What Are Intrusive Thoughts in Bipolar Disorder?

August 29, 2018 Natasha Tracy

Intrusive Thoughts Bipolar.jpg

Intrusive thoughts are something I deal with along with bipolar disorder, although I should say that intrusive thoughts are not, specifically, a known symptom of the disorder. That said, intrusive thoughts seem to be something many with bipolar disorder deal with. Here, I discuss what intrusive thoughts are and why people with bipolar disorder may experience intrusive thoughts.

What Are Intrusive Thoughts in Bipolar Disorder?

Intrusive thoughts are images or thoughts that you don't want that occur, often spontaneously, and cause distress. For me, they are often images or sometimes repeated audio of a conversation I've had.

See the below video for more on what intrusive thoughts in bipolar disorder are and what they're like.

Why Do People with Bipolar Get Intrusive Thoughts?

As I said, intrusive thoughts are not technically a bipolar disorder symptom but they are seen in many with bipolar disorder. One study found that almost 50 percent of people with bipolar disorder had intrusive thoughts of traumatic events.1

I think there are two keys to this: trauma and thought dysfunction in bipolar disorder.

Firstly is trauma. Some trauma therapists would tell you that every person experiences trauma and that trauma is defined not by the situation itself but, rather, by how one interprets trauma. This makes sense. I might find something traumatic that you may find innocuous, for example. And there is evidence that trauma experience levels (and posttraumatic stress disorder) are high in people with bipolar disorder.2

The second part is thought dysfunction in bipolar disorder. While bipolar disorder is called a "mood" (or "affective") disorder, it's certainly about disordered thoughts too. Thoughts such as suicidal ideation, self-blame and others are common in bipolar disorder. So if we understand that thoughts can be dysregulated in bipolar disorder, it stands to reason that intrusive thoughts may be one of the types of dysregulated thoughts that we may have. (In my experience, intrusive thoughts in bipolar disorder are not only linked to trauma, however.)

It's also known that those with bipolar disorder experience obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) more frequently than the general population3 and this, too, to help explain the prevalence of intrusive thoughts in bipolar disorder.

In other words, while intrusive thoughts aren't a proven symptom of bipolar disorder I believe it stands to reason that more of us with bipolar disorder have them than in the general population. It just comes down to how we think. We're different that way.

Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts in Bipolar Disorder

In the next post, I'll talk about how important it is to deal with intrusive thoughts and how to deal with intrusive thoughts in bipolar disorder.


  1. Tzemou E, Birchwood M, "A Prospective Study of Dysfunctional Thinking and the Regulation of Negative Intrusive Memories in Bipolar 1 Disorder: implications for Affect Regulation Theory". Psychological Medicine. May 2007.
  2. Rakofsky JJ et al,"Conceptualizing Treatment Nonadherence in Patients with Bipolar Disorder and PTSD". CNS Spectrums. Jan. 2011.
  3. Amerio A et al,"The Prevalence and Predictors of Comorbid Bipolar Disorder and Cbsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis". Journal of Affective Disorders. Nov. 2015.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2018, August 29). What Are Intrusive Thoughts in Bipolar Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 13 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

September, 23 2018 at 2:07 am

Hello, im just curious. Isnt seeing images or hearing things not there a symptom of some types ofbipolar? If so it considered an intrusive thought?

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