by Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist
We were eating dinner around the table the other day when my husband said to me:
“I really feel like throwing this pea at your head!”
“You can if you want,” I replied.
So he did.
Which led to cackles and squeals of excitement from all 4 of us and our youngest lobbing a few of his peas too. I’m hoping it doesn’t become a regular event when peas are on the menu – even though to my children throwing them would likely be much more preferable to actually eating them.
I think this demonstrates impulsive thoughts really well and I want to tell you how normal it is for us to experience them as humans. Take yesterday for example, I was in Asda doing my weekly shop and just within that hour here’s a flavour of the impulsive thoughts I had and what provoked them.
What provoked my thought What my impulsive
1) Man crouched down on the floor If I banged my trolley into him it
looking at a low shelf in the way be like a game of human skittles.
of my trolley.
2) Having to wear a mask and lug a It would be amazing to have a butler
heavy trolley around. do all of this for me.
3) Seeing security guards at the door Even though I’ve paid for everything, if I started running with my trolley would they follow?
4) Seeing a guy in the car park who Sorry, I can’t share that one with
looked a lot like Ashton Kutcher you.........
So you can see what a variety of impulsive thoughts there were. Some pro-social, some linked to bodily urges and others, really pretty anti-social. And yet I’m an incredibly law-abiding person and consider myself actively compassionate and considerate to others. In fact, it’s what I spend a great deal of my time talking about!
So? Why do I have these thoughts? Why do you have thoughts like this? What does it say about us? The answer is simple. It’s because we are human and as humans we are natural scientists and problem solvers. It says nothing more about us than that. Impulsive thoughts become problematic to people when they start to worry that having the thought means that they want to do that thing. They become problematic when people judge themselves for having these thoughts and worry that having thoughts like this makes them a bad person / mother / wife for example. They become problematic when people go to great lengths to avoid being able to do the things that they don’t even want to do.
For example, it’s possible I could have developed a fear that I wanted to hurt people with trollies, even though I don’t. I might have temporarily tamed this thought and my fear by getting a smaller trolley in future and this might have worked for a while. I might then have started having this intrusive thought again and switched to carrying a basket. This might have worked for a while until I started to worry that I would want to steal someone else’s trolley to ram people with. So then I might have switched to only shopping in tiny stores without trolleys. Which might have worked for a bit until my impulsive and intrusive thoughts amplified and which might have meant it was probably safer for me to not leave the house at all. All because I’d experienced an entirely human thought for which I had no plan to action.
The next time you have an impulsive, intrusive thought which you know is not something you want to do, rather than criticise yourself and berate yourself for it I’d like you to take a deep breath in, hold it for a moment, exhale slowly and say to yourself that you’re having these thoughts because of your wonderful tricky human brain.