Intrusive thoughts, part 1 of 2

Surprise, surprise, surprise

If you read the first series on this blog, you’ll recognize the secondary title—Surprise, Surprise, Surprise—from several of those posts (beginning with the Name That Tune section of this post). It comes from the old TV show “Gomer Pyle.”

Peaceful Readers, to be perfectly honest, I had no idea that I’d end up unpacking this issue; but I’m really glad that I did. I learned a lot in the process. Speaking of unpacking, have you ever found an old bag or purse and been shocked by all the things you left in there? I have. It’s kind of like a time capsule. Hmmm.

Rewind and repeat
Let’s refresh our memories about the subject of intrusive thoughts with the help of a little Rewind and Repeat from part 3 of Traumatic Grief:

What are intrusive thoughts? They’re thoughts you didn’t want—thoughts that seem to show up out of nowhere—thoughts that bother you. (A flashback is a memory of something that actually happened.)

An intrusive thought can be something that someone said to you in the past, probably more than once. Maybe it was something one of your parents said to you routinely—a mantra of sorts—a bad one. Or it can be this strange thought that seems to come out of nowhere. Whether or not you know where it comes from, it is not a happy thought. It bothers you. And it shows up again and again.

It indicates that all is not well. There is a trauma and/or a spiritual issue to be dealt with.


The realm of the Holy Spirit
If you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and you love him, you’ve received the gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit—who indwells us—is a reality in your life, you’ll view intrusive thoughts differently than someone who doesn’t know Jesus.

What is the difference between an intrusive thought and the revealing, teaching or instructing of the Holy Spirit? Can an intrusive thought be the work of the Holy Spirit?

The type of intrusive thought that I quoted above is actually a Type 1 Intrusive Thought. As I unpacked this issue, I realized that there are three types of intrusive thoughts. In this post we’ll explore Type 1 Intrusive Thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts, type 1
In a strange way, some intrusive thoughts communicate this potentially-healing truth: “Something is wrong here.” I call these Type 1 Intrusive Thoughts. This type of intrusive thought may be communicating about something traumatic or hurtful that someone else did. It may communicate about something traumatic or hurtful that I did. It may communicate about a traumatic experience from my past—a hurricane, a flood, a fire, a loss. It may be a clue of some kind that I need to dig into in order to find healing and truth—similar to the symbolism in dreams.

The dream
Let’s learn from a recent dream that my husband Brandon had. It was a warning dream that came right before my sister Pam’s drama started up this spring. Brandon dreamed about a large, furry, brown spider that could talk. It jumped on his back. He could hear the spider’s thoughts. Brandon was looking for me during the dream. The spider was afraid we were going to kill it.

Brandon’s dream held a clue for us. He had this dream Saturday night. I saw my sister Pam on Monday, very unexpectedly, for the first time in nine years because our mom was in the hospital.

The real spider
What did the dream tell us? My sister Pam has brown curly hair. The spider was furry and brown. Most importantly, what do spiders do? They stun you so you can’t move, and then they wrap you up in their web and suck your blood until you are dead. Ewww.

If you’ve ever dealt with a narcissist, you’ve probably described him or her as a Blood-sucking Narcissist. There are very obvious reasons for that well-deserved title. (Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie, chapter 3—“The Encounter with Evil in Everyday Life”—contains a fascinating case study about a young woman’s spider phobia and what was eventually revealed about her mother and herself.)

I encountered all of the spider’s tactics in my sister that week: the stunning, the wrapping and the blood-sucking. After that customary three-part attack was done, I woke up, finally—from The Nine-year Reprieve. I saw her tactics. There was no emotion or nostalgia clouding my vision. I saw her show. I saw her lies. I saw her seething hatred. I saw her manipulation. I saw her pompous performance. I saw it all—clearly, for the first time. And I drew a very hard line: That Was The Last Time.

The end
After The Blood-sucking Narcissist stunned me, wrapped me up and sucked my blood—figuratively-speaking, of course—God reminded me of the things he’d already taught me, and he gave me the wisdom to do the work necessary to achieve healing and closure. This work included establishing and maintaining firm boundaries—a necessity that I’ve been given the opportunity to practice several times since then. I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote an anger letter to her. Very effective. (Read this post for more information on anger letters and how they work.) Then I fell right back asleep and had this closure dream.

Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017
Journal entry

I dreamed that Pam was sitting to my left, looking happy. She put her hand on my shoulder. I immediately jerked my shoulder away and said: “Get your hand off me. Don’t you ever touch me again. You are dead to me. You. Are. Dead.” I stood up and walked away. And I never looked back.

Early warning
While writing this post, I’ve been reminded many times about a dream I had when I was in elementary school. I was lying down and I was covered head to toe with spiders. They were crawling all over me. It was terrifying. They were everywhere….

Intrusive after-thoughts
The key to intrusive thoughts is what we do with them afterwards. We tend to follow up an intrusive thought with one of these two unproductive choices: (1) avoidance/denial or (2) destructive emotions like fear, anger or pride—and the thoughts that go along with these emotions. I call these customary follow-up thoughts the Intrusive After-thoughts.

These Intrusive After-thoughts seek to keep you sick by either encouraging you to ignore the intrusive thought or by replaying bad chapters of your life in your mind, reminding you about what’s wrong with you, accusing you of what you did… haunting you. Does this feel familiar? Replay…. Remind…. Accuse…. Haunt…. Intrusive After-thoughts tell you to hide, self-medicate, retaliate, keep the secrets, do nothing, reject good things and good people because you don’t deserve them, etc. Intrusive After-thoughts are generally about fear and condemnation. They are the work of Satan, The Accuser. He and his friends are busy. Believe you me. Busy, busy, busy. Have you read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis? I highly recommend it.

Choosing healing
By contrast, the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to teach, comfort and heal us by revealing truth.

Since the purpose of a Type 1 Intrusive Thought is to highlight that something is wrong, I would be wise—when I experience a Type 1 Intrusive Thought (or a warning dream)—to ask the Holy Spirit what he’s trying to show me and what I need to do to move forward on The Healing Journey.

Later on, in the post called The Trauma of Perfection, you’ll read about some major healing I experienced after receiving Type 1 Intrusive Thoughts while I was writing this series. Who knew I needed to do this work of grieving? God knew. So he brought me some Type 1 Intrusive Thoughts. In other words, he communicated—softly and persistently—Frankie Ann, all is not well. You have some work to do…. So I did the work and my Trauma Onion got smaller. (If that onion comment makes no sense to you, read this post.)


Coming next: I think you’ll enjoy the three unfoldings in the next post—the journey that started with a gift. You’ll also read about Frankie Ann, The Slowpoke.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Psalm 34:14

Song for Healing: “No Turning Back” by Brandon Heath

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