Health And Wellness

Why This Dangerous TikTok Trend Gets OCD So Wrong

Photo: Andrey Sayfutdinov / Shutterstock
tiktok on phone

If you’ve seen a TikTok recently hashtagged “#intrusivethoughts” or one that uses the phrase “the intrusive thoughts won,” you may think that intrusive thoughts are impulsive urges to do funny, quirky things like, for example, pulling the alarm in an elevator for no reason or covering your face with chocolate sauce.



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Unfortunately, intrusive thoughts are not typically fun or funny to experience, and for people with an anxiety disorder and especially for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they can be extremely upsetting, and even debilitating.

“Intrusive thoughts are unwanted repetitive thoughts, images, or urges that can occur and are very distressing to the individual experiencing them,” says Haley Ostrow, LCSW, a therapist specializing in anxiety therapy for adults.

You don’t have to have a mental disorder to experience intrusive thoughts.

They’re extremely common, and certain types of intrusive thoughts are more common than others. A 1993 study by the NHS’ Oxford Health of 293 adults without a diagnosed mental disorder produced a table of what types of intrusive thoughts the study participants had experienced — they range from “driving the car off the road” for a little over half of the study participants to “stabbing a family member” for 10% of the female subjects and 22% of the male subjects.

In other words, if a fleeting, messed-up thought passes through your head at some point — don’t worry, you’re normal!

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The difference between an occasional intrusive thought and the experience of someone with OCD struggling with intrusive thoughts is that, for someone with OCD, the intrusive thoughts can become repetitive and distressing.

“Many individuals who suffer from OCD feel a significant amount of shame and guilt from the content of their intrusive thoughts and become worried that their thoughts mean something negative about who they are and their character. They fear that they will act on their thoughts, or that their thoughts will come true,” Ostrow says. “Intrusive thoughts are ego-dystonic, which means they are the opposite of someone's beliefs and values.”

What does any of this have to do with TikTok?

“Intrusive thoughts aren't just a random silly thought that pops into your head, which you then impulsively act on,” Ostrow says. “If someone struggles with OCD and sees a trend like this, it can make them more fearful that they will actually act on their intrusive thoughts and/or that they are a dangerous person (but they aren't dangerous and they won't act on their intrusive thoughts).”

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Or, as TikToker Maya Sood said in a response to another TikToker shaming yet another TikToker for sharing her experience dealing with racist intrusive thoughts, “Intrusive thoughts are only acceptable when it’s the commercialized version, and it’s all sunshine and rainbows and puppy dogs. But when someone actually speaks up about the stigmatized topics intrusive thoughts can focus on, they get attacked.”



If you’re on TikTok, check out the excellent mental health content from Haley Ostrow, Maya Sood, and others, but make sure to do your due diligence when scrolling — it’s TikTok, after all.

If you’re struggling with intrusive thoughts, anxiety, or OCD, there are resources to find treatment.

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Jordan Kurtzman is a freelance writer who combines entertainment and news with mental health and how they affect each other.