Typical ADHD Behaviors

“They Make Me Feel Like a Massive Weirdo:” On ADHD and Impulsive Thoughts

“I love my vivid imagination and how detailed and rich it is, but when these intrusive thoughts come it’s like watching real life — and it’s so disturbing. All the feelings they incite are real — like waking nightmares.”

Anxiety and stress caused by thinking too much. overthinking concept
Anxiety and stress caused by thinking too much. overthinking concept

Most people will experience intrusive thoughts — sudden unwanted, negative ideas and images that are usually bizarre and out of character — from time to time.1 Intrusive thoughts come in many forms, and are often tied to other concepts, like the high place phenomenon.2

Intrusive thoughts, especially when they’re frequent and cause much distress, are linked to conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).3 Stress can also trigger intrusive thoughts.4

But what about intrusive thoughts in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? There isn’t much research on the relationship, though one small exploratory study found that participants with ADHD reported experiencing more intrusive and worrisome thoughts than did the participants without ADHD.5 The conditions tied to intrusive thoughts, furthermore, also tend to co-occur with ADHD. Interestingly, the distinction between intrusive and impulsive thoughts is sometimes unclear — and a topic of great recent attention.

Anecdotally, many ADDitude readers (with ADHD and with complex ADHD) say intrusive thoughts have always been with them — and they are surprised to know that they’re not alone in this regard. “Knowing that other people have them has made me feel so much better about myself,” said one reader.

Below, read more* from ADDitude readers on their experiences with unwanted thoughts. Then, tell us in the comments section about your own experiences with intrusive or impulsive thoughts and the role you think ADHD plays, if at all, in their appearance, intensity, and/or frequency.

[Read: ADHD and Obsessive Thoughts — How to Stop the Endless Analysis]

“I get lots of intrusive thoughts and they make me feel like a massive weirdo.” — Jenny

“I always think about veering into someone or into a fence. I am not suicidal. I have no death wish. These thoughts in no way make me want to crash my car. But these thoughts happen a lot when driving and then spiral into whether it would hurt, how long it would take the ambulance to come, what state would I be in, etc. I feel like I am manifesting my future death! I wish I could stop it.” — Abbi

“It’s very disconcerting. The worst are the vile curse words that I do not ever say. I have to tell myself, ‘No, we don’t say those words.’ The harder I try to make it stop, the worse it gets. I truly thought I was the only one who did this.” — Lorie

My intrusive thoughts are dark, and I become so angry with myself. There are absolutely no triggers for these thoughts that I’m aware of, and they usually center around violence.” — Nick

[Read: 9 Calming Strategies for a Racing, Restless Mind]

[Intrusive thoughts] are hands down the worst part of my brain function. I love my vivid imagination and how detailed and rich it is, but when these intrusive thoughts come it’s like watching real life — and it’s so disturbing. All the feelings they incite are real — like waking nightmares.” — Dani

“I have always had a couple of very weird and strong ones. One thought is of driving off a cliff when I’m on a very high mountain road. Another is a quick thought of cutting my finger every time I pull a knife out of the holder. It’s a flash thought, but it makes me cringe every time. So weird.” — Janice

“I was playing with my friend’s pet rat and had a sudden impulsive thought to smash it on the concrete. I would never do it, of course. Never. But I made the error of blurting it out loud. My friend has never spoken to me since.” — Seren

I’ve had big out-of-the-box thoughts of leaving my partner, even though I’ve been happily married for 27 years and have never wanted to leave. It’s just cycles of intrusive thinking; it is exhausting.” — An ADDitude reader

“When [intrusive thoughts] are comorbid with depression and anxiety, you’ve got a never-ending cycle of negative, self-critical, shaming, upsetting thoughts — including in your sleep and when you wake up. It’s absolute torture, like being pursued by harpies all day long.” — Caoimhe

“Mine were awful. I can’t mention how bad. I thought I was slowly cracking up. I thought I was going to agree with the thoughts. Then I got help. I realized these thoughts are not symptoms of going crazy. They are not my desires. It’s ADHD.” — An ADDitude reader

“I never understood the term ‘intrusive thoughts’ (which can be an issue when searching for answers). In childhood, I had thoughts like seeing myself falling headfirst down the stairs and breaking my teeth and of ricocheting from my bike while turning a corner fast. In young adulthood, I avoided roller coasters due to a fear of standing up to jump to my escape. I always ascribed this to an active imagination, but the issue is that the associated anxiety/feelings of danger can persist and affect mood and presence in the moment. Early on l started calming myself by thinking that the likelihood of such things happening after imagining them was small, so the opposite could be termed ‘dreadful thinking.’” — An ADDitude reader

“All people have intrusive thoughts at some point since our brains are storytellers. Notice, name them, and recognize that they are just thoughts. Letting them come without shaming myself and knowing that they will pass and don’t have to affect my behavior helps.” — Nicole

*reader responses edited for clarity and brevity

ADHD Intrusive Thoughts: Next Steps

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1Radomsky, A. S., Alcolado, G. M., Abramowitz, J. S., Alonso, P., Belloch, A., Bouvard, M., Clark, D. A., Coles, M. E., Doron, G., Fernández-Álvarez, H., Garcia-Soriano, G., Ghisi, M., Gomez, B., Inozu, M., Moulding, R., Shams, G., Sica, C., Simos, G., & Wong, W. (2014). Part 1—You can run but you can’t hide: Intrusive thoughts on six continents. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 3(3), 269–279. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jocrd.2013.09.002

2Teismann, T., Brailovskaia, J., Schaumburg, S., & Wannemüller, A. (2020). High place phenomenon: prevalence and clinical correlates in two German samples. BMC psychiatry, 20(1), 478. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-02875-8

3Brewin, C. R., Gregory, J. D., Lipton, M., & Burgess, N. (2010). Intrusive images in psychological disorders: characteristics, neural mechanisms, and treatment implications. Psychological review, 117(1), 210–232. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018113

4Bolodeau, K. (2021). Managing intrusive thoughts. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/managing-intrusive-thoughts

5Abramovitch, A., & Schweiger, A. (2009). Unwanted intrusive and worrisome thoughts in adults with Attention Deficit\Hyperactivity Disorder. Psychiatry research, 168(3), 230–233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2008.06.004