Trying to rethink ‘unwanted’ or ‘intrusive’ thoughts (very tricky stuff)


If our behaviour arises from external contexts then in one sense all our behaviour is ‘unwanted’ and ‘intrusive’ since it arises from outside of us, whether this is talking, thinking or doing things.  So all our thoughts are intrusive since we do not decide or choose to think them—they are shaped by our audiences and they just happen (Guerin, 2016a, b).

Looked at afresh in this way, having thoughts which we do not want is no different in principle—but only in principle—to casually visiting a car-yard and then a few hours later finding yourself locked into a contract that you did not actually want and you have now spent thousands of borrowed dollars on a new car you did not expect to buy.

[Or: intrusive thoughts are no different in principle to watching a sports match and finding yourself getting angry and starting to talk back at the television, even though you never wanted to get involved.  It is also no different in principle to driving on a freeway, missing your exit and finding yourself having to drive back along small roads for some kilometres to get to your destination.]

These examples show how all our behaviour is shaped by our external contexts and we can end up doing novel behaviours without thinking or verbal planning.  They are unwanted or intrusive behaviours.  But in reality those thoughts which we call intrusive or unwanted obviously have some special properties different to any other thoughts—but what our analysis is saying is that those special properties of intrusive thoughts are not that they intrude upon us or are not chosen.  That happens for all thought (and all behaviour I am suggesting).

To investigate the special ‘intrusive’ properties of the contexts for thinking we would document all the contexts just as we would for the contexts in the case of buying a car without any intention.  For the ‘intrusive behaviour’ of signing an ‘unwanted’ automobile contract, I would probably look first at the social context of the salesperson’s behaviour, and second at the buyer’s language use around image management and their self-image audiences, both before and after the ‘spontaneous’ purchase.  In particular, because it is said afterwards to be an unwanted purchase, I would look for conflicting or contradictory audiences shaping their self-image talk because (1) the behaviour has been shaped by the salesperson but (2) the buyer is now saying (shaped from one of their usual audiences) that they did not intend this to happen.  The property of ‘intrusive’ or ‘unwantedness’ is likely due to conflicting audiences.

Once we see all our behaviours as the same in principle—doing, saying and thinking—then we can proceed in the same way, except that for intrusive thoughts we would look for very specialized contexts (Chapter 3).  In particular, there will be at least one audience shaping the intrusive thought and at least one audience punishing that intrusive thought (or shaping the opposite thought).  In reality, it is usually more complex than just this, but this is a good place to start your analyses.

What you need to do in practice is to try and catch the hidden audiences of your client for those different thoughts.  If you are talking to someone about ‘intrusive thoughts’ you can watch the person talk and observe them closely as different prior audiences click in, and sometimes you can notice a slight change in their face or a behaviour when this happens (Carey, 2008; Erickson, Rossi & Rossi, 1976; Guerin, 2016b).  Then you can explore with them who that talk was aimed at or arising from: who were the audiences shaping the intrusive thought and who were the audiences shaping that they say it was unwanted.


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