What Are Compulsive Thoughts?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2018
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Compulsive thoughts are ideas or images that linger in a person’s mind, regardless of the efforts made to remove those thoughts. Some of these thoughts are usually from several problems being experienced by the individual; some are anxieties over problems that do not concern the person. Compulsive thoughts may be seen as a cause or a result of some emotional or psychological disorders such as paranoia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

There is a wide range of compulsive thoughts that can differ from person to person. One common theme among these thoughts is that they are often negative ideas, or result in negative consequences. Many of these thoughts are of fears, such as fear of germs, being attacked, or being hurt. On some occasions, a compulsive thought is triggered by a memory, such as a conversation, which a person begins to overanalyze and worry about continuously.


Some compulsive thoughts are not necessarily bad, such as those categorized under superstitious beliefs and objects, or sexual images and ideas. Some people, possibly those with OCD, cannot sleep at night when thoughts of clutter or disorganization weigh on their minds. Physiological effects of mulling over one’s thoughts can include elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, and sweating. As a result, a person can experience panic attacks and severe nightmares. In many cases, a person often does some action to ease the thoughts, such as arranging the items on a shelf or washing his or her hands, only to find another obsessive thought replacing the previous thought.

The causes of compulsive thoughts are not clear, but neurologists often cite lack of some hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, often known as the “happy hormone.” Some psychologists point to compulsive thinking — and, in relation, OCD — as a behavioral problem that a person has conditioned himself to have. In any case, compulsive thinking can often lead to depression, as a person becomes too anxious over his thoughts. Some people become socially withdrawn, especially if their compulsive thoughts are related to people and social situations. Sometimes, a person can even “punish” himself for thinking such thoughts, resulting in cutting, fasting, and pricking his face.

A person who suffers from having compulsive thoughts should consult a psychiatrist, as it can be a symptom of some disorder. Some psychiatrists might recommend a patient take medication to regulate hormones and neurotransmitters; others provide behavioral therapy as a primary treatment. Other alternative therapies for avoiding and removing compulsive thoughts would be forms of meditation or hypnosis.



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