I am therapist who treats Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and I have bizarre thoughts. Here is my big revelation. We all have them. It’s not just you. And I do not have OCD. There is no difference between me and my OCD clients in terms of the weird content that shows up in our heads. It is just that nobody else pays attention to these thoughts, or cares enough about them to want to talk about it. People without OCD find these thoughts so unimportant that they may not even take notice. I notice mine quite a bit because I am in the business of talking about bizarre thoughts. OCD clients want to discuss and analyze their intrusive thoughts because their brains are sending them messages that these thoughts are important. The brain of an individual with OCD also produces excessive anxiety, guilt or other uncomfortable emotions that accompany the intrusive, ego-dystonic thoughts. Anxiety is normally an indicator of danger, an emotion that signals something is wrong and needs attention to avert a problem or catastrophe. With an anxiety disorder such as OCD the brain is firing off a danger signal that is false, but feels the same as if a true danger were lurking.
I thought I would spend a couple weeks recording my incoming, bizarre thoughts so that I can demonstrate how these thoughts may not be so out of the ordinary after all. So here goes:
- I was walking down the street and smelled Jasmine in the air. I love Jasmine blooming season! I had an intrusive thought, “What if I was attacked right now and I will forever associate the smell of jasmine with being attacked?”
- I had a thought that told me to walk around the left side of a pole in a parking garage. I followed the thought’s instruction. Another thought appeared, telling me to inconveniently walk the long way around a 2nd pole! That’s when it got ridiculous and I didn’t do it.
- We were about to get in the car at the Santa Monica pier and my sister suggested walking across the parking lot to look at the ocean. I had a thought that we would be hit by a car in this busy parking lot because of the last minute change of plans. After all, it was not what we were supposed to do when we could have just entered the car to safety.
- I painted my office key with red nail polish and my work bathroom key with blue nail polish. When trying to remember which color was the bathroom key, I had an unpleasant thought that I should have used red for the bathroom because of menstrual blood. Now I have this thought when unlocking the bathroom at work several times each day….nice.
- I had a thought that I didn’t put the credit card back in my wallet while leaving the grocery store.
- I noticed the cute body shapes of two little girls about eight and ten years of age who had short skirts on. I had a thought that it might be weird that I took special notice.
- I had a thought that my parents would become sick after seeing a post on Facebook about God healing the sick.
- When I see opaque, white soap in public bathrooms I think of semen. This gem of a thought came from a few different clients and it is triggered now when I see white soap. You will have it now too and you have me to thank for it.
- I had a thought that my refrigerator was not shut completely after closing it.
- I turned my back on the dark, empty room to lock my front door when arriving home at night. I had a thought I was about to get clobbered over the back of the head. My husband was the only one home. Hmmm.
- The song “Fly” by Sugar Ray was on the radio and the lyric was, “My mother, God rest her soul” and I accidentally sung “My father, God rest his soul.” After realizing my mistake, I had an intrusive thought that my dad wasn’t safe. I know, I know…I jammed to Sugar Ray. It’s a good song! By the way, typing these words about my parents feels scary.
- I was talking to my sister in Ohio on the phone when she was out running errands. The last thing she said to me before getting off the phone was that she was thirsty and decided to stop to get a drink. I had an intrusive thought that she would go missing and I would have to tell the police the last thing she did was stop for a drink.
- I was reading a news article about a kidnapping on my phone before bed. I had a thought that I didn’t want to keep the article open in my phone overnight.
- I had a thought that I should tear up the paper with my parents address on it before throwing it away to keep them safe.
- I had a thought that I didn’t want to leave fibromyalgia in the search box of my phone, lest I get it.
- I had a thought about punching my husband in the face in bed…and I wasn’t even mad at him!
- I had a thought that the pole in the truck in front of us on the freeway would fly back and impale me.
- In yoga during opening meditation, the teacher said, “Breathe in calm, relaxation, harmony, and peace. Now breathe out stress, strain, suffering and dis-ease.” Well since I had run out of breath on my exhale, I breathed in dis-ease! This can’t be good.
- A new friend and I were taking a walk in Marina del Rey on the bike path. I asked her if she would like to walk to the Jetty. I then had a thought, “When we get there I will kill you.” I hope she doesn’t read this blog!
Okay, so there you have it. I confessed my weird thoughts. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. While I might find the incoming thoughts weird or unpleasant for a moment, an individual with OCD will have the experience of the thought getting stuck in his or her head for longer periods of time. Distress, in one form or another, invariably accompanies many thoughts experienced by the OCD sufferer. In addition, there is commonly a perception that the thought is meaningful, a hint about the inner core of the thinker, or a bad omen for the future.
You accept weirdness and uncertainty every day…
Even OCD sufferers know what it is like to have a bizarre thought that doesn’t matter to them. When something isn’t the primary target of your OCD, you are able to feel uncertain about the meaning of the weird thought, but it doesn’t seem to matter. You decide to avoid spending any mental or physical energy on the thought and your brain allows you to move on. Some OCD sufferers have noticed this phenomenon with thoughts that used to be bothersome, but are no longer primary OCD targets. They often say, “I can’t believe this thought used to bother me before.” Your OCD theme has transferred to a new target. This is a common occurrence when you begin to respond to your OCD thoughts correctly. Your OCD needs to find a new area to get you to react.
Your fear is simply your brain’s response to a particular thought, because you have OCD. The thought is not special and you have absolutely no control over its arrival or departure. It happens to be a brain glitch because of your genetics, which contributed to your OCD diagnosis. Using this information, you can react differently and avoid falling for common OCD tricks. Clients often say in group therapy that they want to switch obsessions with other group members, as if that person is suffering less because of the content of their obsessions. The content doesn’t matter. You will be equally tortured by any theme, as long as it’s current, you decide it matters, and you are reactive to it.
Why killing and molestation? I’d rather get stuck on thoughts that my hands are dirty!
I have a lot of clients who ask why his or her thoughts latch onto a particular theme. They worry that the theme is somehow meaningful to who they are as a person. That it may be some message from deep down inside of them, a message they are trying to ignore but should pay attention to. Some clients can trace their OCD theme back to a historical life event. The particular event didn’t cause the OCD, however it could contribute to the OCD theme. OCD is both genetic and learned. For example, imagine a woman who has been suffering from contamination OCD ever since her mother told her to wash her hands after petting the family dog. As a reason for the request the mother said, “Dogs have germs.” It is not the incident that caused the OCD, but it obviously contributed to the theme. Everyone’s mother gives them a similar warning but not everyone gets stuck on this fear.
Other people have OCD themes based on his or her life stage. I’ve noticed that a client may have homosexual OCD concerns when he is single, that changes to harm OCD about his wife when he marries, that becomes pedophile OCD after his first child is born. OCD tends to attack the things in life that you value the most. You are more likely to respond in a compulsive way if you care about the theme, and your OCD will take full advantage of this fact if you let it.
On a daily basis, we get bizarre data uploaded to our brains from the news, movies, and stories people tell us. This data gets filed away and rises to the surface next time you encounter something that reminds you of it. Past OCD thoughts also get filed away, just to resurface when you least suspect it. There are also OCD themes that occur for absolutely no reason. Spending too much time analyzing where the thoughts came from, or why you are stuck on a particular theme can become compulsive. While it may be interesting or feel productive, it is actually not helpful in unraveling the problem. The more you investigate the origins of thoughts, the more powerful they become. This is why other forms of talk-therapy can even make OCD symptoms more severe.
So why do OCD thoughts have to be so vicious?
OCD needs to get your attention and convince you to react with compulsions. Being reactive to the thoughts makes the thoughts seem valid and important. After the intrusive thoughts become important, more time will be spent trying to figure them out (mental rituals). There will also be more efforts to reduce them (thought avoidance compulsion). These compulsions will reinforce the OCD and the thoughts increase in frequency and intensity. As a result anxiety and / or guilt increase. This causes you to over-respond behaviorally (compulsions) to control the unwanted feelings. Here is a diagram that shows the Obsessive-Compulsive Cycle, how OCD is reinforced:
OCD sufferers often attempt to assert control over incoming, unwanted thoughts. The way in which the OCD sufferer attempts to assert control over his or her thoughts or tries to seek certainty about the content of the thoughts, is the exact reaction that will strengthen the OCD. Most clients with intrusive thoughts come to me with the goal of trying to stop their thoughts from occurring. They also think that examining the thoughts will help. They learn in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that trying to control or examine OCD thoughts is actually the problem, not the solution. I’ve noticed that some clients may become willing to accept particular thoughts, but not the ones they deem the most abhorrent. For example, I’ve heard people say they can perhaps make room for thoughts about killing people, as long they don’t have any molestation thoughts. They decide that one type of thought they can find a way to accept, as long as it is limited to that theme. One thing about OCD is that it will always change to the thing that you find most unacceptable at the time.
OCD doesn’t need your attention or response…
Imagine you are in an office building and building management arrives and tells you there will be a fire alarm test, and to disregard the alarm. When the building alarm goes off, it is still very loud and ominous sounding. Because of the prior information you received, you decide to contextualize the alarm as a test and do nothing. This is synonymous to the alarm signal that your OCD sends off when having intrusive thoughts. You can contextualize the received information as an intrusive, OCD thought that doesn’t need a response. It will still be loud and may be obnoxious for a while, but the fact remains that it is a false alarm.
This is especially true if the incoming thoughts fall under one of your regular OCD themes. The response should be the same, even if the OCD seems to be introducing a new twist on the topic. For example, if you have harm OCD you may eventually come to the conclusion that you will probably not kill someone. Your OCD will be quick to inform you that haven’t considered that you may have already killed someone and forgotten about it. Or maybe you have repressed such a terrible memory of the murder you committed. Don’t fall for it. That is a common OCD trick. If it is about harming someone in any way, shape or form, take the chance, label it OCD and do not attempt to get to the bottom of it.
My hope is that reading this blog will help you to take your intrusive thoughts less seriously. OCD thoughts cannot and do not need to go away. Find a way to accept and make room for them. Become an expert about the tactics your OCD uses to manipulate you into feeding it. You can change your relationship with your incoming thoughts and eventually reduce their presence. Even when your thoughts get stuck or cause anxiety and guilt, do your best to contextualize them as OCD. Don’t waste your time and attention on them. They might take away a portion of your enjoyment of the moment, but focus on the part that you still have left. You may not feel better immediately, but you will avoid taking compulsive actions that reinforce the problem. In time, you may even be able to start viewing your bizarre thoughts as something creative, interesting, funny or quirky. You can even write a blog confessing them to the world.
Stacey Kuhl Wochner, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles, CA specializing in the treatment of OCD. Follow her on Facebook.
Love this post! On more than one occasion people with OCD have told me some of their thoughts and said, “Can you believe what a horrible person I must be if I have these thoughts?” My response has always been that I have the same or similar thoughts and I realize they mean nothing. Your post is not only extremely informative, it’s entertaining as well!
Hi Janet, Thank you for reading my article. I’m glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful.
As an OCD sufferer, I really enjoyed this post. The “bizarre thoughts” had me laughing out loud. Thanks!!
Thanks for reading…I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It really does help to find humor in life’s challenges, especially when discovering ways to peacefully coexist alongside your OCD.
Great article! Very helpful.
My OCD tells me to analyze my obsessions “just in case” doing so may be helpful. It’s eye-opening to read that people without OCD get bizarre thoughts, but they just don’t get the urge to cater to them. And they don’t get them as often because they don’t cater to them!
Hi Keith, Very well stated. Thanks for your comments.
Brilliant, informative and really interesting post – helpful to read about the OCD informing you of another alternative and that the focus of the obsession can switch as this happens with me. I had never thought of trying to peacefully coexist with my OCD, just to get rid of it – I’ll be keeping that in mind. And I will never look at white soap the same way again!!
My name is Keith and I recently published an article on Nami and Psyche Central entitled “OCD and Chinatown.” I have OCD. I think you make some great points in this article and your article about “the solving ritual” The bottom line is: I think people with OCD are more sensitive to alarms in the environment. Its like sending a person of the opposite sex an email that you are anxious about. For people with OCD this experience is heightened. I think it has to do with cortisol and danger signals or the prefrontal cortex. I think the mindfulness approach is wise as an alternative to behavioral therapy because w behav therapy there are multiple alarms that go off and the person with OCD may have comorbid disorders. I am interested in your perspective on genetics and OCD.
Thanks, Keith F
Hi Jen, Thank you for your nice comments…I am happy you found the article helpful. It is counter-intuitive to make peace with OCD, since it is the source of the discomfort you are feeling. But since we have little choice about what thoughts / feelings show up, it is better to work with what you are offered. Lowering resistance can be the new goal rather than ridding yourself of thoughts and feelings. OCD doesn’t have a cure, but you can surely change your relationship with it.
Hi Keith, The approach that we use to treat OCD is evidenced-based, meaning it is found in the research to be most effective in treating OCD. It is a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy approaches. Mindfulness skills including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is certainly a primary component. Several genes have been mapped for OCD and differences in the brain’s alert system are evident. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the most important prong of CBT when treating OCD. Many clients with OCD want to stick with mindfulness and are fearful of taking the necessary steps into exposure work. I can understand how intentionally spiking one’s anxiety when he or she is already suffering doesn’t seem right. I like to frame it as an investment. If you spend one month facing a particular fear, it is an investment in a future that can be free from this fear. It has also been found in studies that ERP can actually change your brain’s over-reaction to feared stimuli. It can certainly cause you to unlearn an anxiety response that has been conditioned. While habituating to your fears can be a painful process in the short run, it is worth the freedom you will have from your thoughts and anxiety in the future.
Thank you for explaining this key point. Positive change happens in the grey area. I will continue to read your articles.
What an excellent post!!! I loved reading the details of some of your bizarre thoughts. I have OCD too, and though many therapists have said “everyone has OCD” and then they give almost “trite” examples – providing the specifics really humanizes the experience. Thank you. This was really well written.
Hi Jo-Ann, Thank you for commenting on my post. It is nice to hear it has been helpful to you.
This is, without a doubt, one of the best articles I’ve ever read on OCD. I’ve suffered from OCD, mostly with obsessive harming thoughts, for over 40 years, and I still have trouble explaining exactly what it is to others. This article explains it in terms everyone can relate to, and I enjoy the bits of humor. Seriously, injecting a bit of humor into this bizarre disorder is a MUST for turning the tables on OCD and putting oneself back in charge. Thanks so much for writing this!
Hi Laura, It is nice to hear you enjoyed the article. At times it is difficult for family and friends to understand the experience of having OCD, especially the less well-known types. It’s a slow evolution, but I think there is more and more public education about themes like harm OCD. Keep up the good work with not falling into the trap of taking your OCD too seriously!
Thanks for the post.It was nicely put and opened my eyes.
I have Relationship OCD or ROCD.
I often feel that I do not have OCD because its only about the relationship… But obviously I have the excact symptoms that its described.
You said that the theme depends on what is hardeat to accept.but I don’t really get it.so are the thoughts then real and I should just accept them?
They say all the time that I don’t love my bf and I find only flaws in him. But at the same time I do not want to break up with him.he means so much to me!
Hi Rose, It is very common for people with all OCD types to worry that they do not actually have OCD. They fear their obsession is real and needs attended to. ROCD can be especially tricky for the sufferer since the cross between real life and ROCD is closer than say, a obsession about killing someone. The direction that you could take is to reframe the idea of what keeps a person in a relationship. Rather than saying, “I feel love and that’s why I stay with my boyfriend,” or “We laugh at the same parts in movies and that is why I stay with my boyfriend,” treat the act of staying with your boyfriend as a choice. I choose to stay with my boyfriend and to accept all of his downsides rather than choosing to be with another person and accept all of his downsides. OCD wants you to prove with 100% certainty that he is right for you. That is the ROCD trap. It wants you to seek certainty about the relationship. Nobody knows for sure that they won’t find someone better for them than their current partner. What makes it OCD is that you care about this fact when other non-ROCDers accept their partner as ‘good enough.’
Hi, this is a brilliant article that ocd sufferers will find of upmost significance.
The thing with me, was that when my OCD was severe, the theme was a benign theme, really benign. To really get that the theme doesn’t matter, i would have a been a prime example. Grave misinterpretations from the OCD-brain.
Great article, it just makes me deeply upset to learn that these thoughts will never actually go away, and that basically, there is no real cure for OCD yet. As a severe OCD sufferer, this is a very unsettling bit of news, I only pray that within my lifetime a cure is actually found for this demonic condition.
Hi Daniel, For someone who had a “benign” OCD theme, I bet you fully understand how the suffering can be just as bad. It can be maddening for people who logically know that the theme ‘shouldn’t’ bother them but OCD makes it so. At times it can even lead to more resistance / mental rituals because of the belief from self or others that you ‘shouldn’t’ be anxious from it. The response is the same no matter the thought. Thanks for reading.
Thanks for replying.
I agree. My OCD was more severe than most of the cases i read about. The mental argument and pre-occupation was almost constant until i was almost suicidal. I think it was the overwhelming need to resolve the feeling that somethings not right, which at the time was life consuming. We can assign any theme to that feeling.
Incredible insights, thanks for replying.
Hi Bennett, I have a lot of clients who have had similar responses to this information, but they discover when their OCD is properly treated, the fact that they have OCD no longer matters in the same way. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is very effective in managing OCD and an individual can live a very high quality of life, free from the daily suffering you likely have now. It is difficult to see this clearly when you are in the mire with your OCD. You will have much more hope and reduced suffering if you change your goal. If your former goal was to get rid of OCD altogether, make your new goal to find a way to be less distressed by your OCD symptoms. The ways to achieve this is through Exposure and Response Prevention, Mindfulness and other cognitive skills learned in CBT. Working with an OCD specialist is a way to help you get there. If the bad news is OCD doesn’t have a cure yet, the good news is that it doesn’t matter if you get effective treatment.
I’m a therapist in a large community behavioral health organization. This is the one of the best and most clear article I’ve ever read on OCD. I’ve been giving it to friends and clients. Well done…now time to write a book!
Thank you for writing this post, it was a brilliant read. I shall share on the Complex at Best FB page as I believe people need to read it.
Hello Charlton, I appreciate your comments. Thanks for passing along the article…I hope it will be beneficial to your clients.
Thank you for your insightful post. I just had a question. You mention above that “Because of the prior information you received, you decide to contextualize the alarm as a test and do nothing. This is synonymous to the alarm signal that your OCD sends off when having intrusive thoughts. You can contextualize the received information as an intrusive, OCD thought that doesn’t need a response. It will still be loud and may be obnoxious for a while, but the fact remains that it is a false alarm.”
My OCD keeps telling me that it is not false. Not irrational. After all, you know that doorknob is dirty, since people have touched it, with dirty hands–ergo, you will dirty your hands by touching it. So go wash them.
I feel like I’m missing your point. Sorry if I am.
Hi Omar. Let me clarify the analogy. You are not receiving a false alarm about the doorknob being dirty. It very well may be dirty. People do touch them all day and they probably don’t get cleaned very often. The false message that you receive is that it matters that the doorknob is dirty. Many people without contamination OCD touch doorknobs without washing all the time with no negative consequences or feelings of disgust. People get a cold or flu about once a year which they recover from and move on with their lives. Others get cold and flu from people coughing and sneezing into the air around them, it is unavoidable. The ritual of hand washing does not protect you the way your OCD leads you to believe. Your OCD constantly lies to you about the consequences of not doing compulsions. Work towards labeling the contamination alarm bell as an OCD brain glitch and take the risk in order to live a life not ruled by your OCD.
Hello…I’ve been a obsessive person for many years.But not compulsions.My obsessions reinforce themselves without the compulsions.I don’t understand why.I have all kind of obsessions: about harming myself, harming my family, religon related, sexual orientation,about being able to success, about dying.Many diferent kind of obsessions.It’s vey hard to undestand them.They cause too much distress, pain, agony, suffering and to much anxiety..I hope somebody has some information for helping about my situation…
Hi Salvador, You have a form of OCD where both your obsessions and compulsions are mental. When you attempt to seek certainty that you won’t harm yourself / your family or to gain certainty that you are the sexual orientation you have always identified as, you are doing a mental compulsion. This is no different than someone trying to gain certainty they locked the door by going back to check. Your ritual is to check your mind to make sure the bad thing won’t happen. This is the behavior that reinforces your obsessions. Here is an article I wrote about mental rituals that you might find helpful:
Hey, Stacey. I’ve been suffering from HOCD(gay ocd) for the past 4 months and I’m happy to say that it has gotten tremendously better… however, it’s not quite gone. What are some exercises that I could do on my own for me to really put and end to this? Thank you.
Hello….THANKS for the information.I NEVER thought about this.About my mental compulsions.This is totally true.Because that’s what I do.I always try to make sure that my family is not in danger, that I’m not in danger;that I’m right with my sexual orientation; making sure that my religious believes are correct.Or making sure that I’ll have success in life.This information makes things more clear for me.I thought that the compulsions were ONLY phisical.But I understand now that they can be ALSO mental.Tha’s very important to me…THANKS VERY MUCH……
Hi Jake, I am happy to hear your OCD has gotten quite a bit better. What have you done up to this point that would account for your improvement? When you say, “…really put an end to this,” what do you mean? Do you mean you desire to no longer have “gay” thoughts or uncertainty about your sexuality? The better goal is to learn to live with any intrusive thought that might enter your brain. You can see from my article that we all have weird thoughts, and this is a goal that cannot be achieved by anyone. Instead, you can learn to live with passing thoughts and uncertainty without over-attending to it. When you have revised your goal, you can truly enjoy the success that you have already achieved. As far as exercises, whenever something spikes your anxiety, moves towards it instead of away from it. If an attractive man in Starbucks spikes your HOCD, don’t leave the store. Instead, walk straight up to him and compliment his tie while smiling at him. This is how you send a message to your OCD that you are in charge. If you haven’t received CBT / Exposure and Response Prevention from an OCD specialist, you may also consider it to help with your exposure work.
So far what I’ve done is pretty much what you have suggested. I move towards my spikes and I don’t allow it to stop me from living my life. I’m learning to deal with the anxiety and what I’ve noticed is that each time, it’s less and less. I’ve even gone as far as conjuring up images or ideas in my head on purpose just so that I could spike and learn to embrace the anxiety and uncertainty. The Starbucks example is a good one, and I’m definitely going to start putting it to use. When this first started happening I went to therapist once and he told me that what I had wasn’t ocd, but anxiety. Then my mother talked to a therapist for me, and he said it was anxiety as well. However, on the internet I keep hearing all this stuff about pure o ocd. Is pure o ocd a real thing or is it just another way to say anxiety? What are your thoughts on this? Thank you.
Jake, Sounds like you have done a great job facing your fears like a warrior. Keep it up and it will have a cumulative effect. Anxiety is not a specific diagnosis, but rather a category in which many disorders fall in a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) that mental health professionals use for diagnosis. Disorders that have anxiety as a primary component (Social Anxiety, Phobias, Panic Disorder, and formerly OCD) fall under this umbrella. The reason I say “formerly OCD” is because it used to be categorized under ‘anxiety disorders’ but the powers that be created a new category called ‘obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.’ But people with OCD have boat loads of anxiety, it is a symptom of the disorder. Other symptoms include intrusive thoughts and ritualistic behavior. Regarding Pure-O, there are so many differing types of OCD that those in the OCD community have found ways to talk about differing themes. Pure-O refers to the type of OCD where both obsessions and compulsions are mental. So just like a person who physically checks the door lock to be certain it is locked, you check your mind to make sure you are the sexual orientation you have always identified with. The term can be confusing at times because some assume they don’t do compulsions, when really the neutralizing ritual is taking place in your mind.
you’re welcome : )
First, I have searched and searched and this is the first article that has somewhat eased my fears.
I have suffered with what I have called anxiety my entire life: over things big, small, and in-between. I would lose sleep, change eating habits, and worry about things non-stop. I could control it, however. As a child, I was touched inappropriately at school by another girl. This sent me into a whirlwind of another kind of anxiety…one that I could not seem to control…and it made me begin to have intrusive thoughts of my being gay. Of course, I did not know that they were called intrusive thoughts, and I did not seek therapy. I just handled it until I convinced myself that I wasn’t. When I became of dating age, that was confirmed. I was very interested in boys and they were very interested in me.
I have continued to battle anxiety and obsessive behavior in my adult years: aiming for perfection, worrying that I have not done enough, insisting that I return to work to find something that I know that I had not really lost. However, my intrusive thoughts have returned and they have sent me into a spiral of depression. I would prefer not to share the actual thought.
My questions are: is there any form of medication that may help in addition to therapy, should my husband know about these thoughts?!
HELLO…THANKS for your response.I think you are totally right.I never thought about doing mental compulsions.No paid attention to that.I ONLY thought about physical compulsions.This help me to understand more my HARD situation.Very helpfull.THANKS SO MUCH!!!!!
Hi Jo, The type of medications that are found to help with OCD are SSRIs / anti-depressants, so they can also help with your depression. I recommend contacting a psychiatrist who is familiar with treating OCD if you don’t already have one. If you believe your husband can understand your OCD and be supportive, you may want to share your thoughts with him. If you are concerned he cannot understand or handle the information, you may decide not to share it. I have clients who choose to share the content of their thoughts with family and others who are more general, it is truly a personal decision. If you can find an OCD specialist in your area to treat your OCD and provide support I highly recommend it. Your therapist can have a session with you and your husband to help explain OCD if you decide you would like to tell him.
Thanks so much for the reply. No. I do not have a therapist, and I am very anxious about contacting one, although I know that this is my best option. I did decide to share with my husband, and he has been supportive although I do not know if he fully understands. My being secretive causes that much more anxiety. I have been trying many of the things that have been mentioned in the above posts…not avoiding certain situations and letting the thoughts enter and exit. I am failing at not analyzing them…whether it be immediately or at a later time. I am suffering from what it sounds that most people do with this particular problem: having doubts of the type of person that I am and questioning as to why I would have such thoughts if I didn’t like them or want to carry them out….and what’s the difference between a criminal and myself…who is to say that such a person did not begin with simply having intrusive thoughts? I am to the point that I can not enjoy anything…and if I do…it’s only for a short time.
Hi Stacy, this blog has brought relief to me, I felt an overwhelming calmness after reading this like I’m ready to start the healing. Then of course ocd has to come back with that wave of what ifs, guilt, only guilty people feel guilt so I must have done such an unthinkable act ect… I have been trying to use the false alarm, and trying not to reassure myself and feed in to it. I was abused as a child, felt like later in life 20s I was just a worrier and that was it. Then under stress, being alone because my husband is in the army, I had intrusive thoughts blasphemous. Scared me very bad, then the thoughts changed to children and remembering my past so I avoided children, and that hurts because I was never nervous around children. Then of course when one theme clams down it went to checking the stove, doors, lights, blow dryer, ect… A billion times, and never felt like they were really off even thought I I’m starring at them, checklist, taking pics on phone. It’s been out of control but I learned how to live with it. I am now trying to seek help after seven years because I’m pregnant, and ocd has brought back the intrusive thoughts of children. I’m limited to health care due to being overseas with my husband and the army really doesn’t deal with ocd, just PTSD, substance abuse, just solider issues. One doctor wants me to go on Prozac and talk to a social worker but the social worker seems like she isn’t very knowledgeable with all the different ocd situations. As of today I am exactly 37weeks and looked side effects on ssri and effects on the baby in the third trimester. Is there any advice you would recommend, because I’m am now fearful of the baby and he isn’t here yet. I wish I would have fixed this along time ago but I can’t say that anymore. I just want to get this under control and be a loving mother but I know it takes time, and that’s the hard part to accept because I am already having the feeling of not wanting to hold the baby, fear of changing diapers just being alone for fears of being a child abuser myself. Plus this is a hard subject to even talk about, so that causes more fear and anxiety.
HELLO..STACEY.I have OCD.This condition states that one person has intrusive,involuntary thoughts.But usually my thoughts about hurting myself or my family look pretty voluntary.They are conscious, knowing what i’m doing; look like they are intentional.Look like they look FOR direct damage on me.Of course this is in a obsessional way all the time.This causing too much distress, anxiety and hurt.Things that I can NOT control.LOOKS like I HATE MYSELF.This is very comfusing to me.PLEASE some advice.THANKS…
Hi Salvador, It sounds like you are going through a difficult time with your intrusive thoughts. OCD thoughts can feel very real and dangerous, but that doesn’t mean they are. One of the hallmarks of OCD is that you do not have certainty if they are legitimate thoughts vs. OCD thoughts. Compulsions are ways to try to gain certainty if your thoughts are real, but only make the OCD worse. Acceptance of thoughts, feelings and uncertainty can be the first step. It would be a good idea to meet with an OCD specialist to help you to understand your thoughts and how to respond to them with openness and acceptance.
Hi Danielle, Thanks for responding to my blog. I am glad that it has brought you some relief in regards to your OCD. I’m sure it feels scary and isolating to live overseas without the proper kind of treatment. If you are interested, I do Skype therapy for people in other parts of the world. Feel free to let me know if you would like an assessment at email@example.com. Believe it or not, having a baby may actually help you to improve. As long as you take the steps to take care of your baby after he arrives (i.e. bathing, changing, nursing), despite your intrusive thoughts, feelings, and uncertainty, you will be doing exposure work naturally that will put you on the right path. Prior to his birth, we can work on exposure therapy, mindfulness skills training and cognitive restructuring to prepare you for his arrival. If there are other babies around you may want to practice holding a baby, watching a baby get a diaper change, and eventually changing the baby yourself.
HELLO….STACEY..THANKS for your response.Very interesting of course.I have now a better, better idea of what is going on inside my mind….THANKS…SO MUCH…
Because being secretive as causing that much more stress and anxiety, I did decide to share my intrusive thoughts with my husband. The content of my thoughts are atrocious, so I was relieved that he was supportive. After sharing, I seemingly went back to my old self. That was short-lived. The thoughts have returned (they actually didn’t go away-I just did not react), and they are much more vivid and graphic. At times, I think that I created thoughts just to see how I will react…they do not seem involuntary at all. I am on an antidepressant, but it does not seem to helping with my anxiety or depression. Another bizarre thing is that I switch from one obsession to another from day to day…or it can even change within a day. I am petrified.
I greatly appreciate and can totally identify with the article that you have written ( thank you!). I have suffered with ROCD for about 6 years but have been fine for the past 3 years with just a week here or there where I feel very anxious over certain thoughts.
I recently started a programme of psychotherapy for a traumatic family event, however after 10 weeks of therapy the therapist has started to ask me other questions about me and feelings. It hasn’t helped me at all, in fact it has made me feel anxious and my OCD has gone into overdrive. Is this normal? I notice that you say talking about it isn’t usually the best thing. I do know how to cope with it and usually if I just let the thoughts be there they do go away. Now I am trying to decide whether to go back to therapy next week….. Thank you
Emma ( UK)
Hi Emma, Any type of psychotherapy can initially bring up strong emotions because you are facing your difficulties head on. When a person is experiencing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or an OC spectrum disorder (disorders that have an obsessive and compulsive component), finding a therapist who is experienced in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is important.
In CBT, the rationale for each step of therapy is explained to you. This rationale will help you to understand the reason for discussing particular topics, so you can learn how to identify distorted thinking, habituate to thoughts, and learn to accept and make room for feelings. If the philosophy of therapy is to analyze or figure out the content of OCD thoughts, this can become part of a compulsive process that makes OCD worse. Talking about thoughts / feelings is a good thing if the framework is about noticing, labeling and accepting thoughts / feelings, as opposed to figuring them out and eradicating them. If you have an anxiety-based disorder, too much or the wrong kind of analysis can inflame the problem.
Hi Jo, I am glad to hear you have the support of your husband. Sometimes unwanted thoughts come in that cause anxiety, guilt or some other form of distress. Other times, a person might purposely bring up his or her OCD thoughts to check to see if they are still bothersome. This is a type of compulsion that is referred to as mental checking. Try not to judge any thoughts that enter your head and certainly don’t try to figure them out. The more you try to make sense of them the deeper you go into your OCD.
Hi Stacey, many thanks for your reply, I really appreciate it. I notice that you say that you do skype sessions. Would this be a possibility? I have provided my e mail if you could get in touch. Many thanks
I have OCD and have had some CBT in the past but the one worry that keeps plaguing me is sometimes I will think “did I think that thought on purpose?”. As I understand it, intrusive thoughts are involuntary so I worry a lot that maybe I thought the thought on purpose and it was voluntary. Is this something I should not worry about as it is just another symptom of OCD?
Your question is very common among OCD suffers. Like many, it sounds like you are concerned that your thoughts do not fall under the umbrella of OCD because you may be having them intentionally. You then feel the compulsion to figure out whether you are having them on purpose. You may try to answer that question in your mind or contact people like me on the Internet to find out for certain if your thoughts are intentional and meaningful.
This sounds like OCD doing its finest work. Your OCD has been successful at triggering you to do a compulsion, in this case, finding out for sure if your thoughts are intentional. You may get an intrusive thought, “Did you just think that bizarre thought on purpose?” It would be best to respond, “Maybe…who knows,” rather than engaging in a mental checking ritual that will reinforce your OCD. Your OCD is trying to trick you into analyzing and certainty seeking. As long as you are trying to figure it out, your OCD is winning.
You may be bringing up the thought on purpose to “check” if you are still bothered by it or for the purpose of analyzing it. In either case, these are compulsions too. Remember, if any thought is about your OCD theme in any way, shape or form, make the decision to take the risk about what it means or why you had the thought. You might say, “Maybe I had this thought on purpose. If I had this thought on purpose, maybe this means it is true. I am willing to take the chance that the worst will happen because I am not going to be controlled by my OCD anymore, because doing “figuring out” compulsions only make things worse.”
I will propose one more idea…perhaps you can intentionally have a thought and it STILL not mean anything. Here is a Louis CK video that I believe speaks to this in a comedic way:
Hi Stacey, thanks that’s a great response and pretty much what I thought, it’s sometime just helpful to see it written down in black and white.
I will now make an effort to see this as just another compulsion and make an effort not to engage with it!
Thank you for your post which is informative and helpful. I am currently suffering from an abhorrent type of obsession. In fact, I have repetitive uncontrollable fearing thoughts about the possibility that the inappropriate material i watched (as pornographic pictures and movies,on pornographic websites) could have been transfered and posted on public websites as Facebook, for instance. Is that OCD or my thoughts could be true? Why am I thinking like that?
Thank you in advance for helping me.
Thanks for this article. I’m also a CBT therapist and a long term sufferer of GAD and, more recently, OCD. Many of my intrusions centralize around perceived risk to others (I work primarily with children and young people). I realised I was suffering from OCD when I started my Diploma in CBT and it was a really tough time for a while… When I eventually built up the confidence to talk openly about it, I was amazed that intrusive thoughts were so common. It helped me to feel good about myself again. Now that I understand the disorder and the principles of exposure, the thoughts are more like an occasional nuisance. I hope that readers can take some comfort in the fact that I was suicidal less than a year ago, having accepted that my constant intrusions were “proof” that I was better off dead. Now I’m working, planning a wedding and helping others to beat OCD. Any sufferers reading this comment, you’re not alone – and it will get better 🙂
Hey I read your post and I have to say it offered quite a bit of relief. For now…that’s the problem it just keeps coming and going. I’m trying to just set the thoughts aside and give them no importance but they come back!! I feel I should go to the hospital and check myself in. Just 2 weeks ago I was getting my life together. Started working out again, was planning on finally doing something with my apartment etc. And then BAM!!! I start thinking about “what if i’m a pedo?” or ‘omg what if i’m attracted to my 14 year old cousin and I hit on her?”. I started to have panic attacks again. I do suffer from OCD pretty much the “magical thinking” type. Doing things to prevent bad things from happening… It takes up a lot of my time and energy and it’s pretty much with me from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed. Other than the pedophile thing seeing the number six has been plaguing me especially if I see 3 in a row I think something is going to go wrong … What the hell is happening to me? Have I finally completely lost my mind? I just can’t take it anymore!!! All of it. The magical thinking from before and now this. I can say this though I rather be dead than a pedophile. I want to tell my doctor but i’m afraid he won’t understand and he’ll report me to the police even if I didn’t touch a chid and wouldn’t ever!! Just the thought makes me sad and sick to my stomach I’m scared and I feel like I have nobody to talk to. I need help and I don’t know what to do!!!
Forgot to mention that a few years ago I was having issues with my sexual identity.It ccaused a huge amount of distress and anxiety until I kind of came to terms that i am gay but still have a slight attraction to women… Well always with another guy involved I hope i’m not being inappropriate I don’t want to offend anybody please but you see ththat’s where the glitch comes in. Is this just another sexual identity crisis? Am I now even a pedophile too? So I have to come to terms with that as well? My head is spinning around in circles and I can’t seem to make any sense of anything. Please help me i’ve been searching for help online for days and have gotten nowhere
I have had Ocd for twenty years. How do I learn to accept if not embrace dirt? I don’t fear germs so much as hate dirt, urine, etc. Thought of not washing after petting dog or touching knob causes much anxiety. Cant even hug my wife till she showers.
Hi Peace, I am unable to diagnose you with OCD on this blog, however, the fact that you have frequent obsessions that are causing distress could possibly be explained by OCD. You may also be engaging in compulsions in response to your fear such as checking Facebook to make sure nothing unwanted was posted. These types of compulsions lead to more obsessions, fear and uncertainty. Exposure and response prevention therapy can help you to face uncertainty without checking which can reduce your anxiety level.
Hi Alex, Thank you for sharing your story. It is a great message to give readers with OCD that there is hope to recover through exposure therapy combined with acceptance of thoughts and feelings. It is wonderful that you have gotten back to creating the life you want to live, with OCD being just occasional background noise. This is the best way to tell OCD that it is not important. We can help clients shift focus to what they value in life, rather then their primary focus being controlling thoughts and feelings. Best wishes with the wedding!
Hi Ticktock, It sounds like you are going through a great deal of distress and things can get a lot better for you with the right kind of help. Your sexual orientation is separate from your OCD fears, even though it sounds like your OCD is trying to trick you into confusing them. Notice how you are able to say, “I am gay but still have a slight attraction to women.” You do not appear to be going through a lot of OCD-type uncertainty. You seem pretty sure about your sexual orientation.
OCD is about uncertainty about something (obsessions) that causes a great deal of distress and persistent efforts to find the answer either mentally or overtly (compulsions). Regarding the fears of being a pedophile or magical thinking, there appears to be an excessive amount of uncertainty and efforts to “figure out” the answer to prevent bad things from happening in the future.
Finding a way to stop the mental compulsions and accept any and all thoughts that enter your brain. This does not mean that the thoughts will stop. The thoughts do not need to stop and you do not get to choose when they stop. You will have to get stronger than your OCD. Decide that even the most scary thoughts are allowed to be there. Exposure therapy with an OCD specialist can help to weaken the thoughts which makes mindful acceptance a bit easier.
Hi Chris, There is a type of contamination OCD where people experience disgust about dirt or urine, rather than fear that they will get sick from it. A good way to shift your goals is to focus less on becoming less disgusted by dirt and urine, but to instead focus on being able to do the things everybody else does despite any disgust. For example, people without this form of OCD can hug their wives without having her shower first. A good goal would be to be able to hug your wife, even though at first you will feel disgusted. Through time and exposure, you will begin to feel less disgusted. Avoidance and washing compulsions will validate your fears and create more disgust. I know it is a difficult path, but it is effective in getting the OCD under control and getting you living normally again. You may seek the help of an OCD specialist trained in Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy to assist you.
I have Pure O about being a pedofile and I think it is because its my worst fear. Some of my weird thoughts have been:
1) When I have been holding a baby (fully clothed) I have thought ‘what if I hurt this baby?’ sexually or physically by dropping the child
2) when changing a baby’s diaper once I had a bad thought fly through my head and felt really bad about it
3) I have had thoughts of killing people even though I dont have a murderous bone in my body
4) I have had thoughts when I am walking down the street of punching or assaulting people
The ones that disturb me the most are the ones that are pedofilic in character. I feel so awful about them.
I’m from Italy and I’m a sufferer since 13 years. This is one of the most helpful post of all internet. Your address also remeber me one of my best moment of all my life, my trip to L.A., Hollywood and Santa Monica in 2003.
I’ve contamination OCD, very bad in the last few days. Yesterday I was scared because i touched a picture of some used syringes on my smartphone and i’m still thinking about it.
I need a hint, if possible. My fear is mainly about HIV, probably because is a long term and potentially fatal illness. I try to explain, if someone tell me that if you share your glass you can catch SARS (example), i’m not scared because i know that in few days i’ll know if I catched it or not. But if i start to think that if I share glass I can get HIV (I know that’s impossible, it’s an example) my OCD start to fuel my thoughts because I know that I will know it only after many years, and, in the meantime, I can infect other people.
Which is the key? I know that I need some uncertainty, but what about this “long time” uncertainty…
Thank you for your help, and I hope you understand because, as I told I’m from Italy and English is not my native language.
Hi Laura, Thank you for sharing your intrusive thoughts. I’m sure a lot of readers will be able to relate to the type of thoughts you have with your OCD. I remember changing my baby cousin’s diaper when I was about 15 and having a thought / feeling that I was doing something wrong. It was unpleasant and weird, but it eventually went away. With OCD, thoughts may linger and cause distress, but try to label it as OCD and keep doing what you were doing. Give up the idea of trying to control or stop the thoughts because it only fuels more OCD. Instead, learn to peacefully co-exist with them and stop assigning meaning to them.
Many clients ask the question about how their OCD can improve when they won’t find out for many years if they acquired the illness they fear. I had a client who feared asbestos and felt that exposure therapy wouldn’t help because he wouldn’t find out for 20 years if he would develop mesothelioma. The reason Exposure and Response Prevention works is that it retrains your brain from sending off false danger signals about non-harmful things (i.e. sharing a glass). With repeated exposure, you ultimately feel less fearful of the object you were exposed to, even without the benefit of knowing the future of your health. You will no longer feel the particular object is harmful as you did before, and won’t feel the need to waste your time wondering about the future. In your case, sitting with uncertainty and facing your fears about HIV, will lead to less concern that these actions are possible.
Hey, Stacey. What if you have a fear of adopting new obsessions? So lets say you already have a fear of acting out sexually towards children so you start worrying about “what if I start becoming afraid of acting out sexually towards family members?”
It is not so odd to fear that your OCD could shift to a new theme, because it often will. Whether that matters is something that you can certainly work on. I always tell people to look at all thoughts as equal. They are neither good nor bad, they just are. When you give different thoughts different value, you are making a mistake. If you are comparing REAL pedophilia with REAL incest, you might find that you find one more awful than the other. But with OCD you are not dealing with real life things here. When comparing THOUGHTS about pedophilia compared to THOUGHTS about incest, there is no difference. Therefore, you can decide it doesn’t matter when OCD tries to hook you into doing rituals by jumping onto a new topic. Instead you can say, “Oh yeah, that is just what OCD does,” and refuse to give it any time or energy. If you begin to worry more about how the thoughts will ruin your life, rather than fearing the content of your thoughts (i.e. will I kill someone?), this is called ‘obsessing about obsessing.’
After having read your article about intrusive thoughts, I feel somehow relieved that my husband is not alone. He is always feeling guilty about these thoughts and feels the need to share them with me, he feels better. In his case, he used (and still has but not very often) to obsesses or have intrusive sexual thoughts about the wife of a friend. However, whenever he saw her, he would not feel anything or even find her attractive, he would become nervous though if I was present. Although I welcomed his honesty and he constantly reassured me that he loved me, this situation did have a negative impact on our relationship. As I have now learnt to live with it and I don’t even care, it seems though that the sexual intrusive thoughts have now been replaced by bad thoughts about me. Again, these thoughts bother him even more, he feels bad because he loves me. The general situation with him at the moment is that he is overloaded with work, stressed about selling our current house because we just bought a new one, the moving. I also work part-time and we have 2 adorable (10 and 6) children that are generally well-behaved.
I would be very grateful if you could give me some advice on how to deal with this situation or how to talk to him?
Hi Marietta, I know it is very difficult to have your husband confess OCD thoughts about attraction to other people. It is great that you have been so understanding and supportive. It is normal for all humans to have thoughts of attraction about other people. It is a fact that other people are attractive other than your spouse and thoughts about attractive people will automatically come in for everyone. The problem with OCD is that these thoughts make the sufferer uncomfortable and they feel guilty for having them, when non-sufferers can enjoy these thoughts or just let them float away without much attention. Because the OCD sufferer feels guilty, he engages in a confessing ritual to lower his discomfort which only makes things worse. You might encourage him to accept his thoughts without confessing them to you. The same goes for having “bad thoughts” about you. Encourage him to label them as OCD and to avoid confessing them. This will be the beginning of stopping the OCD cycle.
Amazing article, thank you so much 🙂 It’s only the last couple of days that it’s dawned on me that I have OCD rather than general anxiety and I can now tell my dad and sister as we’re all the same, it’s definitely genetic in our case, but my mum and brother are so calm and laid back they’re almost horizontal!
Over the last couple of years I have become very aware that my brain gets stuck and obsessed on one major thing at a time which can last anywhere between 1-3 years before it disappears as it’s realised the thought is not going to happen, then unfortunately it picks a new one, each one seems like the worst thing it could have picked for my circumstances at the time and I’d wish it had picked something else. Being aware of this pattern now has helped a lot as I’ve been able to rationalise what’s happening (not that that always helps at the start of a new theme), reading your article has just confirmed this so I’m hoping I can take the right steps to improve further now. I haven’t been to the doctor’s about my anxiety and thoughts as was scared to have such a thing in my notes, I’ve always been so worried it will be held against me at some point in the future. Thanks so much again 🙂
Hi Lisa, I’m happy to hear the article resonated with you. Remember, even if your OCD skips to a new topic, they are all just thoughts and are equal in value. Treat it as something that your OCD will do when it gets desperate for your attention. If you don’t respond to any new theme or tactic, you will be heading in the right direction.
Thanks for this article – I didn’t realize normal people also had bizarre thoughts, but that they could just dismiss them. I found this blog while googling “OCD guilt.” I suddenly developed severe OCD when I was seven years old, and I’ve had virtually every common obsession/compulsion over the years, and many uncommon ones (I’m 29). I’ve had talk therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, and medication.
But I still can’t seem to differentiate between some obsessions and reality, especially with regard to OCD guilt and normal guilt. Sometimes people SHOULD feel guilty, so how can I tell if I’m dismissing the type of guilt that leads you to try to do better in future, along with OCD guilt? Well, who am I kidding, I don’t dismiss any guilt.
For instance, I have a number of health problems, but none of them are cut-and-dry (including a severe sleep disorder that may or may not be narcolepsy, postural orthostatic tachycardia, neurally-mediated syncope and very low blood pressure, etc.). I feel as if I’d feel much better if I had cancer or MS or something that was more solid. The sleep disorder especially is destroying my life (I am getting treatment which so far isn’t helping much), but I constantly worry that I’m actually just lazy, a hypochondriac, or insane, and that no one believes me and they all think I’m either a liar or just lack the willpower that THEY would have in my situation. And that spirals into non-stop analyses of society in general and how some illnesses are considered more “worthy” than others, and if everything is just brain chemistry, how can anyone be to blame for anything? Which is really abhorrent because I believe there is free will.
Anyway, I feel guilty over everything and I’m afraid that if I dismiss a particular guilty feeling, it will lead me to dismiss more and more guilt until I become a sociopath. Sometimes I feel like the only way out of the constant guilt is to kill myself, over which I feel guilty.
While I am not sure how “normal” I am, it is true that people without OCD have weird thoughts too. I’m glad you found my article and I appreciate your comments. The idea that you need to “figure out” what is normal guilt vs. OCD guilt to prevent a future catastrophe is an OCD ritual. If I were your therapist, I would ask you to take the risk that you may mess up the distinction and destroy your life. This is no different than asking someone to stop checking the stove and take the risk that her house might burn down. What normally happens is she gets to stop checking, feel less anxiety and still have a house to live in. In your case, it appears you have an excessive amount of guilt. Let’s just label that as part of OCD and don’t worry about the distinction. Doing less mental ritualizing is the road to less guilt, not the other way around.
Regarding your health problems, you are wishing for a type of disease that is black and white. This is common for OCD sufferers since the presence of uncertainty is the very reason you guys do rituals and suffer so badly. I need to know for certain my door is locked, my hands are clean, I won’t kill someone, I’m in the right relationship, and I won’t do something bad because I don’t realize this is true guilt and not fake guilt. Oh, and I need to know for sure whether this is a real health problem or health anxiety. Health problems and anxiety about health problems can both exist at the same time. They can also be interlinked. Whatever symptoms you are having are very real and affect you a lot. This is not fake or put on. You can see medical professionals for your health complaints, and you can lower anxiety levels by letting them do their job. You don’t have to figure it out yourself. Doing so may be engaging in a ritual that make your anxiety, health fears and uncertainty worse.
Lastly, forcing yourself to feel guilty may be a ritual as well. Since you are afraid of letting yourself off the hook from guilt for fear you may become a sociopath, forcing guilt to feel like a good human being is a compulsion. A compulsion is anything you are doing to prevent a feared outcome and feel less anxiety / uncertainty. As a colleague of mine wisely said, “Embrace your inner sociopath.” You don’t need to figure anything out, it is an OCD trap. If you are feeling suicidal, you will want to make sure you are under the care of a mental health professional. It would be good to get the assistance of an OCD specialist.
I wondered if you could spare the time to answer my query regarding my pure o.
I get so many intrusive thoughts about everything. I have been learning for a long time to accept the thoughts and not ruminate about them which i seem to be doing ok.
However im so fed up with the amount and varying types of intrusive thoughts its getting me down
AM i right in believing that once you “Accept” the thoughts it is common that the amount of thoughts will increase ?
If so should i mentally accept i will keep getting the different types of intrusive thoughts for a long time ?
Im working on using mindfulness for my thoughts ie: accepting the thoughts and not thinking they are good or bad , but just thoughts
I also have written down a lot of the intrusive thoughts and periodically look and read these to “habituate” to them
Is this a good way to go? (if it is how many times a day would you suggest ?)
Any advice would be a great help
I did find this article and the comments extremely helpful. I have been having thoughts about my sexual orientation for about the last 7-8 years, since I was 12, and although I think I’m pretty sure what I have is OCD I still keep doubting it, thinking “but what if it isn’t?” “What if you’re just saying that it’s OCD to cover up the fact that you’re in denial?”
If I see an attractive woman, or a woman with a good body my mind just goes into overdrive and I start analysing how I felt in that situation, I tell myself I must be gay if I thought those things about her.
I am in a relationship with a guy at the moment and I have always been attracted to men, but I am very picky so there are very few good looking men that I actually fancy. Again, this sends my mind into overdrive, thinking “well why don’t I fancy him? He’s a good looking guy, does that make me gay?” . I don’t want to be with a woman but I can recognise an attractive woman when I see one.
How can I clear my mind to understand that I am not gay and that they are just thoughts?
Thank you, thank you for this! I will share with my daughter who has intrusive thoughts and cause her a lot of distress, guilt and worry (though sometimes a good laugh). This will make her day that she isn’t the only one, which we have discussed at length. Even the fact that the thoughts tend to fixate on a theme depending on where she is in her life will resonate with her. I am so glad I found your site.
Hi Steve, In regards to your question, “…if you accept thoughts is it common that the amount of thoughts will increase,” actually the opposite normally happens. When individuals are truly willing to live with any thought that occurs and let go of all efforts to control unwanted thoughts, they often experience a reduction in intrusive thoughts over time. But the reduction of thoughts cannot be the goal, or else it is not pure acceptance. Real acceptance is the willingness to experience any thought or feeling that is offered to you, without any efforts to change your experience. This acceptance will take place over a lifetime, there is no time that you will say, “I have done enough accepting now, are my thoughts gone?” The potential bi-product is that your OCD will bother you less frequently with thoughts because it is no longer effective in getting you to respond with compulsions…just like a bully might stop bothering you on the playground if you don’t react. Exposure therapy is a good way to help with acceptance of thoughts, because it helps your brain to be less responsive to triggers. Keeping your OCD thoughts around as much as possible each day is best. An OCD specialist can help you set up a program for your ERP that is right for you based on your particular symptoms.
Hi Toni, Individuals with OCD are in a persistent state of uncertainty and it feels very important to find the answer. They have the “what if” thoughts you are describing when seeing attractive, same sex people. OCD suffers frequently fear that disregarding intrusive thoughts about a same sex person is denial of the sufferers true identity as a gay person. The same fear of denial is present with OCD clients who fear that noticing attractive children is evidence of denial of being a pedophile or having intrusive harm thoughts is denial of being a sociopath. The answer is to stop trying to find out if you are a lesbian and label any gay intrusions as OCD. Trying to gain certainty about your sexual orientation involves engagement in mental compulsions that feed the OCD. Allow for uncertainty and anxiety because that is how you start turning the tables on OCD. Gay people do not persistently doubt their sexual orientation and do not experience fear when they see attractive same sex people…it is a pleasurable experience. That is the only reassurance I will provide, after this you will want to stop trying to answer the question if you are gay and find a way to live with the uncertainty. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read the article my colleague wrote about denial in HOCD from the blog page of this website. I also recommend finding an OCD specialist to help design an ERP program with you.
Thanks, Heather. I hope the article will be helpful for your daughter while navigating her intrusive thoughts, as she continues on the road of acceptance and facing fears.
Hi Stacey, I like your article. I have OCD that makes me afraid from thinking about morbid toughts in a religious point of view. The thing is that I am like always in a constent worry what if these toughts would come to me in a non intrusive way even if I don´t believe in them and it feels may be am responsible for these toughts as they might be intentional.
wish to hear from you soon 🙂
I had HIV related anxiety, which made me to go for almost 8 tests and all of them went negative, there was not any risk involved anywhere, but why OCD caught this and took it as a tool to beat the shit out of me. Everytime i took the test, it came negative i use to be OK for 15 days or so then new anxiety new trend starts finding a new reason to DOUBT the test. some of them are hilarious:
1. What if needle is re-used.
2. What if the lab didnt even done the test.
3 What if my test reports were manipulated.
4. What if the test they do is not that much advanced
LOL it was flood of what-ifs and i was totally screwed up but later as the time passed, i learn how to relax and tell my mind that all the what ifs are dealt with. so better stick to the realtity and kick the OCD thoughts.
Above are my confessions yet another trick to vent out negative thoughts from me.
Hi Souheil, I believe you are saying that you have blasphemous OCD thoughts that increase your distress. Many OCD sufferers are worried if his/her thoughts are not OCD but rather, hidden beliefs they are denying. Clients often worry their thoughts are not ‘intrusive enough,’ and feel if they are voluntary that they are not OCD. The compulsion in response to this fear is to answer (mentally or otherwise) whether the thought was purposeful or unwanted. This is the exact type of certainty-seeking compulsion that reinforces OCD fears. You may also be bringing up anti-religious thoughts intentionally to ‘check’ your reaction and gain certainty that you do not believe in them, which is also a compulsion. Either way, it doesn’t matter. If you have these thoughts on purpose or they are intrusive, they are just thoughts and they are okay.
Hi Raven, Ahhh the dreaded ‘what ifs.’ The phrase ‘what if’ is one of the biggest OCD tip offs I know. Surely anything that follows will be one of the limitless stories our minds can create and can be ignored. Thanks for the thought confessions and I’m sure it will help others readers. Keep up the good work with allowing yourself to experience your uncertainty and finding the humor in it.
Thank you for your article – it was very helpful, I didn’t know that people without OCD have weird thoughts too. Can you just share a bit of your time to look at my issue? I have Pure-O with recurrent panic attacks, I have HOCD and apart from that I think I have a bit unusual obsession – I have a strong fear of developing schizophrenia (or any psychosis or losing my mind). It’s like I get very strange/crazy thoughts and images and I worry that they might mean something. No, I don’t have hallucinations, dellusions, paranoid stuff and etc., but I worry that I might develop it. For example, I was going back home and then I saw a guy, who looked like my friend – and my brain tricked me, I got a thought that it is actually my friend. Now I know that it cannot be my friend, but the mental image I got felt so real, so that I felt extremely anxious and kept asking myself “Did I just believe in this nonsense?” or “Was that a hallucination?” or “Oh my God, I guess I develop a psychosis!”. I noticed that the more I fear about it, the more crazy thoughts are coming to my mind. I became very sensitive to these kind of thoughts. My psychotherapists tells me that I am not schizophrenic, but the fear is massive. My concern is whether having these crazy images or nonsense thoughts might be an early symptom? Thoughts feel so freaking real, that it scares me.
Hi. I’ve suffered with sexual orientation OCD for about 9 years and it’s made my life he’ll. From the age of 12 to 16, I had sexual thoughts solely about women and have always been strongly attracted to women emotionally and sexually. I’ve never been homophobic and never felt uncomfortable being around homosexual people prior to these disturbing thoughts. When I masturbate over women, I get distressing images of men appearing in my head – this causes me great distress and makes me extremely uncomfortable. It all started when I saw a film once 9 years ago and the male actor was naked and I thought he had a good body – my mind then said why did I just take special notice of his body. I wasn’t sexually attracted to them but thought they had a good body – Lots of people tell me this is normal – a straight person can still think somebody of the same gender is good looking without being sexually attracted to them? In the past 9 years, I became terrified of people thinking I was gay and would ask for re-assurance and I would perform numerous mental rituals and I would often check my body for signs of arousal. These thoughts have caused me great distress and I don’t know what to do about them. I’m having terrible dreams and even male family members are appearing in my head when I masturbate over women. Why is this happening to me? I have Asperger syndrome and am 25 years old and have never had a girlfriend and have been socially isolated for years – I’ve barely left the house in 8 or 9 years and feel like I’ve wasted my life. I used to have obsessions about excessive hand washing and then I had obsessions about the secret service spying on me, but this OCD has been the worst of all. I am sexually and emotionally attracted to women and can not imagine ever being with a man, so why am I so worried about turning gay or bisexual? Surely my sexual orientation can’t have suddenly changed at the age of 16? I’ve been told that people who are gay or bisexual would derive pleasure from the thoughts? Is this true? I would only feel happy again if I could think clearly of women again like I always used to.
Hi Jemeljan, Thoughts about developing Schizophrenia are very common in OCD. This theme often co-occurs with harm OCD as people are often fearful they may lose touch with reality and act out their intrusive thoughts. It is normal for all people to have what are called illusions. Illusions are distortions of perceptions of our sensory experiences. For example, I may be driving at night and see a post on the side of the road and think I’m seeing a small child. I may also think I hear my named called when hearing the faucet running in the other room. These are very different than hallucinations where people are seeing and hearing things that aren’t actually there. Many objects in your environment may trigger intrusive thoughts and uncertainty about Schizophrenia. If you respond by doing physical compulsions (e.g. checking objects ensure you weren’t hallucinating or internet searches about Schizophrenia) or mental compulsions (e.g. mental review of therapist’s reassurance or analyzing your symptoms for certainty) you will feed the OCD fear and make it stronger. The best route it to have Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) with an OCD specialist. ERP will assist you in facing your fears so that you eventually habituate to them.
Hi John, It sounds like you are going through a really hard time dealing with your intrusive thoughts about being gay. It is very disconcerting when you know the sexual orientation you have always identified as, and now you are having persistent intrusive thoughts that accuse you of being someone else. It sounds like you know some about OCD, and recognize you are engaging in mental compulsions and reassurance-seeking. If you are trying to find out with 100% certainty if you are gay or trying to make gay thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations stop by doing compulsions, then you are making your OCD worse. It will be very difficult to accept uncertainty, but it is the first step towards recovering from this episode of OCD. You may start with small exposure assignments like looking at a picture of an attractive male and picking out a trait you like about him. When this gets easier you can look at a picture of a guy without a shirt on, until this becomes easy, and so on. Facing your fears and uncertainty with exposure and resisting compulsions is how you push the breaks on your OCD. This can be very difficult to do on your own and I recommend seeking the help of an OCD specialist to help you develop an ERP program. Remember, nobody knows for sure if they are 100% straight, if that even exists, or if they will one day leave their partner for a same sex person. We all can be ‘pretty sure’ because of our desire for our historical sexual orientation and past behaviors. For people without OCD, ‘pretty sure’ is good enough. For those with OCD, the brain is more sensitive to uncertainty. Work towards allowing yourself to accept ‘pretty sure’ as good enough, and label thoughts as OCD messages that are loud yet profoundly unimportant.
Thank you so much for your article! I have struggled with OCD for a long time. I have managed just fine for many years. The compulsions weren’t too time consuming and the obsessions weren’t of terrible thoughts. I mean, they were of what if I get into a car crash, and I am going to get fired. Sometimes they were debilitating, but I got through it. However, recently some memories that I suppressed as a child have started resurfacing. They are memories of sexual abuse by a family member. It makes me sick to think about it and the more I tried not to think about it the more intrusive thoughts came in my head. They came raining down on me like a tsunami. These are not thoughts that I can handle as they make me feel like a disgusting person who doesn’t deserve to live. This past month has been the hardest I have ever had to deal with and I am now obsessing over the fact that people can hear my obsessive thoughts. I have had to combat this by turning on my voice recorder on my phone and playing it back multiple times a day. I can’t live this way. Before this, I enjoyed life. Now I just want to sit at home and cry all the time. It is interfering with my quality of life. I keep trying to convince myself that the sexual abuse shouldn’t bother me because it happened so long ago. And I don’t even know if it does bother me anymore, because these intrusive thoughts bother me the most. So my questions are: As someone who treats OCD, is abuse a trigger with intrusive thoughts? If I were to seek treatment, should I address the abuse or the OCD? And are there any natural remedies for OCD? I really am trying to limit the number of chemicals I put in my body, but I just want to be happy again first and foremost.
Thanks for your response. I’ve been told by gay people that they’ve always known they were gay and it was the society around them that made them worried about revealing their sexuality – the thoughts themselves were pleasurable to them. I’ve also been told that gay people take pleasure in being around people of the same sex. If I’m constantly worried about these thoughts and they bother me, does that not indicate OCD? Could my Asperger’s syndrome be linked to these OCD thoughts? Even though I can accept that males are good looking and appreciate their looks, I have no emotional or sexual attraction to them. When I see beautiful women, I feel very sexually and emotionally attracted to them. I can only imagine being with a woman and could never imagine being with a man. Is it possible that I may have become slightly bisexual with a preference for women, or is it possible that I just suffer from an extreme form of OCD? Maybe if I just tell myself that I think I’m straight but there’s the small possibility I may be bisexual, this will help ease the worry? OCD seems to attach itself to fear – if I had always been gay or had sexual thoughts only about men, I could accept it, but I’ve only ever seen myself being with a woman and am still extremely attracted to women, hence the confusion. I will maybe seek out a therapist that specialises in these issues. Thanks for your help.
Hi Stacey. I’m m a pure o sufferer who seems to ruminate a lot more when I ‘accept’. Shouldn’t I just be trying to do something to move on@ keep busy?
Hi Lulu, There has been research done on OCD and the trauma-based disorder, PTSD. These two disorders can overlap and complicate Exposure Therapy for OCD. Since OCD compulsions are the brand of coping OCD clients regularly select, I have found that many of my clients with OCD and past sexual abuse histories may respond to memories about the abuse with OCD-type compulsions. This is similar to the statement in your post, “I have had to combat this by turning on my voice recorder on my phone and playing it back multiple times a day.” The good news is both PTSD and OCD can be effectively treated using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy including Exposure and Response Prevention. You could benefit from Cognitive Therapy to challenge distorted thinking such as, “…I am a disgusting person who doesn’t deserve to live,” due to your having been abused. It is especially important to seek out help if you are feeling like you may act out any thoughts about suicide. I would seek out an OCD specialist who has had experience treating clients with abuse histories that resurfaced co-morbid with OCD.
Hi John, The way you describe your difficulties and your apparent need to find out the answers to the reasons your brain is stuck on males when you have always been (and still are) attracted to females is the exact way my HOCD clients describe themselves. The problem is with OCD, unwanted thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations are not the problem, the need to figure out the answer and get rid of uncertainty and worry are the problem. Here are a few compulsions you’re engaging in: Comparing yourself to gay friends to find out what your sexual orientation is, Internet searches, and trying to “ease the worry” by thinking about being slightly bi-sexual. With OCD your brain will continue to churn out obsessive thoughts and anxiety because it is just what the OCD brain does. If you do compulsions you will pour gasoline on this fire. Work on accepting unwanted thoughts and label them as something your brain does as part of having OCD.
Hi Anthony, Yes, acceptance is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a very important piece. Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP) is the first line of treatment for OCD. Part of exposure therapy is to recognize and label mental rituals / compulsions. Mental rituals are what you are most likely referring to as ruminating. Being mindful of your mental compulsions and recognizing when and how they happen is helpful in reducing them. And reducing mental rituals (rumination) will help slow the OCD process.
With very little information about your situation I can only guess, but you may be engaging in efforts to “accept” correctly / perfectly which can end up being compulsive. If this is the case, you may benefit from reading my blog entry entitled, “The Solving Ritual in OCD.” You also may be experiencing a desire to do mental rituals when you try to accept because it is an exposure to accept. Acceptance is an exposure because you are allowing for an OCD thought to be present instead of doing rituals to figure it out. If you view acceptance as an exposure and begin to watch for, recognize and label mental rituals you may have a different experience.
Thank you so very much for your response! I have been trying the coping methods in your article, especially the one where these thoughts don’t warrant a response and it has really helped. Right after reading it, I felt a sense of relief. And when the thoughts came back, where I would normally try to convince myself that I am not a bad person and that I am not crazy, I simply told myself that this was normal and I was going to move on with my business. As the days went by, the thoughts entered my head less and less They are still there, but I am going to continue doing what I set out to do. I haven’t turned my voice recorder on for over a week. I know that I still need to work out some issues and I am in the process of trying to find a good OCD specialist in my area because I want to continue to move on and be the person I want to be, not the person that OCD seems to force me to be. It never occurred to me that I could possibly have PTSD. I guess watching movies made me only relate it with soldiers or victims of large disasters. I am frustrated that this instance of sexual abuse bothers me because I feel like it’s been twenty years, why would it resurface now? But I am in the process of researching OCD specialists in my area and now will look for one with experience w/ abuse as you suggested. I can’t tell you how much your article has helped me and I really appreciate you relating to OCD in a comedic way and not just laying out some statistics that are hard to interpret. It also helps seeing the comments where people have been so very brave in sharing their thoughts and being able to relate to them. So again, thank you very much.
Hi there I also have the harming loved ones my youngest daughter after she was born i had thoughts and visuals of smothering her it made me feel so disgusted and frightened i was going to act on it, i had post natal depression and been on meds 11 years nearly managed it well up until about 3 weeks ago then got thoughts again about harming her needless to say it started the guilt and inner turmoil of analysing and questioning myself and the thoughts, OCD scares the shit out of me I get the thoughts like when I buy someyhing for her, its what if shes not here which makes me think like my brain is seeing in to the future which starts it all over again 🙁
Hi, Stacey, I really enjoyed your article and I especially appreciated the humor in it. I was just wondering if you had any specific ideas of how to cope with what I’m dealing with. I’m a 15 year old girl and for the past 4 months, I have been on and off obsessing over my intrusive thoughts. I’ve made a lot of progress but I am still really bothered by some of them, especially my harm intrusive thoughts which are mostly about my mom, who, ironically, is the person I love most in the world. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I could deal with just “regular” violent intrusive thoughts, knowing that they are not true and are actually the opposite of myself. The problem is, my thoughts are really tricky and constantly adapting to make themselves just that much more hard to not think about. The problem I’m having now is that they are really gruesome and instead of just a “simple” violent thought, I’m getting a sort of “horror movie” style violent thought as in, more bloody & weird. Unfortunately, with all of the graphic violence in movies, television, on the news & in books, my brain has no shortage of sources for some really gross stuff. I know that this is totally not who I am (I literally hate horror movies and am super non-violence) but the yucky content of my thoughts is really getting to me. I also worry that if I ever told anyone, even other people who suffer from intrusive thoughts, they would think I was weird or disturbed or even dangerous. Do you have any tips for how I might deal with these thoughts or come to see them in another way?
Hi Nicky, It is so terrifying to have thoughts about harming your own baby. If you have not had an assessment with an OCD specialist, I highly recommend that you do, so that you can learn the skills to manage your fears. OCD has a way of chiming in at moments you least expect it or experiences you feel you ‘should’ be enjoying. OCD sufferers have described shopping and having thoughts such as, “Your baby won’t be needing this after you kill her.” While this thought has scary content, it is nothing more than a thought. I work with my clients to contextualize their thoughts as OCD and to not spend time evaluating the content. In OCD, the thoughts are not the problem but an individual’s reaction to the thoughts are the problem. Work on becoming the non-judgmental observer of the thoughts. Perceive the thoughts as coming from an annoying person that follows you around failing at getting your attention as you live your normal life.
Thanks for your post. It sounds like you are learning a lot about ways to cope with your OCD harm thoughts through acceptance and to avoid spending time analyzing them (mental compulsions). It is very common when you start responding to your OCD thoughts correctly, the OCD will have to become more vicious to get you to pay attention and do compulsions again. In your case this has happened in the form of violent images which I’m sure are even more disturbing and hard to accept. When this happens with my clients, I have them label the images as one of the tricks the OCD uses when it is getting desperate for attention. Stay the course because you are doing a good job with acceptance. It doesn’t matter how horrible the thoughts or images become, the are just something the OCD does to get you to feed it with compulsions. Feel free to read the other blogs on this website about ‘Harm OCD’ and ‘Compulsions in OCD’ to help you understand and respond correctly to the unwanted thoughts. I also recommend finding an OCD specialist to help you face your fears with Exposure and Response Prevention. Meeting with a therapist who specializes in OCD is one of the best ways undermine your OCD.
Hi Stacey. Thank you so much for this article. I also have a question in relation to it and I hope this can also help other readers. In my case, I took an ssri for some years for mild depression. Recently, I have slowly discontinued the ssri. Two months after this the whole hell broke lose. In addition to bad anxiety and a lot of nasty physical symptoms, thoughts related to what I think is a past trauma became very loud (in the sense of the very strong fear response to them), and I have started developing compulsions to neutralize them which make them even worse. Longer ago, I have seen something very violent and horrible happening, it did bother me for a while because I just could not comprehend how such horrible things can ever happen. I started asking myself humanistic and existential questions related to having to live in the world and put up with the bad. But slowly I forgot it. Well after I have stopped the ssri, I started getting intrusive thoughts as images of the bad I have seen, and then by association to related images, and then what if this happens to me (self oriented harm ocd ?) and to the people I love (normal harm ocd ?). I have learned to have a mindful approach, to label the thoughts, to accept the unacceptable etc etc etc and not to involve in mental compulsions. My first question is: do you think , in my case, as thoughts are related to trauma, exposure therapy can also be helpful ?
When I was a child, I did little ocd compulsions to ‘prevent’ bad stuff happening to my home, like thinking something positive when leaving home. But this has disappeared with years. So I have a natural ocd tendency. My second question is: have u seen in your experience anybody who got a bad flare up of ocd due to stopping ssri ? Now that this has happened to me I am so scared to go back on the ssri, what on earth has this chemical done to me ?
Hi D, Thanks for your comment. You are correct, imaginal exposure therapy is indicated for trauma-based disorders like PTSD even when there is no OCD present. Individuals with OCD who have experienced a traumatic event can develop obsessions and compulsions that appear to be associated with the trauma. For example, a person witnessing a death (trauma) and subsequently having death-related intrusive images (obsessions) which they respond to by reciting the word “alive” repeatedly (compulsion) or analyzing the likelihood of the bad thing happening to them (mental compulsion). I have seen clients who have had OCD spikes after discontinuing SSRI medication, but this could be due to the fact that the medication was helping them rather than harming them. I would recommend speaking with a psychiatrist about your concerns, because you wouldn’t want to avoid a medication that may be able to help you get your symptoms under control.
I have Obsessive perfectionist personality disorder, and I enjoy it very much, however, I also have Tourettes and ADHD as such, I’m rather chatty. But since I’ve had bad experiences with people who choose to use personal information against me, I stopped communicating with a lot of people, and now just have particular friends that I deal with. WIth my coprolalia and ADHD people accuse me of confessional OCD, which I don’t have. I realize that some thoughts that all humans have are illogical, what I worry about out is the perception that others will have.
I love being neat, however, what do I do if people confuse perfectionistic personality disorder with OCD and confessional OCD?
What is confessional OCD????
Hi Stacey. I’m 33 years old and I started to obsess about my intrusive thoughts about 9 months ago, they are the sexual / pedophile kind. The first months were really awful but at some point I discovered that what I had was most likely OCD and I learned all I could about it and how everyone has intrusive thoughts, etc.
But then I started to obsess about all the porn I watched and read in the past (most of it fiction, like japanese cartoons or stories which I’m ashamed to admit sometimes they were really awful and weird/ugly kinks), and now my mind can’t let it go. Besides the tremendous guilt and shame i now feel for doing it, It fuels the notion that “well yes I’m a freak”, “See you caused this ocd, it’s your fault” or “you watched this or that, which means you are an awful person”. Sometimes the guilt is so bad I feel like I can’t live on like that, not that I will kill myself, but fear of living in this despair for the rest of my life.
And all of this gets me so sad and confused because before, even a year ago and all of my adult life I never gave it a second thought about this porn… I always knew that it was just porn, and I had and have right now a clear distinction of what is totally wrong and inexcusable in Real Life. Never in a million years I thought about doing any of that stuff.
I would happily change myself with my past self in a second… which one would think is proof enough that I have nothing to worry about, since I’m the same person. And the only difference is that I had not developed OCD. I keep telling me this but obviously it doesn’t work and I keep obsessin.
So my mind is in constant struggle with questions: what if I am in fact bad? Or is it just OCD making me feel guilty? What is the proper way to achieve recovery: forgive myself of this wrong doing (it never was an addiction and it’s been years since I watched all that) or treat it as another part of OCD where I use all the tools I used for the intrusive thoughts?
Any advice I’ll really apreciate it. I had tried to find an OCD specialist in my city but so far I have not found it. But I have read some books (like Brain lock, and one about OCD and mindfulness) and they were really helpful, I’m doing “scripting” and other ERP but I’m just not sure if I should do the same for this obssesive guilt.
Thank you Stacey for your kind reply. Do you think it is possible to approach PTSD and OCD through therapy only, both expoure and mindfulness ? I have been really working hard on the accepting (which i understand is a sort of exposure) and not performing compulsions. A type of compulsion i have is to avoid the negative thoughts during certain times or life events, which seem incompatible with the negative thoughts. I am working of not re-repeating these until i would eventually not think the negative thought, i just let go as often as i can, and other kind of compulsions too, avoid them. This site is so good to reveal compulsions ! So, after all this hard work, i don’t want back on the ssri. Do you think i can make it ?
Some individuals with OCD engage in confessing rituals where they confess scary, intrusive thoughts to others in order to neutralize guilt, share responsibility for potential future catastrophes, and get reassurance that bad things won’t happen. It is a different symptom than someone with a tic who may shout out an word or phrase to release building tension. I am not sure if the people you are referring to are professionals or friends, but make sure you are discussing your symptoms with people who specialize in your disorder(s) and friends and family who support your journey to recovery.
Hi Val, Thanks for reaching out. It is possible to have OCD about real life events in addition to fear about what one might do in the future. The feeling that commonly accompanies OCD about doing something you perceive as terrible in the past is guilt. When an individual’s OCD becomes spiked about a past life event they commonly engage in mental compulsions (e.g. review memories of pornography) to find out with certainty exactly what they did and how bad it was. If you continue to try to figure out the exact details of the event or if you are a bad person for engaging it it, then the OCD will become more powerful. It is good to respond to thoughts about past events the same way you would about potential future catastrophes. With my clients I would use exposure scripting to help them intentionally face the memory and the feared consequences. We might write something like this, “I’m having a thought that my past actions may make me a bad person. This may be true and I can’t find out with 100% certainty as hard as I’ve tried, so I guess I have to continue living my life with that potential. If this means I am a deviant individual that should be turned in to the police, than so be it.” I have a new blog article I will be posting in the next week about when OCD gets stuck on past life events. I recommend checking back and reading it.
Many of my clients wish to try CBT without medications to see how much progress they can make. Some people are very successful using ERP to treat their symptoms and actually have an effect on their brain’s response to formerly anxiety-producing situations. Others find that they need the extra help and end up having a medication evaluation.
Hi, I just turned 14 and the last week I’ve had thoughts sbout me killing my loved ones. I try to push them away and convince myself that they are only thoughts, but i doesn’t work. They just come back, I feel so bad an sick whenever I have those thoughts. i would never kill someone, and it just gets even worse when my brain imagines it. It’s like I have a serial killer’s thoughts in my head, and they make me afraid of myself. I usually get them at the night or ehn I’m with someone I love. It’s so hard, and it makes my cry almost every time. I’m afraid of the thought that I’ll someday go crazy and do all of those horrible things. yesterday my grandparents came for a visit, and suddenly the thought ” I want to kill them” appeared in my head. I also feel like the thoughts are giving me the wrong feelings about them. It’s like they make me feel that I like them, but ai really don’t ! I’d rather kill myself than someone I love. I can remember that I’ve had thoughts like these many years ago, but then I managed to push them away. The thoughts actually started to appear last week when I read an article about a horrible murder. I feel so helpless against my thoughts. They make me so depressive and sad. It’s like I don’t want to do any of those things i used to enjoy before the thoughts came. I also get nerveous every time I’m near knives or scissors or holding them, because I’m afraid I’ll suddenly kill someone. I’m afraid of being alone with my thoughts, It’s so horrible. I have not told anyone, I’m afraid they’ll think I’m some kind of psycho. What should I do ?
I’m sorry for a kind of messed up text. I would be so grateful for an answer.
Thank you Stacey for your answer, I’m going to add your example to my ERP. Hopefully the anxiety and guilt will lessen. I’ts just so hard right now because I still remember how I was fine last year and sometimes I am filled with incredulity that this is happening to me, that this will be me for the rest of my days…
Again thank you and I’ll look forward to your new blog about OCD and past events.
You are so smart and brave for reaching out about your intrusive thoughts. It is so scary to have thoughts about harming those you love. It is a good sign that someone has OCD when they are terrified of having the thoughts and don’t actually want to kill anyone. Many of my OCD clients describe how the OCD tries to make them believe they want or like the thoughts. This is another one of the common tricks of OCD.
Instead of trying to push your thoughts away, picture that they are a classmate you do not like attending the same party as you. You don’t have to talk to the person, and their presence may make you uncomfortable, but you can stay at the party and just choose not to engage with or talk to them. Try to let your thoughts do their own thing without trying to control or make them go away.
If you can talk to a parent about having therapy with an OCD specialist, I would highly recommend it. Perhaps you can show them this pamphlet: http://www.ocfoundation.org/uploadedFiles/WhatYouNeed_09.pdf. It will discuss the various forms of OCD including harm OCD. You may be able to tell a parent that you suffer from intrusive thoughts without going into a lot of detail they may not understand. If you go to a therapist who specializes in OCD, you won’t have to worry because they have heard of harm OCD. Feel free to contact me through the website and I can help with this process.
Your motive when doing exposures is important to your success. Remember the purpose of an exposure is to spike anxiety and guilt and to practice making room for the thoughts and feelings. The bi-product is habituation not the goal. Do some additional work on staying with feelings and watch your resistance levels. You may be stuck because you are doing exposures while waiting for the feelings to subside, which is strikingly similar to a compulsion.
Thanks for the advice Stacey, It never occurred to me that the waiting for the “bad” feelings to end was a compulsion. I’ll pay more attention to just staying with whatever I’m feeling, instead of waiting for it to end.
I sometimes imagine conversations about explaining this condition to someone, like my family, a doctor, priest, etc.,my experiences and/ or symptoms…¿do you think that is also a mental compulsion or just natural thinking? Thank you for all your help!.
OMGoodness! (I have to write goodness so that God knows I’m not using his name in vain!). Thank you so much for taking the time to write this! You don’t know how comforting it is to know that “normal” people have these thoughts, too! Thank. You. So. Much! Best OCD article ever! When I overcome this, I hope I can find a way to help people, too! (I still have a little way to go – I sometimes worry about cooking and wrapping presents – did some of my horrible fears get wrapped up or cooked in, and they will poison my loved ones?). It is so irrational, but so scary at the same time! After 19 years, on and off, undiagnosed, this is the BEST thing I have read about OCD! Thank you again!
I wonder if you can comment on exposure examples for ROCD. Some days the anxiety is just latent and others it’s full blown. I almost feel like I’m not even consciously thinking these things and they just keep coming back.
What makes this particularly difficult is when one just looks to society and hears of people who leave relationships because they didn’t “feel right.” Definitely revs up the anxiety meter.
Any advice would be great!
I should mention that my anxiety stems from the fear of not loving my wife. Which makes me feel guilty even writing that.
Hi Annette, I’m glad you liked the article. Keep on moving toward those fears! Wrap up bad thoughts and bake in poison for the people you love the most! Exposure to uncertainty and willingness to feel uncomfortable is everything.
Hi Matt, Uncertainty is a huge part of being in a relationship. None of us know for certain that we won’t wake up one day with a change of heart or if our partner will decide they don’t want to be with us anymore. Because someone with OCD has extra brain sensitivity to uncertainty, those with ROCD experience a lot of difficulties allowing normal relationship uncertainty to just ebb and flow like the rest of us do. Finding ways to accept uncertainty about the future of the relationship and just choosing to be with your significant other in the present moment is key. And I mean this moment, not even one hour from now. Be aware that your OCD will try all kinds of ways to trap you into deciding the future of the relationship. If you get spiked when others leave their relationships, for exposure you might say / write, “Yep, I don’t feel right in my relationship either and it’s just a matter of time before I listen to my true feelings and call it quits.” I also have ROCD clients watch movies like “Match Point” where the character falls in love with someone outside his or her relationship or pick people out in public they are more attracted to then their current significant other.
Guilt is often a major component of ROCD. If it makes you feel guilty to have thoughts about not loving your wife, you can write them down or say them aloud for exposure. Examples: “I don’t love my wife if I am being honest with myself.” “I am in denial of my true feelings about my wife.” Learning to manage ROCD will include increasing your willingness to face your uncertain feelings and thoughts about your relationship (exposure) and a reduction in efforts to know for certain (compulsion).
Dear StaceyFirstly, thank you for taking the time to give hope to so many Ocd sufferers. My question is: what to do if I cant accept that an obsession is a “false” message. I have had this fear of asbestos and mesothelioma for almost 5 years now. I always seem to find a place where asbestos “might” be lurking. But in reality it could in fact be there and potentially cause ilness. So in my mind it is not necessarily a “false” message. Any advice will be greatly appreciated. I therefore always get stuck here when I want to say “Its only Jason ( South Africa).
Firstly, thank you for taking the time to give hope to so many Ocd sufferers. My question is: what to do if I cant accept that an obsession is a “false” message. I have had this fear of asbestos and mesothelioma for almost 5 years now. I always seem to find a place where asbestos “might” be lurking. But in reality it could in fact be there and potentially cause illness. So in my mind it is not necessarily a “false” message. I therefore always get stuck here when I want to tell myself thay its only OCD. Any advice will be greatly appreciated. David (South Africa).
Hi David, Thanks for your comments. There very well may be asbestos lurking behind walls of buildings that all of us enter. That is true and impossible to prove otherwise with 100% certainty…so this is not the false message. The false message that someone with OCD receives is how important that fact is. Some people avoid planes because of the possibility of being killed because they get a false message about this possibility being important when others fly on planes without 100% certainty of safety (I’m guessing you do too). A main part of the treatment for OCD is to recognize that your brain is telling you it is important to know for certain, when perhaps it is not as important as it feels. I’ve had a couple clients with an asbestos OCD fear and it’s very treatable with CBT.
Hello. I have an interesting case. I am a 36 year old female. Over the past year I developed health anxiety, increased general anxiety, and panic attacks. I then became depressed about and started ruminating about the anxiety and depression. I researched the internet and came across ocd . I terrified myself into thinking I have it because I was obsessing about trying to feel better and because of what I thought were past subtle symptoms, but I was later told were not. I have mild tics and pick my skin sometimes also. But I don’t think I have ever had a true obsession or intrusive thought. However, I have been obsessing about ocd for 3 months now . I assume that if I’m obsessing about it I must have it. I then got terrified of all the scarey intrusive thoughts people with ocd have. I started fearing that this will be me. I then started checking if I’m having those thoughts. This of course led me to believe I am having hocd or pocd. My fear is not that if I had that thought I must want to hurt someone. My fear is if I had that thought I must have ocd. I have had several therapists tell me I don’t have ocd yet I am still obsessing about it, terrified of it, and have convinced myself that it was dormant in me until I read about it and now triggered it in myself. Is that even possible? What is going on?
Also, had I not read about on the internet I would have never even considered it. Could my fear of it have triggered it?
Hi stacey. I have found this site very helpful..
Ive been suffering from intrusive thoughts, regarding my baby for over 16 months now. Its manifested so badly to the point where I cant see that the thoughts are ocd. I feel as if I do want to do them. Im severly depressed and so anxious that I feel as if im going crazy. I have tried medication which made me worse and been having therapy the whole time. Im so scared that I will act on these horrid thoughts and that I am turning into a monster. It really has become an obsessional nightmare. It interferes with my daily life.
You really seem to know a lot about ocd and I just feel as if I’m not getting the right treatment. I’m desperate to be able to cope with these intrusions but don’t have the right tools.
Information about Skype or some coping skills would be so appreciative.
Just when I finally thought I was getting over my intrusive thoughts (I still had them but the time less and far apart and they didn’t bother me anymore) they seemed to return with a vengeance. The thoughts I’ve been having for the past week or so, are different from my old ones (granted those were really horrible) these in some ways seem worse than the others, as if that even makes sense and they seemed to be accompanied by physical anxiety symptoms I’ve never had before. Occasionally certain words or phrases get stuck in my head but one day this week it was going off like a mantra. Also I had a instance of my thoughts telling me lies (now this has happened before but it alarmed me more this time). For example that [something truly horrible] had happened to me when it hadn’t. My brain seems really stuck on law of attraction for some reason and with me having intrusive thoughts about dying I fear attracting something bad to myself. Anyway I’m scared and irritated because two weeks ago I was in a completely different mindset and I wasn’t thinking even thinking about this things. I feel like I’m back at square one but I feel worse.
Hi Kim, OCD can attach itself to any theme, and the idea that you fear having OCD may be OCD. I have had other clients who fear having any number of mental health disorders and perform compulsions to gain certainty. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy including Exposure and Response Prevention with an OCD specialist is the best treatment for what you have described. With OCD you would be experiencing a urgent need to know “for sure” if you have OCD or if you “caught it” from reading about it online followed by desperately trying to find out with certainty through online searches, reassurance-seeking and mental analysis. My blog, “The Solving Ritual” may be of some assistance to you.
OCD is both genetic and learned. The incident (reading about OCD online) does not cause OCD in a vacuum if you are not genetically predisposed to having OCD, but it may have been the trigger. If it wasn’t that it could have been triggered by something else. The example of this in my article is that we are all told to wash our hands after touching animals, but only those genetically programmed to developing OCD may start experiencing severe anxiety levels, and compulsions such as excessive hand washing, throwing away belongings, and avoidance of dogs.
Hi Cas, Part of the problem with OCD is that you will be in an obsessive state of doubt about whether or not your thoughts are OCD or something of real concern. This is how your OCD scares you into doing rituals (physical, mental, or avoidance) to try to gain certainty that no harm will come to your baby. I do recommend having an assessment with an OCD specialist if you do not believe your therapist is skilled in CBT and ERP. Feel free to send me an email and I can help you or perhaps refer you to someone who can.
Hi Asia, Just think, if you felt better before you can get there again, but you don’t get to decide when that happens. We don’t have control over our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations…they just happen. Try to allow yourself to experience these internal experiences with openness and willingness. OCD can be episodic and doesn’t have a cure. So there is really no such thing as “getting over my intrusive thoughts.” The thoughts are not the problem, the problem is how you respond to intrusive thoughts, feelings and sensations. The good new is, you have control over how you respond to them and can begin working on your peaceful co-existence until this episode passes. You can also call an OCD specialist to help remind you of your CBT skills.
Thank you for your reply. How could I find out if I am genetically predisposed? Also, statistically, what are the chances of getting ocd at age 36? Are you saying that if I didn’t read about it I wouldn’t have triggered it? I have had several mental health professionals, who treat ocd, tell me this is not ocd. I know you cannot diagnose me but you seem to be implying I do have ocd. This makes things all the more confusing. What do you suggest?
If you didn’t read about OCD, a different theme may have been triggered by something else. Themes can jump around quite a bit for some people, based on what they see and hear in their environment. You don’t need genetic testing because OCD symptoms are relatively easy to diagnose by a specialist. Yes, you can get OCD as an adult but I suspect you probably have had other OCD-like symptoms prior to your current ones. For example, hypocondriasis, compulsive skin picking, and tics are all related to OCD in various ways. I cannot diagnose you unless I do an assessment, but your symptoms could be OCD and sound like what I’ve seen in others. The treatment for OCD and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders is CBT including ERP, even if you don’t fit perfectly into the OCD box.
Thank you. So my subclinical skin picking, subclinical tics, and recent health fears, (which I wouldn’t say was full blown hypochondrias), may have evolved into full blown ocd? You say its easy to assess yet I get different answers from different therapists. Is there a genetic test? Do the spectrum disorders come from the same gene? I have heard that tics and ocd are on the same gene and can manifest as one or the other or both. Also, I may have had symptoms of the spectrum disorders but honestly have never had an obsessive intrusive thought before. What is the proper assessment?
Also, what is the prognosis for ocd starting so late? And since this started after some health anxiety (I’d have to give you more details), I’m not sure if its hypochondrias, but could I be being a hypochondriac about ocd? How ironic would that be?! Lol!
Thank you ,
I’m sure there are plenty of us who really appreciate your work here.thank you!
I would like to share my intrusive thoughts and the following which are facts that my obsessive mind refuse to believe:
-I had a sexual encounter with a female masseuse last year at end august(I was in a very stable relationship and still am).
-Ever since then due to fear of HIV I have had many conclusively negative tests including one in January (which comes in a form of a premarital health screening report from a reputable health care provider) and another last week( also a premarital health screen albeit from another provider) pending report.
The fear and thought of infecting my wife-to-be with HIV still pops up in my mind frequently.
‘What-ifs’ like the following as well:
-The doctor who was doing the blood draw was not wearing gloves(it is not uncommon upon googling),would it have affected my test results?
– having doubts about every procedure conducted by the doctor that day and the laboratory’s work
I hope you can kindly advise on how I could do ERP in this instance.
My sincerest of thanks.
And by the way, I live in Singapore, a country which has one of the best medical healthcare settings.
But my OCD mind still believes that syringes are reused!
One of the most concise and humerous articles on OCD i’ve read. I’m a HSP male and at the age of 25 i’ve bizarrely developed strong intrusive thoughts about people i love. It’s made me very upset. I feel like i have given myself ocd as it all kind o started when someone online suggested i may have ocd because i do strange rituals and are scared of particular numbers. I don’t even want to go into lots of detail here, because i’m scared that ‘it will be ingrained on the net forever’ lol. God, i never use to be liek this. It’s like the thought has become stuck! Does OCD start in your 30s sometimes? and are HSP’s more prone?
Thank you for wiring this article. I have struggled with OCD thoughts my entire life. As early as 5 as far as I can remember. It has been difficult as the themes have changed, although sexual thoughts seem to be the prime culprit. I did not receive a diagnosis until I was 26 and it was affecting my marriage. I got married when I was 22 and it seemed to transfer to my spouse. First it was the he was going to cheat on me. Then it was thinking he may abuse me. Now it is that he could be a pedophile. This theme has been troubling to me before but now it’s attached itself to him. Getting reassurance from him is impossible for obvious reasons. It is something that he cannot deal with. I find myself snooping. Watching his eyes in public to see what he is looking at. Overanalyzing everything he says in relation to kids. Now we have a baby girl and one baby on the way. Aside from my mind taking innocuous items as evidence I have zero proof of this thought. It’s a fresh kind of ocd hell when you doubt your partner. There is no reassurance that works. I don’t want to lose my spouse and put him thru anymore torture. He is patient and loving and we’ve already had to briefly separate once. He has given me many chances and wants me to get better. We hate divorce and it makes us sad to think that could be an option at all. He wants to raise a family with me but says he cannot be with someone who says things that aren’t true about his character. Any ideas? We are in counsel
Hi Jonjo, A good place to begin is to identify the compulsions you are engaging in. If you are doing Internet searches, asking friends or doctors for reassurance, or doing mental compulsions to figure out your chances of these thoughts being true, try to label them as compulsions and refrain from doing them. You can read more about compulsions in OCD in this blog. Try accept uncertainty and be willing to take the risk that these are OCD thoughts, even though you will not feel 100% certain. An OCD specialist can help you learn how to use imaginal exposure scripting to write stories about the possibility of your worst fears being true. Your willingness to accept uncertainty is paramount.
Regardless of the quality of the healthcare in Singapore, the certainty you are seeking is not available. The only option is to accept uncertainty and to label incoming thoughts as OCD. Sensitivity to uncertainty is part of OCD. It will feel very uncomfortable at first, but try your best to experience your difficult thoughts and emotions without effort to change them.
Hi Leyson, Of all gifts you could have given yourself and you choose OCD. You cannot give yourself OCD, but you may have it. Yes, you can get it in your 30s, but you may have had other symptoms you don’t realize earlier in life. It sounds like you have intrusive, unwanted thoughts you are trying to control or block with rituals. The best thing to do is make as much contact with these intrusive thoughts or unwanted ideas as possible. Accept their presence and make peace with them. This is a process called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) where you face your fears and resist doing rituals that reinforce them. An OCD specialist can help you with an ERP program.
Pay attention to the process you are going through to find the answers you seek. It appears you are trying to seek 100% certainty about whether or not you have OCD. Nobody has that level of certainty about anything. If this is not their theme, most clients just take it for granted that they are doing obsessions and compulsions and allow their therapist to diagnose them. They no longer seek the answer and undergo the proper treatment. I am proposing that your compulsion is seeking certainty to this answer, the same way someone would seek certainty about the stove being on by checking. I recommend reading my blog, The Solving Ritual, for further information.
Thank you so much for the reply,
Meant a lot!
Hi Ashley, Just as people can have OCD fears about causing harm to others, I have also seen OCD clients who have intrusive thoughts about their spouse as the one who may cause harm. You are performing a good deal of compulsions in response to your OCD fears including, “snooping,” “watching his eyes,” “taking innocuous items as evidence,” “over-analyzing everything,” and looking for reassurance in any way. These compulsions serve to make OCD thoughts appear more valid and realistic to you. The way to help yourself is to sit with intrusive thoughts and uncertainty and resist doing certainty-seeking compulsions. I recommend seeing an OCD specialist to help with this process.
Thank you so much for replying. It’s so difficult but I’m going to take that advice. I try to ignore the thoughts but I realize that doesn’t really work either. It helps to know that this happens to other people as I feel most ocd that I’ve heard revolves around the person struggling and not about others. I will take that advice and realize that this is something I’m going to have to deal with. I don’t want to break up my family over it that is for sure. Thanks again
Yes, we want you and your husband to be on one team and the OCD on another!
Can I just say that I have struggled with obsessive thoughts for so long and it was destroying my inner peace until finally I lost it the other day and prayed, “God, please make this stop. I’m asking with everything in me.” What do you know: later that night, I found this article. Thank you so much for writing this. Contextualizing the thoughts and recognizing they’re OCD thoughts, not actual concerns that say something about me or the people some of the thoughts involve… Learning that trying to dispute the thoughts (aka give them attention) and fight with them and prove them wrong and figure out why you’re having them as if there’s an actual reason aside from OCD only makes them worse… I needed to know those things. Prayer works! Thank you so much once again for writing this and posting it. It means the world to me. It’s been like 2 days and I’m already doing so much better! I used to fight the thoughts with everything in me, trying to stop them from fully happening, cut them off short and go “NO.” so to speak (which I know now was only feeding the OCD), but now when they show up I just let them happen and kinda go, “Okay.” (not in an agreeing way but in an “Alrighty then thanks for sharing.” way) and keep on going with my life. The fact that I can live with this… The fact that I don’t have be a slave to OCD anymore… SO HAPPY! 😀
Another good article written by you. I have a question. I have OCD and over the past month or so it has taken a new form. At least I hope it’s OCD. I’ve had these bad thoughts come to mind, sometimes starting with “what if” and other times my mind says I did do something awful. For example; “you did molest so and so remember. You need to tell the police.” I get high anxiety when these thoughts enter my head because they are saying I did in fact do the awful thing and I need to or will tell someone about it. I have also had thoughts saying I should just make something up so I can be thrown in jail. These thoughts are never ending, cause great anxiety and fear. I start to question myself. Did I really do that, I don’t remember…then the mind comes back and says yes you did and you do remember. It’s awful. Is this another form of OCD?
Hello C, I am so happy that you received a message from above to read my article! It sounds like you really resonated with the material and have been able to put it into practice quickly. Remember you will still have difficult days and the OCD will try to find new and more complicated ways to trick you into doing compulsions. On those days, try to remember to allow all of your internal experiences with openness. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Stefanie, Some people learn about OCD and then use what they learned to gain certainty that their OCD thoughts aren’t actually real (a compulsion). For example, if they have heard that people with OCD have thoughts about harm, they may begin to accept their thoughts about harm. But then OCD will have to twist to a new way of baiting the person. OCD may then say, “You already harmed someone, remember?” If your theme is harm, do not engage with ANY thought about harm you will fall into the OCD trap. Even asking this question is a form of a certainty-seeking compulsion. Call it OCD and live the life you want, take the risk you could be wrong because that’s how you outsmart OCD.
I stumbled upon this while searching the web for a bit of relief; that’s exactly what I found! Thank you so much for this. It’s so nice to know that these thoughts don’t have a deeper meaning, and are actually “normal.” Your post made me laugh so much! I think I can finally get off the web and get to sleep now! Thank you!
The last post regarding OCD telling a person they have ALREADY done harm resonated with me. I have been diagnosed with OCD several times, although I diagnosed myself first. Years ago I would read about a horrible crime, killing, etc. in the newspaper in another town and I would have the thought I did that. It was horrible. I would tell myself I’ve never been there, don’t know how to get there, don’t know who those people are, etc. Anxiety would be very high that I could even have a thought like that because that’s the opposite of who I am. Those no longer bother me but there is one thought that has returned after a battle with it about nine years ago. I was working in an office where a person who sometimes came in the office committed suicide. I did not know this person. I just knew who they were. There was talk about the details, where it happened, etc. That is the fourth time in my life that someone that I knew of committed suicide and each time it was very hard for me to wrap my mind around. I was suffering with ocd when this happened at the office. I had the same thought–that I had caused this person’s death and I asked myself the same questions to tell myself there was no way. A therapist friend suggested I do an imaginal exposure. I never did it repetitively because it didn’t make me feel that frightened although it was very unpleasant, of course. I’ve never heard you suggest imaginal exposures and I’m very sorry I did it because now I have this story in my head that I don’t think would have been there otherwise. I went for 6.5 years with this thought causing me no problem whatsoever. I never even thought about it. Could you please tell me if you feel I should try the imaginal exposure again (even though I don’t think it helped with my recovery before). I know that I use my knowledge about OCD to convince myself that my thoughts are nothing to worry about and it seems like that would work but it really does not. When I do an exposure, when I am in the midst of it I will doubt that I’ve actually touched the area I’m worried about enough or that I’ve really done the exposure. If I read something or someone tells me something that brings comfort I will doubt if I remember what they said or what I read correctly. Right now the ocd is telling me I never did that imaginal exposure with my friend. However, I know I did! I hope this makes some sense to you. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much for this article. My ocd was in control for a few years, but niw they’ve come back. I’ve been having a really tough time lately as the thoughts have been getting stronger, more persistent, and more realistic. I am often confused about what is real and what is ocd and I just feel overwhelmed and want to give up. I can’t get through most episodes yet without breaking down and asking for assurance. But this post gives me some hope that i can get better too someday. Thank you for taking the time to write this and even respond to people’s questions, you are helping so much. I just read this post over and over again to calm me down.
Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you found the article helpful.
I really enjoyed reading through this , I this i thank you so much you have brought hope to us all suffering OCD. I know this is against beating ocd but i have HOCD and have been suffering for 6months now. I had gotten bettet , then worse , then better , then worse again till this yesterday morning on the school bus i had a very bad thought saying it was proof i was gay . I had panicked during the whole day of school . I had told my self panicking is what the ocd wants , ocd twists thoughts and tries to scare you . After i hadcalmed myself down for the rest of the day the thought had come back and hit me horrible . I woke up the next morning depressed and suicidal . It wasnt the first time i had woken up like that . I had felt really depressed snd suicidal before , but then crippled my way out and realised what i had spiked about was just non sense . A few days before the day on the bus , i had told my self whenevet i spieked that im spiking becuase i am a hetero , gay ppl dont freak out over being gay . Obviously. So i had done that all week last week and i had impeoved so much. I felt my libido slowly return i felt more attracted girls likr i did before this ocd cme in . I felt so happy. Till the panick on the bus . Todsy i felt suicidal and depressed , i then calmed myself with mindfull awareness. So iwas feling good today until i had a reassured myself sysying im strAight, but my thougts had said “im gay” , and i had said it outloud in my head . I panicked…
Yes, imaginal exposure scripting is recommended for the symptoms you are describing. When OCD sufferers have fears of their own thoughts about harming someone in the past or future, they need to have exposure to their thoughts and this is achieved through script writing. This is no different than an OCD suffer needing exposure to door knobs if they are fearful of getting a disease. It sounds like you only wrote one script and stopped the process. OCD sufferers need to commit to scripting on a daily basis for several weeks for the scripting to be effective. Just like if a person touched a door knob once or twice they may become more fearful of disease, but if they had 100 exposures then habituation would occur.
Also, ritual prevention is a crucial part of the process. You must be able to identify what physical or mental rituals you are engaging in when you’re having an OCD spike. Just like the person should not respond to the door knob exposure by washing his hands, you will need to learn the skills to make room for uncertainty and fear and resist mental rituals when you script. The idea of exposure is that you call up the uncertainty so that you can get really good at experiencing it. The goal is not to rid yourself of thoughts, feelings and uncertainty but to change your relationship with it when it shows up.
I’m glad the article and comments helped to give you some hope about your OCD. If your OCD is getting more persistent, it is likely that you are doing rituals that fuel the fire. You may want to read my blog about “Compulsions in OCD” to help you identify what rituals you are engaging in. It is common to wonder which thoughts are real and which are OCD, but if you are trying to answer this question you are doing a mental ritual. Instead, try to label all scary intrusive thoughts anywhere close to your theme as OCD and take the risk you could be wrong. Even though it feels scary and uncertain, choosing a different response will weaken your OCD.
OCD can be very crippling and I’m sure a lot of people reading this article can relate to your story. Regarding suicidal thoughts, if you ever plan or intend to harm yourself, you will want to call 911 so you can keep yourself safe. The moment will always pass. It sounds like you are doing some really good work with noticing your OCD spikes about being gay and working on sitting with them rather than trying to reassure yourself. You may even take an offensive position rather than a defensive position. Go around every day picking out guys you find attractive and telling yourself that you are or may be gay. OCD will be surprised that you have taken away it’s ammunition. Exposure and Response Prevention with an OCD specialist is highly recommended to help you with the exposure process.
I have relationship based ocd. where i constantly think i dont love my partner or that they are the wrong person for me, ive struggled thru it and now its dominatung my life…what can i do to stop it?
Lol! This was one of the best reasurance excursions I have ever had! For me, it’s always “just one more” thought I need to resolve and then I will finally be “cured”. Oddly enough, I always find a very reassuring answer and mostly in the form of “Really? Other people have that thought too? Awesome!”. But then there’s always that “just one more thought” that needs to be explained/reasoned/proved wrong that will take the old thoughts place. That being said, one of your listed thoughts is one of my most intrusive, anxiety producing and, hierarchically speaking, most “convincing” thoughts – from which many others spring from. Having these thoughts are costly. Knowing you have the same thoughts? Priceless.
I don’t know if this helps but – I am like the opposite of gay and have liked looking at playboy, hustler…you name it, since I saw my first one in the woods at age 7. No doubts. BUT, i have had gay thoughts, hell I’ve even masterbated to gay thoughts. No big deal! Every guy I know does. Here’s is the thing – I DONT HAVE HOCD. Weird uh? Not really. It makes sense becaus of this: Ready? I don’t fear it! I don’t care. I other intrusive thoughts that kill me too. You are going to be OK 🙂 There is actually strong scientific research showing that men become more aroused by the male organ than women do due to its symbolic meaning for us as men in particular. Strange, i know…well I hope that gave you some relief. Now live your life with meaning and purpose! That’s all that matters. Period.
Wow this article really is something special, it has turned my life around and I really do hope that you’ll continue to do more. I’ve struggled with every single form of OCD that is mentioned at different times, the theme is constantly changing. I managed to get myself back on track until recently when the ‘what if’ questions started appearing in my thoughts, then I will get a thought to say that it isn’t OCD that I’m a psychopath or evil person. The what if thoughts seemed to start after I managed to quash the other themes but they seemed to come back with a vengeance It really is soul destroying. I’ve tried to commit to writing my thoughts down or saying them aloud but I have this fear that by saying out loud will mean that it is true or that it will become true as I can be quite superstitious.
Once again thank you so much for this post it really has turned my OCD world around and 90% of the time I feel like a normal person again. I have been sharing it with many other that I know also suffer.
I really found this article interesting and quite eye opening. For the past year or so I have been having disturbing, scary, and many times unwanted dirty thoughts and I could not understand why until I did a bit of research and your article really helped me see that I am not the only one suffering this strange quality.
Hi Ryn, ROCD is just like any other obsession. The theme of the OCD doesn’t matter, in fact, it can even skip around for some people. Try to work on not spending time on the content of the thought, and instead see if you can just focus on learning to experience any difficult thought or feeling without resistance. Label the thought as just something your brain is doing and try not to overvalue it. Working with an OCD specialist trained to treat OCD using CBT including Exposure and Response Prevention is your best bet.
Hi Cosmo, So glad we are a kindred spirits in our bizarre thinking! It’s good you came across my article and had a laugh in spite of this often maddening disorder. Keep that reassurance-seeking to minimum.
Hi B, Thanks for reading and sharing the article with other sufferers. I’m so glad you discovered it at a time you needed it most. Best wishes to you moving forward and allowing those “what if” thoughts to be simply background noise.
Hi Megan, Thanks for your post. I hope the article has helped you on the road to changing your relationship with your intrusive thoughts.
How do I go about setting up an appointment with you? thru the computer
It’s a great article. I always wished that I don’t rely on antidepressents and there could be a natural way. I have been reading a lot on internet about pure O or OCD lately and I would say the same thing that yours is the best I have come across. All my life, I have been an underconfident person. Struggling with “what if” and self doubting thoughts. You discussed a great point that OCD plays its trick when it tries to convince you that something has already happened and you might have forgotten that. I went through the anxiety during last 4 months because of my unemployment and a month ago I found a job as well. My OCD or disturbing thoughts of that I have a fear of making mistakes. Every word I type in my e-mails in my job fills me eith si much dread thst what if I make a mistake abd they fire me. I check my e-mails again and again that what if I typed an inappropriate word in my e-mail and they fire me. I don’t have financial resources to see a therapist. I would be so thankful if you could help me understand these terms. “Acceptance” in Acceptence and Committment therapy means that I don’t confront with this thought and let it come and go and I should remain committed to my values or goals e.g working efficiently at job even in the situations when I am having these thoughts. Is my understanding right?
And OCD does play this trick with me that I have already made a mistake which I don’t remember now. Why dies it happen?
This article is so so helpful! I’ve always had some sort of obsessive thoughts. When I was younger, I was convinced that every stomach ache was a case of appendicitis, so I would go to the doctor constantly to make sure it wasn’t it. Then when I got older, the fears changed to something more severe.. cancer of some sort for example. I would have such vivid real fears about it that I would almost convince myself that this is it. When most people would come down with a cold and just take it as is, for me it was “what if it is something more severe and I will not get better” etc. I have 3 small children now and I do NOT want them to inherit my issues. What made matters worse is that I lost my Dad to Brain cancer 5 years ago and then lost my sister to Ovarian Cancer less than a year ago… I think grief made matters much worse.
After breaking down and crying to my husband that I’m scared of dying and leaving my children without me, I finally decided to get some help. I went to a therapist and we were managing my grief, and then that lead to an anxiety of analyzing all the past feelings when my Dad was sick, and when my sister was sick. Am I a bad person, am I a bad daughter, etc. I was able to work through those feelings, and felt so happy and free of all the guilt thoughts that I’ve been carrying on my shoulders since I was very little.
Then BAM! One of my daughters was being difficult, and I started thinking, I wonder how it would be if we only had 2 children? That freaked me out, because what mother thinks that? Then it freaked me out that I picked one particular child over the others and the thought occurred that I could never think of being without our youngest one… but then how come I can think of being without my other child? So then, as if my mind was throwing challenges at me, I was holding my youngest child and all of a sudden started thinking about knives and stabbings. That freaked me out even more. I am a monster, something is wrong with me, this is not normal, I am going insane, and so on. I found an article about harm OCD, and after reading it and seeing that what I was feeling was exactly what the article was talking about, I was able to sort it all out and as I read that what I was going through did not mean that I am a horrible murderer, I was able to push the thoughts away and life was perfect…. Until about a week later, all of a sudden as I was playing with my child, I started thinking, “I wonder what would happen if I covered her mouth and her nose?” And again, same old thoughts, only with different intensity came rushing over me and I’m back to thinking that I’m a monster and that my children don’t deserve a mother like that. Then I read about exposure therapy, so I tried to think about this logically, and when I was playing with my child, I BRIEFLY closed her mouth and her nose, and let go right away. Almost to prove to myself that see, I would never act on my compulsions and never hurt my kid. Except now I’m freaked out even more because what if my doing that meant that I cannot control my impulses and am now acting on them… which then means it’s not OCD, and I am that monster.
This is so exhausting! Writing this is like reading someone else’s story… a horrible cruel story. It’s like my mind is playing a vicious game with me and I can’t win. I LOVE my children more than anything in the world, I would never harm them and would die before I let anything happen to them. I am the mom who checks on them before going to bed and pulls their covers lower, just in case they roll at night and God forbids suffocate (never mind that they are 3 and older, so that’s not a reasonable concern), I am the mom who checks what I say and how I say it so that I don’t hurt their self-esteem or send them a negative message, I am the mom who made the decision to stay home so that I can be with my babies and watch them grow and be there for them. I am a good mom, I am a good person. Why am I then thinking all this?
I brought up harm OCD to my current therapist and she brushed it off saying that she doesn’t like labeling, and that it’s more important to figure out what’s triggering these thoughts. But now, I’m thinking what made it worse is this whole figuring things out. Help! Please tell me I am “normal” and that I am not acting on my impulses. I feel like I am torturing myself. Sorry this is so long and thank you so much for reading this!
Thank you so much for sharing, Stacey. You have brought comfort and reassurance to many people. God bless you for the good work you do.
Hi just been struggling for 3 weeks with my harm ocd. I’ve had ocd for 23 years. Been diagnosed and I still have a hard time accepting it’s just ocd. My harm thoughts over the years have been about myself and loved ones. It makes no sense to me honestly as to where these thoughts come from. 3 weeks ago I had been feeling anxious for a couple days. Well I always worry when I feel anxious and at bedtime I could feel myself wanting to ruminate. Well the thought I hope I don’t think anything about my parents popped in my mind. Well this caused the thought oh god I wanna hurt my parents! I was like no not this crap again. Well this “I want to harm my parents” thought lasted for up until I got my son for the weekend. I had the worry oh god I hope I don’t start thinking about him and guess what? I did!! From that point on it’s been pertaining to him. The same I WANT to thought I had about my parents. Now it seems silly that I thought that about them but I am having the exact same dread, sadness, depression, fear, and guilt that I had when it was about them. Just that thought I want to harm. It’s not what if. That didn’t bother me as bad. But this want to thought makes me feel like it’s me. That tortures me. My son and family are the most important things in this earth to me. I would give them my last breath if they needed it. I’m usually a happy thankful loving family man but when in the midst of obsessing I can not feel anything but fear and doubt. My ocd makes me believe the thoughts even though I know it’s impossible. And I have done this several several times throughout 23 yrs. is it normal for these thoughts to actually feel like our own? It’s like my ocd says I wanna harm them and then my anxiety spikes and I panic. Then I seek reassurance from family or online then it just happens all over again. Leaving me with the feeling that I’m crazy for thinking I want to harm anyone. Every episode I have ever had has done the exact same way. Same doubts phrases feelings everything!! Then finally it just stops bothering me and I’m my old self again. Happy thankful relieved and just wanna tell everybody how much I love them. I have insight as I know these thoughts are not right and I know I’m not violent and have never even laid so much as a finger on another human being. The funny thing is I can ask myself things like……… Do you love them? Yes!
Do you want anything to happen to them? No!!!!
Could you hurt anyone with a knife?
But when I say do you wanna harm them? It’s like a mental block keeping me from answering. This in turns makes my ocd mind think well you do want to. Then it’s right back to square one. I used to find peace in knowing that we would never act on our obsessions because we don’t enjoy them and the cause guilt anxiety etc. well this form of reassurance doesn’t satisfy any more. Because every time I think a reassuring thought ocd has a negative thought to destroy it. Am I making sense. I know I’m not your patient but I’ve been diagnosed 2 different times so I am asking is confusion and doubt normal for harm ocd. I always think that everybody else had never thought they wanted to harm but then my rational mind says if that were the case there would not be ocd. This episode is identical to every one of them before whether it was hiv ocd which took two negative tests I didn’t have any risk, socd which came from trying to figure out the harm ocd, rocd, religious ocd which was ridiculous, or health ocd which lasted two years with a daily battle of stomach virus fears. It left when harm ocd started and had not bothered me since. Crazy huh. I also have rituals like light switches, faucets, praying just right, parking brakes etc etc etc. these things are done because my ocd makes me think if I don’t it means I wanna harm someone. So see I definitely have ocd. Any ideas or comforting words would be appreciated very much. Thank u
Thank you very much for this article. Sometimes I forget how insignificant the invasive thoughts are and let my OCD intrusive thoughts start to really take over my life. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not crazy and that these thoughts carry no weight about my personality or my inner self. I think we all need a little reminder from time to time.
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Hi Riya, Your obsession / fear of making a mistake and being fired is being followed by a compulsion to check and recheck your emails. Work on reducing the amount of checking you’re doing and take the risk that you made a mistake. If you follow this consistently over time, it is the best way to reduce obsessions and anxiety levels. Regarding Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the idea that your values are more important than your internal private experiences (thoughts, images, feelings). You are correct in the example you gave. Focus on sending the email (value – working hard) rather than catering to intrusive thought about making the mistake, which is only a thought.
The way OCD makes you do compulsions is to convince you to seek certainty and reduce discomfort. It is impossible to know things we forgot right? So OCD loves to convince sufferers they did something bad and just forgot about it so they do compulsions to somehow remember what they maybe forgot. Compulsions are the food for OCD, so starve your OCD by refusing to seek certainty about what you possibly forgot.
Hi Derita, A lot of what you are describing sounds exactly what my clients go through with harm OCD. With any form of OCD, people try to gain certainty about their scary thoughts by doing compulsions. Your compulsions may be reassurance seeking, Internet searches, confessing to your husband or mental rituals. You can read my article on this website to understand compulsions. Putting your hand on your child’s nose and mouth for a moment was also a checking compulsion. Just like someone would check their stove to make sure they don’t burn the house down, you did this behavior to check to make sure you won’t hurt your child. We ask people to eliminate compulsions and to accept intrusive thoughts without trying to figure them out. I highly recommend finding an OCD specialist for CBT including ERP. If you continue to analyze the origin of thoughts in therapy, this can make OCD worse because it is similar to performing mental rituals.
Thanks so much!
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This is a really good article. I have pure O and was beginning to accept my nasty intrusive thoughts weren’t anything to worry about when I remembered that my mouth accidentally might have moved or I might have muttered the name of the subject of these thoughts. Now I am really worried that because I might have said something aloud it means it wasn’t just an intrusive thought and the thing I’m worried about (having inappropriate feelings towards someone) must be true. Is this the case? I don’t think this is normal for OCD thoughts 🙁
I have read many times of OCD sufferers that fear they have ALREADY done something (with the theme of harm OCD and other themes also). The fear is that they have already committed this horrible act, touched this dirty item, etc. There is not an urge to do such a thing… just the question, did I do that? I’ve also read that OCD makes sufferers wonder if they’ve done that thing and forgotten about it. I’ve read responses from you that OCD makes people wonder if they’ve done these things and forgotten about it. Is it also your experience that having forgotten about it is not part of the fear? In other words, simply having a harm, contamination, etc. thought and wondering if you really did that thing or was it only a thought?
Very impressive and very brave of the therapist to take the time to be introspective and then to fearlessly confess her own bizzare thoughts. I think its truly wonderful. Thank you.
Thanks you so much for sharing, Stacy. As an unfortunately experienced OCD sufferer, I can say that not responding to the thought is the only way to go about them. What I really needed to read was the piece at the end where you acknowledge the fact that with this approach, there will still be a little discomfort ,and that we can live with it. Very informative article, Thanks again.
Thank you for this article – I find it very comforting. I was first diagnosed with OCD when I was in college 20 years ago. At the time my obsessions were mainly focused on a fear that I had molested my siblings when we were younger, and that I would molest children again. Unfortunately the first psychiatrist I saw had little experience with it, and was too focused on my trying to discover why I was having the thoughts. He also tried to convince me that part of healing was to acknowledge that I got some enjoyment from these thoughts. Fortunately I switched doctors and did much better. I have continued to have intrusive thoughts throughout the years but have done well accepting that they will occur to me, and to not react strongly.
However, I am in a fairly new relationship that seems to have brought my symptoms back. At first the obsessions revolved around either I or my boyfriend not being right for each other and doubts about our affections/attraction. For example, I obsessed over whether he really liked me or was just lonely; or he only felt sorry for me; or only wanted to have sex once and then leave me. I feel I have done well in accepting that you can never have 100% certainty in a relationship and to just take things one day at a time. But about a week ago, I woke up with a random thought that my boyfriend looks a lot like one of my brothers. I assume that someone without OCD would just think oh, that’s a bit weird, (or even, no he doesn’t look like him) but sadly for me my thought was “now I have just ruined this relationship.” Even typing this out seems irrational, but since that day I have been obsessing and doing mental tricks to decide whether the resemblance is there.
I am terrified that the next time I see my boyfriend, I won’t be able to stop thinking about my brother. I’m also afraid that the next time we have sex, I will think only about my brother. Even when I think about the last time we had sex, I contaminate the memories by thinking about my brother. Of course this being the holidays, this whole situation is made worse by the fact that I am with my brother, and my boyfriend is away with his parents. I am trying to keep things ok with my brother because I know I am not supposed to avoid him. I am also trying to keep an open mind to see what happens when I see my boyfriend in about a week. But in the meantime I feel terrible. I have considered whether we should just break up, but the truth is I care about him a lot and I don’t want OCD to take him away from me. And truthfully I feel like OCD could just crop up and sabotage any other future romantic relationship, so why not try to stay with someone I already care about.
Because my symptoms had been so mild for so long it has been a while since I have seen a therapist. Is there a good way to find someone who specializes in OCD and CBT and ERB to treat it? I live in a major metropolitan area so it shouldn’t be too difficult, but I don’t want to end up with someone who has no experience. Thank you!
Hello. Thanks for your post. The crux of any OCD theme is having an obsessive thought that creates uncertainty and fear, followed by compulsions to reduce uncertainty and anxiety. If you are performing compulsions then you will validate obsessions and make OCD more powerful. It doesn’t matter what the obsession is. Many of my clients make distinctions between their obsessive question and that of others to try to gain certainty that they have OCD. This is another compulsion. We can’t have 100% certainty about our future actions and OCD capitalizes on this.
Your obsession is “I WANT to harm my family members” vs. “What if I harm my family members?” This is your OCD introducing a new twist. It sounds like you got pretty comfortable with the “what if” thoughts, so your OCD had to get more crafty to make you doubtful and fearful again. You are performing certainty-seeking compulsions to make sure bad things don’t happen and that your harm thoughts are actually OCD. The idea is to recognize the ways you try to seek certainty (mentally or physically), and instead sit with uncertainty and anxiety until it passes. Read my blog article, “Compulsions in OCD” to learn about types of compulsions. Even in your post it sounds like you are doing the “self-reassurance” ritual to convince yourself that it is OCD and you would never harm your family. This is how your OCD is fed with rituals. Don’t try to answer the question if this is harm OCD. It will feel scary but will eventually weaken OCD over time. If you haven’t met with an OCD specialist it is highly recommended to help with Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy.
Hi Matt, Thanks for reading. I’m glad it was a helpful reminder for you.
OCD thoughts can come up in any form. They will show up in any creative way to make you uncertain, because if you are uncertain you will perform mental and physical compulsions to make sure it’s OCD. This is the crafty way OCD works. You might want to say to yourself, “Maybe I did mouth the thoughts instead of thinking them. There is no way for me to prove it so I will just take the chance. If I did mouth the thoughts, maybe that means I believe them and it’s not OCD. ‘Oh well’ to that too! I will just keep living my life and stop trying to figure it out. If I try to figure it out, I am doing a certainty-seeking compulsion that will make my OCD stronger. I will call this OCD and maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not going to let this fear control my life anymore.” If you were my client, I may also make you mouth your scary thoughts intentionally multiple times a day until you habituate to the experience. This is a type of therapy called, Exposure and Response Prevention which is the evidence-based therapy for OCD.
Hi Jane, Yes OCD can show up in both ways. People have intrusive thoughts and worry that they mean something about their past, present or future. Others may worry about something they don’t remember may have happened. Consider that you may be asking this question to gain certainty that you have OCD and that bad things won’t happen / haven’t happened. This can be a compulsion that makes OCD more powerful. You may want to decide to say, “I’m not sure what these thoughts mean but I will stop analyzing them to see if they weaken in power.”
Hi Morty. I’m glad you have found a way to avoid responding to your intrusive thoughts and it has been helpful through the years. Thanks for your comments about my article.
Hi Adrienne, In addition to accepting intrusive thoughts about your boyfriend possibly resembling your brother, you can also go on the offense. If one of my clients had your symptoms, I would have them intentionally bring in the thoughts about your brother when you see your boyfriend. You can look at pictures of your boyfriend and point out all the ways he looks like your brother. Do this until it doesn’t feel scary anymore. During intimate moments, allow all thoughts to be there and even invite them in. If you live in California or outside the country, feel free to contact me. Otherwise, enter your zip code in the directory of OCD specialists on iocdf.org.
Thanks so much for your suggestion. Do you feel it is possible to overcome OCD by taking the approach that I won’t analyze/try to figure out if it was only a thought and not do imaginal exposures? Sometimes thoughts are so intrusive and repulsive and cause such great pain that the idea of writing it out or recording it cannot be accepted. I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles greatly with this. I wish I could express how impossible and revolting that would be. There must be other alternatives to imaginal exposure that are also effective. Surely it is not the ONLY way.
What would you say to someone who KNOWS the compulsions can’t possibly be working (because.. science…) HOWEVER: it feels too “RISKY” to just stop them (because “the moment you do, the “bad thing” will happen”)? I have never spoken to anyone like yourself who has a true understanding of OCD. The only experience I have talking about this embarrassing stuff is with family and friends… who are frankly quite annoyed with me. I struggle every day with extreme guilt over things I did as a kid, and thinking that the person I “wronged” is going to come back to press charges against me or kill me or otherwise haunt me. This stuff happened over 20 years ago, and I have compulsions and obsessive thoughts every day, all day, to the point where I find it difficult to function. I’m not an idiot, and I know that the things I do can’t possibly have any merit… and I know that as a child, I didn’t have the moral compass I do now, and I shouldn’t try to hold myself accountable… however, I still find myself not being able to stop my compulsions because it feels “too risky”…
I knew all this stuff, I have harm ocd which focuses mostly on self harm and harming children. The way you wrote this was simply amazing. I know the thoughts of mine and non sufferers are similar but actually logging it was brilliant. I think my ocd comes from an actual fear of dying, which ironically finally found suicide as a “possibility” which I have never considered till like 6 months ago in a psych class. I’ve never felt suicidal before the class at least no times I can really remember, and out of no where I’m thinking about jumping out of my room window, the panic was real, I have never had anxiety that severe it was scary, and I think sufferers become just as scared of the anxiety than they do the actual thoughts or at least I did. I don’t feel I can come back from this stage of my ocd, I can’t see a time where suicidal thoughts don’t activily bother me. Of course I don’t plan on suicide, I don’t believe in it and I still want so much, it’s ironic that the fear is actually refreshing sometimes to not fear to die seems almost worse, like you could do it. Normal depression also becomes a huge problem. The normal thoughts of I might never find anyone to love or I might never have a family of my own, which seems to be normal non ocd thoughts, you then encounter ocd thoughts sprinkled in i.e. I might never have a family might as well be dead, seems to meld into each other and sometimes its hard to distinguish between ocd and normal shitty thoughts. Wow that was long sry, good read though well done
I have had similar feelings of girls looking like my niece and feeling terrible about thinking about my niece during intimate moments. it always seemed ridiculous that it bothered me, just keep in mind that the thought of your brother can come even if the man doesn’t look like him. The OCD brain seems to always find a way. I wish you luck
Hi Jane, Imaginal exposure scripting is one of the many ways to do ERP, but it is an important and successful component. I have my clients watch movies, Youtube videos, and news articles in addition to writing exposure scripts. The idea that you are saying that writing the thoughts down or recording them is unacceptable, means that you still assign meaning to the thoughts rather than them being just a string of letters written in ink on a piece of paper. One of the purposes of scripts is to help change the meaning it has to you. I wouldn’t want you to avoid something that could help so greatly, although I know how difficult it is to take the plunge. I often have my clients start very small like writing a word that feels scary like, “murder,” or “molestation,” and then perhaps a phrase and later a story. When you do this intentionally, it takes on a different meaning than when your OCD is assaulting you with thoughts – because then you are in charge, not your OCD.
Hi Joe, What you are describing is normal in OCD. Most people with OCD have fairly good insight that their thoughts are irrational and that the compulsions are not actually protecting them. It is the sliver of doubt that exists in all areas of life for everyone that feels so nagging to a person with OCD. The OCD uses the “what if” to keep the person doing compulsions. Also, some people know the rituals don’t help but they are unwilling to face the anxiety that will result from disobeying the OCD. The first step is to accept that you cannot rid yourself of thoughts or uncertainty before stopping the rituals. Also, an OCD specialist will help you to order your compulsions from easiest to hardest and stop them in a structured way so it seems more manageable. Mindfulness skills are helpful to learn how to sit with anxiety and guilt rather than trying to eliminate feelings. If you get good at experiencing discomfort, you will be more willing to resist compulsions.
Hi Matt, I have seen many clients who have self-harm OCD thoughts. They don’t want to die or kill themselves, but they have suicide thoughts that terrify them. They may do compulsions like avoid walking out on their balcony, avoid using a knife, or avoid being home alone, or locking up pills. They may also do Internet searches on people who committed suicide or are severely depressed to compare and contrast. These compulsions make the obsessions more intense. I have done ERP with clients with OCD self-harm thoughts where they practice staying home by themselves, holding ropes or knives, or watching movies about suicide, to name a few. It is important for an OCD specialist to determine if a client is experiencing OCD suicide thoughts and not actual thoughts of suicide, so be sure to contact a professional if you feel you want to act on any self-harm thoughts.
Thank you for your kind response. In addition to grappling with doing imaginal exposures for thoughts with no visible compulsions, I am having an extremely hard time doing in vivo exposures. I had my cat checked for parasites. He is indoor only and I was shocked when the vet told me he thought he found one roundworm egg…said it might be pollen but he thought it was an egg. I gave him the medication and took him back in a month and was told he was clear. I made a mistake by reading a great deal about roundworms online which gave me the impression transmission could be possible without poop. I also read that a cat can pick up roundworm simply by eating a bug. My vet does not recommend a preventive for an indoor only cat, just a yearly check. I clean the litter box everyday. I’ve been doing an exposure for the past three days. I pick up the litter box by the top edge, return it to the floor and then touch the refrigerator door handle and go about my routine around the house, go to the grocery store, handle my eye glasses and cell phone, other household objects, etc. I find myself not wanting to do this, feeling sorry I ever did it. I do not, of course, wash any of the objects I touch after picking up the litter box and not washing my hands. After I wash my hands, I will take hold of the refrigerator door handle and get something out and eat it with my fingers. I feel like everyday doing this exposure increases the risk of spreading roundworm eggs, which are microscopic. I am not convinced they are there…I just don’t think it is impossible and I hate risking my health or that of somebody else who might open the refrigerator door. My only option now would be to undo this exposure by cleaning the items with bleach and I read repeatedly that bleach will not kill the eggs but just make them easier to remove. I’m thinking my anxiety level is about a 4-5 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst. I live alone but I worry most about my 95 year old mother who will sooner or later be here and will open the refrigerator. I would be extremely grateful if you would tell me if you feel I should continue this exposure or undo it. I just cannot imagine getting to the point where I habituate to this fear and I cannot imagine doing this exposure for months and months. At what point do you give up and say it is not working? Also, I have a very difficult time knowing if this exposure is too extreme. Is it something you would recommend to one of your patients?
I m suffering from pure-O and it started to feel like different from normal people. I hope you can give some advice to me!
My story was started from seven years ago .One day , when I was playing with my kid cousin , I suddenly had a thought that if i touch them inappropriately , then became very distress , however , I develop a compulsion that if I touch them or sit on the seats that they have been sit , then i will bath myself right away and it became a habit then I will feel comfortable! It has been all good , I finished my degree and got a job , I would rate myself living happily although I avoid children! However , things changed after I had met my boyfriend , I remeber one day when I thought of my boyfriend was touching me and I start to mastabute and after that I was so afraid that I was thinking his brother! This provide me a sense of guilty and my brain suddenly changed ! when this thought become less bothering, incest and children theme became back again like there were sexual images that I force children to have sex with me but actually this image was very vague but i didn’t want to have this!
I know it’s is ocd I have told myself but The sense of guilty was very high and made me very depressed . I was a very happy person and loving to hang around with friends and had a good job that I like and feeling satisfied.
But Now I feel like I m losing myself and for whatever I do , I will compare present myself from the past self! And compare why I cannot become normal again just like other people do.. And feeling that I cannot become my old self and normal life and become happiness again ! Will People with pure o also feel like that or just only me feeling like that ?It feel like hopeless
Is that my case is very serious ?could you help me?
I want to add more
As I read the other article and one of the Kcf suffer had the thought of ‘ touch them’ when saw the children and became my obsession too ! It never happened on me before ! I feel very regretted that I did that thing and suddenly so many intrusive thoughts came out ! If not , I m still living happily 🙁
And I lost all the interests and hope! Everything I did now even things that would make me happy before are no longer happy
Feeling like I m forever like that ! Am I also suffer from depression ?
Sorry for sending three messages
Iam 13 weeks pregnant nw.i hav ocd.i had read so many blogs related to it.bt i cant stop thinking.sumtimes i feel like putting an end to my life.iam getting treated by therapist.i had finished my 4th session.bt no improvement.m frustrated.bt has to live for sake of my family.even reading such blogs i donno why i cant stop thnkng of ocd thoughts.itz very difficult for me.anyways thanx for the details.it may nt b helpful for me bt hope may b for others.
I enjoyed reading this – to know that a another productive person is also “suffering” through these wierd thoughts. I would randomly think about what would happen if I started smashing eggs on the floor in the grocery store. I know I have been misdiagnosed with just ADHD – I am currently in a hospital study looking at BDD – I compulsively pick me face. Sadly I have encountered new means of self injury but have a great therapist right now working through my pain. Thanks again!
Hi Jane, Working with an OCD specialist is recommended so the professional can guide you through the exposure process. If I was working with a client in your situation, I would do exposures in the way you mentioned since the vet treated the cat and wasn’t concerned about it. Also, I would only get the cat checked once per year as recommended by the vet. You may try cleaning out the litter box every other day instead of every day so the cat box becomes a less important issue in your life.
Hello. Many people with OCD describe their experiences the way you do. They often stop living their lives the way the used to because of their obsessions and anxiety. It is important to continue living your life the way you used to despite obsessions. Be around children anyway even though you may have intrusive thoughts or anxiety. Focus on the actions of living the life you want rather than trying to control unwanted thoughts. We can’t control our thoughts, they just happen. Also, work on reducing washing compulsions that occur after sitting on a chair a child had sat on, etc. Doing avoidance or washing only reinforces obsessions over time even though it may make you feel less anxious or guilty in the moment. I recommend having an assessment with an OCD specialist. I see clients in person and over Skype if you are looking for a therapist.
I believe you are saying that you read an article that discussed obsessions and the statement “touch them” became an obsession for you too. With exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP), we work to intentionally expose people to statements such as this so they habituate to ANY intrusive thoughts. Over time, you will not have to be careful about what you hear about or read, because you will be willing to have ANY thought. All thoughts are equal, they are just thoughts. You may purposely bring in the thought “touch him” or “touch her” every time you see a child in public. This will help you re-wire your brain’s response to this thought and not be so triggered by it, or any other thought, in the future.
There are 3 tenets of behavioral therapy: 1.) You cannot always control your thoughts 2.) You cannot always control your feelings 3.) You CAN control your behavior. If you play piano you cannot control your feelings about playing piano today, but you can decide to play piano even though you don’t feel like it. When you change your behavior, your thoughts and feelings often follow. Try to do things each day even though you no longer feel like doing them. This is also helpful for depression that is often associated with OCD.
Hi Rejina, I am glad to hear you are seeing a therapist. Make sure you let your therapist know about your suicidal thoughts. It can take time to improve, so try to be patient with your progress. And remember, your goal is not to get rid of thoughts, but to change your relationship with your thoughts. If they are not meaningful to you, it doesn’t matter if they are there. You cannot control your thoughts, but you can change the meaning you assign to them and your response to them.
Hi Denise, Thanks for your post. I’m glad to hear you have found a good therapist. Maybe you can really smash an egg to show your OCD who is boss. Best wishes!
So how to clear the guilt from my heart?
I know those thoughts are thoughts but the guilt seems cannot take it away?this feeling is like taking my personality also! I feel like different from my old self ! Is that any advice for that?
This post was definitely helpful and relieving! I have dealt with fears of being gay even though I am clearly straight and in a loving relationship with my boyfriend of 2 years. Just a few days I saw a guy who is homosexual wearing the brand of clothes that my boyfriend loves. My OCD has now developed into thoughts of “is my boyfriend gay??” I clearly know the answer to the question is an obvious no but I am not about to study or sleep due to this horrifically false thought. I get so upset because I know he’s straight but I can’t stop obsessing over the untrue thoufht of him being gay. When I look at a picture of him now I see him as looking gay. Please help, I’m not sure of how to handle these thoughts and convince myself that they are false.
i love this article
Treat thoughts and feelings in the same way. Just as you are working on being an observer of all thoughts as they enter and exit, work towards observing and experiencing any anxiety or guilt. The more you try to control guilt, the worse it will become. Guilt is a normal human emotion and you will suffer more if you try to control or change what is there in the moment. You may also feel less guilty about your thoughts when you stop assigning value and meaning to them.
Hi Lauren, OCD thoughts are characterized by uncertainty, whether it be doubt about you being gay or your boyfriend being gay. If you try to disprove your OCD thoughts, this is a compulsion that will reinforce the OCD. The crux of OCD treatment is to experience intrusive thoughts, anxiety and uncertainty without doing rituals. You may even agree with the OCD by saying something like, “Well since my boyfriend is gay, I guess I won’t be having any more sex. Oh well.” You can do other exposures such as watching movies with gay themes with the goal of habituating to gay thoughts about you or your boyfriend.
Hi Stacy. I was wondering if you’d answer a question. I have been diagnosed with OCD for a little over 11 years now. I have all types of thoughts, from harm, to fears of contamination, POCD and so on. The thoughts that seem to break me down the most are the ones that say I did do something bad. Although I have no concrete memory of doing so. For example, I have been with my hubby for almost 10 years. I’ve always been attracted to men. I have children of my own as well. But I have a fear of having did something in the past. Although my daughter was there as well during the time and has never brought anything up afterwards. And I have seen the person that this thought revolves around and there’s not been anything said. I try to rationalize and say to myself if I did do that thing, my daughter would have definitely mentioned it. Then I go through a whole checklist of why this thought can’t be true. Then the thoughts turn to “you did do that thing you fear” “you’re a liar and a pervert” “go to jail and die”….And so on. I just want to forget about this thought and stop with the doubting and questioning myself over it. Advice?
Hello. The OCD brain will tell you have done something in the past but you won’t be able to prove it. None of us can prove things with 100% certainty because it is impossible to prove something we may have forgotten…but that doesn’t mean it happened. For this reason you must stop trying to mentally review your questions, not the other way around. You are trying to prove it so that you stop obsessing about it, but you must stop trying to prove it first, and then it will stop feeling quite as important or urgent because you are not attending to it. The mental process you are going through is a compulsion that makes OCD worse. It will be scary to take the leap of faith, but it is the way to free yourself.
I’m so glad that you wrote this post. As someone who has struggled with OCD, it is so difficult dealing with intrusive thoughts and feeling like you are alone and deranged for having them. If more people were open about the fact that we all have these weird thoughts pop up now and again, there would be less stigma and people would be more likely to come forward and seek help for this very real problem. Thank you.
Thank you Stacey. You have given a new strength to me. Blessings.
This was so comforting to read. I loved the article, it really helped me understand about the intrusive thoughts people without OCD get and then how it affects people with OCD (me). It made my understanding of the anxiety disorder a lot clearer and I was struggling to really understand what was going on in my brain before landing here. Thank you so much for writing this article, it has cleared up a lot of questions I’ve had!
I’ve haven’t been diagnosed with OCD only GAD. I’m too scared to tell anyone the intrusive thoughts I’ve been having. The couple of times I considered it I almost had a panic attack. I’m so miserable but it’s like I’m choosing to sink instead of getting in the lifeboat. I don’t know why I can’t snap out of it. I made an appointment back in September (I even cried as a dialed the number) there no openings until November and I ended up having to cancel it. I haven’t been able to pick up the phone to call back since then. Anyway, I was wondering can OCD cause false feelings? I’ve had intrusive thoughts where for a split second it felt like I was happy about it (I hate typing this) or that I enjoyed it, I always feel terrible after that.
Thanks for reaching out. I understand your fears about telling someone about your thoughts. Most people like you are terrified to share their intrusive thoughts with others, and feel that they will be proved to be a terrible person. People with OCD also worry that feelings or bodily sensations mean that they are happy about their thoughts. It is one of OCD’s tricks. Thoughts are ego-dystonic if they are not inline with who you are and who you want to be as a person. If your feeling in one moment says otherwise, just label that as OCD and don’t trust what your brain and body does. I recommend looking for a therapist who specializes in OCD. You can look up your zip code at http://www.iocdf.org or send me an email if you are in California or one of the areas I treat.
hi, firstly thank you so much for this article. i have been diagnosed with OCD and i also believe i have GAD, as whenever i read a newspaper or someone tells me something bad that has happened to them, i start worrying that it has happened/will happen to me.
One aspect of OCD i struggle with is this, and to quote your article: ”Even OCD sufferers know what it is like to have a bizarre thought that doesn’t matter to them. When something isn’t the primary target of your OCD, you are able to feel uncertain about the meaning of the weird thought, but it doesn’t seem to matter. You decide to avoid spending any mental or physical energy on the thought and your brain allows you to move on. Some OCD sufferers have noticed this phenomenon with thoughts that used to be bothersome, but are no longer primary OCD targets. They often say, “I can’t believe this thought used to bother me before.” Your OCD theme has transferred to a new target. This is a common occurrence when you begin to respond to your OCD thoughts correctly. Your OCD needs to find a new area to get you to react.”
when a particular thought is the primary target of my OCD (i.e. i suffer from thoughts i am a lesbian but i know i am not, because at the moment this lesbian thought is not my primary target) i honestly genuinely believe it and my mind looks for evidence it is true i.e. – you did this so it must mean you are a lesbian etc. how can i train my mind to realise that ALL my thoughts are OCD, as they are not always primary targets. does that make sense?
Stacey, I’ve had pure-o my whole life with a myriad of obsessions, both imaginary fear-thought related and getting stuck on overblown concerns about real things…what would you suggest when the subject of the obsession becomes the ocd itself, and the fear that it’s getting worse? Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy, I’m thinking about thinking (or ocd) constantly. How do you know when it IS in fact getting worse and you need to take things to another level, as opposed to a fake manufactured uptick in inability to control thoughts and the sensation that you’re going to become incapacitated by it?
Great article. It is eye opening to understand how OCD changes themes. I have a new OCD this year that I did not have last year. Email OCD. It’s so bizzare. When I logout of my email account, I get this intrusive thought about people I have had negative experiences with. If this thought occurs, I will have to log back in and log out again until that thought ceases to occur when i log out. It is extremely hard to control thoughts! I am also convinced that I sent my colleagues inappropriate pictures. So, I keep re checking my sent folder several times. You article is greatly helping me realize these for what they are. False alarms! That’s the term I am going to use and label it. Do you have suggestions to handle these? Should I be taking baby steps with OCD thoughts (I have a few of them) or should I try hard and not attend to any OCD thoughts at all. I have had some success with ignoring OCD thoughts but I keep relapsing.
Thank you for you post. I have really blizzard thoughts. I also have a fear if having schizophrenia and have been diagnosed with OCD and Severe Anxiety. However I can’t shake the feeling that I have schizophrenia . I am so afraid of ” hearing ” things that I think my thoughts are voices . They are my own voice. A lot of the thoughts have to do with looking at someone and a thought saying why don’t you kill.them? Having horrible pictures pop in my head . I am 35 and have been to war and basic training . If i bad schizophrenia it would have come out . Why do I fear hearing a different voice ? Because I’m afraid? Thank you again for your post.
Hi Mikila, Thanks for your comment. It is very common for people with harm OCD to fear they have schizophrenia. People with OCD often have obsessions about losing control and doing some action that is not something they want to do and is outside their value system. Since schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder, OCD can use it as a threat to attempt to scare you into doing compulsions. Try to work on accepting your diagnosis, even though your OCD will tell you otherwise. When thoughts about harm come in, label them as OCD and try not to analyse the thought or avoid anything. Avoidance compulsions for harm OCD might involve not being around people for fear you may listen to your intrusive harm thoughts.
Hi Dean, Thanks for your comment. Yes, you may make a list of your compulsions and try to work on resisting them one at a time until each one is mastered. For example, you may start with not logging back in to email while practicing letting the negative thought be present. You can even practice bringing in the negative thought on purpose and beat your OCD to the punch. If you have an OCD specialist in your area I highly recommend working with someone to learn the ERP skills to manage your OCD. We are located in Los Angeles.
Hi Mike, Trying to assert control of what thoughts and feelings you are having is only going to make things feel dangerous and make you feel more impaired. It is never time to panic over the amount of OCD you are experiencing. Many clients have come to me in this state and we need to keep our cool about this being very uncomfortable but not dangerous. Do you best to ride the waves of your panic. This is the technique.
Hi Lily, You cannot have certainty that all of your thoughts are OCD. If you try to have certainty, you are performing compulsions that fuel OCD. Instead, try to accept that you will not always know with 100% certainty. You can remind yourself that this is your OCD theme and that it is likely OCD, but practice sitting with that feeling of uncertainty that is so scary, and it will become easier to do so through time. Trying to get certainty by performing a compulsion (e.g. mental checking or analyzing) will only make you feel more confused and uncertain. In behavioral therapy you must take the actions first and the thoughts and feelings will follow.
Thank you Laura Beth.
Great article. I suffer from Relationship OCD, which tries to tell me I don’t love or even LIKE my partner. I don’t know if I would categorize those as “weird” thoughts, but maybe that’s my OCD trying to tell me it’s not weird. I’m trying to get in touch with a psychiatrist and a good therapist, but it is difficult. It’s crazy because I’ll wake up in the morning, and it will attack my asking something random, she as “Do I really enjoy talking to her?”, “Is she smart enough?”, “Am I attracted to her?”, “Are we compatible?”, “Would I still want to be with her if x happened”, and this morning I think it was even asking me “do I like the job she is working???”. Now, that’s weird. They pound in my head constantly, and I know I enjoy my relationship very much when I’m not fretting over these thoughts. I also get freaked out being around other girls I find attractive because I’m afraid I will become more interested in them and less interested in her. It’s some intense stuff. I definitely have experienced saying “I wish I had some sort of cleanliness OCD because at least that would be useful and not affect my relationships”, but I guess my mind would make those scenarios just as bad. I’ve also suffered from a little bit of HOCD and POCD in the past, but those were never quite as bad as my relationship OCD issues.
Hi Troy, Thanks for your comments. ROCD can be pretty maddening. You have done a great job with noticing the thoughts that OCD produces in the morning. Now it is your job to live the best life possible with the possibility of relationship doubt thoughts showing up. Picture the relationship you want to live, and take the actions of living in that relationship. You have control that you are taking the actions of your dream relationship…you don’t get to choose what thoughts arrive. So accept thoughts and feelings and focus on living out your values in the relationship despite doubt. For example, you may want to do road trips, make coffee every morning for partner, and hold hands in public – check to see if you are avoiding living the relationship you want while waiting to get thoughts under control and reverse it and begin living now!