In today’s newsletter, I am addressing Unwanted Intrusive Sexual fantasies. I get many, many questions about this topic, and some people have a great deal of difficulty understanding them as just another variation of Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts. Here are snippets of text from some of the emails that have been sent to me. I am reprinting them in edited form because reading them might help you to recognize any of your own concerns about them.
The thought that I would carry out my weird fantasy thoughts really scares me to my core. Even writing about it feels taboo.
So in the case of fantasy it doesn’t feel like automatic thoughts – sometimes you conjure up images that you would never wish to really do – but now I am finding it so difficult to let the intrusive repetitive thought of “what if I actually acted on my fantasy” and “because it didn’t feel disgusting to me when I thought those things as a pure fantasy does that mean I have a perverse mind?”
The thought of carrying out any of my sexual fantasy thoughts does feel very “unlike me” and has sent me into a very panicky state and I feel like a bad person for having had these fantasy thoughts at all ( even though previously I didn’t think much about them after the fact).
It seems that the other intrusive thoughts that I have experienced are very clearly horrible thoughts that I feel instant fear and repulsion. Nobody talks about their private fantasy world so it is difficult to know that you are normal to have bizarre sexual thoughts in a fantasy sense that you would never wish to carry out.
Let me start by stating that the most important word in every single one of these emails is the word thought. Go back and read these comments, and realize that the first one starts, “The thought that I would carry out…” The second states, ” intrusive repetitive thought of “what if I actually acted on my fantasy . The next one starts, ” The thought of carrying out any of my sexual fantasy thoughts“, and the final one talks about “..bizarre sexual thoughts in a fantasy sense…”
My point is that every writer was able to communicate that it was their thoughts that were giving them such a hard time. My second point–one that can’t be repeated or reinforced too many times–is that thoughts are just thoughts. We often get junk mail thoughts that just pop into our mind. This is the primary attitudinal change that will allow you to escape the yoke of Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts.
Yet, for many of us, sexual fantasy “imaginings” feel slightly different. Don’t be fooled by that.
You will do best by focusing on what I have called disentangling from content. (Please refer to page 97 of the book, Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts). Your first task is to absorb that the content of your thoughts are immaterial and get in the way. This is a very difficult concept to assimilate. But all intrusions are to be looked at as bullies who want to push you around, and every time you respond to their message, your make them stronger. Pay them no mind, and they begin to weaken.
This also means that you are working towards understanding intrusions as an aspect of an anxiety disorder, and not an aspect of your character. Trying to understand your motivation as a factor of why you are having these thoughts is like trying to climb out of hole by digging down with a shovel. It is exactly the wrong thing to do. So I suggest that you put your efforts in the direction that content is immaterial, and content pushes you to do things that increase distress.
Anything and everything that smacks of content is to be looked at and addressed after you have sufficient recovery from these thoughts.
Putting Unwanted Intrusive Sexual Fantasies in a separate category assumes that some intrusions mean something, while others don’t. That is not true. An intrusion is defined as something that feels terrible, repeats, feels terrible, repeats, and so on…… There is a lack of movement or progression in Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts. Nothing is solved, because the thoughts don’t address a problem that can be fixed. In fact, most UITs don’t address any problem at all.
In some ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) literature, the concept of Defusion is very similar to disentangling from content.
Martin N. Seif, Ph.D., ABPP