useful / actionable, I don't know who I'm supposed to check in about it with, whatever.

Making sense of the fragment and moving it to category it belongs puts it to rest in my head. Still there. Just not disturbing me as much.


When my mind just will not shut down. @MrMoonlight has also made reference to 'thought stopping', but don't know if our methods are the same.
I'm really visual my therapist says so I imagine a red stop sign in front of my face while saying "stop" in my mind. My future tripping is usually me trying to control the uncontrollable...the future. I catastrophize with my future tripping so really it just paralyzes, creates more stress, and worry for myself. So frustrating sometimes.


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Wow, an abundance of ideas! I am highlighting each of them, to remember and organize...

' what is my next thought going to be?'

This speaks to me. I like the simplicity—something I can do immediately, just to try it. I know that self-awareness helps so much. Even just creating my post gave me a little strength and perspective, because I was paying attention to the issue.

I talk back and tell it to stop

I didn’t consider the difference between ignoring and actively talking back to it. Personally, I have done this in the past, now that I remember, and it seemed to anger and amplify it. Which is why...

communication work over the past several years in dealing with insiders so important, as you pointed out. Knowing which part is sending out the negative messages, can create space between “me” and “the messenger.”

I haven’t been focusing on parts lately as I’ve been focused on integrating. But interestingly there’s almost a sense of being “haunted” by the intrusive thoughts. And now I remember the last Dick Schwartz video I watched he talked about *disengaging* from parts. He said that the suffering comes from blending with the part giving self-criticism, and believing that what they are saying is you, when it’s not.

if you can determine whether the negative looping is "safety related" or not,

Hmmm... I will have to ponder this.

I purposely look at something I was not looking at when the thought occurred,

Interesting. I will try it.

usually I need to track & place.

It's intrusive only because some part of it bugs me badly,

This sounds similar to what @TruthSeeker is saying. “Where is it coming from,” is a good question.

My future tripping is usually me trying to control the uncontrollable

I forget that intrusive negative thoughts are pretty similar to catastrophizing, even though they feel intrusive and as though I’ve done nothing but simply wake up. What is the safety issue—being awake? Having to be responsible? Not sure, but whatever part is giving off those thoughts is not accepting that there is more than one possible outcome to every situation.

exercise is really the only way to get rid of it.

Interesting. In some ways this is also a very simple solution, although it takes will-power and dedication. It’s simple because you’re saying that you just do the exercise and it blocks it.

I do think that exercise is helpful and that I could do more of it. A good reminder that it benefits me in more ways than just a healthy heart and strong bones and muscles.

Thank you everyone! If anyone else wants to add to this I welcome your thoughts.


I get intrusive thoughts all the time too. Draining. Energy sapping little jerks. Sometimes they freeze me in my tracks. Sometimes they're actually really small flashbacks.

So depending on where they come from- PTSD or OCD.
PTSD ones - I ground, find something to focus on that wasn't in my past. Pictures of kids. Feeling of soft stuff. Counting things.

OCD ones are actually harder for me to get through- they almost always involve my kids.

I used to use the stop sign image in my head and forcible tell them to stop- turns out that was actually making it worse.

My P-doc explained it's giving them too much power. And in order to tell them to stop you have to focus on them first.

Kinda like, when you buy a car and then you see the same car everywhere all the time when before you didn't really notice. The cars were always there just your brain wasn't looking for them.

So now when I get an intrusive thought (ocd related) I remind myself that everyone gets scary, weird, terrifying, strange, messed up thoughts sometimes and it's totally normal.
Sometimes that means my second thought is "huh, thats a weird thought, ah well. meh"

It helps me not get stuck in trying to disprove the thought.

And if they really bug me (both ptsd and ocd ones) then my p-doc helped me set up a safe space in my head with emdr that I'm still practicing using.

Work in progress. Recognizing which disorder they come from is getting easier, which means responding appropriately is getting easier.


My best tricks are both ADHD skills

Interesting. Hadn't thought about how focus is related... The thoughts seem so flighty, like mosquitos that land briefly and give a quick drilling before taking off. Sometimes they are there for a moment, sometimes a few minutes, but enough for the positive parts in me to feel it, and either groan or sigh. I'm not quite sure how to use the focus effectively yet, but I see how it can be a tool.

Sometimes that means my second thought is "huh, thats a weird thought, ah well. meh"

I remember this from CBT with my own OCD--the need to become the noticer. To write about the feelings and watch them dissipate. I can feel my clenched up stomach from remembering how difficult this actually is for someone in the throes of obsessive thoughts! But just because something is hard doesn't mean it's impossible.

These are good reminders. I think they both would be filed in the category of self-awareness, or putting a margin of space between me and the thoughts. That's facing it, and not giving in.


If I figure out where the intrusive thought is coming from, and it is safety related, I work with that part to make it feel meaningful and give it more up-to-date safety jobs. Like a protector's switch got turned on....a unexplainable noise outside, and now I'm having to run around and check all the doors and windows for safety. Instead, I asked that part to make a ritual each night of making sure the doors were locked and windows all shut and locked for the evening and alarm on. Then, immediately if I hear a noise outside, I know that the "preventative safety stuff" has been taken care of and I'm no longer running around the house checking doors and windows....I know I'm safe. At this point, I can give credit to that protective part and reassure for reminding me to make sure the doors and windows were done so we know we are safe going to bed-then there's no big fear or alarmest response. So, safety things like keeping track of car keys, credit cards, gas tank filled up, etc. I shifted those responsibilities to the protective part........and yes, I do them.......but that comradry builds safety and is an avenue to communicate calmness internally, because safety was taken care of. I don't know if that makes sense...but it has helped.