“Intrusive Thoughts”: What is behind the TikTok term and what does it have to do with mental health?
“When your intrusive thoughts win again”: Captions like this are currently being read in abundance in the popular psychology bubble on TikTok and under the hashtag #intrusivethoughts, which has over 900 million views. The videos then mostly show young women who, for example on a harmless impulse, have tinted their hair a shade darker, pressed an alarm button in the elevator or repositioned a piece of furniture in their apartment.
And so the concept of “intrusive thoughts” – or “intrusions” – becomes the next psychological phenomenon that is being diluted by the inflationary use on TikTok: Because in psychotraumatology, “intrusion” actually means the following: that triggered by a trigger and uncontrollable re-experiencing and remembering of a traumatic event together with its often emotionally stressful states.
For likes and views, a term becomes a supposedly funny meme, which has a pretty serious background for many people. Not only that, but using the term incorrectly can have a negative impact on those affected, potentially preventing them from speaking openly about their problems.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
Most of you will know the feeling – according to studies, 94 percent of people experience such thoughts: That brief moment when you stand on the platform, the train pulls in and you think about what will happen if you theoretically take a small step would make forward. Or if you suddenly start screaming for no reason in the silent cinema hall. Or when, while driving, the thought suddenly flares up as to what it would be like if you yanked the steering wheel to the side.
That’s exactly what “intrusive thoughts” are: unintentional thoughts and mind games that often feel inappropriate, uncomfortable, sometimes even cruel, and that you want to turn off immediately. This often succeeds – and as quickly as these thoughts come, they go again. And that’s probably a good thing, because often these flashes of thought are filled with violence, aggression, and the desire to shock others, even if you’re not inherently an aggressive person.
“Intrusive Thoughts” usually do not lead to any corresponding actions, mainly because they fundamentally contradict our personality and we therefore fight them, as science also knows. In an interview, psychologist Zoe Mallett explained that “intrusive thoughts” are typically thoughts that we do not want others to notice, that we are ashamed of and that actually do not suit us at all.
Loud Harvard Women’s Health Watch “Intrusive Thoughts” are often triggered by stress or anxiety – and hormone fluctuations can also be the reason. For example, pregnant women could be particularly vulnerable after the birth of their child. In principle, people of all ages can experience “intrusive thoughts” – but the older you get, the less they affect your quality of life. Simply because, over time, you learn to live with experiencing negative thoughts as a reaction to stress, making them easier to ignore or deal with.