How to Deal with Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts (for Christians)

Nobody wants to deal with unwanted intrusive thoughts! This article is written specifically with Christians in mind- authored by a licensed Christian Counselor. As Christians, we navigate all things related to mental health through the lens of His Word. Get the answers to the tough questions…

What are intrusive thoughts?

What are examples of intrusive thoughts?

Do intrusive thoughts mean anything?

Can intrusive thoughts be triggered?

Is it a sin if you have intrusive thoughts?

Are blasphemous thoughts unforgivable?

title: how to stop intrusive thoughts

What are intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts, images or impulses. When you look up the definition of intrusive, it is defined as “causing disruption or annoyance through being unwelcome or uninvited”. Intrusive thoughts can sometimes be triggered by something in the environment or they can just pop into your mind for no apparent reason. 

Unwanted intrusive thoughts are something that everyone experiences at times. However, these thoughts can create distress; so why do intrusive thoughts create so much distress? Well, here is the short answer… If unwanted intrusive thoughts are causing you much distress, you are likely attaching meaning to a thought that means nothing.

Does everyone have intrusive thoughts?

Research shows that nearly everyone experiences intrusive thoughts at times. “Everyone” includes Christians having unwanted intrusive thoughts, as well. This can be encouraging to know you’re not alone. Every person is different; some may experience disturbing thoughts more frequently than others. The types of unwanted thoughts and images vary from person to person. Additionally, the level of distress that is caused by such thoughts will vary based on how we view and evaluate the thoughts that we’re experiencing.

Can intrusive thoughts be triggered?

This is a great question! The answer is sometimes yes. Sometimes we have intrusive thoughts triggered by an external event, memory or situation. Other times the unwanted thoughts can simply pop into our mind for no apparent reason.

People tend to ask if an intrusive thought can be triggered for a couple of reasons. First, due to shame often being associated with the intrusive thought, if we try to pin it on something external, then it feels less shameful. In other words, it’s a way to manage the emotion of shame. And secondly, if we can figure out a trigger then we can avoid the trigger, thereby avoiding the shame associated with the disturbing thought we are experiencing. The best solution is to change what we believe about the intrusive thought rather than trying to avoid the intrusive thought. (More on that shortly.)

What are examples of intrusive thoughts?

If you are reading this article, you’re probably experiencing intrusive or unwanted thoughts. Above I spoke of intrusive thoughts in a very general way. However, you’re probably thinking, “You don’t know what these thoughts are“… They are sexual, violent, bizarre, blasphemous or really dark and negative. Yes – that’s what unwanted intrusive thoughts are in nature. Remember everyone experiences these thoughts at times.

Sexual Thoughts

It is not unusual to experience sexual thoughts at times regardless of your gender. Sexual thoughts can be shocking or make us feel uncomfortable. As a result we work even harder to push the thoughts away and end up fixating on the very thoughts we want to get rid of. Remember, these are just thoughts and we can let them just pass.

Bizarre or Paranoid Thoughts

Experiencing bizarre or paranoid thoughts is another type of disturbing thought you may experience. But, once again, resist the temptation to believe this means something about you. Rather, allow the thought to simply pass.

Violent Thoughts

Sometimes unwanted intrusive thoughts can be violent in nature. The thought might be related to one harming themselves or others. This only becomes a concern if your violent thoughts move you to planning to follow through on the violent thoughts. If this is the case, seek professional help. Otherwise, allow the thought to pass.

Blasphemous Thoughts

Blasphemous thoughts are unwanted thoughts that call God‘s work evil. It refers to great disrespect shown to God. Many Christians have a fear that unwanted intrusive thoughts that are blasphemous in nature are unforgivable (more on that below). As a result, fear, guilt and shame can become overwhelming. Once again, remember that all fall short and nothing is too big for the forgiveness Christ offers. Christians must avoid the temptation to attach meaning to such thoughts. A Christian’s salvation and identity are in Christ alone and completely secure.

    Are blasphemous thoughts unforgivable?

    Many Christians worry that they have committed the unforgivable or unpardonable sin – blasphemy. Christians who are dealing with unwanted intrusive thoughts wonder, are blasphemous thoughts unforgivable? This fear may be rooted in the verse that indicates speaking against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Matthew 12:32).

    However, we must take care not to take a verse out of context. Instead, we must look at the entirety of Scripture. This verse was not intended to bring further despair or overwhelm on anyone struggling with intrusive thoughts. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees/religious leaders who could see the power of the Holy Spirit working in Jesus as He performed miracles and fulfilled every prophecy regarding the promised Messiah. They were willfully and knowingly calling God‘s work evil.

    As we look to the entirety of Scripture, we know that Scripture indicates nothing is beyond the forgiveness of Christ’s work on the cross. A beautiful example of God‘s enormous grace is the testimony of Paul. Previously known as Saul, he killed Christians, persecuting and exterminating anyone who professed Christ. If God can save him and powerfully use him to expand his kingdom, then He can use you and I! Check out these verses on the amazing grace of God:

    Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2

    “The law was brought in so that the trespasses might increase. But where sin increase, grace increased all the more,”… Romans 5:20

    Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:25

    Is it a sin if you have intrusive thoughts?

    As a Christian, disturbing thoughts can activate a great deal of shame. Shame is the heaviest emotion of human experiences in my opinion. It’s even the first human emotion identified in the Bible all the way back in Genesis regarding Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. Certainly, nobody desires to experience lustful thoughts or violent thoughts. But, the reality is that everyone does experience such thoughts. Labeling unwelcome intrusive thoughts as sinful thoughts or bad thoughts is not a productive way to address such thoughts.

    Instead of condemning or beating yourself up, let’s talk about how to manage and even stop the intrusive thoughts so you can get back to putting your energy into the things God has entrusted to you.

    Do intrusive thoughts mean anything?

    People often ask, “do intrusive thoughts mean anything?” But what they really mean to ask is, “Do intrusive thoughts mean anything about me?” As I mentioned earlier, we tend to attach meaning to ourselves when we have an intrusive thought. In other words we personalize the thought. We wrongly believe that the mere existence of the thought means we are bad.

    As a result shame and guilt gets activated within us. Shame and guilt are the feelings that flow from the thoughts. Let’s talk about how the sequence of events works.

    First, the intrusive thought pops into your mind. Maybe something triggered it or maybe the unwanted thought just appeared. Second, the belief or initial thought comes. “This means something is wrong with me“. Next, we will experience emotions from the thoughts. Those emotions are shame and guilt typically. And a quick definition of shame: shame is a painful emotion that causes us to believe we are worthless and of no value to others or God, unacceptable and worthy of rejection.

    Finally, this emotion will move us to isolate, withdraw and ultimately hide from God and others. Let’s summarize – intrusive thoughts activate a sequence of thoughts and emotions within us. Next, we believe and think something is wrong with us and then experience negative emotions (typically guilt and shame). As a result we act on those emotions by withdrawing, hiding and keeping our disturbing thoughts to ourselves.

    Anxiety and Intrusive Thoughts

    Unwanted intrusive thoughts and anxiety may or may not be connected. Remember, research shows nearly everyone experiences unwanted intrusive thoughts, although many researchers believe everyone has thoughts at times that are violent, sexual, blasphemous, bizarre or negative and dark in nature. Here is the main difference; how the thoughts are judged! Someone who may have clinical anxiety or OCD may have an unwanted intrusive thought and are more likely to view their thoughts as bad, immoral, shameful, sinful, etc.

    As a result more time is spent worrying about the implications of the unwanted thoughts and increasingly focus on the thought and engage in self condemnation. Whereas someone who does not have clinical anxiety is more likely to dismiss the thought and move on with their day without giving the unwanted intrusive thought more headspace.

    Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Intrusive Thoughts

    Obsessive compulsive disorder (simply defined) is a pattern of distressing thoughts and fears (obsession) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsion) in an effort to decrease or manage the distress experienced from the thoughts. I can’t emphasize enough… Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts at times. Anyone with clinical anxiety will respond to such thoughts with negative judgment, focus on the thoughts and experience negative emotions such as fear, shame and embarrassment. In the absence of clinical anxiety, experiencing an intrusive thought will be easily let go and not assigned any meaning at all.

    How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts

    Nobody enjoys horrible thoughts popping into their mind. As Christians, we must figure out how to take thoughts captive. And the weapons of our warfare are knowledge of God‘s Word, and prayer. Both weapons wielded in the power of the Holy Spirit.

    As a Christian counselor and life coach I weave biblical truth with research based treatment. God‘s Word has been telling us to take thoughts captive long before cognitive behavioral therapy came along, but the two are actually synonymous.

    Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

    The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4–5

    Christians who are seeking to take disturbing thoughts captive will become aware of thoughts, feelings and internal dialogue. We are trying to identify the lies; next we exchange the lies for the truth. While this sounds simple it is difficult. However, if God‘s Word calls us to do something such as taking thoughts captive, we can trust God to help us, empower and enable us to do His will.

    Taking Unwanted and Intrusive Thoughts Captive as Christians.

    1. Identify the activating thought. This step will be more straightforward. Name the unwanted thought that activates the distressing emotions.

    2. What are you saying to yourself about the thoughts? You are likely attaching meaning to yourself based on the unwanted ant thoughts and images. Name the judgments you are making about the intrusive thought.

    3. What feelings are coming up? Name those uncomfortable emotions. Shame, guilt, and fear are common negative emotions associated with intrusive thoughts. You may be interested in the article, “What does the Bible say about emotions?”.

    4. Are you doing something to manage your emotions? Pay attention to your reaction. Do you tend to withdraw and isolate? What is your response to those emotions?

    5. Now it’s time to seek God‘s Word to help trade lies for Truth. We find that in His Word, the Sword of the Spirit is one of our greatest weapons. Choose some Scriptures to confront what you’re saying to yourself. For instance if you are condemning yourself (as identified and step two), grab a verse that aligns with Truth.

    “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”… Romans 8:1

    Get the free five day email course on taking thoughts captive– authored by a Christian counselor trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and equipped with knowledge of God and His Word.

      Get information on Christian counseling and life coaching here.

      Wrapping Up Intrusive Thoughts and Christians

      If there’s anything you walk away with today let it be this: first, everyone experiences unwanted intrusive thoughts at times. Second, resist the temptation to judge yourself for the disturbing thoughts. A thought is just a thought – let it go! Third, God calls us to take thoughts captive. He will help us in the battle of the mind!

      Related Articles:

      5 Ways to Guard Your Heart & Mind

      What does the Bible say about emotions?


      1. Grace on October 27, 2022 at 10:25 am

        Hey Sunshyne,

        Thanks and God bless for this article. It’s really helpful! This is something i really needed in 2020 when I struggled with this a lot. I have a question though – when taking captive intrusive thoughts, it seems like someone might fixate on it whilst going through the steps rather than just let it pass. How do you merge these two concepts without falling into the trap of letting it pass and not fixating whilst taking it captive?

        • Sunshyne Gray on October 31, 2022 at 11:12 am

          That’s a great question, Grace. Letting the thought pass would become a skill with practice; taking thoughts captive incorporates saying a new thing to ourselves. In other words- we attach meaning to intrusive thoughts, to ourselves. We have to identify if we are attaching lies to ourselves- the “letting the thought pass” would be what we do as a result of taking thoughts captive. Hope that helps:)

      2. treatment for ocd on December 14, 2022 at 3:49 am

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      3. Karen on January 7, 2023 at 2:49 am

        I’m really struggling with intrusive blasphemous thoughts.. but my sin is that I’ve worried that much, dwelt on them, trued tl work out if I meant them or did on purpose etc, to the point where they are triggered so easily and I feel like I’ve thought them (said them in my head) and agreed with the thought, so now I think I’ve completely blown it with God, when I didn’t want these thought in the first place.. I’m a mess..

        • Sarah on January 17, 2023 at 11:30 am

          Hi Karen, I get where you are coming from. Reading your post reminds me of myself in the past. But Karen, there is hope! Praise God! I no longer struggle near as much with believing that those intrusive thoughts will separate me from God & that they have condemned me. In fact, I rarely have them anymore (while before I had them possibly daily). Working with a counselor really helped me. Here are some illustrations that are also helpful: We can’t control that a bird flies over our head, but we can keep it from making a nest in our hair. We also can’t control that a leaf floats by us in the river, but we can let it keep floating out of sight, or we can pick it up.

          Karen — birds and leaves (intrusive thoughts) will fly/float by. Don’t condemn yourself for that. Take Jesus’ hand. Tell Him what your experiencing. Ask Him to set you free — I believe He will. I don’t believe that that freedom is always instant. It may be a journey. But let that journey draw you closer & closer to Him. Back to the birds & leaves — they will come, but you can let them just keep on going out of sight. They don’t define you. They aren’t who you are. You can choose to dwell on them or just let them go. (I know that’s hard, but it is possible. Don’t let them condemn you — they don’t have that authority).

          You are immensely loved by God, Karen. A hug from here.

          • Leandro on January 21, 2023 at 12:30 am

            I struggle with intrusive thoughts daily for that past few months, and the birds and leaves analogy has helped me realize how insignificant the thoughts are, and how they are not holding on to me, but I am just holding onto and looking at a meaningless leaf. And that I can learn to let go.

            Thank you so much for sharing, and thank you Lord and I pray that all of us who has been struggling may find peace through Jesus who has brought all these tips and truths to light.

            “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”
            ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23‬:‭1‬-‭3‬

          • Tiffany on May 9, 2023 at 6:49 am

            Hi Sarah, i’m struggling with the same thing but mines are kinda different. if i was to read God or Jesus’s name in a verse or even a comment on youtube the intrusive thought will say “ F*** God or Jesus” or if i tell God i love him the intrusive thought will say “ no you don’t “ everytime it happens i say “ i rebuke you in the name of Jesus” but they still come on a daily. i also struggle with lustful intrusive thoughts but i usually just let those pass me because ik that God knows i want to build our relationship to be very strong! i recently decided to come back to Christ and fix my relationship with God but these intrusive thoughts really scare me because i fear that God thinks those thoughts are coming from me and they make me judge myself and wonder if deep down those thoughts are coming from me even tho i LOVE GOD and i love what He’s done for me even though i’ve recently given my life to him .
            ( i grew up in the church but left at a young age, i still believed in God but was living a life of sin. now i’ve repented and want to fully give myself to GOD ) i also feel like i’m dealing with some type spiritual warfare because i’m only 17 and giving my life to God and i know that upsets the enemy.

            • Faye on May 10, 2023 at 7:28 pm

              I struggle with very similar thoughts. You need to remember that God knows that those thoughts aren’t from you. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered – Matthew 10:30, He knows your heart and everything about you, so don’t be afraid. The thoughts saying the opposite of what you believe like “you don’t really love God”, are such lies and God knows that completely. Ask for The Spirit’s guidance to help you discern truth from lie when dealing with your thoughts. Don’t let lies distract you from who you are in Christ. God bless you!

              • Tiffany on May 18, 2023 at 11:23 am

                thank you so much Faye, i’m still struggling unfortunately but i did make the decision to get deliverances so i hope that comes very soon and gives me the freedom i need. God bless you as well❤️

            • Demi on May 20, 2023 at 6:28 pm

              You are not alone! Im struggling with similar unwanted thoughts—so much so I’m scared to keep thinking because I don’t know what will come next. You are right, this is definitely spiritual warfare—I’ve dealt with this before, have someone pray over you. The last time this happened to me, my mother prayed over me and I put on a YouTube video for spiritual warfare and that helped tremendously. The enemy, is nit concerned with those who are already in a life of sin, but he will always look for ways to tear us down—the enemy fears what God has planned for us, because we are a vessel. Stay strong Tiffany, praying for you!! God Bless you

        • Iyana on March 21, 2023 at 7:15 am

          Exactlyyyyyyy how I feel

        • Tiffany on May 9, 2023 at 6:37 am

          hi Karen, my name is Tiffany and i’m struggling with the same thing. the thoughts say very negative things about God and Jesus, it really upsets and scares me because i would never want God to think i agree with it or that the thoughts are coming from me so i’m stuck. all we can do is Pray, Ask God to forgive us and ignore our intrusive thoughts because we love him and those thoughts aren’t true or even from us. also remember that when the enemy doesn’t want you to go to God it will try and turn us away from God or want God to turn away from us but that will never happen! we have to fight against the thoughts and continue to talk to God.

        • Frank on May 20, 2023 at 9:32 am

          Jesus loves us. I am tormented with blasphemous thoughts at times but I know he knows our heart! Hang in there look to the Lord. Frank

      4. Ellen on April 24, 2023 at 7:58 am

        I feel I have battled with these intrusive thoughts for so long that they have completely taking over my life. I feel numb and insecure and it seems like the light in my eyes has gone. I’m constantly smiling a fake smile and just trying to keep whoever I talk to from peeking into the messed up head that is mine. Even when I pray it seems the worst of the worst pops in my head and I just hope Jesus can forgive me 🙁 These thoughts are not me!!! But they are slowly killing me. Making my life an unending nightmare and now I’m officially so insecure that I can no longer seem to connect to anyone and focus on there physical flaws. Another thing that I never used to do!! I hate this.

        • Tiffany on May 9, 2023 at 6:56 am

          Hi ellen, i’m going through something VERY similar so i can’t give much advice but please don’t let the ENEMY WIN! We are weak but we receive our STRENGTH though God because HE is our strength! please don’t give up, you are loved by your brothers and sisters in Christ and OFC GOD! remember there no sin too big that He can’t forgive you for, He loves us and He wants us to always come to him! I’m struggling really bad myslef with the intrusive thoughts and they say stuff like “ f*** God “ and they deeply upset and scare me because i don’t ever want God to think those thoughts are mine or that i don’t love Him because i most definitely do. Please understand that God knows our hearts and he knows where we struggle and where we need help, always pray for a peace of mind, peace, sound mind, positive thoughts and thoughts about Christ! I do all of this and i STILL struggle BUT i put trust in God even tho it’s very hard! but please don’t give up and allow the enemy to win because God is a promising God and he wants the best for us as long as we believe in Him and believe Jesus is Lord because he most definitely is❤️

      5. Denise on May 18, 2023 at 9:04 am

        Great post! This gives a fresh perspective on handling intrusive thoughts through God’s Word. Thank you!

      6. […] How to Deal with Intrusive Thoughts {for Christians} […]

      7. Luna Christine on June 10, 2023 at 12:53 pm

        So ever since my faith has been tested I have had these blasphemous thoughts. Aka really bad ones. And for a while it caused me to backslide from God, every time I try build my relationship with him I get this feeling of anxiety or I get agitated and It’s just an uncomfortable feeling I get. I struggle to focus on him, it causes me to doubt stupid things like ”Whys wisdom important?” Or ”why do I need a relationship with him?” Its so stupid. I wanna know Jesus but I also think ”Ugh you just fell in love with the feeling. not him, you don’t know what he looks like. I mean, what if I don’t like the way he looks? NONONO! I shouldn’t care.. I’m so sorry Jesus.” yeah. Every day images or thoughts pop up, I’m dying because I fear I will one day lose my salvation. I have no desire to do evil, yet I keep backsliding going into my old habits. I haven’t even built a relationship with him when I got saved, I’ve never been in a trial so I don’t know how to start one WITH these thoughts. I trial the bird method, it works I guess. But I still don’t feel like he loves me or wants me, I feel condemned. I’m scared I won’t know him, since I still have time I try make it work but Idk if im chasing his heart or heaven, or out of fear. I try pray, read and study as much as I can but it scares me, I don’t know what to do. I loved him and now I’m struggling to love him for who he is. I can’t use his death, I feel numb. I’m 13 years old, please help me I feel hopeless.

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