Intrusive vs Impulsive Thoughts: Understanding the Differences

Often times when we think we might wonder whether our thoughts are intrusive or impulsive. How can we distinguish between these two and what are the consequences of such thoughts? In this blog, we will delve into both and understand the similarities and differences between intrusive and impulsive thoughts.
Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Neuroscientist at the University Of Cambridge.

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The Difference Between Impulsive And Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that appear in your consciousness, often without a specific reason. Impulsive thoughts are characterized by a sudden urge or desire to act on something.

Intrusive Vs Impulsive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are often unwanted ideas or distressing thoughts or images. They appear in our minds either randomly or as a consequence of a specific trigger.

Intrusive thoughts can be disturbing and can be signs of anxiety or distress or lead to mental health problems. In particular, intrusive thoughts have been associated with mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders and also eating disorders.

Intrusive thoughts can be related to a wide range of themes such as violence, sexuality or religion.

It is important to note that these are just thoughts and do not represent actions. However, even thoughts can make us feel uncomfortable or elicit an uncomfortable feeling [1].

Having long-term intrusive thoughts can cause distress and can make you feel like you need to control your thoughts [1, 2].

Impulsive thoughts refer to a sudden or strong urge to do something without considering the consequences. Impulsive thoughts are not a recognized psychological term, however, they can be associated with neurodivergent conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as with mental health conditions like borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and substance use disorder.

Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Frederika is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Cambridge, where she investigates new biomarkers for Frontotemporal Dementia and other tauopathies. Her research has been published at prestigious conferences such as the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2023. She obtained her BSc in Biomedical Sciences from UCL, where she worked closely with the UK Dementia Research Institute.