Persistence of Memory: The Phenomenon of Intrusive Thoughts

“It feels like a thorn in my brain.”

That’s how one reader described the intrusive thoughts that plague us long after a psychopath is out of our lives. Other descriptions I’ve heard:

A self-replicating thought spiral

A consciousness parasite

A worm in my psyche eating away at my peace of mind

An infection in my mind

An endless game of ping-pong inside my head

It definitely felt like an infection to me. I remember how maddening it was to have those unwanted thoughts and how I wished they would stop, yet I was powerless to stop them. My mind seemed to have a mind of its own. I wondered if they would ever go away and how I would stand it if they didn’t. Many of you are probably dealing with this right now.

I’m here to reassure you that the intrusive thoughts will eventually fade away. Thoughts about it will still arise, but they will happen much less often and they will lose their power over you. Your peace of mind will return.


In all honesty, I was surprised at how long that took. In my case it lasted about two years. It seemed to me that those thoughts had long ago lost any useful purpose, but still they bubbled up from the depths of my psyche.

For several months, during the time my trauma was most acute, the intrusive thoughts were frequent (constant, really) and my emotional reaction to them was intense. As my cognitive dissonance about who he really was —  soul-mate or worst enemy?  — resolved over the next year or so, the frequency and intensity began to subside. But the thoughts and memories that arose, unbidden, still caused me great sadness.


“They are like self-replicating thought spirals that I cannot control.”

Once the trauma bond broke, which took about two years, I was no longer emotionally attached to him and the thoughts that arose no longer caused me pain. I found them annoying, though. It’s been three years now and I’m comfortable with where I am; I have random thoughts of him several times a day, but it doesn’t bother me. I don’t consider these thoughts “intrusive” or unwanted; they’re just thoughts, like any other thought.

I still dream of him on occasion. In a recent dream, he was a dirty old slumlord in a dank, seedy low-rent version of the playboy mansion. I was trying desperately to find my way out of his dark, labyrinthine underworld. I escaped by way of a door with a neon “EXIT” sign over it. Too bad things aren’t that easy in real life.

“There has got to be a way to get him off my mind without having a frontal lobotomy.”

Intrusive thoughts stem from cognitive dissonance, the trauma bond, and trauma or PTSD. As you heal, the thoughts diminish. There is no other way, at least that I know of, to stop them. Accepting that intrusive thoughts will happen, and knowing they will one day subside and lose their power over you, might help a little in the meantime. Another thing to keep in mind is that those intrusive thoughts are the catalyst that keep us going on our quest for recovery, and that as we resolve the questions and issues behind the thoughts, the thoughts resolve as well.

(Read about a new, and perhaps more effective, way of treating PTSD: Reflections on Trust and Trauma)

I have a theory for why I still have thoughts of him several times a day, and why I might always have them, even though the trauma, dissonance, and emotional attachment have resolved.  I believe these thoughts come from the experience of having encountered someone who wasn’t at all who or what he had me believe he was. His real identity was something I’d never so much as even imagined, let alone expected to ever have come into my life. Such a profound shock reverberates deep into our souls.

I knew there were evil-minded people in the world, but to experience one of them on such a personal level, disguised as someone who loved me, was unimaginable. It gives real meaning to Ceasar’s quote, “Your greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.” So true; we would never expect to find our greatest enemy hiding in our own heart. It is so at odds with what we are that perhaps some part of us will never fully accept the ugly truth and will forever be at work behind the scenes trying to reconcile it. That’s fine with me, a small price I’ll gladly pay for being human.


“An infection… not in the body, but in the mind.”

“I realized this morning how pervasively he still lives in my head. I am tired of him! I want him gone from my mind. I’ll keep the memories as a warning, but I want my day-to-day thoughts not to include him any more! I suppose I can want and wish and hope ’til I’m blue, but it will take time… just time… and maybe it never will entirely happen. Like an infection that takes up residence in the body, but this one is in the mind.” ~ A reader


There may even be a silver lining in the dark cloud of intrusive thoughts:

“A new study by Yuki Shigemoto at Texas Tech University and Senel Poyrazli at The Pennsylvania State University examined the relation between PTSD symptoms and posttraumatic growth. Two samples, 182 US and 163 Japanese college students, completed self-report measures of PTSD symptoms and posttraumatic growth.

 In both samples higher levels of PTSD symptoms were associated with posttraumatic growth. Further analysis revealed that it was the intrusion symptoms rather than the avoidance or hyperarousal symptoms that were associated with posttraumatic growth.

Their findings question the idea that intrusions are necessarily pathological. Certain forms of intrusion may actually be beneficial.  As opposed to intrusive cognitive processing characterized by repetitive, negative and unwanted thoughts, deliberate cognitive processing refers to repetitive, purposeful throughts focused on the struggle to meaning.

The implications for the treatment of trauma are profound.

Traditionally therapists have tried to help people rid themselves of their intrusive thoughts but the suggestion that arises from this study is that rather than treating intrusions as symptoms of disorder sometimes it may be more valuable to help people to take control of their intrusive thoughts and steer them purposefully.” ~ The Paradox of Trauma, Psychology Today

You may want to try this:Want To Reclaim Your Power? Re-Write Your Story!

Take a quiz and find out if you might have PTSD


A powerful poem from Linda, our resident poet…


This is a poem written as acknowledgement of evil, and a celebration of the human spirit that will seek freedom, empowered by the very forces that would try to destroy it. The predator in my life inflicted terrible wounds which have healed stronger than ever, and I have powerful wings now that I might never have recognized, had he not forced me to fly. I cherish my freedom, but memories persist, some steel threads remain.



Bright star, meteor
Wizard, weaver of dark dreams:
I slept in winter’s arms
Safe and sheltered. You came shining
Shattering my sanctuary, tearing down the walls.

Dance! you said, And I will lead
Sing! you said, In perfect harmony
Fly! you said, Together!
I, enchanted, rose to follow
Knowing nothing of your artistry, those black arts.

You wove a world of words
A mirrored hall reflecting my lost longings
And perfect promises
That led like little woodland trails
Into a wilderness of meaningless deceit.

I tasted rapture but it was illusion;
All was false, a fragile fabric,
Backdrop to my ultimate destruction
At the hands of a phantom, masquerading
As the lover of my dreams.

I cloaked you in my fantasies
As you began to tear apart my dreams
With cruel intent, and as I watched, the mask
That had bewitched me slipped aside
And there I saw the feral face of evil, watching me.

Puppet Master, pulling strings
Like steel threads embedded deep
Controlling every step
Of that slow dance to living death
Within a world gone dark with pain.

With fear that chilled my blood
And eyes now opened to the truth
I twisted in your talons, unable to escape
The sweet seduction of your song,
Mesmerizing, beautiful, malign.

Deep within I heard the call of freedom,
Far beyond my reach I saw the open sky;
By force I tore myself away at last. I fled,
My heart still tethered to those steel threads,
Fighting for my soul.

Bearing wounds, wearing wings,
Feeling still the Puppet Master’s hands
On cords that remain within,
I am stronger, flying higher, singing my own song…
And waiting to forget.

© Linda – November 2015



♥ Thank you for reading. 


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33 thoughts on “Persistence of Memory: The Phenomenon of Intrusive Thoughts”

  1. Linda

    Yes, yes and yes! Yes I am tired of these thouhts. Yes they do feel like a thorn in my brain. But yes, I am experiencing PTG! Another delicious irony, that the psychopath who only meant to take – my peace, my heart, my sanity – has given me such fine gifts: Greater strength, self-awareness and appreciation for my “ordinary” life that he was hoping to destroy! Another wonderful post Adelyn… thank you, as always.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      You’re welcome, Linda. And thank YOU for the amazing poem!

      It’s a delicious irony indeed!

  2. Annalise

    To Linda:

    Thank you for your masterful poem. It revirberates into my psyche and soul. It feels like I’m home, for someone understands.

    1. Linda

      Oh Annalise, you are home! This is a safe place for us to heal and to learn the essential lessons that these encounters can teach us. The more we understand what has happened to us, and that it was never our “fault”, that it was a clever predator intent upon our destruction, the stronger and more compassionate we become. Thank you for your kind words. That poem came out of my deepest soul – another unintended gift from a man who only meant to harm me!

  3. Totallybel

    Thank you Adelyn, as always ye explain exactly what is real in our lives post psychopath. Love the poem Linda, ‘ the feral face of evil’ what an accurate description, I love it! x Just my opinion to your response to Annalise, they are just predators, cowardly predators, disguising their true ‘non being’ nothing ‘clever’ about them, it is us that are the ‘clever’ ones, we have a brain we can use. My psycho wrote this to me after he was ordered to pay maintenance for the children, ‘I have at all time afforded you respect, dignity, peace of mind because after all you are the mother of our children.’ Words that come from them have no meaning, because they have no meaning in this life, only to cause, death, hurt, degradation, destruction, mayhem to anyone unlucky enough to be on their radar. They are the lie, we are lucky enough to have survived that lie, who could understand,unless one had the same experience, and then recognised it for what it is. It’s so difficult to comprehend. I’m Sarah Connors in Terminator, I’m Malificient, I’m caught up in The Matrix, I’m Alice in Alice in Wonderland, I was Sleeping Beauty, I was a Stepford Wife, I was that Zombie, my brain scrambled by my abuser. He at all time afforded me NO respect, NO dignity, and ensured I NEVER had peace of mind, because he was firmly lodged in my mind. You are truly a most wonderful woman Adelyn, I really don’t know how I would have done if I didn’t happen upon your site when I did. But I did! Thank you xxx

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Thank you so much, TotalyBel. I’m so happy this website helped to make his lies visible and undo their effect on you. You truly are Sarah Connors in the Terminator… and you’ve just given me an idea for a blog post!

    2. trish

      I can relate to having the unwanted thoughts in my head. I just married a psychopath and that was so devastating and took about 3 years to get him out of my head then i fell in love with a narcissit which was another night mare. I am still having a hard time getting rid of him in my head and just recently he attacked me and stole my car. His way of thinking could never be mine but he could not ever handle me telling him if god forbid he is wrong. I have unwanted thoughts and i know i am sick from these relationships. He had the nerve to tell me he deserved to have the car for not letting him know in advance i wanted him out and now he has to figure out how to make it on the streets but blames me for everything and he believes he is right. anyway i was wondering why they stay around these narcissists when he is so abusive and he got me that way now and i don’tt like the person i have become.

      anyway here i am again with another nut that breaks my heart. I have come to grips that he cannot see anything wrong ever in himself and has to blame me when anything goes wrong including him sitting on his glasses or something. somehow or something happened only because i did this or that. unbelieveable and then violence came and never stopped cause i couldn’t deal with just letting anything he blamed me for just go.. he asked if i could just give him a pass if he is wrong and don’t say anything cause he couldn’t take it and i said well i don’t see why i should since its abuse on my part to take the blame for your actions and stupid and disrespectful to myself.

      1. Adelyn Birch

        Hooray—you didn’t stay silent and “give him a pass” to abuse you because you still had the strength and the self-worth to clearly see what he was doing was wrong and to stand up for yourself. You say he got you to become abusive, but emotional reactions to abuse are not abusive; they’re normal reactions to being backed into an emotional corner. I doubt very much he turned you into an abusive person, in general—it was probably just emotional self-defense in that particular situation, Trish. Good for you for not taking the blame and not being disrespectful to yourself. That sounds healthy to me. When I read your story, I see all the strenghts you have; I hope you’ll do the same xx

  4. Anna Bananna

    Adelyn this post is outstanding but your last post is my favourite. YOU ARE MY HERO!!

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Whoever the creep is who wrote those words isn’t smart enough to comprehend the context within which he was writing. I mean, look around! But his biggest mistake was believing I’m as stupid as he is. Thanks for your support, Anna Banana.

  5. Dee

    Love,love,love this post Adelyn – I am so relieved to know that I am not the only one with ongoing persisting thoughts. I wish I could just scrub my mind clean of him. Sometimes I feel as though I am insane. It really feels like a form of insanity.

    I wonder if the type of abuse determines how long the unwanted thoughts will haunt us. I read that when a man lures a woman into sexual deviance, the trauma is similar to child abuse because a trusted person made you surrender your boundaries to do the unthinkable. I know I have PTSD and Stockholm Syndrome, but I wonder if perhaps the cognitive dissonance is so extreme because of what I allowed?

    I have certainly come a long way, I don’t pine for him any longer, nor do believe he is living his happily-everafter-life with the new woman. My problem now is that I continue to be haunted with thoughts of him: wondering when karma is finally going to catch up with him and what kind of tortured existence the new woman is living. I’m also bothered by the idea that he continues to fool people. People like him and think he’s amazing. The fact that he continues to pull off the grand facad really bothers me.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      It does feel like a form of insanity, Dee, and I’m sorry you’re going through it now. The feeling that underlies the experience you describe is BETRAYAL. If a parent sexually abuses their child, the child has been deeply and fundamentally betrayed by the primary person in their life, the person whom they count on for their very survival. It’s the most egregious betrayal possible. You trusted your husband to care for your heart and to protect your well-being, and he took advantage of that trust for his own personal gain. It’s no wonder you have intrusive thoughts and PTSD.

      BETRAYAL is the fundamental issue for all of us. We found out someone we trusted wasn’t really trustworthy at all; they did not have our best interests at heart, to say the least, and in fact they weren’t even who they led us to believe they were. We can’t wrap our heads around something like that. It doesn’t exist anywhere within our beliefs and expectations of life. It conflicts violently with our frame of reference; there’s simply no room for it there, but we try to make it fit by trying to make some kind of sense out of it, even though it’s futile. The only way to overcome the dissonance is to make the room for this unwanted and previously unknown truth to exist by expanding our beliefs about what’s possible.

  6. Sue

    Your poem touched me deeply Linda. I’m struggling to free myself from those talons. I have torn myself away repeatedly, only to be caught up again and again and again. My heart has literally been broken. Having been diagnosed with stenosis of a heart valve, and needing a valve replacement, I asked him to take time out of his busy schedule to counsel me (he’s a doctor): he made some feeble excuse. I don’t know what further proof I need, but still keep getting sucked in by his charms. The mind over matter thing doesn’t work – there are so many triggers that evoke a cascade of memories and thoughts. I have cried more tears in the last 3 years than I have in my entire lifetime. The only element that makes me doubt is that I haven’t been subject to the discard, so it makes me wonder if maybe I’m wrong about the nature of this beast..I feel so weak-willed.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Sue, there’s no requirement that you have to make a definitive diagnosis before you’re allowed to end a relationship with an abuser. He has abused you to the point of needing a heart valve replaced; what does “the nature of his beast” matter?! He’s crushed your sense of self worth to the point where you think you don’t deserve better in life than this worthless creep, and he’s killing you. That goes far beyond being “weak-willed” — he’s a manipulator who has distorted your reality and has you under his control. Please get help immediately! Call the domestic violence hotline for your country (the numbers are in the sidebar under “A List of Crisis Hotlines”). You’ve got to save yourself, Sue, and I hope and pray that you will, and I’m sure everyone else here does, too. You’re worth it! Don’t give up on yourself. I wish you all the best.

    2. Totallybel

      Hey Sue, whatever ye ask for, ye will be sure not to receive from these perverted characters. He literally has broken your heart, but ye and skilfull doctors will fix it. Keep your heart for yourself and those that love and care for you, when it’s fixed keep it away from him. I had a hip replacement, I was too young, result of RTA. He ‘disappeared’ with the children the day I was to go to hospital, I had the dinner cooked, no phone call answered. The time came when I had to be there, I was so distraught, I had to drive there myself. The biggest operation in my life the following day and I never said goodbye to the children. He never visited me, he said he was offended by my text saying how upset I was. For the whole week he left the children with the au pair, he didn’t come home til late. I came out of hospital blaming myself for going in at that time, because it upset him, I should have known there would be adverse consequences, there always was. I obviously didn’t know what he was at that time, I was so abused, so brainwashed, energy so depleted by that creep that I loved, but didn’t understand. It took 4 more years before I identified what he was doing was abuse and another couple before I understood the enormity of what he was, and what he had done to me. But I’m still standing, and living and loving life as we were born to. Please use this operation to breakaway from him, why wait for him to discard? Is his response to your plight not enough of a discard? You have the information ye need, use it wisely. All good wishes xxx

      1. Adelyn Birch

        TotallyBel, thank you for supporting Sue. I’m sorry you were treated so horribly during the time of your surgery! How utterly deplorable and inexcusable. I just can’t even convey how despicable I feel it is, and how happy I am that you and the kids are free.

        1. Sue

          Thank you both for your support and encouragement. I have once again deleted all details from contacts. Each time it has been him who has initiated contact again. Unfortunately my mobile is unable to block contacts, so I guess to apply the “no contact” rule I would have to change my number.

          An interesting thought crossed my mind: this man has a wolf sanctuary! Your imagery of Little Red Riding Hood and the BIG BAD WOLF suddenly takes on a very literal meaning!

          Something else that alerts me to a total lack of compassion and empathy is the fact that he repeatedly tells me I’m a hypochondriac, just looking for sympathy…there’s nothing wrong with your heart, I’m told. Yet he hasn’t even bothered to listen to my heart through a stethoscope!

          I’m so confused as to his motives though. I cannot fathom why he keeps re-engaging with me. I could write reams and reams, but won’t bore all with details. “come and live on the farm amongst family who will care”. I HAVE a family who care already, (but not my marriage), I don’t need another, composed of total strangers…So why why why? Crazy-making stuff

          1. Adelyn Birch

            He may be the only one who ever knows his motives, Sue. We can never know what someone’s intentions are, never, but trying to figure them out can get us stuck for a long time. His actions are the only thing that counts. Oh, and the effect he has on you, that’s the most important thing. You said he’s destroying you, that’s the bottom line. They always say things that cause doubt. If they were nasty and uncaring 100% of the time, none of us would have stuck around for very long.

            1. Adelyn Birch

              And I’m so glad to hear that you’ve deleted his contact info! Changing your number sounds like the best thing you can do. It’ll be worth any inconvenience it causes you. Stay strong, Sue!

          2. Totallybel

            Hey Sue, ye are more than welcome, I’ve received so much from Adelyn and the comments x How strange re The Wolf sanctuary, these characters are tailor made for us, they know us better than we know ourselves, but we have the Ace, we now KNOW what they are. Put the pieces of the puzzle together and know yourself. From your last post, how he called ye a hypochondriac, when ye have quite obviously been diagnosed. It is only said to hurt and devalue you, if he listened to ur heart, he would dx something was up, but from the safety of not doing so, he can call you all the names he wants, to watch and feed off your reaction, trying to figure out why he said such a thing, and he gets stronger the more emotional ye get. Think of all ye ‘did for him’ as energy, what ‘energy’ did he give ye? No wonder we are exhausted after them. And re ‘why he keeps engaging with you’ ye are fascinated by and curious of him. My dad told me this when I was little ‘ curiosity killed the cat’ It came to mind recently ( to do with psycho) and I asked my daughter did she know the rest of it cos I couldn’t remember ‘ information brought it back’ I nearly fell off my chair, and am thankful to know I’m on the right path xxx

            1. Sue

              Thank you Totallybel and Adelyn. I’m very excited! With the help of a friend I have managed to block him on my phone – no calls or text messages can come in. For the first time I feel that I’m in control. I’ve read the book on boundaries, as that is the next issue I need to address, now that I’m safe from said psychopath. A teeny twinge of guilt that he will be so hurt…I guess that’s why I was his perfect prey. He has never had any compunction about destroying me, so it was only a passing thought. He lives 14 hours by road away, and in fact, spends most of his time travelling, so no danger of a face-to-face encounter. I’m FREEEEEEE

              1. Adelyn Birch

                I’m very excited, too! This is truly wonderful news, Sue. Stay STRONG and stay FREE, and please let us know how you’re doing. We’ll be here to support you. You’re not alone!

  7. Asheley

    It’s been just about a year since it all fell apart and I am relieved that I’ve made it through. I only think of him now when I’m alone and it’s quiet, which isn’t very often. I have had dreams about him, in a recent one he was only the angel I once knew. It was pretty disturbing to see him as the sweet, loving prince charming I wished he really had been. But I got out of bed and went on with life, no tears. I’d say the healing process in my case and one’s similar is made up of lots of reminders of the cruelties. It’s somehow easy to forget about those from time to time.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Asheley, I’m so glad to hear you’re doing so much better. You’ve made real progress!

    2. Sue

      You hit the nail on the head Asheley. When I mentioned to my friends that I needed to write it all down, they said it was counter-productive and would suck me back in to the trauma. But I feel it’s a reminder which one can call upon when immersed in grief for what we perceive is a lost dream, especially when the enchanting aspect remains in the forefront of our psyche.One day I hope to be as detached from this as you have managed to become

  8. Asheley

    Thank you! You were a big helping hand in my progress. What did people with broken hearts/minds do before the internet (and your blog)?! :)

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m so happy to hear that! :-) Thank you.

      I don’t know what people like us did before the internet. That’s a scary thought. I started writing this blog just 5 weeks after the psycho (another scary thought), my first words being “In your darkest hours, you may wonder if you will ever heal from something so awful as what you have been through… “ I was writing to myself. I’ve since re-written that post because it was barely coherent. Luckily there were others online already. That time is foggy, but I do remember Claudia Moscovicci’s website ‘Psychopathy Awareness’ was a big help to me, and so was Thomas Sheridan’s first book, Defeated Demons. I don’t remember too much about it except that it had this epic, good-vs-evil, apocalyptic theme that really resonated with me at the time. There were also a couple of psychopaths’s blogs that helped me understand what happened. I don’t know what I would have done without all of them!

  9. Linda

    What did they do indeed?! When I tore myself away from the psychopath I went online to find out, if I could, what had happened to me! It felt as though I had been through a meat grinder in a tornado! One of the first sources of information I found was The Red Flags of the Psychopath, on this blog. I began to read and I began to cry… it was him! It was the answer, ghastly and shattering, but the door to freedom too. I continued to read – the posts, the comments, and that was the start of my journey to sanity again. Adelyn’s blog, her meticulous research and the healing power of her understanding and support, were, and still are, my life-line. I agree – we need to be reminded of the betrayal, the evil that we experienced, lest we be seduced by memories of the “angel” we believed he was, the prince charming he pretended to be. … Some people focus on the dangers of the Internet, but I focus on the priceless resources available online, one of which, for many of us, is most certainly this blog! You are doing so well Asheley! Your message will bring hope to others who follow!

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I’m so glad I could help you on your “journey to sanity,” Linda. That’s a perfect description of what it is.

  10. Matt

    I am there with you my friend – PTSD and depression, unable to work, a complete mess a year after divorce and realizing that my wife and mother of my two kids is a sociopath and to my shock discovered via intensive therapy that my mother was also a sociopath which made me prime target for just about every relationship I have ever had since birth… I almost ended my life a year ago. Prayers to all victims of sociopaths and their dizzying and unfathomable abuse.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      I hope you’re getting the support you need, Matt. Thank you for your prayers; many will be sent your way.

  11. Vicki

    Twenty + years of Narcissistic and domestic abuse. Our marriage meant nothing to him. I tolerated his alcoholism and abuse of every kind by telling myself, “at least he’s been faithful.”
    When I found out the truth my world went away, and so did I.
    I am stuck in a dark place with no hope, nobody understands and I haven’t been able to find the right help. I’ve given up trying to get better. I’m existing because my son needs me.
    I am not a part of the world. I have to stay alive for my son but I look forward to no longer being alive. I need peace. I can’t have peace as long as I can remember my life and what happened.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Vicki, my heart goes out to you. I’m sorry this happened to you and that you’re suffering so deeply. Even so, I have a firm belief that you can heal from this. I’ve heard from many others who spent decades involved in abusive pathological relationships who were able to heal, women in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Healing does not negate or minimize the hell you’ve been through, and you can heal despite all of it, if only you have faith that you can and you will, even if you don’t know how. That is the first step. Please try again to find help. I know it’s hard to find help, but there are people who understand.To find a good therapist who is competent to help you, search for someone who is knowledgeable about character disorders, abusive relationships and trauma. Consider contacting your local domestic abuse organization; I’ve heard from several people who received competent and valuable help. Don’t give up! You are not alone. I wish you peace and healing.

      ***Want To Reclaim Your Power? Re-Write Your Story!

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