The Difference Between Intrusive and Impulsive Thoughts


Miranda Elgin, Writer

Within the last couple of years on social media, the notion of mental health has become a rather grey area. Oftentimes, symptoms and diagnoses get watered down and used as trends or “quirks.” A well-known example of this is people calling arbitrary actions, such as spontaneously cutting their hair or blurting out something odd, intrusive thoughts. This, however, is incorrect. 

What actually is an intrusive thought?

It’s understandable that some may not fully understand or even know what an intrusive thought actually is. 

A lot of the time, people who experience intrusive thoughts don’t love broadcasting them to the world, so it’s not widely known or talked about. Even though everyone experiences intrusive thoughts at times, they’re most prevalent in those who have OCD or other anxiety disorders. 

An intrusive thought is just as it sounds: a thought that is unwanted, agitating and sometimes irrational. They are different for everyone, but the most common types of intrusive thoughts are offensive, sexual or even sometimes violent things. They can range from thinking of harming yourself or others (known as “harm OCD”), thinking you’re sick if you sneeze once (considered “contamination OCD”) or even to thinking immoral or insulting things (mainly called “scrupulosity”). 


The issue is that the majority of the people who experience these wholeheartedly disagree with them. That’s the entire reason why they are intrusive. Sometimes, these types of thoughts can cause a person to be disgusted with themselves and it could potentially ruin a day or activity. 

Intrusive thoughts are not funny, cute or quirky. They are unpleasant and upsetting for the people who have them. 

What’s an impulsive thought?

This type of thinking is what most of us are familiar with due to social media. 

These types of thoughts are the more “spontaneous” ones that we see in TikTok or Instagram videos. Dying your hair at 3 in the morning, suddenly deciding to cut bangs or sometimes randomly rearranging your room. 

These are simply just impulses, hence the name. They’re not generally acted upon either, However, these thoughts are similar to impulsive thoughts as well in the sense that they can be violent, sexual or other things. The main difference between them though, is that with impulsive thoughts you think about it for a second, and then move on and forget about it.  

They’re not as impactful or disorienting as intrusive thoughts are and they’re usually not as detailed and unsettling. Another key difference is that impulsive thoughts are more linked to ADHD or an impulsivity disorder rather than OCD. 

Extra Comments

Remember that if you experience these, you are not alone. There are others who deal with them as well. 

Just because you have them doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. 

Just because you experience intrusive thoughts does not mean you have OCD; it’s best to speak to a professional if possible before making any assumptions.

The National Suicide Hotline is 988.

You are loved.