The other night I was snuggled up to my husband on the couch, half-heartedly watching the last half of a basketball game. I couldn’t care less about basketball honestly, so I took the opportunity to look at this hunk I am married to. He was freshly showered and smelled wonderful, and I just felt my heart turn to mush with happiness because he is mine. But then, out of the blue, I started crying. For some reason, I imaged him being dead. I remembered that he is going to die one day, and statistically speaking, it will most likely be before me. I cried. He laughed at me. I laughed at myself.
Why — in a moment of true happiness — did my brain decide to focus on inevitable death?
I have these moments a lot. I will be happily driving along listening to the radio and a morbid thought will flash through my mind. I bet you could just drive your van off that overpass. What would it feel like to hit that car? Have you ever had a thought like that? I was really beginning to think there was something mentally wrong with me. After some serious Googling, it turns out that almost all people have thoughts like this sometimes. These kinds of thoughts are called intrusive thoughts, and despite the fact that it sounds really weird to type them out, they are totally normal. Psychologists aren’t clear on exactly why we have these thoughts. Some theorize that it is an unconscious way we process stress. Intrusive thoughts can also show up in the form of shocking sexual thoughts, rebellious thoughts about religion, or violence. These little nuggets of darkness just bubble up to the surface and then POP they’re gone.
It probably goes against everything we’ve been told, but having a thought about something like pushing your toddler down the stairs doesn’t make you a bad mother. There is a lot of shame surrounding any feeling about parenting that isn’t sheer joy, so it is no wonder parents especially don’t talk about having these kinds of thoughts. Shame causes us to isolate ourselves, so I wanted you to know you’re not alone. Nowhere close, or so says statistics. According to a study done in 2014, 94% of people reported having intrusive thoughts. Only 1% of those people struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I have had an intrusive thought turn to a compulsion. I began worrying about my husband dying in a car wreck and so I would cover him in prayer every time I knew he would be traveling to and from work. One afternoon I missed the text from my husband letting me know that he was heading home from work, and I only saw it once I answered his phone call saying he had been in a fender-bender. I believed it was my fault because I didn’t do my ritual of praying for his safety this one time. This really pushed my obsession into overdrive for a while. Of course I can see now how ridiculous that sounds, but for that period of time it felt very real to me.
So what are we supposed to do when these shocking thoughts pop up? What does that mean about who we are as a person?
The consensus is that when something obscene or dark pops into your mind, allow it to flow right back out. Sometimes I shake my head or say ‘no’ to myself. Remember that fixating on the thought only causes you to think more thoughts like it. There is a huge difference in having a thought and following through with an action. You are a good person because you would never really drive your van into a river or drop kick the family cat. If you feel temptation to actually do those things, it is time for a helping hand. There are some great resources for mental healthcare in Chattanooga and there is absolutely no shame in reaching out.