I Think Bad Thoughts: What Can I Do?

Everyone has bad thoughts, but some thoughts can take over your life. Learn what to do if bad thoughts are troubling you and when to seek help on HealthyPlace.

We all think bad thoughts every now and again, and having them is not necessarily a sign that something is wrong. However, intrusive bad thoughts that you can't shake can have a serious impact on your life, especially if they lead to compulsive behaviors such as repetitive checking or bargaining. This is known as OCD – or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Learn what you should do if you have bad thoughts and OCD, and when you should seek professional help.

Bad Thoughts and OCD

People often think that if they have bad thoughts then they are bad people, but this is not the case. Bad thoughts are not a reflection on your character – they are symptoms of OCD that are incredibly difficult to overcome ("Bad Thoughts and OCD: Should I Be Worried?").

In her memoir, Mad Girl, journalist Bryony Gordon talks about her lifelong battle with OCD. She points out:

“I am a good, decent human being who detests pain and suffering so much it actually causes me pain and suffering… So it is acutely disturbing to me that, on my walk home, I start to notice rubbish bins I could dump clothes in, and grit bins I could dump bodies in… The smallest sliver of suggestion lodges itself in my mind – might I have killed someone and blanked it from my memory? I can’t explain it, do not know where it has come from or why it is there, but there it unmistakably is.”

Treatment for Bad Thoughts and OCD

Luckily, there are various treatment options for people with OCD, including CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), medication, support groups, and positive lifestyle changes. You will need to consult your medical practitioner for a diagnosis, which may include the following steps:

  1. Physical examination to rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms.
  2. Lab tests to check your thyroid function and screen for alcohol and drugs.
  3. Psychological evaluation where you will discuss your thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns. 
  4. Diagnostic criteria to check for OCD. Your doctor will review how many symptoms you have before providing a diagnosis and treatment options.

I Think Bad Thoughts: What If I Act on Them?

It’s important to note that bad thoughts in people with OCD are rarely (if ever) carried out. Thoughts are just thoughts. The very fact that you know these thoughts are wrong shows that you are unlikely to act on them.

Although it might be scary, the best way to overcome bad thoughts and anxiety about certain situations is to put yourself into situations where the thoughts might occur. This is called “exposure and response therapy.” Of course, you should always attempt this with help and support from a mental health professional.

If you’re still not convinced you aren’t going to act on troubling thoughts, Lee Brosnan, author of An Introduction to Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, provides some perspective:

“Of course, some people do carry out horrible actions, as we’re all too aware from reports in the media. But people who do carry out these actions have different problems from the ones we're talking about here. For those people, there's no sense that these thoughts are alien and unwanted, and although they may resist them, this may be more from a fear of the consequences than because they genuinely feel they are wrong.”

In other words, having bad thoughts and anxiety about doing something socially unacceptable does not mean you will act this way – in fact, the opposite is often true. However, bad thoughts and depression are common in those with OCD, so it’s important to keep an eye on your mental health. If you start to have bad thoughts about harming yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 immediately.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2021, December 31). I Think Bad Thoughts: What Can I Do? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Last Updated: March 25, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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