It seems to me that there are two kinds of intrusive thoughts. The first consists of those thoughts that didn't actually occur in real life, but are nonetheless intrusive and embarrassing and disturbing to the individual (i.e. thoughts of harming someone else, or unwanted sexual thoughts directed towards individuals). The seconds consists of past memories of embarrassing moments, particularly from childhood.

I've noticed that many people will respond to these thoughts in some way. I've had many friends tell me that if I hear them 'talking gibberish' or 'making strange noises', it is because they are having a bad thought. I myself have noticed now that I will talk out loud when I remember an embarrassing thought -- but I won't speak of the thought, I will say random things, like "Okay, okay, okay" or "I love you". Usually, I will repeat a phrase over and over under my breath, until I catch myself doing it.

I've also noticed certain individuals will use verbal gestures to show that they are thinking of something negative. My father will scratch his head and blow out of his mouth for several minutes at a time when he is having intrusive thoughts, or 'conversations'.

Is there an explanation for this phenomena? Why is it that externalizing our thoughts seems to 'rid' our head of them?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My guess is that it's related to swearing-induced hypoalgesia (e.g., saying "F***" when you stub your toe). $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Feb 6, 2016 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ This phenomenon applies to me very well. I've got an awful lot of memories of embarrassing moments and stupid things I've done, (you know, things for which I wish I could travel back in time to that occasion and slap the past stupid me real hard! :) And when a really embarrassing moment keeps conjuring up on my mind, I tend to let things like 'oh holy f**' or simply a laughter slip out of my mouth (of course people around have no idea what I'm talking about). I suppose this is really subliminally motivated because I have no control at all whenever it happens! $\endgroup$
    – Vim
    Feb 8, 2016 at 5:37

1 Answer 1


While the basis of the theory covers areas of psychology considered by some here to be pseudoscientific, it might be a way of distracting ourselves, to change the subject and deviate the focus from thoughts we don't like to anything our mind makes up.

When anxiety becomes overwhelming, it is the ego's place to protect the person by employing defence mechanisms. Guilt, embarrassment and shame often accompany anxiety. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_mechanisms

It is also possible that some of us use this as a way to acknowledge their feelings of shame. we can see this when laughing (when its a honest laughter), as it effectively relax the atmosphere.

But in any case, we can't "get rid" of a thought. It is only discarded from the present moment and may be intrusive again at another inopportune moment; until we address the issue.


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