What is the Difference Between Intrusive and Impulsive Thoughts?

Team Health Cages

Updated on:

What is the Difference Between Intrusive and Impulsive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are involuntary, disturbing thoughts that enter the mind. Impulsive actions, on the other hand, involve impulsive, unplanned behaviors without much thought. Although intrusive thoughts may contribute to impulsivity, they are separate psychological phenomena.

In this blog, we covered these topics


People sometimes mix up intrusive and impulsive thoughts because the words sound alike. But they’re quite different. Intrusive thoughts are things that bother you and are hard to handle. They can range from not-so-bad to tough mental stuff. On the other hand, impulsive thoughts make you want to do something without thinking about what might happen next. It could be as simple as wanting to join a social media challenge.

We’ll explore what they are, what makes them happen, and how they show up. This information might also help you decide if you want to join our psychiatric clinical trials in Illinois.

What are Intrusive Thoughts?

To figure out the difference between intrusive and impulsive thoughts, let’s start by understanding what intrusive thoughts are. These are thoughts that pop into your head without you wanting them to. They can be pretty stressful and tough to handle. Intrusive thoughts might show up as weird daydreams, thoughts about things we’re not supposed to think about, or just worrying too much. They can happen to anyone, but they’re often linked to mental health stuff like anxiety, depression, PTSD, or OCD. It’s crucial to know that these thoughts don’t show who you are, but they can cause a lot of distress and mess with your daily life.

What are Impulsive Thoughts?

Understanding impulsive thoughts helps us see the difference between them and intrusive thoughts more clearly.

Impulsive thoughts are those sudden ideas or urges that can make us decide things on the spot, often without thinking about what might happen next. They can come from different things, like stress or anxiety, and can be triggered by what’s happening around us or how we’re feeling.

We all have impulsive thoughts sometimes. They’re like thoughts that pop into our heads out of nowhere, sometimes about doing something a bit silly, like smashing our face into a fancy wedding cake or throwing our phone out of a window. Sometimes, they might seem a bit like those bothersome, intrusive thoughts. So, if a quirky or “inappropriate” idea comes up and you can shake it off pretty quickly without it taking over, it’s likely just an impulsive thought.

Similarities Between Intrusive and Impulsive Thoughts

Both impulsive and intrusive thoughts can make people feel uneasy. Intrusive thoughts are those thoughts that keep coming back, and they’re usually not welcome. They sneak up on us and bring feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and even embarrassment. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 6 million Americans deal with intrusive thoughts. While it’s normal to have these kinds of thoughts once in a while, they can cause problems in our daily routines and emotions if they start to mess things up.

On the flip side, impulsive thoughts are those sudden ideas that just come into our minds when something happens. They’re like little voices urging us to do something right away, even if it might not be the smartest choice or goes against what we think is right. For instance, grabbing something you can’t afford just because it’s on sale is a typical impulsive behavior.

Causes Intrusive vs Impulsive Thoughts

Source of Trigger

Impulsive thoughts usually happen when strong feelings or desires come up, leading to sudden actions or decisions.

For example, if you’re feeling really hungry and see a cake in front of you, an impulsive thought might tell you to grab and eat it right away without thinking about what might happen.

On the other hand, intrusive thoughts are unwelcome and troubling thoughts that come into your mind without an obvious reason. They can keep coming back and are hard to ignore, often causing anxiety or discomfort.

An example of an intrusive thought is when someone starts worrying too much about how clean their house or themselves are. It can also involve unwanted images or thoughts related to violence or harm.

Unlike impulsive thoughts, which happen because of certain things around us, intrusive thoughts can show up suddenly and keep bothering us to the point where they make us feel upset.


Impulsive thoughts are quick and don’t stick around for long. They show up and disappear fast, usually not lasting for a long time.

On the other hand, intrusive thoughts can last and come back again and again. They might keep popping up repeatedly, possibly for many years.


Talking about how often intrusive and impulsive thoughts happen, impulsive thoughts usually happen less often than intrusive ones.

Impulsive thoughts usually come from specific events or situations, while intrusive thoughts can pop up anytime, seemingly out of the blue.

Level of Control

Impulsive thoughts are sudden and unexpected thoughts that happen in our minds. People who have impulsive thoughts often feel like they can’t control these thoughts. On the other hand, intrusive thoughts keep coming back even when someone doesn’t want them to. These thoughts can be scary or not wanted.

People who have intrusive thoughts might feel guilty or ashamed. But it’s important to know that having these thoughts doesn’t say anything bad about a person’s character or how good they are.

With therapy and support, it’s possible to learn helpful ways to deal with these thoughts and make them have less impact on everyday life.


Understanding the difference between intrusive and impulsive thoughts is essential. Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome and repetitive, causing distress, while impulsive thoughts are sudden and often linked to specific events. Both types can impact emotions and daily life, but recognizing them is the first step toward effective management. It’s crucial to seek support, such as therapy, to develop strategies for coping with these thoughts and minimizing their influence on overall well-being. Remember, having these thoughts doesn’t define a person’s character or morality, and with the right help, individuals can navigate through them and lead a healthier mental life.


Q1. What is impulsive thinking?

A1. Impulsivity is the tendency to act without thinking.

Q2. Are intrusive thoughts a sin?

A2. Since intrusive thoughts aren’t a sin, there wouldn’t be a need for forgiveness for having them. 

Q3. Can I ignore my intrusive thoughts?

A3. Trying to suppress an intrusive, unwanted thought can cause it to rebound, or reoccur. 

Q4. What is an example of an intrusive thought?

A4. The idea of hurting someone might seem frightening, shameful, or offensive, depending on our values and beliefs. 

Q5. How long do intrusive thoughts last?

A5. Sometimes they can come and go in seconds. Other times, they can reoccur so often, they last for years.