Do you have a life event you are obsessed with, horrified by and spend excessive amounts of time on? I bet you’ve worried that you actually have something wrong with you and in your case, it’s not OCD. I have received many emails from people explaining that they have a real event in their past that makes them exempt from having OCD. They are concerned they must really be evil, depraved, diseased, or otherwise not who they thought they were or wish to be. They write to me with stories of how their situation is unique and they have never seen a similar example in OCD literature. Here are some examples of real life events that at face value may be regarded as non-OCD issues:
“I really did kiss a same sex person.” You’ve always identified as straight, but kissed someone of the same sex and worry this makes you gay. Someone who wasn’t gay wouldn’t do this, right? You’ve read that people with OCD don’t actually act out their fears; they just worry that they might. You now spend all day every day doing Google searches about what constitutes homosexuality and reading blogs about homosexual OCD (HOCD). You don’t find any stories like yours on the OCD blogs and when you posted your story people said you were gay.
“I really played doctor with my neighbor when I was a child.” When you were a child you asked your neighbor to pull down his pants and when he did you touched his genitals. In OCD books you’ve read about people who fear they may one day touch a child, but you’ve actually done it. You have replayed that day a billion times in the past 5 years. You are not sure why you started worrying about it recently. You’re not 100% certain you didn’t do even more. People tell you to ‘let it go’ because it was normal childhood play, but you believe they are lying about how bad they truly think it is.
“I really drove drunk and got into an accident.” Nobody discovered you were drinking and driving because after you hit the street sign you drove home. This happened 10 years ago but in the last 2 years it has begun to haunt you. You obsess about whether you remember the situation correctly. You wonder if you hit and killed a person but didn’t check carefully enough for the body. This must be something serious since you can’t get it out of your mind.
“I really masturbated holding my sister’s panties as a preteen.” You used a personal item of your sisters for sexual pleasure. It really happened. You want to ask someone how bad it was but you are too ashamed. You spend time every day telling yourself how sick of a person you are. Every time you see your sister you have an unwanted sexual thought, so you try to avoid your sister as much as possible.
“I really cheated on my wife.” You broke your marriage vows 4 years ago. She found out and has forgiven you, but you still obsess about it all day long. You ask her daily for reassurance about your wrongdoing. You need to know how bad it was. When you see a beautiful woman in public, you panic and call your wife to confess you may have looked at her. Even your wife wants you to move on, but you feel you are a cheater and must pay the price.
“I really had sex with a reluctant person.” Freshman year you talked a girl into having sex. It was your idea and you sensed she was initially reluctant, but eventually decided to go through with it. “Was that rape?” you wonder on a daily basis. You spend hours reading articles about date rape and panic when you learn that rape doesn’t have to be violent and forcible. You won’t allow yourself to have normal romantic relationships because you feel you don’t deserve it until you solve the questions of your past. You often check her Facebook page to make sure you haven’t damaged her for life. You have even considered turning yourself into the police.
“I really said mean things to people in middle school.” You can’t stop thinking of the kid you bullied in school. If you are still uncomfortable about the memory then it must be true and it was really bad. His mom died and you can’t remember if you made fun of him for that, but you need to know for sure before you can move on. You replay the memories daily. You’re concerned that your actions have affected his life forever. What if he attempted suicide or is a drug addict because of you?
Why are you contacting an OCD specialist?
Now, why would someone who experienced these real life events contact an OCD specialist for help? And if you are convinced that your situation is dire because of the real life misstep you have taken, how is it that you have come to find this article and are reading it right now? For these individuals to be contacting me with their concerns there must be some insight that the level to which they are stuck is not normal. This is true even despite the perceived severity of their real life actions. At the same time you are horrified by your actions, there must be a tiny glimmer somewhere inside that tells you that the way this concern repeats incessantly like a broken record is excessive even considering the life event.
You can have OCD about real life events
Yes, it’s true. OCD can decide to latch itself onto anything you value. A lot of obsessions begin with a kernel of truth, and this is one reason they are so alluring and grab your attention so easily. We have all done things we are not proud of, remember and cringe. Even people who have done worst things than you are generally able put the life experience to rest and don’t appear to experience incessant suffering. This doesn’t mean that non-OCD sufferers don’t feel guilt or regret when they think about the life event. The memory may pop into their consciousness at varying levels of frequency and intensity throughout their lives.
But it is a different brand of suffering when it is OCD. One of the big differences with real event OCD is that there is an extreme sense of urgency that something needs attended to and the sufferer is locked into the task. Your OCD gives you the job to trek through the maze, the piles of disorganized files in your brain to find that one piece of information that will set you free. And there is a deadline and you are already behind. OCD involves the kind of intrusive and threatening memories that drill into your brain and urge you to act immediately or suffer the consequences. It is the ‘my plane is about to crash’ experience. And the feared consequences if you fail to act may involve finding out you’re a sick person, being ostracized by your family, going to jail or suffering a life never knowing for sure the severity of your actions.
Distorting the life event
OCD sufferers engage in cognitive distortions, where the human mind frames life situations in irrational and exaggerated ways. ‘All or nothing thinking’ is a form of perfectionism where a person views situations in two extremes rather than on a continuum. The problem with this form of thinking is that you must be perfect or you are unacceptable. Even a small mistake puts you in a ‘bad’ category with killers, rapists and pedophiles. Without recognition of the ‘all or nothing’ distortion, an OCD sufferer will engage in mental and physical compulsions to ensure they are a good person and experience an urgent need to disprove they are bad.
Since most things in life fall somewhere in the gray area, this certainty seeking will keep you on the hamster wheel to nowhere. Imagine one of the real life scenarios above or insert your own real life event. It is hard to accept something was not the most shining moment of your life, but it also likely not the worst thing that can happen. OCD convinces you that you need to know for sure how bad something was in order to be deemed a good person, but it’s not black and white. Something can be sort of bad on one day and doesn’t fundamentally change who you are as a person. In session, I will sometimes have clients rate their transgression on a continuum for some helpful imagery that reveals their ‘all or nothing’ fallacy:
Ghandi You Jeffrey Dahmer
‘Emotional reasoning’ is another common cognitive distortion in OCD. This occurs when someone regards emotions as facts, rather than using concrete evidence. If you feel guilt, shame or anxiety about your life event you may mistakenly believe this is proof that your actions were especially bad. This is so common in OCD because thoughts and feelings persist in super human ways in the OCD brain. It is easy to fall for the idea that OCD thoughts and feelings are important because they are so powerful and sticky. Remind yourself it is not necessary to compulsively examine your historical event just because it still feels bad. Labeling emotional reasoning helps reduce the urge to ritualize, reminds you it is okay to experience your difficult emotions and ultimately weakens the hold OCD has on you.
‘Magnification’ is a distortion that occurs when you believe the life event was more important than it actually was. When you stop to take a closer look you probably realize that you are likely not the only person that has ever had this life experience. You may also be more willing to accept this behavior in someone else sooner than you would in yourself. The problem is distortions take over automatically in the absence of rational thought. They are the voice of OCD. It is important to take a moment to look at the intrusive thought or memory to recognize if it is distorted, if it is OCD in sheep’s clothing. Recognition of the cognitive traps you may encounter is helpful to resist performing damaging compulsive behaviors.
If you have OCD about a real life event you may feel you have a faulty memory. You likely wish you could remember the event more clearly but try as you may, the details seem murky. You are probably doing mental rituals to gain certainty about the situation just to find it becomes more twisted and convoluted. People are terribly unreliable eye witnesses. If you witness a crime and are asked to describe the perpetrator, it is common to falsely remember details such as the man wearing a hat or having a beard.
Memories are reconstructed, not played back as an exact replica of what was witnessed. For this reason, the more you review a single situation the more varying ways the memory can be skewed and false details added. You may remember seeing the beautiful woman on the street, but did you look back at her? Did you smile at her? Your OCD might even make you wonder if you asked for her number.
The OCD will capitalize on present fears and construct memories that confirm your theories about the expected behavior of a former cheater. The more the situation is reviewed the more additional false details may be added to the memory and the more material for your OCD to use against you. The more you try to gain certainty the more you will mistrust your memory.
It’s not technically about self-forgiveness. Forgiveness implies that you have done some unforgiveable act and need to work towards reparation for it. This process usually requires time spent discussing and processing the event. You may believe if you find a way to forgive yourself then you can stop obsessing about it. People in your life may have even encouraged you to work on it. With OCD, discussing and analyzing the event is not the approach we want to take. In fact, I’m sure you have already spent excessive amounts of time evaluating the situation and all its many angles, yet getting nowhere.
Now, I’m not saying this is an event you are proud of. What I am saying is that it’s not the event that is the problem; it is the OCD that is the problem. There is a chance you would have moved on from the event if the OCD hadn’t grabbed onto it. And we don’t treat OCD with self-forgiveness because OCD exaggerates and distorts life events. Imagine that being stuck on this may not be due to lack of self-forgiveness but the way OCD traps you. OCD has taken over the life event, twisted it and has convinced you into believing it is a critical problem that requires forgiveness or punishment.
Compulsions in real event OCD
Compulsions are physical or mental behaviors that OCD sufferers engage in to gain certainty about a fear or to feel less anxiety, guilt and shame. ‘Reassurance-seeking’ is one of the most common types of compulsive behaviors that occur in response to OCD about real life events, that is, if you are brave enough to ask someone. This normally comes in the form of asking for reassurance about how bad your actions were.
With ‘reassurance seeking,’ the OCD sufferer will have an urgent need to know for sure how others perceive the incident in hopes they can let it go. You may ask the same person a million different ways until they are about to kill you or you may survey 100 of your dearest friends and compare results. You may find yourself doing extensive Internet research looking for reassurance that ultimately leads you into a bigger hole of despair.
Mental rituals are compulsions performed mentally to gain certainty about the level of terribleness of your actions. Probably the most common type of mental ritual in real life event OCD is ‘mental review.’ You will find yourself replaying the life situation and what likely happened, what should have happened, and what a ‘good’ person would have done. You may say things like, “What would I have done if this one factor changed?” and “How would others view what I have done?”
‘Self-punishment’ is another typical mental ritual that serves to absolve some of the massive guilt the sufferer is experiencing about the incident. If you feel you have done something awful, it may make you feel better to punish yourself as uncomfortable as this process may be. You don’t want to feel as if you got away with the horrible event. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime, however. Ask yourself if your incident calls for a life sentence.
Read about more Compulsions in OCD here.
What if someone really killed, raped or molested?
I am going to answer this right here because I know it is what you are thinking. When should a person draw the line and decide their actions were unacceptable and ‘should’ be punished? OCD suffering about a real life event is different than run-of-the mill feelings about a real life event. And I haven’t had anyone come to me with OCD about anything that could put them in jail for life. I suppose this is because OCD likes to attach itself to things that hover around the middle ground, in that elusive gray area that is hard to prove or disprove.
With real life event OCD I usually see situations that occur somewhere at that halfway point, where half of the population would say, “So what, move on” and half of the population would say “Why did you do that?” This is exactly why it is a good target for OCD because you will have trouble proving with 100% certainty how bad it was. Label the ‘all or nothing’ thinking here so you don’t get panicked that not everyone agrees your actions weren’t bad, it doesn’t make you Jeffrey Dahmer. In addition, if you can accept that not everyone has to agree with your actions and you can still be a good person, than you will be more likely to refrain from compulsions that strengthen the problem.
It is really not the life event that is the problem. It is also not the thoughts or feelings about the life event that is the problem. The problem is your reaction to the thoughts and feelings about the life event. Particularly because you are tracing this back to a real life event, it is even more important to practice acceptance. It is a good practice to witness the thoughts and feelings that arise and decide to stay with them instead of trying to escape them.
It is okay to have these unwanted memories, anxiety and guilt about something you did. Observe the thoughts, images, memories and feelings as they enter the room and allow them to leave on their own when they choose to. You do not have control of these internal experiences and you cannot stop them. The idea of mindfulness is to allow them to happen organically while you watch. This practice will result in a more agreeable relationship with the real life event and related thoughts and feelings.
Read more about Mindfulness and OCD here.
Exposure and Response Prevention
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a form of behavioral therapy that is used to assist OCD sufferers to face thoughts and feelings about the real life event while preventing compulsions that reinforce obsessions. Since those with real event OCD are triggered by thoughts about the event, a process called ‘imaginal exposure scripting’ should be one of the primary components of ERP.
An OCD specialist will help you develop scripts for exposure therapy that target your OCD, based on your specific fears. Examples that might be included in the script are: You have harmed someone permanently with your actions, You are indeed a horrible person, You will never know the exact details with certainty and you will obsess about the event forever. It may also include feared consequences such getting away with a crime, social rejection, or losing everything you love in life.
I promise if someone asks you to do this they are not crazy. They are suggesting you intentionally spike your OCD fears until you habituate to them and no longer have extreme levels of anxiety when you have thoughts and memories about the event. It is a process that is used to un-pair your thoughts from anxiety and guilt by intentionally exposing yourself to them. You will not feel particularly good about the life event but you will be able to experience the thought without an extreme emotional reaction. You will end up with a conventional relationship with your life event, like all the rest of us have. “Not my favorite moment, but oh well.”
How do I know mine is OCD?
You don’t get to know for sure if yours is really OCD and not something really terrible. One of the symptoms of OCD is that you are in a persistent state of doubt about whether your obsession is something that needs attended to. One of the most important parts of OCD treatment is learning to sit with uncertainty and choosing to resist doing compulsions despite it. It kind of doesn’t matter anyway. It is important to find a way to create a life worth living for yourself.
Ask yourself if you should waste your life trying to figure out the past, when you can focus on bringing what you want into your present and future. I know you don’t feel you deserve it. The main tenets of behavior therapy are: We cannot control our thoughts and feelings but we can control our behavior. If you change your behavior, your thoughts and feelings will follow. Take the actions of deserving it first and the feelings of deserving it will follow. Take active steps towards life improvement even before you feel deserving of good things. Don’t wait to feel deserving of good things in order to move towards life improvement when your OCD thoughts and feelings go away. Living a life in service of what you value will assist in undermining OCD thoughts and feelings about real life events.
Be angry at the OCD, not the life event. Let the emotional energy be used to target the real problem which is the fact that your brain is stuck on a real life event that the OCD is making you think is still important. The response to the event is exaggerated because of the faulty brain messaging due to OCD. The event may not be ideal or what you would have wished to happen in your life, but don’t we all have those? Consider that the stickiness level of the memories is through the roof, much more than anyone without OCD would be experiencing. And finally, be very kind and compassionate with yourself as you learn to weave in this life event and conceptualize the way OCD has hijacked it.
Stacey Kuhl Wochner, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles, CA specializing in the treatment of OCD. Follow her on Facebook.
I have pure ocd. Now I am taking medicine. They doctor asked to me to fix an date for therapy.
The theme of Ocd is really important and the therapist should understand that. Is that right?
I feel very useful reading your articles. Thank You for your service to the society.
Thank you for your comments. I’m happy that you have found my articles helpful. It would be most beneficial to find an OCD specialist. If a therapist treats OCD almost exclusively, they will be able to understand the treatment for your OCD no matter what theme is.
Thanks so much for the excellent insight and counsel on OCD. Every new post is more and more helpful to us OCD sufferers.
One issue I’ve yet to see you or Jon discuss is the fear of alcohol (drinking alcohol). I suffer from OCD in many forms, but one issue that I don’t see discussed very much is this. Fearing that if I consume alcohol or too much alcohol will cause me to loose control and harm someone. And what makes it worse is starting the day out knowing I will be consuming alcohol that night with friends or family because I fear I’m somehow planning or hiding the fact that I will will harm someone with alcohol in my system that night. I know ERP is the answer, but I again find myself trying to avoid alcohol, and its downright not fair.
So I guess my question is, how does someone do ERP with this fear?
Hi Stacey, I just had time to read this article and I cannot express how thankful I am for it. I have spent so much time wondering if my obsessing over past mistakes are or not OCD and never finding info about it (yeah I did and can’t deny I still do a lot of compulsion you described here), but now I’m so much relieved and hopeful that with the proper strategies to fight this OCD I can work to let go of the guilt and doubt. Really live in the present and accept uncertainty. Thank you.
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found this article helpful.
I have had tons of clients who share your fear of consuming alcohol or drugs. They are often afraid any state of mind alteration will cause them to do something crazy like molest or harm someone. They also fear if they did something crazy while under the influence of alcohol they won’t remember their actions which they believe will cause a perpetual state of doubt about past actions. Some people even fear helpful medications such as SSRIs for the same reason. Others drink alcohol despite the fear, but after a night out may go into days, weeks or months of panic and mental review to gain certainty about the details of the evening.
Imaginal exposure scripts may be written about past experiences where the client drank alcohol and doubt the events of the night. While I obviously don’t give people exposure assignments to do things that are bad for them (e.g. illegal drugs / getting drunk), for those with this fear, even smaller amounts of alcohol may be anxiety producing. For exposure, a person may have a drink and write imaginal exposure scripts the next day about the possibility that he or she did something bad and forgot about it.
Also, we may look for movies or news articles that make for good exposure such as, “Side Effects,” where the character’s prescribed medication causes harming behavior. As with other OCD themes, clients don’t always need to be directly exposed to the thing they fear to be effective therapy. For example, clients who fear blood are often afraid to touch any red or brown spot on a chair or book.
Lastly, it is important to label and try to reduce mental rituals. Notice when there is an urge to go over past events for certainty about actions. This is the response prevention part of ERP. It sounds like you perform mental rehearsal, a compulsion where you begin to evaluate your future actions in the morning if you will be drinking that evening. Internet searching should be eliminated, if the person is trying to find out if people under the influence of alcohol black out and harm people.
Hi Val, I’m glad the article resonated with you. Label mental compulsions as they come in and be kind to yourself in the process. You can’t always control your mental rituals but you can be fully aware of how they work, which can help a lot. Also work on accepting anxiety and guilt, these feelings will inevitably be present at times, but with acceptance you can change your relationship with them and therefore they will have much less impact.
of course, i still have to ask, we both had early abortions that latched on to the ocd, because of politics and stigma, it made it so difficult. has anyone else ever approached you with this subject. neit her of us are religious or felt anything was wrong with it, until it clicked in from the media. Mine latched on years later from a sign.
Thank you for reaching out with your stories. It is possible that OCD can latch itself onto any type of life event. If you have been diagnosed with OCD in the past and have had other episodes this is especially true. Obsessions about events that are highly excessive and have a compulsive component (mental or physical rituals) receive an OCD diagnosis. Your psychotherapist may also assess for PTSD symptoms with a life event such as an abortion, and there has been some research about the dual diagnosis of OCD / PTSD. CBT skills are used to treat both of these anxiety responses to life events.
Thank you for this article. You have no idea how many times in my reassurance-seeking with family and friends I have asked, “do I really have OCD if I am obsessed about something that actually happened?” How often do you hear from clients who have confession as a compulsion when trying to deal with this type of OCD?
Thank you for this article! I knew my all-of-a-sudden, out of nowhere, anxiety and worrying over a life event from 20 years ago had to be OCD but your article confirmed it. I have spent days of my life researching and researching Google and asking others around me to confirm whether or not I was a bad person, whether or not I could get in trouble for what I did, whether or not I ruined somebody’s life and whether or not I ruined my own. Your article has helped me so much! I still have some difficulty accepting my past and still find myself wanting to seek out reassurance but I’m getting stronger at resisting those compulsions and headed towards a healthier mental state of mind! Thanks for your help!
I’ve been dealing with exactly what’s been described in this article. There’s so much crippling worry, doubt, and uncertainty about particular events and my mind automatically assumes the worst case scenario will manifest. Even after an OCD diagnosis, I was concerned that maybe I’m too blame and not the OCD. This article provided so much reassurance and support. Thank you so much.
Hi Christine, Confessing is a very common compulsion when it comes to obsessions about a real event. The OCD suffer often gets reassurance from loved ones after confessing his or her wrongdoing and it helps them to feel like less of a horrible person. But this is only temporary relief and they ultimately feel more fearful and uncertain when the obsession returns. This is the cycle that must be broken to slow down the OCD process.
Hi Alex, I’m glad you found the article and it resonates with what you are going through. Keep on allowing yourself to be uncertain, guilty and anxious about the event and what it means about you and this is how you stop playing OCD’s game. It wants you do keep searching for answers because that is how it gets fed. Keep starving it!
Hi TE, It is a hallmark of OCD to feel that yours isn’t OCD and it actually something serious you must pay attention to. Allow uncertainty to be present when it shows up and try to resist trying to figure it all out. I’m happy to hear the article was helpful to you on this difficult journey with OCD.
You talk about allowing yourself to sit with the feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and guilt, but it seems like the flip side of that is a downward spiral into depression. If I stop feeding the OCD I eventually get so overwhelmed that depression sets in. How do you combat that?
Hi WM, If you do not feed your OCD with compulsions, you may experience any number of emotions including guilt, anxiety, and depression. Emotions are not problems, even sadness and depression. They are normal human emotions. If you learn to work with them using mindful acceptance, they will not bury you. Emotions are not dangerous but certain responses to emotions are dangerous such as suicidal behavior. If you are ever feeling suicidal you should contact a mental health professional. Otherwise, practice allowing even depression to come and go while you practice willingly experiencing it. You are doing this for a reason and you must remember this reason. Feeding OCD to avoid depression is only putting a Band-Aid on the problem. It is not a permanent fix and OCD will come back even stronger. If you find a way to cope with the emotions and uncertainty without feeding your OCD it will be a more lasting solution. This is very difficult and I recommend finding an OCD specialist to help you in this process.
What if “new real life events” pop up in the sufferer’s memory? I confessed to what had a grip on me, and then I suddenly remembered something else. My friends and family tell me to let it be, but this new anxiety is just as bad as the old. I’m so confused about when confession is the right thing to do- the honest thing- and when it is ocd talking.
Hi Christine, Err on the side of no confessing. I don’t go around confessing my memories even if they are bad ones. It is normal for OCD to spread to other things and I have seen plenty of clients where new memories spring up and call for your attention. Don’t allow it to trick you into doing compulsions. Face uncertainty and allow yourself to experience the discomfort until it passes on it’s own.
Thank you so much for your replies- your articles and website have been very helpful to me. I feel like you really understand this horrible beast. I am impressed that you are willing to respond to our queries, as many therapists would not. It is a comfort to know that someone who “gets it” also cares. Thank you.
Thank you too!
Thank you very much for this. I too obsess tirelessly over a real life event from my past, however my obsession stems from something that occurred to me, rather than something I did or commited myself. I spend endless amounts of time assessing whether or not I was affected by this event, what this event says about me as a person- and importantly- what it says about the other person involved. Does this still classify as OCD if I myself was not responsible for the wrong doing?
Hi Dominique, The answer to your question is, it might be. Feeling bad about a real life event and having distressing thoughts come in frequently about the event do not make it OCD. When OCD is involved, there will be intense feelings of uncertainty about the event that the sufferer feels a desperate need to resolve, even if logically there is nothing to figure out. The idea that you don’t know for sure how this event affected you (uncertainty) and having the frequent feelings of needing to figure out if / how it did sounds a lot like how OCD can present itself. Watch for the ‘need to know’ urges and allow them to pass rather than seeking answers.
Like so many of the other comments I just wanted to thank you for your posts on OCD and especially the ‘real life’ OCD that you detail here. I can relate to what you say so much having had OCD symptoms since early childhood and rumination/Pure O in adulthood. Unchecked it’s such a debilitating condition. Wow, but there is reason for hope. Just by reading your article I already know I can get back on track again after years of intrusive thoughts that have spoiled so many days (and years) of my life.
Yours in so much gratitude and maybe one day I can shake your hand in person! For now many blessings to you.
After seeing a few well trained CBT therapists in my homecountry, Denmark, not a single has been able to tell me that they had experience with real event OCD, and it scares me because it kind of reinforces my constant doubts I have, thinking that this is not OCD and I am a horrible person that needs punishment for my actions.
Do you know any therapists in Europe, that has any experience with OCD that evolves around real events?
I asked my former psyichiatrist and doctor at one of the most well recognized OCD treatment centers in Denmark, and they brought it up on their weekly conference, and their reply was, that their was no one at that conference that knows anyone that has the experience I requested.
I dont know if its me requesting to much, or some psychiatrist being unshakeable and ignorant towards other types of OCD that are not classical.
Thanks in advance
Hi Stan, Thanks for your post. I’m glad you found my article and it offered you some hope.
Hi Niamh, There are all kinds of OCD types, some unique to specific people. We as clinicians start creating names for patterns we see in our clients so we can open up discussions. I called this article, “Real Event OCD” because I have seen clients who obsess and do rituals about something that already happened rather than something that may happen in the future. Instead of trying to pin down OCD specialists to the particular term, “Real Event OCD,” ask them if they have ever seen a client that obsessed and did compulsions about something they did in the past. If they specialize in treating OCD then I’m sure they have seen this before. If you still have difficulties, feel free to email me as I offer web therapy internationally.
Hi T, It sounds like the type of ‘all or nothing’ distorted thinking we see with OCD. If I stole something one day of my life, it puts me in the category of people who steal. If I have never stolen anything, I get to be in the “good” category. With this distortion there is no middle ground. Work toward overcoming the distortion and finding the middle ground such as, I did this action on one day and maybe that is okay that I wasn’t perfect. It is a form of perfectionism and OCD benefits from keeping people viewing their event in this distorted way. The idea will be to accept what you did on that one day, label any intrusive thoughts as OCD and resist doing certainty-seeking to prove how bad the incident was. It may have been bad (who knows? shrug) and that’s okay. I can be who I want to be right now, and despite my thoughts and feelings, I will let that be all that matters.
Thank you for posting the article. This is the 1st time I have found an article about OCD with a real life event. I have obsessions about things that have happened in the past and even wondered if it was still OCD since my fears are based on something real. I’ve read about mindfulness and how just letting the thoughts come in and go out on their own can be helpful. I always get stuck though when I am trying to practice mindfulness because my brain says I am worrying about something real so in a way I am just dismissing the event by letting the thoughts come and go. It’s hard to explain and hope I make sense. Any insights?
What would be your advice in how to handle the overwhelming guilt about something done in the past. The kind that makes you feel like a bad person just for doing it… and at the same time dealing with incredulity that you could have done something like that, and thinking at the time that it was not a big deal. So is it the ocd making everything bigger? I don’t know, the only thing for sure is the shame and guilt and the need I have to do something to make it better.
I’m really suffering badly with this at the moment. My fears revolve around doing something wrong which would result in me getting arrested and a criminal record, and losing everything. I need a clean record for my job. I have recently switched careers and I love what I do, but everything feels like it could cause me to lose my job and essentially life as I know it. Every fear has a ‘real’ foundation, for instance the other day I was driving and drove in a way that I ‘think’ another driver who was behind me at the time may have been upset by my manner of driving – my reason for fearing this is because he caught up with me moments later and followed me. I slowed to let him overtake but it was like he intentionally following me. Straight away I jumped to the conclusion that he got my plate number and reported me to police and I could get charged with dangerous driving – which yes he could report me and I could get charged, it did happen and it seems like a real possibility. Even though I know its improbable given the circumstances, and I didn’t do anything as such – it just seems like a certainty, and it has ruled my thinking since it happened. Before this it was something else dominating and so on. I just feel like everything is a real threat, but every threat could theoretically happen if someone was so inclined to report me – even though the most I may have ‘done’ is upset them at some point. I just feel people may dislike me (or my manner/actions in the driving scenarios) and they will be inclined to report me to Police and cause me to lose everything. Its so hard to follow the ERP principles on this because it feels like so much is at stake and all I want is reassurance that I won’t lose my job – which I know is a major part of the problem.
Hi Stefanie, Mindfulness skills apply whether you are dealing with OCD or not. I have plenty of unpleasant memories about real life events that come up from time to time. Because these memories are thoughts, and I am not actually reliving the event, it is good for me to practice observing the thoughts and allowing them to be present without trying to control them. When my willingness to experience these memories is present, then usually my suffering is less.
If you have obsessions and compulsions about your real life event, then you may have OCD. It sounds like you are creating a distinction between allowing thoughts to be present if it’s about an imagined event, but are judging your thoughts and resisting them if it is about a past event. The judging and resisting and attempts to control your memories of the event may be OCD compulsions. You will have to have an assessment with an OCD specialist to be sure. Try to apply mindfulness skills despite the answer, however.
Hi Osa, One tip off that what you are experiencing could be OCD is that you have excessive levels of shame, guilt and anxiety yet you say that at the time you didn’t think it was a big deal. A lot of people with OCD do not start worrying about the event until months or years later and some even had many years after the event where they didn’t obsess about it at all. If you are performing compulsions in relationship to your past event you may have OCD. Mindfulness skills are good to help you cope with thoughts about the event. Also, noticing physical or mental compulsions that you may be performing to “make it better” may actually be reinforcing the obsessions and feelings about the event. Having an assessment with an OCD specialist may be a good idea.
Hi Dave, Thanks for your question. It sound like you are having obsessions about making a grave mistake that will cost you your job. You may be performing compulsions such as mentally analyzing the likelihood that your behavior will lead to a disastrous end, checking to be sure you didn’t make an error, or being excessively careful about your actions. The positive part of your post is that you appear to have some level of insight that you have OCD and should be doing ERP. I understand that exposures will feel very scary and uncertain, but they are the best way to get this problem under control in addition to resisting compulsions. I recommend contacting an OCD specialist to help set up an ERP program if you haven’t already.
Thank you for the answer Stacey.
And yes, I do all the compulsion listed in this article, specially Self-punishment’.
Because whatever I thought in the past about my actions (like they were no big deal or inconsequential), right now it feels like something really bad and I don’t think this new perception is ever going to change.
Do you think the proper way to deal with it is as part of the OCD, or should I do some other things targeting specifically guilt?
(By the way, I already think I have ocd since I dealt in the past with intrusive thoughts)
Hi, thanks for this great site. One question, where do you make the distinction between OCD and PTSD related to live events? I have had harm OCD and health OCD in the past and was pretty sure I overcame it. However a recently I several violent videos and notions of war in the media has me worried i’m having some sort of PTSD.
I realize it’s pretty irrational to fear PTSD about something that didn’t happen to me personally, and my brain seems to go like “you have forgotten about this or that horrible thing you heard of or saw” and it immediately brings back these memories causing rumination and trying to rationalize with it.
I guess, judging from your article, me being able to ask this question is pretty indicative of OCD, but you know, OCD, so I’m still asking!
Firstly thank you for your article. I can relate to much about was has been said as well as to what others have said in response.
I notice nobody has mentioned ‘alcohol blackout’ induced OCD. I’m not sure what category it falls under but it sure has turned into a real life event repetitive worry of mine. So much so that on some days it is debilitating.
First off I would like to mention that I no longer drink – and my mind and body are much better off. It is only the OCD that cripples me. I want to fight it off. But as we know this is far easier said than done.
I have found that if I have one worry the others seems to disappear only until I can rationalize that particular one and then ‘the most important’ worry will return.
I will use my current concern as an example – 6 months ago I was out at a social gathering where we all overdid it on the alcohol front and I ended up waking in my car at a filling station. Bad I know and even the average person would thank their lucky stars that they were not dead or in jail. They would also likely learn from the incident and move on. I on the other hand sit and worry endlessly that I may have hit somebody and run/caused and ran from an accident/got into an altercation and left in a hurry/mistreated a girl in a drunken stupor and left in a hurry and the list goes on. I like to think of myself as a good person and I am respected and liked by my peers – I realize I have made a mistake like everyone does. I however cannot forgive myself and feel constant impending doom that all I have worked for and relationships that have been made will be taken from me at any time due to something I did that I can’t even recall. Constant fear. Constant anxiety to go anywhere in the fear that I have been ‘spotted’ and my life is now over. Standard reassurance seeking in my case is standard – calls to friends about night before asking what transpired/endless Google searches of my registration plate of my car and similar. Searching newpapera for hit and runs of the night. Pretty much if it’s at all possible I will search for it. Logic dictates that if my car had no damage or evidence of a collision and I myself was unscathed- nothing happened. Not in my brain.
Second to this worry is the fear of having contracted HIV without even knowing if I had intercourse. This i have had for years and even if I know who the person was/used protection I would convince myself that I contracted HIV and symptom find and test over and over again. This only stops when I have something more ‘important’to worry about.
I am not sure if you recieve any similar mails? I don’t even know if this is genuinely OCD or if I am infact normal and this guilt/worry is justified, even as dibilitating as it is.
I am not proud of my actions and I’m sure many will judge. I do believe we all make mistakes. I am just desperate for a method of moving forward and continuing my life without the fear of impending disaster constantly eating away at me.
Thank you for reading.
Hi Tim, You are right for assuming that doing reassurance-seeking compulsions points to OCD and not PTSD. For this reason, I will not go into what PTSD is because that would be me providing you with that reassurance. Sit with the discomfort that watching the violent videos caused PTSD and even write some exposure scripts about it being true. Try to stop figuring out if you have it, including not looking things up on the Internet or doing mental rituals to unearth the truth. I think you already knew this though…so trust yourself.
Hi Nick, This article was written for you. You have a real life event that you are not proud of, but now it has taken on a life of its own with obsessions and compulsions. You are very clear about the compulsions you engage in. I am curious to know if you have started working to eliminate these certainty-seeking compulsions, as this would be a very wise step. Sit with uncertainty about what may have happened. The events of that night are completely non-provable, and that is why OCD loves it so much. You can be on a lifelong search to find out what happened and that you did not do something horrible that will destroy your life, or you can decide that you will never get to know and start living your life today.
Thank you for your response.
I am trying my best to eliminate the rituals and sometimes I can. Mostly though whilst I label the thought as OCD my sub conscious screams – rubbish – it’s not OCD, you need to worry about this, you can’t forget about it, it’s all justified, stop being happy!!! So to make the transition is not going to be easy but I suppose if I keep on trying it will hopefully become easier.
I’m so glad I found this article! The issue of false memories have been particularly frustrating for me. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 17, but my symptoms had a pattern of waxing and waning and I never really addressed my particular obsession with any ERP ( HOCD). In fact I think my therapist actually gave me more reassurance which in retrospect was probably not helpful. During college my HOCD came back with a vengeance, and it was extremely debilitating. In order to reassure myself of my heterosexuality I would remember about a particular moment when a boy that I liked hugged me and I felt aroused, but then I had the sudden thought “what if I was thinking of a girl during that moment, and thats what aroused me, not him?” Needless to say, I freaked out, and that led to my compulsion of “bending scenarios” I would imagine scenarios with women to see if I could get aroused I never did, but this compulsion took hours of my day. At the moment I’ve taken a “who cares” attitude but it still bothers me that I dont have confidence in my memories. Its as if OCD has given me two version of my life, the one that I hope is true and the one which i feel like OCD has distorted. This particular issue has been so perplexing to me I even based my senior thesis on it and I presented my paper of the effects of false memories on OCD symptoms to my Cognition Senior Seminar class. Anyway I was wondering that if people with this obsession ever gain confidence in their memories again?
I have been diagnosed with OCD, but yet I doubt that I truly have it in regards to my past situation. My “themes” have changed, but it always centers around me being arrested and a bad person. During my hit-and-run phase, I really did call the police on myself. Unfortunately my worse theme is me having done something in my past and being arrested, bad, losing my family, job, etc. I don’t doubt having OCD, but I do doubt that it is relevant with the situations in my past. I feel that this is serious and not OCD. I have “confessed” to my therapist and mother, but any reassurance I feel goes away as soon as I start telling myself maybe they don’t understand how bad it really was. I know that I should not seek reassurance, but I feel I need it to make sure that I don’t need to be arrested and punished. I am at a loss at this point. Your article was helpful, but once again, I question if it pertains to my situation. When I read about something in the news regarding a person being arrested for a crime 15 years ago, it sends my anxiety through the roof. I just am not sure what to do at this point.
Thankyou so much for writing this. I am sitting here nodding saying yes yes yes that’s me. Without realising ive always had ocd and thought in this way. I’ve always had to find certainty in things and seeked reassurance about events that have happened. However it only really affected me once i started suffering from low mood. I found myself trailing back through memories and found a certain real life event from when i was younger that horrified me. This was where my ocd latched onto it and the rituals, rehearsing, replaying and seeking view points from others began. All these things seemed like they were helping but 4 months later and i have fed the ocd so much. I wrongly targeted that event and it kind of went away but then something else came along and then something else after that.
So now ive realised i need to challenge my ocd and thought process and not these events!!! I regret making them into something but i cant change that now and in a way im glad because its made me realise that i cant keep trying to find certainty. My question is though that ive stopped ruminating about events so much but i feel like im blocking them out when they come. This is helpful in terms of my ocd but my mood is affected as its tiring. Im trying to combat it with focusing on external things like exercise, career and diet. But its just so hard blocking things constantly. I understand mindfulness but it scares me to let thoughts in as ill start replaying them again???
Hi Gabi, Thanks for your comments. It is not that you do not have confidence in your memories. No other person has more certainty about their memories than you do. It is just the OCD brain that is oversensitive to this uncertainty and makes it seem important to trust your memories. Also, doing rituals like ‘scenario bending’ reinforce the idea that remembering perfectly is important. Try to label any desire to remember with certainty as the OCD brain lying to you. You don’t have a memory problem, you have OCD.
Hi Kellie, If you are experiencing obsessions and compulsions about any topic and having extreme and daily distress, this is a red flag you are suffering from OCD. It is not exactly clear from your post, but I think you are saying you either did do something in your past or you worry that you may have done something in your past, but either way you can have OCD compulsions in response in an effort to control your thoughts and anxiety. What would be the harm in treating it like OCD and stopping the rituals? Imagine if it is OCD and you don’t try it. Your OCD will use all kinds of tactics like telling you the people you asked for reassurance “don’t understand how bad it really was.” This is a common way OCD keeps you uncertain and distressed so you continue to feed it with compulsions. If you learn about your OCD’s common tricks you can avoid falling into its traps.
Hi Tom, Thank you for your comments. You really explained your realizations well and seem to have a true understanding of what you need to do. Mindfulness and allowing the thoughts / memories to be present without engaging with them is only half the battle. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a way to face your fearful memories / thoughts head on. Eventually you will habituate to them, although the goal is accept what shows up each moment. This is done by using imaginal exposure scripts, something an OCD specialist can help you learn how to do if you aren’t working with someone already. Rituals make you worse, mindfulness helps you cope, and exposure gets you better.
Stacey thanks for a great article. I have had OCD for over thirty years. Yes they are about real life events. For other suffers I have had my mind say because these events really happened and I can’t find an example this is not OCD and I am terrible if I don’t solve this or do something. It is OCD. I will never solve these nor do I need to. Early I had a good psychiatrists medicine wise, but I would always ask medical reassurance questions. They would answer I would leave feeling great. Before I got back home or work zing OCD would throw out “well what about this variation” and I was back to square one. Finally I got a therapist trained in OCD who had me do ERP and told me no more reassurance seeking from doctors or family. It was really tough the first couple times I went back to the doctor. My anxiety went through the roof, but I stuck with what I was told. This is when my OCD got better. I also listened to exposure scripts even to the point I asked my therapist I am so tired of hearing this can I stop now. He said listen a little more. Yes I still have OCD but like many conditions it is very manageable and when it gets worse I do ERP and if I need too check in with my therapist. I am lucky to have a great career, family and life despite OCD. So for those suffers with OCD or call it “Pure O” or “Real Life OCD” I would like you to know there is help. With OCD I had to learn to accept uncertainty.
I cannot seem to throw this worry away.
I am trying my absolute best. Just feels like I’m going to be caught and locked up on every turn I take. It’s not living, it’s existing, and I am tired.
Is there any specific methods that you may have that I could use? Obviously exposure to the issue(drinking/blackout)would not be a great idea.
I need to believe that nothing happened, it was 7 months ago, yet I feel like going to the police and admitting guilt for something i don’t even know happened.
Any advise would be appreciated.
Nick, I noticed Stacey did not reply to your latest post, but as her article states – this is a classic case of “real-life event” that falls in the “gray area” and therefore a great target for OCD.
The reason I am replying to you is that I have had similar experience, and in my case it was much more recent. But everything else is the same as yours: like you, I lead a good life, very ashamed of my lapse of judgment, no evidence that anything happened, yet a constant nagging feeling that everything I worked for will be taken away.
Ultimately the only thing to do is to accept uncertainty. If you provide me your email we can PM each other. I do have experience with ERP helping me in other areas of my OCD, but in “real-life OCD” it is much harder except for thought exposures.
I always have memories I have behaved sexually in appropriately with my dog. I can’t remember whether I allowed or encouraged him to lick sex scents on my bed. If I did what does this say about me? I love that dog I had him since I was 16 I’m now 30. Why am I racked with guilder over something I think may have happens at least 7 years back? Help
I am in big distress.
Though i had an anxiety issue over 3 years. I had managed it well and was doing ok.Often i had weird thoughts of turning gay or being possesed but they were only for sometime and thn i would forget because i didn pay much attention to them. But this time i was drunk and had unprotected sex just for few seconds and this thought of getting hiv came and since thn i cant get it out of my mind. Ivr read endless on google and even went for test but as i didn complete 3 months window period i dont belive my test after sometime and what if keeps comming back. Though very low risk still i keep ruminating. Ive tried avoid complusion tried allowing thoughts to be there but its getting out of control. Please help me and tell me how do i go about this. Should i keep repeating in my mind i had negative result or i never had much risk .
p.s im in relationship and even guilt of cheating is there.
Hi Mike, Thanks for sharing your success story in regards to managing your OCD. Your testimony will be helpful to others reading this blog. Compulsions only make things worse and it’s great that you have consistently taken the leap of faith with your uncertainty, and it sounds like it has really paid off.
Trying to “throw away” the worry is the problem. Thoughts and feelings are not problems. Anything that comes into your mind about the incident is just a thought. OCD wants you to imagine, “what if” this or “what if” that. Try to bring yourself back to “what IS.” “What IS” is that you woke up after blacking out at a filling station – period. Your brain will still react and tell you all kinds of things, but you must take the leap of faith and sit with uncertainty. It will still feel intense and scary for awhile because the OCD brain will try to convince you to do certainty-seeking compulsions. I recommend having an assessment with an OCD specialist to help you with Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy. There is hope if you get the right kind of treatment.
This article was written for people who may have engaged in some behavior they find relatively inappropriate, and now seem to be obsessing about it years later and engage in compulsions in order to let it go. Compulsions may include trying to know with certainty if you encouraged your dog or certainty about other details of the event. Work on sitting with intrusive thoughts about the event and make room for any feelings of guilt. Practice allowing these thoughts and feelings to come and go without trying to make sense of the event. It is okay if you feel guilty about it sometimes.
I have had many clients who worry about having HIV even after zero or low risk behavior and multiple negative HIV tests. I work with them to observe and experience intrusive thoughts, anxiety and guilt without trying to change the thoughts and feelings. Allow them to come and go without trying to control them. Also, I work with them to do exposure to anxiety producing thoughts and uncertainty about the event. We might write scripts like, “I had unprotected sex. Having sex always has some risk. This means that I have some risk of having HIV like other people who have sex. I have tried to prove that I don’t have it but I cannot be 100% sure, nobody can. For this reason, I will stop trying to answer the question and just start living my life again. I will not let these “what if” thoughts rule my life. Trying to eliminate uncertainty is the problem, not my thoughts and feelings.”
Hi Stacey, I was wondering if you could write a blog piece on thoughts that pertain to past OCD fears. Not exactly real events, but questioning whether you did something in the past. (For example: did I hit and kill someone with my car? Did I molest that child? What if I poisoned my family’s dinner last night?). I find a lot of articles online are mostly to do with future catastrophies. I’m wondering if alot of people who have OCD question things that may have happened (but probably didn’t). I find this is my particular flavor of OCD at the moment. Just an idea 🙂
Thanks for the suggestion for the article. Yes, I do see clients who have obsessions about doing something horrible in the past but the OCD tells them they don’t remember or blacked out. And the OCD tells them because it may have already happened and it’s not commonly written about, that it’s not OCD. The same rules apply for treatment, so feel free to just plug your fears in when reading the articles about harm OCD. I will consider writing something on this topic.
Wow! Thank you so much for this post. I have been struggling with obsessive thoughts about inappropriate play as a child that occured 20 to 25 years ago. Some memories are clear and I am able to accept and move past them but some are not so clear and then I start to obsess over them. I feel horrible like I need to confess what a bad child I was. Even though I know I am a good person these thoughts haunt me. I do all the mental rituals youve described. I want so much to be able to move past this and get back to my amazing husband and 3 beautiful children but I feel like I dont deserve them! I am seeing a psycologist and taking medication to help treat GAD, is there any other advice you could offer me? I would greatly appreciate it.
Hi J, I’m glad you found this article helpful. I would recommend working with someone trained to treat OCD using Exposure and Response Prevention and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy. Work on allowing discomfort and uncertainty to come and go without trying to control it with rituals. Try not to pay attention to the content of your intrusive thoughts, and rather, learn how to get skilled at experiencing ANY unwanted thought despite the theme.
Stacey, Glad I stumbled on to this site! Unfortunately my whole bio family has struggled w OCD, so the genetic loading is heavy.
Have developed a peculiar ‘Pure O’ without rituals, but an odd one…an obsession with the passage of time (chronophobia). This fear literally came out of ‘nowhere’ around the first week of tobacco abstinence after 20 years of chewing tobacco, and caused a huge panic wave. I’m now into my fourth week with a lot of nicotine abstinence symptoms improving, but the obsessive thought remains (although it does not cause ENORMOUS panic like it used to). What’s most depressing is that it seems to ‘pop up’ ironically when in lower stress, like trying to relax with friends and family, almost as if it is trying to distract me or “bum me out” from enjoying myself.
Thanks for posting this Stefanie….This is something I have really really been struggling with out of nowhere for the past year…wondering and questioning if I did this or that when in all reality I know that I didnt but my mind distorts everything and now I dont even know what reality is and what the truth is! I spend my days always distracted by this thought of whether or not I have done anything to dishonor my boyfriend….my mind will say, well you were talking to that guy and kind of flirting, are you sure you didnt do anything else?? When in reality I know I didnt but all of a sudden my mind is going over everything. I never used to think twice about any of my actions because I am a very honest faithful person. This is the weirdest thing and I want it to stop. It got so bad that I did the whole “confessed something I didnt even do just INCASE I did….this is just terrible. Please help. Its constant confusion and going over and over and over past events wondering and replaying everything, I dont even know what reality is anymore I feel like!
First, thank you SO MUCH for writing such an informative article. It means so much to know that others suffer from OCD related to real life events. Your advice throughout the article is also extremely helpful.
To give you some background, I am a happily married 30 something male with Primarily Obsessional OCD. I have dealt with obsessions since college regarding being infected by HIV/AIDS, and I have also dealt with HOCD. I have successfully learned how to deal with these issues in the past with the help of a therapist. The last few years, I have successfully been able to control my OCD on my own.
However, I am writing you because about a month ago I began focusing on a real-life, one-time event that occurred when I was 16 years old (around 20 years ago). Though I had always known that I behaved inappropriately that one time, it never bothered me a whole lot as no one was harmed by this event. Did I regret it? Yes. But it wasn’t a debilitating guilt. Well, I saw something in the news a month ago that triggered it, and since then I have been doing nothing but obsess over my actions, and the guilt and shame have been absolutely debilitating. I suppose I deserve it…
I sought reassurance from my wife, my mother, my best friend, and even confessed to a priest, who all told me they didn’t think my actions at the time were a big deal. They all unanimously said to “file it” under “Stupid Teenager Stuff.” They all think I’m making a bigger deal out of this than I need to.
You mentioned throughout this article that you recommend seeing a therapist to help deal with OCD related to a real-life event. My question is, will a therapist be able to work with me even if I don’t divulge exactly what I did? I want help in dealing with this, but I don’t want to get in trouble either… Any thoughts on how to approach this with a therapist would be very much appreciated.
I know I am a good, well-balanced person, and the event in question was the first and last time anything of the sort ever occurred. I behaved inappropriately, but according to everyone else, it wasn’t a horrible thing. Any advice would be appreciated.
First of all I would like to apologize for my bad english, it is not my native language, and for my long post. I suffer from severe BDD and OCD, im a perfectionist and very detail oriented. In many years i was addicted to self surgery due to my severe BDD, which was very traumatic and distressing. almost two years ago i finally made my self stop but it was the hardest thing i have done in my life.
It was around this time i started having obsessive thoughts about my past self surgeries. I was extremly afraid i missed or did something wrong in a part of my face, the thoughts wouldnt go away and plauged me from day to night. So i started to check and touch the specific facial part (that i was obsessing about for the moment), so i could feel or remember if i had done everything right or if i had missed a detail or if it was even on both sides. i was relieved when i felt that everything was ok but mostly i end up even more uncertain and with extreme anxiety because of fear that i had to start with self surgery again to fix it. The obsessive thoughts and compulsions escalated and i finally spend the whole day and sometimes night on checking and it would leave my face swollen and with marks. I have tried to cut out the compulsions, but i always fall back, its very hard because sometimes i have to stand extreme anxiety for several days to weeks just to resist one compulsion. Now i havent been checking for six weeks which is a record, but today i got my most resistent thought back but this time with a very “good” reason to check it. I feel i’d rather die than give in to the compulsion, because it would destroy everything i have worked so hard for. But i feel like i cant be uncertain when i have a choice to be more certain. the most difficult for me is when i actually have the possibility to change or to be more certain about something, if i knew that i couldnt change anything with “surgeries” it would be much easier. I feel so alone and hopeless in my situation because i have never heard of another person experincing this. its like being in hell. . i have no access to effective theraphy for ocd/bdd, and no money or energy to travel for it. And i dont have the curage to tell someone about my problem. It sound so bizarre. So i would be deeply grateful if you could give me some helpful advice.
Thank you for this blog – I have read everything you have written here and it really resonates with me. May I ask if you can recommend any therapists in Australia who think like you do (I live in Melbourne)? A long shot, but I thought I’d try…
Thank you in advance.
Great article! Speaks to a lot of what I deal with. My OCD (I had Recognized it only as anxiety until recently) intensified greatly when my first son was born. My friends threw me a party just before my son was born. I drove to my wife’s parents the next day and, while I wasn’t drunk, I was in the area between drunk and hungover. I felt the most crippling guilt after the fact. Nothing had happened but I made myself believe I’d harmed someone. My mind immediately went to my unborn son and how I didn’t deserve him or that I would be a disappointment as a father. Since his arrival, I still get these feelings like I don’t deserve him, like something in my past will prove I shouldn’t be a dad. I guess my question is, does a life-changing event such as the birth of a child intensify OCD in people? Thanks again.
Hi Nick, The term ‘Pure O’ can be confusing and people often assume they are not performing rituals. Sufferers often engage in mental compulsions in response to their obsessions that reinforce the problem. You did not specify exactly what you fear about the passage of time, but if your OCD says, “If you don’t stop thinking about time passing you will waste your entire life,” then your mental compulsion might be “The wishing ritual,” where the sufferer mentally wishes their obsessions away which reinforces and makes obsessions more important. If your obsessions are somewhat existential about life having no meaning because time is slipping away, your mental ritual may be, “Mental Review,” to try to think about time in such a way that you will stop obsessing. The answer is to label the mental ritual and try to avoid attempts to control thoughts about time and instead accept them and even invite them in. Also, OCD normally shows up when you are trying to enjoy yourself. You may beat it to the punch and think thoughts about time on purpose for exposure when out with friends and family.
Hi Tara, It seems normal to examine your mind to determine if you did something to dishonor your boyfriend, but with OCD this process is a mental compulsion that actually fuels OCD. Your best bet is to trust the person you know yourself to be, honest and faithful, and decide you will call any intrusive thoughts and feelings what they are…thoughts and feelings. Confessing and reassurance seeking are also rituals that make things seem more realistic. You may want to agree with OCD thoughts by saying, “Yeah maybe I did something and forgot about it. If I did there is no way to disprove it, so I’m not going to try. I guess I will just live my life normally from here on out.”
Hi Pete, I assume if your family and priest described your actions as “Stupid Teenager Stuff” than your therapist will also have to keep your real event confidential. Prior to therapy, you may want to ask your therapist what things they are required to break confidentiality for, such as child or elder abuse. I would want my OCD client to tell me the event. We would need to work on exposure scripts and alternative thoughts related to the even itself, so yes, I believe it would be important. I also recommend seeing an OCD specialist who understands this form of OCD.
Hi Ida, You may want to read the book, “The Broken Mirror” by Katherine Phillipson about BDD. I believe there is even a workbook called, “The BDD Workbook” to help with therapy at home since there is nobody local and you have a lack of finances. Since ‘self-surgery’ sounds like you are injuring yourself, I would recommend that you go to a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation and see if that can help. Reducing mirror checking might help. Look at the chain of events that leads up to the self-surgery and try to intervene as early as possible. In other words, if the chain of events is: 1.) Get up from couch 2.) Walk down hallway 3.) Enter bathroom 4.) Turn on light 5.) Step close to mirror 6.) Inspect face for flaw 7.) Self-surgery, you will have more success stopping the behavior before you get up from the couch than when you are already looking in the mirror.
Thanks Michelle. I know we talked over email.
Hello, Yes. Important life-changing events like going away to college, getting married and having a child can often be the stressful circumstance that triggers the genetic predisposition for OCD to become more active. I’m glad you found my article to be helpful. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Hi Stacey, thank you so for your article, it was so helpful. I developed OCD after I confessed things to my husband from my past (before we were even together.) From then on I started to confess everything to him, anything and everything that I thought was dishonoring in any way towards him. I confessed events that occurred while we were together, to thoughts I’ve had, to dreams I’ve had and esc. I’m always wanted to gain assurance from him that I’m forgiven and he’s not going to leave me. I play mind rituals trying to remember things I’ve done, and might have done. When I’m unable to remember everything I get so much anxiety from that uncertainty and from that I get false memories that feel so real to me. I take those false memories and confess them to my husband just incase it happened to get reassurance from him that I’m still forgiven. I need help I feel like I’m breathing to death. Thank you in advance.
Hello. Confessing and doing mental certainty-seeking are both compulsions that you hope to stop the intrusive thoughts, but actually make them more powerful over time. The answer is to accept all thoughts about your potential misdeeds and take the risk that it means you betrayed your husband. This will feel scary at first but over time your thoughts and anxiety will weaken if you are not feeding the OCD with compulsions.
Your website has been a lifesaver. through your articles and the scenarios and thoughts you have described, it’s like you totally understand what’s going on in my mind.
really wish Singapore would have psychotherapists like you.
Stacey, thanks so much for this article. Real event ocd can be very tough.
I was diagnosed with ocd when I was about 13, and am now 29. It has been tough, but my most difficult experience was last year (which happened to coincide with a highly stressful period of studying to get into post graduate medicine). When I was about 19 after a night out, someone had picked a fight with my friends. After this, I also fought with the man and recall hitting him when I could hav walked away. From here, the details are murky but we wrestled (or was it me on top of him laying into him to hole he couldn’t fight back) and where separated and he walked away. Now my ocd tells me that he may not have walked away, was he unconscious? Did he have some serious damage? I Had spoken to a friend about this who was there, spoken to my parents and spoken to another friend who is a policeman. They all said the same as you, that you can’t beat yourself up and that if there was anything to seriously worry about that I would know.
I was able to deal with it for 12 months but was triggered recently when I saw something about fighting on the news. I will add that I am under some stress at the moment due to moving interstate to go back into studies and leave my career, so I don’t think it was any coincidence that I am feeling this way again. I realise that talking to my friends/family, thinking and trying to remember the incident and feeling compelled to go to the police to ask them if they have any open cases that resemble the issue is likely ocd. Even writing this post is a confession of sorts and a seeking of assurance! But as you get better with dealing with ocd it seems to give you some new, grey territory that does not seem to be able ocd. This issue I have seems to be one of those tough grey issues that you speak of.
I also struggle with hit-run ocd with compulsions of checking, and some of the hiv stuff you have mentioned earlier in comments. Basically anything that is pleasurable I struggle with as I feel undeserving.
I am moving interstate to pursue a career in medicine so really would like to get my head as right as can be. Do you think mindfulness and ERP are for me? I would be interested in your online sessions. Thanks once again!
Im 31 y old and I start a form of rumination and obsession about past events that happened in my life when I was 14 y old and before developing a depression from 14 y old until 16 y old which was threated and gone. between 17 y old until 19 I was feeling good and without any kind of remorse or guilt about the past. When 20 y ol I star to ruminate obsessed about the past, I would revisit every detail , the appointments with my child Psichiatrist, the day when I attempted suicide (I didn’t wanna really die), trying to remember what i’ve wrote in a goodbye letter, well I was doing a mental checking sometimes sorted by date in a attempt to gain certainty , security , decrease my anxiety and say to myself ”Oh ok, it was that, no big deal, you’re just a kid” but more I ruminated more I had the need of gain certainty and review that phase all over again. I went to a therapist when 24 y old and she ensure me was not OCD, but a depressive rumination. I took medication and eventual the symtoms decreased but never gone completely. My rumination have ended, and nowadays I dont ruminate as before, not even close. But there is a single event that still disturbs me and triggers me automatic and intrusive toughts. This topic is football (Soccer in US.) I may have this because I was playing in a football club and the I was released because the club finished and I was prevented of keep playing . This was quite important for me in that time, because I was a 14 y old kid with low self esteem and lack of confidence. Playing among my friends was allways a boost for my confidence and a escape from the real world. What happens is that I’ve entered in clinical depression after few weeks of that event, What make me rethink all over my mind ”what if’s” questions…”It was the loss of playing football with my friends that led me to become depressed”? and then I would checking and reviewing all other things which happened to me in that time to be sure that ”No, it cannot be about football, it was from this and that…and that..” In the every other day I was already programmed to wake up thinking about that..all the same pattern..back to 14 y old and ruminating about the causes, and on the top the theme Football. Nowadays I do not ruminate (I’ve learn that lead to nowhere), but I have still trouble facing football theme. I have still 2 intrusive and clear toughts when someone talk about or I;m watching a match, These toughts are automatic. I’ve tried to avoid football but of course without success..my work colleagues talk everyday about in the work and media are constantly bombard this topic in the news. I know that football didn’t exist over the time I would ”let it go” about these toughts. The problem is that each time I’m triggered it seems they get reinforced, Im exposing in the past year purposely to this topic and I’ve noticed my anxiety have decreased, but those toughts are allways popping up in my mind..actually they come more in form of images than toughts..maybe because I dont give them much attention and space to rumination..still hard to let them go away,,,
Sorry for the long text Dr. Stacey…is this ”Pure O” right? How I can deal with my toughts? Keeping exposure and accept every memory or tought that came to my mind , right? Do you think they eventually will be vanished or at least become neutral to me? Is really hard sometimes because it seems they are hiiting my mind so assertively and persistent..
Thank you very much.
Please sorry for my English,
I euthanized my pet of five years last week. I loved him like a child but now I see that I was willing to put him down when paying for his treatment became too inconvenient for me (as evidenced by all the negative thoughts I was having when he got sick and the fact that I exhausted no second opinions when the vet said that nothing could be done to save him other than a high-risk surgery and that I had to make a decision right then). Even when I said goodbye to him thoughts were circulating through my mind like “now I don’t have to take care of him all by myself anymore” and “you’re not crying because he’s leaving you, you’re just pretending because you’re actually a sociopath and just want to put on a show for people.” Not to mention that he most likely got sick because of my own carelessness raising him. I am considering suicide for betraying him like this.
I have pure O. I was diagnosed over ten years ago and I am too cheap and ashamed to get help (most doctors I’ve seen in the past have no solutions, and the only medication that works is riddled with side effects). I ascribe hidden motives to all of my actions and in my worst moments believe that I’m just a dumb beast that acts on malevolent programming that I’m not aware of. My SO tries to reassure me but he doesn’t know what was going on in my heart and mind then. I have no idea how to fix this problem, and I’m not sure that I even want to. Even if it’s all in my head, OCD ruined the quality of the final moments I had with my baby, and he’s still gone forever. So I don’t want to keep living anyway.
Thank you, Emi. I’m glad the blog has helped you. Feel free to contact me if you wish to have a Internet session.
Hi Matt, Thanks for your post. Your ‘real event’ is exactly what I am referring to in this article. It sounds like you have been able to identify your certainty-seeking compulsions. Keep doing your best to try to label and experience the uncertainty and avoid resolving it. Your friends and family have said, “that you can’t beat yourself up and that if there was anything to seriously worry about that I would know.” The 2nd part of that sounds like they are trying to help you find certainty. Don’t expect that any thought or reassurance will get your brain to eliminate uncertainty. The only answer is to experience uncertainty until it doesn’t feel important anymore. ERP and mindfulness are exactly what you need to help change your brain’s response to your intrusive thoughts about the event. Feel free to email me regarding web therapy.
GREAT article, and the comments and your responses are wonderful as well. Thank you.
Let me just thank you first of all for the wonderful advice here, it is so valuable.
I have had OCD for a few years now, always this sort of ‘real-event’ stuff. I wish I’d seen advice like this back then! However, recently it changed to obsessions about bad things I’ve done to my boyfriend. He and I have a long, complex relationship, and I actually did cheat on him. He’s forgiven me for all that and told me he wants to just move on.
However, recently, something made me want to dredge up details I felt I was at peace with, and confess them all to him. Every time I think I’ve told him everything there is to tell, I’ll suddenly remember something else awful that I said or did or thought, even things which happened five or six years ago and that I’ve never thought about since. Things like a time when I thought he was unattractive, or a time I thought I didn’t love him.
My main fear is that if I ‘just move on’ or ‘forget about it’ that I’m harming him by hiding the sort of person I truly am, removing his choice over whether or not to stay in the relationship. I feel like ‘the only person who can decide to forgive you is the person you hurt’, and like it’s my responsibility to tell him how horrible and awful I am.
Even if I manage to stop confessing for now, and it gets better, are these things going to haunt me forever? 🙁
I have trouble achieving and maintaining an erection if a woman is not wearing pantyhose, tights, a dress, perfume, or high heels. I also obsess over the size of a woman’s feet to the point where I cannot develop an attraction to a woman who has medium-sized or larger feet. This is not a fetish of any kind; I just seem to get it in my head that some attributes are feminine and others masculine and cannot look beyond these standards I have developed over time.
Also, I am circumcised and my penis sensitivity is compromised as a result. While this might contribute to my problems maintaining an erection and with ejaculation, my obsessiveness with having a perfect penis, perfect scrotum, and perfect testicles—whatever those are, it’s hard to pinpoint anything other than a “feeling” that everything is perfect—makes things even worse. The woman I have relations with must meet my very high, near-perfect standards and my penis and overall physical appearance must meet similar standards for me to even consider intimacy. I try to convince myself that everything is just as I think it should be over and over again and can only begin to initiate sexual relations once I am convinced perfection has been achieved. Anything related to sex or romance has become increasingly draining, frustrating, and time-consuming, as you can imagine, even though I desire both.
Because my obsessions and rituals are sexual in nature I am quite embarrassed by the thought of addressing them with a mental health professional. I fear being judged — not necessarily verbally but in the mind of anyone I discuss this issue with. I fear being looked down on even though I know the person I might work with has likely dealt with others who have similar OCD thoughts and behaviors. My OCD symptoms have become increasingly debilitating over time, so I believe they must be treated sooner rather than later.
Hi Filipe, It sounds like you are engaging in mental and physical compulsions that reinforce the “what if” thoughts about football from when you were 14 years old. Efforts to avoid the topic of football, watching matches or listening to news stories about football are compulsions that make these thoughts seem important. It is good that you have identified that ruminating in attempt to answer the questions ‘if stopping football caused depression’ is a mental compulsion that will reinforce the problem. Two things will be the most important for you, acceptance and exposure. I would inform my clients to write down / read daily, a list of statements that trigger their anxiety. For you it might be: 1.) Stopping football caused my depression 2.) I will never know if stopping football caused my depression 3.) I will forever be tortured by my thoughts and I will never live a happy life. List various trigger sentences and read them daily followed by statements as, “Oh well. I’ll just go on living my life anyway.” Exposures such as watching football and talking about football to intentionally keep triggering thoughts present are also helpful. Acceptance of thoughts is very important as well. Make daily efforts to let all thoughts be there and discontinue any attempts to change or control your unwanted thoughts. Thoughts can become less frequent or meaningful, but that can’t be the goal or you will block it from occurring. The goal is peaceful co-existence. An OCD specialist can help with CBT / ERP.
Hi M, It is an extremely heart-wrenching decision to decide when it is time to say goodbye to a beloved pet. There are many factors that enter into the decision such as the pet’s disease, financial and emotional strain on the pet owner. In other words, it is not an ‘all or nothing’ situation. For example a caretaker may feel relief when her husband dies of cancer after many years of caring for him. The relief is not the only experience and she also feels sadness for his loss. There is often more than one emotion involved and they are all valid. OCD has a field day with these types of experiences, and produces thoughts that you are a bad person / sociopath if you have any financial or emotional relief along side your grief for the loss. This is the ‘all or nothing’ distortion your OCD counts on to keep you doing compulsions such as reassurance seeking or mental rituals. If you are still having difficulties, I recommend having an assessment with an OCD specialist. A person who specializes in OCD will understand your experiences with OCD. I know it is a difficult step to take but it will be worth it to learn how to manage OCD symptoms throughout your life.
Hi Jane, It sounds like you are experiencing cross between “Real Event” and “Relationship OCD (ROCD).” You may want to read my article about ROCD here. You will want to practice experiencing and accepting feelings of guilt. It is okay to feel guilt. It is okay to feel anxiety. The reason you want to confess it because you are avoidant of experiencing this feelings. Let the feelings rise and fall naturally like waves on the ocean. Sit with the urge to confess. Eventually, this process will become easier but it will be very challenging at first. Over time, you will habituate to not having to confess and the need will reduce or go away.
I’ve always had bad sexual thoughts which eventually led to me taking multiple Drugs. I’ve been off hard drugs for about a year now but still drink heavily. Recently I’ve gotten so drunk that I can not remember certain parts of the night. The next day feels fine but when I get together with friends or attend work I begin to worry about those drunken nights. I replace the memory lapse with horrifying images that make me feel like I’ve actually done something wrong. People sense this and they begin to talk about how I might have actually done something wrong. They don’t necessarily say anything directly but they will associate the conversation with something they thought I’ve done and it makes me feel like their the ones that are actually mapping out what happened that night. It leaves me in distress. I begin to feel like I’m worthless and can’t cope with this feeling. I know I haven’t killed or hurt anyone but this flush of embarrassment goes through out my face and I feel like a sick demented person for something I know I wouldn’t do. Is their anyway I can get over this feeling or am I just going to feel like this for the rest of my life?
Thank you so so much for this article, it really helped me a lot, cuz I didn’t know what is wrong with me.
I went to KBT already, for 5 months, but my real life OCD is back when i am really stressed and lonely. I am thinking about going to therapy again after two years.
Is this normal that my tehniques that I learned were weakend and now i have to go again?
Like others, this article connected with me as well.
I have suffered anxiety my whole life. In school, I was a perfectionist (even would rewrite my school books in the holidays), I was desperate to be one of the popular kids and obsessed over a high school boyfriend for years. I became paranoid about my looks – particularly what I thought was a horrible case of acne. I suffered anxiety attacks in college where I’d become paranoid that people were looking at me and I’d have to run to the bathroom to check my face. I would spend endless hours in the shower and bathroom. When I was 16 I spent a few nights in the psych ward after my family became concerned about my depression and obsession. I left school and worked for a few months before going back tof finish year 12. During year 12 I started dating a guy I’d known since high school. We saw each other often, and I spent a lot of time staying at his parents house And he at mine. When I was 17 I got a job in the public service. A year or so later this guy started working for us who was full of confidence and charm. He took a liking to me and persued me even though he knew I had a boyfriend and he a fiance. eventually, and I don’t know why – maybe I liked the attention, maybe I thought this was who I was supposed to be with, I don’t know – I relented and we kissed. The kissing and ‘petting’ went on for quite a few months on and off – maybe even a year. the one time it could have gone further, I backed out as I was too self conscious. He ‘finished himself off’ (creep)and I went home. I can’t remember if we kissed or not after that but eventually it ended and he moved on to another girl in the workplace (hever was married by this point). As we worked together and we’re in the same social group, I felt I had to ‘save face’ and stay friends and pretend it hadn’t affected me. How could I have been so selfish and stupid? My boyfriend and I bought a house together at 22 years of age and life went on. 6 years later I had my first ‘breakdown’ which resulted in me telling him about what had happened when we were 20. He forgave me and life went on. I had another break a year later and became obsessed with telling him every single detail of my indiscretions to make sure there was nothing I missed that would make him chance his mind about staying with me. This has now, at 31 years of age and after having a child together, happened again 2-3 times more. It usually starts with a small failure and then escalates to my brain dredging up everything bad I have done and trying to convince everyone who loves me that they shouldn’t, that I’m bad and don’t deserve happiness. It is like a vicious circle that I cannot break. It has become so huge in my head it has con sued me entirely even though my partner has no issue with what happened 10 years ago to the point of calling it ‘insignificant’. But I cannot let it go. Going to work, seen friends, acting ‘normal’ makes me feel anxious and like I am deceiving the people who think I am a goof person. I have been diagnosed with depression, GAD with obsessive tendancies. My question is, how do I break the loop? I need to do this so I can go back to being the happy person I need to be for my partner – who loves me unconditionally- and my son who needs me to be a mother. Help me understand that I’m okay and deserve to be happy.
I am an HOCD sufferer and I keep remembering past moments that seem to “prove” my fear is real. Every time I remember something I sort of *GASP* and say, “Oh no, my fear is true! It’s been there all along!” For example: when I was 10 or 11, I watched an episode of a TV show where a man was jumping on a trampoline in his underwear. I remember thinking of him doing it naked and got excited about it and told that to my friend who I was watching it with. Now it feels like I’ve always liked men and that the desire has been there for good, and I can’t let it go.
My rational voice comes in and says, “at this age you were excited by ANYTHING sexual. It doesn’t mean anything.” But the OCD voice tends to override it. I have some other scattered moments that I do the same thing with and I can’t stop reviewing them. The memory is always slightly different. Sometimes I gasp out of fear, sometimes I can just shrug and say, “so what?” How do I stop reviewing memories?
Hi Stacey. Thanks for the interesting article. I cannot be thankful enough that there are people like you and Jon, and others helping us to understand and live our life to it’s fullest.
When reading about OCD, I did not feel quite home because I rarely showed any signs of physical compulsion behavior. Or that’s what I initially thought. When reading more and finding out more about obsessional pure O, I was beginning to put the pieces together.
I have always dwelled about certain things. These thoughts have been on repeat for a longer period, but I was never able to understand fully it was kind of an abnormal behavior even though my parents, my sister and people who know me would ask me why I was worrying such an extensive amount on things that seemed trivial.
4 years ago, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sklerosis. I did not know much about the disease at that time. Prior to this my father had 2 heartattacks. Then I started to question in my mind why my parents were like this. And all of a sudden, after a trigger, I was having intrusive thoughts about my parents dying. I kept having thoughts how I would wake up, go into my mother or fathers bedroom and find them not breathing/ be dead. I had immense anxiety and sometimes panic attacks. It even went so far that I was checking if my parents were alive when I got these thoughts, so I had to go to their room just to see they were alive. I had this behavior for some time.
After this, something else was happening. In 2011, I was shocked by Breivik and his massacre. I read everything possible about this and suddenly started to have intrusive thoughts about dying in a massacre. When I was out walking, I was afraid of tall and blonde men that looked like him because of the fear he would resemble Breivik. When home, I couldn’t sleep properly and had loads of anxiety. This fear finally subsided after a while.
The obsessions has then been about me and my surroundings. I remember obsessing over the fact that I could be pregnant, when my period was late, even though I did not have any sexual intercourse. My stomach was in pain, and my period was not showing itself for 3 months so it served as evidence that I was pregnant. Prior to this I’ve been obsessing about having cancer, brain tumors, heart attacks etc.
My latest obsessions are HOCD and POCD. I went through a period believing I was a pedophile of some sort and that caused me endless suffering. There was this childhood memory that I felt shame and guilt over, that surfaced up again. Basically I remember when I was 10-11 years old, holding my parents colleagues son in my lap. And suddenly I touched his genitals for a brief second. I can’t remember what I thought about this at the time, but analyzing afterwards when being older I felt ashamed and guilt. I then started to panic as the picture of me touching the kid was repeating over and over again with questions in my head “what if enjoyed it?”, “what if I’m a pedophile?”. The obsession went away, but then this next obsession would occurr.
HOCD started in summer 2014. I was at a party my friend had for her 18-birthday. I had a good time and felt nice meeting good old people I haven’t seen in a while. We were all intoxicated in some way. When going home, I said goodbye to everyone and to my friend. Then I kissed her on the cheek. And then my other friend joined in and kissed me on the cheek. It was bizarre. I was thinking “why did I do that?”, “does that make me gay?” and the obsessing started. I would have intrusive thoughts that did not want to leave me. I even woke up one night with images of me kissing my friend running through my mind. I was panicking, catching for breath and had immense anxiety. I couldn’t sleep properly that night. The thoughts of “what if i’m gay?” has been on repeat for months now. I remember one month ago particularly, I could not sleep, eat or do anything. The thoughts kept appearing saying “you are gay!”, “you are gay!”.
I would do and still catch me doing some sort of analyze of my childhood, my whole persona and all my relationships. I knew I wasn’t interested in women in that way because I only had crushes on boys/men growing up, I was attracted to boys/men and sexually fantasized about boys/men. Never did I think about woman in that way.
The obsession has made me filled with anxiety which eats me inside out. I can’t go a day without feeling intense anxiety and questioning over and over again. It takes hours and drains me, making me depressed. I sometimes can’t even look at other women, attractive or not, because of the anxiety and thoughts haunting me endlessly.
Is all this OCD? Sometimes I question if I have OCD. Horrifying.
Thank you so much for this article. Though I’m not proud of who I’ve been in life, I’ve always suspected there was something more going on than just normal guilt and shame. I’ve tried many of the tried and true methods to overcoming guilt and shame and found it just made it worse, or I would just start thinking about another life event and another and another. Your article brought me to tears, because I feel like their is hope that I can finally accept things and move on. I can’t wait to find the right therapist and begin CBT. Thanks.
Hi Chi, I’m not sure if this is OCD and you may want to consult with a therapist who specializes in human sexuality. Some people who have obsessions about their physical appearance and those of others may also need to rule out a disorder called Body Dsymorphic Disorder. You can read about this disorder in a booked called, “The Broken Mirror” by Katharine Phillips. Therapists are very used to seeing many types of disorders and will take a non-judgmental approach when learning about your concerns.
You mentioned that you were having intrusive sexual thoughts prior to your substance abuse problem and possibly used drugs and alcohol as an escape from these thoughts and feelings. Since you are still using alcohol heavily, it will be important to enter a substance abuse program to try to get your drinking under control because of the way that it is involved in your OCD fears.
I have seen OCD clients who have fears about doing something wrong and not remembering it. These people may even have fears after only having a drink or two. Some OCD clients even fear that they have done something wrong in their past and forgot about it even when they have had no alcohol. There is no way to disprove that you haven’t done something wrong because you don’t have a video camera following you around…but lack of proof doesn’t mean you did something wrong.
OCD will capitalize on your inability to prove it. It will convince you that you need to do mental and overt rituals to know for sure what you may have done. If you do rituals, OCD thoughts become more powerful and believable. It sounds like you are examining your own brain and also asking others indirectly for reassurance, which are both rituals. Try to work on eliminating the need to know for sure and accept uncertainty. You may also want to consult with an OCD specialist to help you learn the skills to treat OCD which includes Exposure and Response Prevention.
Hi Dana, In CBT we have appointments that are called “booster sessions.” These exist for people who have already been through CBT and need a refresher course. I have many clients who contact me again for booster sessions. Since OCD doesn’t have a cure, it is a healthy way to manage your OCD throughout your life.
Hi Emerald, It sounds like you were experiencing Body Dsymorphic Disorder in High School, which is an OC Spectrum disorder, in the OCD family. You are now having obsessions about being “bad” because you cheated on your boyfriend many years ago. I’m sure it is obvious to you that it feels much more important to you than to your family, friends and even your significant other. The idea it to label your thoughts about this incident OCD and not trust your brain’s faulty messaging.
Every time you want to confess and tell yourself and others how horrible you are, you are doing a compulsion that intensifies the OCD. If you want to break the cycle, you must sit with anxiety, guilt and intrusive thoughts without self-punishing or confessing. You may even say to yourself, “I cheated on my boyfriend and I got away with it. You win some, you lose some. I guess I won this one. Now I will just go on living a happy life even though I didn’t pay any price. Oh well.” If you see an OCD specialist they can also teach you skills to challenge your catastrophic thoughts and black and white thinking using cognitive therapy and assist you in learning ERP for your OCD.
Hi Anthony, You may try to agree with the OCD thoughts instead of trying to argue with them or control them. It is sort of in the same vein as agreeing with a bully, it takes away the ammunition they have against you. You can say something like, “I am sexually aroused by men in their underwear. Deal with it,” instead of trying to convince yourself otherwise. Your OCD depends on you getting upset and compulsive about knowing with certainty.
Hi Stacy. I have posted on Jon’s blog a few times and while I realise I am obsessing and have many symptoms of HOCD I still have enormous trouble believing this is not just obsessing about a real life gay coming to terms with it type thing.
I wish I could say my past was 100% straight. I wish I could say I fancied girls from age 5 or whatever and had intense feelings around them etc..
But the truth is I never had interest in girls until maybe age 14. I also cried my eyes out all day on myfirst day of school when I was 4 because my best friend (boy) wasnt there. I had to be taken home I was crying so much. Sign of being gay??
I cant recall any emotional or sexual interest in boys or guys at any stage. I remember feeling very uncomfortable sometimes looking guys in the eyes and would have to break eye contact. Maybe I was afraid of liking them?? Another sign?
I was bullied in school age 12/13 and was called gay derogatory names every day. I am no sure why. I wasnt girly (I hope) and I was into sports but the bullying was bad and left a mark on me.
As I said I had no fascination with boys or girls growing up. Was just being a kid and was into sports. This worries me that I had no interest in girls around age 11 onwards when my mates were.
I am 33 now but from age 14-25 all my fantasies were about girls. I had a serious drop in libido from age 22 -25 and this caused me to ultimately ask myself the question ”am I gay?’ age 25 due to erection dysfunction issues. I fantasised about a guy to test and found it worked and so I have been in a panic since, freaking out etc.. So for nearly 8 years now I have been freaking out about this. I started having groinals/arousals around guys, even ugly old guys everyday. This never happened before. They still occur numerous times a day now.
I get a nervous/anxious feeling in my chest and what feels like a sexual urge down there especially if I am sitting next to a guy. They really disturb me and cause me to worry. Sometimes I totally freak out and causes a binge of internet checkign . freaking out and posting on message boards.
I never get these to women. Before ocd I used to believe I was aroused by girls as if I was talking to a girl I liked I would sometimes (not all the time) get some sort of erection down there and made me happy. I didnt get these intense urges down there so I am now doubting that I liked girls at all, that I should have been getting these urges. That maybe this is what other people get. that this is true sexual arousal.
I have a girlfriend but now fear I am misleading her and that I am gay. I did seek help for hocd and went to a well known ocd therapist and was told it was ocd but I honestly think I was a case that looked and sounded like hocd because I realised Iw as gay at age 25 and this devastated me and caused me to obsess. So I am obsessing and peforming compulsions due to a real life event.
I spoke to a sex therapist. She asked if I wanted to have sex with men. I said no!! She then said ‘well you’re not gay” but this is not true surely? I mean there are gays who dont want to be gay and want to be straight and also freak out.
I get groinals consistently to men now and not to women. I used to see mens fitness magazines in barber shops before this fear started and never once felt aroused by topless guys. Now its like I am sexually super aroused by them and its scary.
Was I born gay and just was oblivious to it? Did those incidents from my childhood hold clues that i missed do you think?
I used to love seeing girls topless in movies etc but now even straight porn is doing nothing for me anymore.
Am I straight with hocd? Gay but worrying about being gay with ocd?
I have always been a worrier and would have many irrational fears but this has been going on 8 years now so surely there is something in it?
Hi Dan, I’m so glad you found this article and it helped you to make the decision to stop trying to figure out your past events. Good luck in CBT!
Hi Janet, The symptoms you mention are common OCD obsessions and compulsions, such as avoiding women and doing mental rituals to gain certainty sound like OCD, although I cannot diagnose you over the Internet. Most if not all of my OCD clients are concerned at one point or another that they don’t have OCD and that their fears may be true. This is the uncertainty you must learn to sit with, otherwise you will engage in compulsions that feed the problem. Instead of trying figure out if it is OCD, work on sitting with any symptoms you have. You may even move towards the things that scare you. For example, kiss a girlfriend on the cheek again to remind OCD who is in charge.
Eric, What stands out the most is your unwillingness to sit with uncertainty. This is a main symptom and characteristic of all forms of OCD. You sound desperate to know for sure what your sexual orientation is. I would recommend trying to take hiatus in finding out. Live the life you’re in and take the risk you are gay and in denial. Unless you start actively seeking out sex with men, call this OCD and take your chances. Thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations are all smoke screens for OCD, so try to let them come and go without trying to stop or control them. Your entire comment is a reassurance-seeking compulsion. I’m guessing you’ve heard the answers from other OCD specialists so I’m not going to repeat them and fuel the OCD. Sit with uncertainty, it will be the only thing that sets you free.
Thanks for your article that touches on an ocd feature less often discussed but is very relevant to my current torment. The details of my story may take too many words to describe, but I would like to give a similar example:
Many hit-and-run ocd sufferers may feel a bump when driving, and would then try to drive back to check for dead bodies or to call the police to check if there is any report of car accident. They would repeat the compulsion even if nothing turns out in their checking.
But what if there is really some evidence of accident upon their checking! A person did get killed by a car around the time that I feel a bump while driving! It would then tip the balance in favor of the initial nagging uncertainty. Adding fuel to this is our innate superstitious nature. “Maybe this time it is true!” “I know my thoughts have unusual power to foretell or even to cause things to happen, and now it did happen!” I am currently suffering from a strong urge to investigate the details of the accident to make sure whether it is really caused by me. I am daily fantasizing how good it would be if I were allowed to enter the filing room of the police traffic department to browse their records for accidents that happened around the vicinity that I have driven before. If I could not find any, then this would prove that I am absolutely not responsible for any accidents caused. However, on the one hand, I would feel too embarrassed to really contact the police (and most probably they will drive me away if I did make the contact); but on the other hand, I feel I am morally obliged to clear up this matter. I am haunted by the refrain: “It happened at the same time…this time it must be true…otherwise how to explain the coincidence…”
My question is: We are told that by doing ERP, we expose ourselves to our feared situation without engaging in any compulsion in response, then gradually our anxiety level will go down. However in my case, since it is almost impossible for me to fulfilled my compulsion, I am daily exposed to this anxious & guilty thoughts without the alleviation afforded by doing the compulsion; but my level of anxiety does not go down. What is the difference between the two situations?
First of all I just want to say thank you so much for writing this article. For the past few weeks now I have been struggling a lot due to obsessing over an event in my past. I’m not even sure if it happened or not, but now it seems to be stuck in my brain, and there are always images of me doing this awful act in my head and replaying the scene that could have led up to this event. It gets to the point where I don’t know what is and what isn’t real. I have always had “OCD tendencies” though, as my last psychologist put it. I am currently seeing a psychologist, but I’m not too sure if her style suits me or is helping very much, and I would really like to see someone who is perhaps specialised in OCD but am not sure how to go about it.
I am in Australia, so perhaps it would be a different process, but how do you get referred on? Does it need to come from your current therapist, or from your doctor? And do you have the choice to see an OCD specialist or does your current psychologist have to diagnose you with OCD in order for you to see a specialist?
Once again, thanks so much.
I was just wondering if you had had any luck with finding a therapist similar to Stacey? I also live in Melbourne and would be very interested to know. Thanks a lot 🙂
Hi Mickey, You are most likely performing other compulsions that are reinforcing the OCD. While going to the police and researching the records would be one way of gaining certainty, people also perform mental rituals to gain certainty called mental review or rewinding the tape. In the example you gave, a person might continually replay the driving event in his mind repeatedly for certainty which results in reinforcing fears. Feel free to read my article called, Compulsions in OCD to learn more.
Hi Anna, Thanks for your comment. It would be a good idea for you to have an assessment by an OCD specialist because it sounds like you have been experiencing symptoms that sound like OCD. I do distance therapy and have seen several clients in Australia. Feel free to contact me through my website if you have any questions or would like to set up an initial assessment.
If either of you have difficulty finding a local OCD specialist, feel free to contact me through my website for distance / webcam treatment.
Hallo!! It’s really a helpful article! I suffer with ocd for many years and I take medicine for my ocd. I m Greek and my therapist is really good. My ocd came back again stronger than before. Harm ocd. I suffer from guilt because a mother and a son committed suicide and because I knew them and they had psychological problems, I discussed with them sometime. What if I said something wrong? Or behaved inappropriate? Thank you for reading this. I really appreciate it.
Hi Maria, Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found this article helpful, it sounds like it really applies to your difficult real life event.
What a fascinating article! You could be describing me exactly! However, I have a question – can this also be applied to recent events? I have POCD and am currently doing ERP therapy. On Saturday, my task was to spend the entire day with my best friend’s 7 year old son. I did fine all day, but at the very end he tried to jump into my lap, and i panicked terribly.
My immediate thought was that i must have deliberately pushed against his genitals with my shin, as he was leaning directly on it. The whole event lasted about 5 seconds, and i know i was panicking during. I just cant seem to get past it! Surely if i had done that i would have to call the police? I feel like a terrible person.
Thank you for the answer! But do you really thing I have ocd?? I wonder every time. …
Hi Emma, Yes this can also apply to recent events. The fact of the matter is, kid’s genitals will touch our bodies when the climb on us and when we hold them. I have had many client’s OCD reply, “Well you held it there 5 seconds though.” Playing on this uncertainty is how OCD manipulates you to do certainty-seeking compulsions that make things worse. Getting reassurance is not the answer and will only feed your OCD. Try to sit with uncertainty about what is means. This is how you stop playing by OCD’s rules.
Hi Maria, I cannot diagnose you over the Internet, but you seem to having obsessions and compulsions and appear to have professionals telling you that you have OCD.
Thank you again for the answer! I suffer a lot. It’s a great article!!. It really helps me to understand ocd…
Hello Stacey! Thank you for all of your help!
My issue on my OCD life event is that instead of mine event being in the past, mine has been recently. I almost feel like its irrational, but it sure has been beating me up! I would rather talk to you personally about it. Does real life events OCD only target past mistakes? Or can It be recent? I need your advice!
Hi Rosendo, The life event can be recent or distant…OCD does not discriminate.
Hello Stacey, I have had ocd on and off since childhood with many themes. I know your article is about real event ocd but my question is about a real thought (not an intrusive thought). I had this thought in response to something I read and feel that my response was not suitable and now i feel terrible guilt.. This response is not who i am but i feel like why did i react that way, it must mean something, that im not a good person and it says something about my true nature! So my question is this: does an automatic thought response to something make me a bad person because it feels like i am.. This wasnt an intrustive thought it was a ‘me’ thought and thats whats fueling the guilt. Some advice would be much appreciated. Thanks
Hello Stacey, I truly appreciate your article upon OCD. I have been struggling the past 4 years with extreme guilt and shame over a past life event that comes and goes. I was in college when this life event happened and was very intoxicated at the time and have since been sober for 3 years because of this event that happened in my life. I can’t blame it on the alcohol for I know that my actions have consequences and I consumed the alcohol on my own account. Anyways, long story short I walked a lady home from a party to her dorm room, we were both heavly intoxicated and when we got up to her room I sat at the edge of her bed beginning to kiss her then she suddenly said we can’t and I asked why? And she said she had a boyfriend. And this is where I begin not being able to forgive myself for my actions. I asked her where her boyfriend was at? She stated he was at a different college. I then told her that he was probably off doing the same thing we are about to do. I then picked her up and put her in bed and began to go down on her with my finger then she again said we can’t. I respected that and tucked her in and kissed her on the cheek, she said thank you for walking me home and I responded your welcome then left her dorm room. The next morning I had an extreme since of what did I just do? And lots of guilt and shame that I carry with me today. I ran into her several times but she was with her boyfriend so I never got the opportunity to apologize. I sometimes go on Fb to see how she is doing and if I caused any harm to her in any way. I do the Google search all the time as well and ask the what if? Or if I would have just done this etc. I know we all make mistakes and I have definitely learned from all of mine but this one has created the darkist cloud in my life. I pray she is able to forgive me and be able to live her life to the fullest and happiest it can be. I feel like I should be punished for the rest of my life. Thanks for your time Stacey.
Thanks for the great article, I now understand that I have OCD and can manage it with the help of a specialist.
Hi, Stacey , Thank-you so much for the article. i am 62 and have been in therapy since the age of 36, when ocd was defined. I wrote to you a while ago about my abortion. Now i am suffering because i euthanized two dogs for aggression. one was my companion for 11 years, and we believe it was a brain tumor that made her aggressive but not sure. other people say it was my screaming at my mother on the phone. I wasn’t watching her other symtoms, which later i remembered. i adopted a second dog who was a reactive biter. i had her for a year, and then she bit me in succession without being provoked. she had bitten me once a week before that, because she was scared of being reached for, and had not been socialized . she was three when i rescued her. I cannot forgive myself for not doing more. i ended up taking her to her vet to have her humanely euthanised. i’ve since thought of 50 things i could have done differently. i ve done exposures i went to pet loss support groups, and i know i will suffer till the day i die. i have pure-0 and i review and review and cry for my babies. any suggestions o,n how to reframe this.
Hi Stacey! I found this article doing a google search for real event OCD. I have had a revival of OCD symptoms the past two weeks and the theme has changed. Anyway I saw someone else posted asking about the real event OCD where the suffer thinks they may have forgotten or blacked out. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that for me? I think I have this kind, where because I am anxious about a seemingly innocent incident and can’t figure out why I am anxious. So I think something bad must have happened in order for it to make me so anxious and that to protect myself I blocked it out or some how forgot. If you have any advice or insight I would appreciate it. Thanks!
No-one has posted in this thread for a while, but hopefully you still find my post as your blog entry definitely made a big impression on me concerning my own dealings with OCD (not that I’ve been diagnosed as such… but every time I begin to think I don’t have OCD I find an article like this that matches with my experiences).
I have various dealings with what might be OCD – constantly checking the front door is locked, never being happy in a relationship as I get constant thoughts that it’s ‘not right’ or that I’m ‘stringing them along’, and another that I will bring up on the ROCD thread as I’ve just realised that’s a better place for it.
But I also have these fixations with past events. Some of them are cases where I objectively did something wrong and the uncertainty comes from not knowing if anyone knows about it and whether people view me as weird and creepy as a result. Others are more ambiguous and they have more in common with your example from the article about someone fearing they might have hit someone after their drunken, minor road accident. There are two big cases in my life where mistakes *might* have been made and I’m too scared to go back and check as there would be so many mistakes it’s better that I don’t know. These events play over in my mind regularly and I try to convince myself that they are not going to lead to prison and if they were going to then I would already be there by now (one case happened at least five years ago and another nearly three). The problem is that it’s hard not to link the ambiguous cases with the ones where I know I objectively did something wrong. All of these instances lead me to same feeling of dread, panic and shame and my brain sees this as proof that these ambiguous cases aren’t so ambiguous after all.
Sometimes I think I’m just in denial on the ambiguous cases as the consequences for them being true are potentially worse, so I’m just refusing to accept I did anything wrong. But I’m willing to admit that the other cases are objectively bad things carried out by me in my past, so I hope that that means that the ambiguity is justified. I guess I’m just going to have to live with the uncertainty there. What I want to know, however, is whether this is a typical mindset for real-life OCD.
I’ve seen a therapist about this and they’ve now referred me for CBT (which I guess will have to begin in the new year). They haven’t diagnosed me with OCD (they said that I’d have to visit a psychologist for a diagnosis) but I’m not sure if they see me as having OCD. I guess my question is, are there other disorders that real-life OCD resembles? If I have OCD I want to make sure I get the right treatment and it would be helpful to see if therapists in the future see me as having something else.
My other question relates to ERP in general. In recent weeks my main bouts of anxiety seem to hit in the evening when I want to go to bed, leading to sleepless nights. Do you have advice on sleeping when you can’t just force the thoughts out of your head? When I think of what you said in the article and also what I know of ERP, I understand that I’m supposed to let the thoughts happen and let them disappear on my own (maybe even force the thoughts out)… I know from experience that this can last a long time and it could make it even harder to sleep. Any help there would be appreciated.
Wow thank you for this article ! I have ocd my entire life and it seems to have switched themes alot . I also get the guilt shame feeling, the compulsion to confess but very recently I have felt the need to go back and analyze every action of the past 2 years, I also put certain events that happened years prior into the time period while I was with my fiance and get freaked out that I cheated on him! I guess what I am asking is I know I have never cheated on him in the sense of kissing or emotional but I have this need for moral perfection where I take things that people do not often consider bad and have to ask him “is that bad” . It’s almost like I am questioning right and wrong. I will take things to the extreme like saying thank you to a male cashier snd feel the need to “confess” and ask if I did anything bad. My moral scruplosity are at unprecedented standards right now so when I look back to the past and think about things I’ve done at the beginning of the relationship and I am appalled but when I tell my therapist or friends they are confused like those were normal human interactions how were they bad ? Have you ever seen anyone who need to ask if not what they did was bad or good? I think I do this cause I label things bad that aren’t actually bad because of my new unreachable standards. I would really appreciate a reply !
Thank you so much for this article it really is the best of its kind and has helped me to understand the flaws in my thinking.
I remember when I was very young, perhaps 8 years old when I had my first ocd attack. I had made a mistake of playing doctor with someone of my age. Years later I had panic attacks to the point I had to confess to my mum what a terrible mistake it was. This was my first instance with ocd.
Throughout my teen years I craved male attention. I was bullied a lot and the attention made me feel special. So much to the point I was making out with guys every weekend.
When I was 16 I met my current partner. I’m now 25 and married.
However during the course of my relationship I succumbed to infidelity. Always of the kissing variety as a way of getting attention. Texting other guys and leading them to believe I was interested just to get some attention.
I love my partner so much and eventually the guilt returned and I confessed everything. What I did was wrong and he was upset but forgave me. This was 7 years ago. However it led to months of ROCD.
Last year I almost hooked up with a guy at work. He was paying me all sorts of attention and made me feel special. We never full on kissed but it was a form of emotional attachment. I broke again and told my partner. He again forgave me (which I don’t think I deserve) however since then I have been obsessed with all the details of my transgressions. I keep thinking of all the little things I did and I want to tell my partner about them. I believe if he knows every detail only tell hen can he decide whether I am really worth being with. I love him so much. He wants to move on and does not want to know the details. But I believe he should know then as what of the one detail I missed is the deciding factor in our relationship. I am currently taking medication however not therapy as I am finding it difficult to find a decent therapist. What if I cannot move past this. What if I’m forgetting to tell him things. Does this make me a bad person?
Hello Selina, You can look for an OCD specialist in your area on http://www.iocdf.org. Going over the details in your mind or confessing all of the details to your husband are both compulsions. Compulsions are the food for OCD and will fuel your obsessions about the incident. You will have to work on accepting your thoughts, anxiety and guilt. You can read the article Compulsions and OCD on this blog to learn about the mental compulsions you might not realize you are performing that make things worse. The question you asked, “Does this make me a bad person,” is a thought that precedes doing a mental compulsion. Try to sit with the uncertainty of that question without answering it which will take the wind out of OCD’s sails. I’m glad you read the article and found it helpful.
Hi Haley, Yes I have seen plenty of scrupulosity clients who judge themselves and feel guilt and anxiety for things most other people see as non-issues. OCD will capitalize on these moments, smiling at a male cashier, to trick you into feeding it with a compulsion. Confessing and asking for reassurance about these perceived moral infractions are compulsions. Compulsions are the performed to seek certainty and to gain comfort about one’s actions, but they backfire and actually feed the obsession. Work on sitting with fear, anxiety and guilt until they pass naturally.
Thank you very much for your kind reply and information. I will have a look into the therapists. And the article you suggested. Thank you for being an inspiration
Thank you Stacie. This is the first good article that truly addresses real event OCD. Other articles inadvertently ostricize suffers with this condition by providing such vanilla examples of worries (e.g. what if I had two cookies when I should have had just one). A person suffering with this condition would simply fall further into despair by citing “but this is not my case, my case is far worse and I am a terrible person”. My story is a fear of intrusive thoughts that progressed to irrational worries, that cascaded to excessive rumination over past events and terrible anxiety/depression – all because of an upcoming dental procedure and knowing that I would be under nitrous oxide. I have been doing CBT for a few weeks; just wanted to give this article some merit because I believe it captures this problem incredibly well.
This post most accurately describes what I go through daily. I feel as if I wrote it myself. L, have you been making any progress? My problem is also compounded by the fact that as a Christian, we believe that “all are guilty and fall short of the glory of God” yet, I know that also we have been saved by grace and “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us” I know this means confess to God, but others. And maybe I’m still wrong even from a Christian perspective to do that bc I’m looking for grace from my husband instead of God. But I guess is hard for me to know the line of if I actually owe my husband a confession bc of a current thought or a real life past event bc I want to hear what a Christian would do. He is also a Christian, and many things I have already confessed to him, he thinks are irrelevant and I needn’t do this. But I just want to make sure I am not buying into a “new age” or “worldly” view that “we are all good people” bc I know that is not true. Is there anyone who is a Christian and suffers from real event/relationship OCD that can help? ?
Does the “false memory” aspect grow over time? Can it be correlated with indulging in compulsions? Two years ago, my “memories” of the real event felt fairly clear and didn’t carry as large of an emotional weight. Now, whenever I think about anything remotely related to my behavior at a certain aspect, it triggers a full reaction at which point I expand the “memory’s” intensity from “it was pretty bad” to “oh my god, I really hurt someone in an unforgivable manner.” I am nearing the end of ERP treatment, but it seems to be getting worse after a long period of getting better, like my system wants to revert. Do you have any quick advice? I feel like everytime I get comfortable, something new comes that goes from “you may have behaved poorly” to “you’re a full blown violent psychopath.”
Or I should say, the memory’s information gets more damning.
Hi Stacey, great article.
I’m having trouble coping with the fact that my real event was not just a one time thing. I did it several times and it almost became a habit I had. I would do it, feel guilty by then reassure myself that it was okay and other people do it too. Then suddenly I realized how icky it was and I stopped.
Later on it started haunting me and I’m trying to let the memories be there and sit with the anxiety and guilt and shame.. but then I started getting intrusive thoughts about being a sexual deviant. This came from my real event (which was normal adolescent experimentation but then it started telling me I was a deviant because of it and because of these sexual intrusive thoughts I get).
So now I’m not just dealing with a worry about the past but also an identity crisis as well as worrying about making the same mistakes again in the future!!
Great article. I learned a lot of about my condition from it. Quick question though – I’m guessing that this real event could have been an ongoing behaviour as well, right? For example, if I went through a period of drunk driving often (I didn’t, I should point out, it’s just an example) I would react the same way as in real event OCD? In such a case it’s not an ‘event’ but rather it’s a behaviour that I might have decided to change but it’s haunting me horribly now.
I’m not really asking if this counts as Real Event OCD as it clearly meets the criteria even though it’s not a single event, but I was wondering if this is something that commonly comes up as well or whether it is mostly the examples you use. To be fair I can tell this is my OCD convincing me to ask this as it’s found a loophole in my condition and is trying to convince me that my case doesn’t match the criteria.
Hi Michael, Thanks for your kind post. I’m glad you related to the article and found it helpful. OCD does have a way of making the sufferer feel his situation is unique and so it couldn’t possibly be OCD. I’m glad you are able to notice this trick when OCD pulls it on you. Best wishes with your treatment!
You’re welcome 🙂
Hi Colleen, You may want to read the book, “The Doubting Disease” by Joseph Ciarrocchi. It sounds like you are experiencing scrupulosity, a form of OCD where you experience imagined sin. The difficulty is there is no way to know where the “line” is and it is never as all or nothing as we would like it to be. OCD will capitalize on this uncertainty. The only way to work on this is to take the risk and avoid confessing to self, others and God if you are “pretty sure.” If you hold out for 100% certainty, you will never find it and will only fuel obsessions. Reading the book and finding an OCD specialist can help you understand the road to OCD management.
Hi Ethan, If you are performing a lot of mental compulsions, your OCD can spread like cancer and you might not even know you are doing them. I think of it like a tree, a new idea gets proposed about how terrible you might be and that is one branch. Each branch of a tree splits off into smaller branches, and then smaller twigs. Every time you indulge a new idea of how “you may have behaved poorly” it will branch off into new ideas that also feel they need evaluated. Try to use mindfulness to label the new idea as OCD bait and make the decision to not go down the rabbit hole with the new idea. This is going to feel risky if OCD is telling you that you may be a psychopath, etc. You can read the mental rituals section of my blog, Compulsions and OCD to identify any mental rituals you may be engaging in.
Your OCD needs to get more crafty when you are doing the right thing to treat it. It is probably a good sign you are targeting the OCD with exposures, since it has to come up with more damning warnings to get you to perform rituals. Stay the course. OCD intensity will come and go but you must remain steadfast.
Hello. I understand that you do not want to post your real event on this blog, but it is somewhat difficult to comment without knowing what occurred. Treatment would probably depend on the reasons why you think the real event is not okay to repeat if it is normal experimentation. Would other people find it immoral or do you have religious reasons for not wanting to engage in such behavior? You may want to schedule an appointment with a therapist to discuss these ideas. If it is OCD, you could write scripts agreeing with OCD, “I did [blank] on more than one occasion. This makes me a sexual deviant who will never be able to live a normal life. If people knew what I did, they would disown me. But at least nobody knows. I will just have to live my life for today.” Agreeing with the OCD allows these intrusive thoughts to start sounding less scary to your brain and they have less power over you.
Hello. I like the last sentence of your post. You are absolutely right about the loophole your OCD found to make yours unique. It would be great to just agree with the OCD and say, “Yes, this is not OCD and I am wrong and bad because it happened more than once. I am an actual deviant. I can’t kid myself anymore about this being OCD. I’m ready to face the music.” I believe you know the answer to this question so I will leave it at that. This exposure in my response will not indulge the OCD and serve to weaken it, albeit the more difficult route.
Thank you. I am trying to find someone in my area, hopefully a Christian counselor who is trained on OCD, but the only one I could find close by me so far still hasn’t called me back after 2 emails and a voicemail 🙁
My question is about having stolen something ,apiece of electrical wire ,even though ireturned the whole wire and some splinters of it ,i still feel thet somehow a piece of that wire has somehow gotten into the main electrical system of my house.everytime i am using electricity i feel like i am stealing .
I suppose it’s just a loophole that my OCD is using to trick me, just like the person above says. It’s still worrying though.
Thanks for all of your articles and insights.
I’ve got a question about Exposure-response prevention for those of us suffering from ‘pure-o’ ocd such as the type you describe in this article – (using exposure scripts, imagined exposure). For me, using exposure scripts seems to simply send me into a higher state of anxiety/depression that does not abate. I just get more anxious and more depressed. For this reason my therapist advises me to avoid this type of therapy. Rather, he advises me to focus on avoiding the ‘rabbit holes’ utilizing other techniques. Have you encountered patients in which ERP is not an effective treatment? If so, what other approaches would you suggest? Or should i find another CBT therapist and try ERP again?
Hi John, This sounds like the type of worries my clients have who experience real event OCD. If you have asked friends and family about this issue, I’m sure they have told you to move on from the event. The OCD brain will try to make you feel that you haven’t been punished enough or that you may still be engaging in behavior that is immoral / illegal due to using parts of the wire. If you try to stop your brain from telling you this through mental analysis, internet searching, or asking for reassurance, you are doing compulsions to make this worse. Do not rewire your house or anything related to getting rid of the splinters. Instead, embrace that you stole something and that you may still be using parts of the items you took. You could say to yourself, “I got something for free. You win some, you lose some.” Remind yourself that your brain in misfiring and decide that it will feel very important to your brain, and that you cannot control that. Even though it feels VERY important, you can make a decision to stop spending time on it and eventually it will weaken.
Hi Steve. I assume you have Real Event OCD since you are commenting on this article. There are some very specific ways to do imaginal exposure scripts and they may be done incorrectly which make them ineffective. In addition, there are times when they are appropriate and times when they are not for the same individual. For example, it the person is using them to eliminate obsessions and anxiety, the motive for scripting is incorrect so more work needs to be done about the rationale for ERP so the correct mind frame is maintained throughout treatment. In addition, for real event OCD specifically, self-punishment embedded in scripts may be a hidden compulsion which blocks habituation. Self-punishment is a compulsion because it makes the sufferer feel less guilty for their “crime.’ Instead of saying, “I stole money from my grandmother as a teenager. I am a horrible person and I don’t deserve to exist,” one would say, “I stole money from my grandma and I was never punished for it. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I am going to find a way to continue living my life despite being a person who steals from old ladies, because how I am living now is no way to live.” It is hard for me to instruct you without taking a look at exactly what pitfalls you are falling into with your scrips because they are all unique to the person. I recommend finding someone who specializes in OCD and working together on best practices for you.
Hi. i have had intrusive thoughts related to incest and children since i was 16 (i’m 18)
this christmas i was having a breakdown when this “memory” came into my head, that i had felt arousal when i heard my parents while they were having sex and then i masturbated. i feel awful, because i dont know if this happened or not. i cant remember when, or details, at first it felt real but now i dont remember doing the action.i’ve heard them several times, and i normally just put my headphones, so i dont know if it is real or not. i feel awful, i really want to die because if it was real it would mean that i am a pervert or something, and i love my parents and i do not want them to think i am weird. this is horrible i dont know what to do.
Automatic responses can also be ego-dsytonic. Ego-dsytonic thoughts are those that are not inline with our values and how we see ourselves. It is also okay to not be perfect in the way you think or view things. It doesn’t make you a bad person in all situations for thinking an imperfect thing in one situation. That is a form of “all or nothing” thinking which is a thought distortion OCD often uses to trick people into certainty-seeking compulsions.
Hi Danny, Thanks for your story. I’m sure it will help a lot of people. It is nice that you feel remorseful for the situation and want to apologize. If you have OCD, this type of situation, which falls into a gray area of sorts, can cause a lot more suffering that it may cause someone else. Other guys might regret the event but allow themselves to move on. Someone with OCD will perform compulsions such as following her progress on social media to make sure she is okay, looking up the legality of the situation, asking for reassurance from family and friends, and at times even turning themselves into the police. All of these compulsions make obsessions grow more intense and create challenges with moving on from the event. If you continue to have difficulties, you can find an OCD specialist and have an assessment.
Hi Michelle, I am sorry you are suffering so much. It sounds like you were faced with some difficult decisions with your animals. You may want to write some scripts that are not to tell you how horrible you are, but to remind you that you still have life left to live in a way that you can feel proud of. Examples may include, “I put my dogs down and I don’t know if it was the right decision. It could have been for my own convenience and it could have been because I had not many choices and I made the best choice at the time. I will never know the answer to this question. But OCD will capitalize on this uncertainty. It will use it against me and tell me to figure it out with compulsions. But I will not try to answer that question. Instead, for my therapy, I will find ways to live out my true values in my daily life. I will not let OCD and uncertainty take away my future, despite my past events.”
Hi AW, Well we can’t remember everything that happened and we can’t remember things that didn’t happen. OCD will use this fact to convince you that you may have done something terrible on those times you don’t remember. Well we all have times we don’t remember and we all have events we have forgotten. We don’t have time machines or crystal balls, so we must rely on the idea that if we don’t remember, we aren’t responsible. OCD will not want you to take that approach and will try to convince you to do mental review, a type of mental compulsion to be certain you didn’t do anything. Doing compulsions make obsession strengthen. Do your best to sit with the feeling you have forgotten something horrible without investigating. We all do this on a daily basis, the OCD brain tells you that it matters.
Hi Arnold, It sounds like you suffer from the same kinds of obsessions and compulsions that my OCD clients suffer from. With real event OCD, sufferers often perform mental rituals and reassurance seeking online and from family and friends to reduce uncertainty and gain comfort. In your case currently, your uncertainty surrounds the ambiguous vs. the unambiguous events. OCD can latch onto any sort of event. The treatment for OCD would be to leave this all uncertain. You might say something like, “I’m not sure how bad either of these events were and I’m not going to try to find out. Trying to find out is doing a compulsion that will make this seem more important to my brain. I want to practice living my life as best I can today, even though I may have done a horrible thing without being punished. I will never be able to answer that question and no answer will ever satisfy OCD. Instead, I will work on identifying my values and living a valued life today.”
Hi Katie, Let’s just assume it did happen for a second. It doesn’t have to mean that you are interested in your parents sexually or that you are a pervert. That is the meaning you are assigning to that event. Another example would be getting aroused by someone talking about getting raped on a television show. That doesn’t mean they want to get raped or to rape. Her body is just responding to a sexually charged conversation. But, in your case, you don’t even remember exactly what occurred. OCD will tell you to try to think about the event so you can remember, so you know for sure how perverted you are. That is an OCD trap. If you try to do mental analysis to try to figure out if it actually happened, you are performing a mental ritual that will make this thought seem important. Try to sit with uncertainty about the meaning of this thought and similar thoughts in order to weaken OCD.
Thank you Stacey. It’s just that at first it felt a real memory, but now it doesn’t feel like other memories i have. Can OCD trick memories and change them? Make you remember things that actcually didnt happen? How can i stop obsessing if the memory is real or not? I just want to be as happy as i was before the “memory” came to my head. Now i just feel wortless and like i dont teserve to be happy anymore.
I have the same thoughts as you did Katie, just a different scenario. My therapist, my wife and others I talked to about it say that I am not the way my mind is making me out to think, but it’s hard to wrap your own mind around that fact. It makes you feel disgusted, and worthless among other things.
Stacey, another thing. I am suicidal because of this. I feel like i dont deserve to live. Should i tell my therapist about this? I’m scared she’ll think i’m a pervert. Also i dont know if she treats OCD i’m going because of my depression, but my depression triggers ocd thoughts.
Thank you for this article Stacey! I’m in a really bad place right now, because I’m racking my brain with past guilt. My problem stems from my past porn addictions and what I used to view. In the real world, outside of porn I mean, I know that I’m a heterosexual male. I prefer women my age, I’m 28, and older because I’m attracted to independent and mature women. I’ve never downloaded anything illegal, but in my past I used to masturbate to all different kinds of things like Gay and Transgender Porn. I don’t feel too guilty about watching those, because I know that I’m not physically or emotionally attracted to men, I think it was just the act itself. But I used to go to Google Images in the past and look up “Teen Nudist” and I feel completely guilty for looking at pictures like that. I’m worried that I’m actually a pedophile, or hebephile, and that it’s not actually POCD. I’m completely racked with guilt right now and I feel like a monster for doing those things. I would never, and I mean, ever act on something like that in real life but it still really bothers me. The area of the country that I live in doesn’t really have anyone for me to go and talk to and that’s why I need your help. I’m scared to even being writing this right now, but I’m driving myself crazy about it and I feel like a terrible person. Thank you for your help.
Agreed, thank you for this article!
Hi John, One of the characteristics of OCD is that the individual is in denial of their true nature, and in your case, your true sexual orientation. Compulsions are performed to seek certainty that you aren’t what you fear, can be either mental or physical, and make OCD worse. Try to identify what compulsions you may be performing, such as trying to analyze if your past behavior means you are not who you know you are. If you begin to practice staying with thoughts, anxiety and uncertainty you can weaken you fear.
Hi Katie, Please tell your therapist about feeling suicidal. If you don’t feel that you can keep yourself safe at any time, you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can ask your therapist what she knows about OCD. You can also look for a specialist in your area at http://www.iocdf.org.
I found your article very helpful. I have been struggling with pure OCD for the last 12 years. I am usually able to rationalize my way out of my thoughts or hold on to a piece of truth that gets me through the anxiety phase, but I always return to my real event OCD. Right now, it is severe enough that I am having trouble functioning. I attribute this mainly to the fact that I am experiencing a lot of postpartum anxiety.
My life event occurred 9 years ago. While drinking on spring break, my friend and I threw an object off of the top balcony of the hotel we were staying at in the middle of the night. It was very high and we could not see over so I don’t know what it hit. We did hear a crash down below. Just hours later, we left the hotel for the airport. It wasn’t until I was on the plane that I panicked and realized what a stupid thing we did. I was horribly anxious and felt so guilty, especially since I may have killed someone. The next day I had my boyfriend call the general manager at the hotel and apologize for me (I was too worked up) and ask if there was any injuries or property damage – they said no and this stuff happens all the time. This appeased me for a short time but I have obsessed over this specific topic several times over the years.
I am 3 months postpartum now and my obsession with this event is worse than ever. I am barely functioning. I worry constantly that someone was injured or killed and have terrible guilt. I scour the news for reports, I wonder if I called the right hotel, etc. I Everyone around me tells me this wasn’t a big deal and that if I killed someone I would have been caught, it would have been all over the news, college students do this stuff all the time, etc. but I can’t let it go. Yes a small part of me thinks this is OCD, but the fact is that someone may have been injured or killed and I don’t see how therapy can make me feel ok about that.
I am trying to get in to see an OCD specialist, but until then I am not sure what steps to take. I would appreciate any input.
Thanks in advance,
This article is extremely helpful. I understand the idea of letting things from the past go if there is nothing to be done about them. However, what is the appropriate course of action when there might still be something to be done to prevent harm from a past action? In my case I may have made an accidental mistake about 9 months ago (lost a sheet of paper at work that had security door codes on it for a hospital). I had meant to shrrd it, but I can’t remember what I ended up doing with it. There is a possibility that if I were to alert someone of this now that future harm could be prevented.
Hi Laura, I know this is a common event because my friend and I threw pumpkins off his 7th story balcony in college. I look back at this and realize I could have killed someone too. I am not 100% that I didn’t, but I’m pretty sure. Pretty sure is good enough if you don’t have OCD. If you have OCD, your brain tells you that you must know with certainty, something impossible to achieve. To weaken this process you must stop doing compulsions, anything you use for certainty, which include internet news searches, asking for reassurance and mental compulsions. Self-punishment is also a compulsion if you feel less guilty when you punish yourself. Instead you might say, “I may have killed someone, at least I got away with it,” which is an exposure that takes the ammunition away from OCD. It is also common for a person’s OCD to spike post-partum. Try your best to stay with uncertainty instead of solving it, even though it feels difficult to do. Focus on what you value in the here and now, perhaps taking care of your infant. I’m glad you are looking for an OCD specialist. You may want to enter your zip code on the iocdf.org therapist search.
Hi Sarah, Did you alert anyone at work to the fact that you lost it? Have you told family members and friends and how did they advise you? A lot of time, if it is OCD, confessing to people will not soften the compulsion to examine it over and over again. The idea that so much time went by and you are still thinking about it is a potential indicator that you may be doing compulsions that keep the obsession alive, when others would have since forgotten about the mistake.
I wanted to thank you for this article. I think i have been dealing with undiagnosed pure ocd for some time and it was mistaken for BPD. in the last six months I have been constantly reviewing two interactions with my brother from about 15 years ago. he was 10 and i was 20. I was more of a 3rd parent to him than just a sibling. at one point we were playing and i pretended to bite his nose. I put my mouth over his nose but did not actually bite it. he said he was going to tell our parents and i told him not to. about 2 years later i think i had my hand on his back rubbing it and he pushed it off. my ocd was terrible for months. constantly reviewing the event, going over every detail, examining what i was or was not thinking or what i thought i was or was not thinking. Worried i was not sure what line between physical affection and something terrible was. I told my parents about both events and my therapist at the time. i moved on, but it stayed with me. In the last 6 months I’ve been doing childcare for my nieces and nephews ( another brother’s children), which i enjoy) and i find i am ruminating a lot about these past incidents, especially after triggers or intrusive thoughts, constantly reviewing them. reviewing my brothers life to see if i have damaged it in any way. going over and over it in therapy. i find that i have had to physically stop myself from calling him, figuring that would make the compulsion worse. this article has given me a new perspective on this. So thank you. even though this seems to be more than a compulsion than an originating obsession could ERP work for this as well? best.
I’m struggling so much with worry and despair. I read your article and feel relief that there are people that suffer what I am feeling but I really can’t tell if this is OCD or not. I’m just SO worried and terrified. I hope you can help…
11-12 years ago when I was 14-15 years old, I used to watch a lot of porn, like most teenage boys. It’s been almost 10 years since I stopped and have become a very different person today. I am now very religious and it’s been years since I’ve watched porn in anyway.
Well the other day I saw an article online about child pornography and child abuse and immediately I had this thought or “memory” that perhaps I had watch child porn 11 years ago. The feeling of realizing that I might have contribute to a form of child abuse online, made me so sick and depressed. In my mind, I even saw myself typing in those words in the search bar where I used to look at porn as a teenager, or even seeing an image of a teen/child. I just CANNOT tell if I did or didn’t. I have seriously spent the last few days thinking about it non-stop and even crying at the thought that this might be true.
At times, the memory doesn’t feel real and other times, it does feel SO REAL, and my heart just breaks because this type of behavior is NOT who I am. I have never purposefully looked up child pornography in any way, shape, or form and am in NO WAY attracted to children. I just can’t tell what it is and there is no way for me to verify what I did. It was over a decade ago and cannot even clearly remember my life as a teenager that well anymore. I cannot tell if this is a real memory or just anxiety but I am despondent.
I am just SO worried that I am not a good person, or that I did something unforgivable and SO wrong that I should go to jail or hell. My whole life (school, work, relationship, religion) feels like it is now it danger because what may have done 11 or 12 years ago.
I don’t know what to do and feel absolutely hopeless. Is this real or OCD? How can I possibly tell and what do I do? I feel like this is such a unique case and it’s not OCD. Sometimes I feel like my anguish and doubts are only me denying the truth because it’s actually so horrendous and that I DID do it. Sometimes the “memory” seems so real or true that I feel doomed. Sometimes I feel like I am just denying the truth and lying to myself…
I am not a bad person or anything like that at all…
I think you might be the only person who could possibly understand. Please help.
I’ve been doing “exposure scripts” unbeknownst to myself relating to my OCD event. I let my 11 month old son play with choking hazards to keep him happy while I got ready because I was stressed that he was crying, and I knew my makeup box was something that would help him calm down. I think what I did was fine, but I should have looked at what was in the box because there were some dangerous items that he could have choked on, including a cough drop. So to “punish” myself, I started making myself imagine my son choked to death, died, and I had to go to his funeral and see his dead body, my story was in the news and people were going to judge me as a negligent mother, and seeing all his items around the house would make me sad and remind me of him. Is this basically an exposure script? Because all it did was make me become jaded to the exposure scenario, but I still think about the event itself and Google to remind me that kids die every day from choking on items, especially cough drops. At the doctor’s office they even ask the question on the intake form, “Have you removed choking hazards from your baby?” And I say yes. The problem is I still let my son play with the choking hazards. It’s as if I didn’t learn my lesson, OCD doesn’t rule my actions. I don’t understand why I continue to do risky things even though I have OCD. It’s as if OCD doesn’t stop me in the moment, but then I ruminate later on when I can’t do anything about it. I recently fell asleep (on purpose) with my baby in a baby carrier which is risky because the child can get in a position where he can get stuck and suffocate, but because I am used to sleeping with him, I decided it was safe if I laid on my back and his face was to the side and not pressed against my chest. It was totally fine (as soon as the baby moved, I woke up), but all of babywearing safety rules say not to do it. I’m actually pretty impulsive in the moment of decisions, and then later I ruminate about what I’ve done. Why is this different than most people who have OCD? I’m pretty fearless about life, but then I get OCD about different events later in the day, week, or month. It truly scares me that I’m impulsive. I’ve left the stove on several times in the last few months( just from getting distracted from other things going on at the moment and OCD thoughts), which I’m surprised I haven’t developed OCD about. I do check the stove after I’m done cooking, but not more than once, and not even consistently, hence leaving it on several times. I don’t feel grounded at all.
I often read that people are obsessed about whether they have done something wrong or have hurt someone in the past, but mostly did not seem to have evidence that those feared things have indeed happened. What happened if there seems to exist some evidence to support those fears? I think my propensity for superstition and magical thinking may have a part to manufacture such ‘evidences’, but they are nevertheless quite hard to ignore emotionally.
I may give a gist of my coincidence story: Someone asked me for direction, and I had mistakenly pointed the opposite direction of where it should be. Later I found that somewhere along the road of that wrong direction, a fatal car accident occurred. I then learned that the hour of the accident was around the time I gave the wrong direction (coincidence #1). Later when I go to inspect the site of the accident, someone sneezed behind my back while I was at the spot of the accident, and I found a piece of snot at my back (coincidence#2). The ocd narrative is: “My wrong action had caused the death of someone because: 1. Why the coincidence of timing; 2. The ghost of the victim acting on me.
It really sounds crazy, but the sad fact is that I could not let my mind off with this episode when I am faced with these seemingly bizarre coincidences (especially #1, since it did not seem as crazy as #2). Besides the agony of the possibility that I have caused someone’s death, there is the irresistible urge to go to check the police department for the identity of the victim in the hope of ridding myself of the culpability. There is such a strong feeling that if I have checked out that the actual victim did not match the one who had asked me for direction, then all my agonies will be gone.
What should be your suggestion for an exposure script to fight off this temptation and to weaken the agony?
Your advice is much appreciated,
I’m currently working on not confessing and although it’s hard I’ve been doing okay with it. One thing i’m struggling with at the moment is whenever i’m feeling happy, excited, in love, or any positive emotion I get a sudden burst of dread which leads me to think about my past mistake and it lingers there for ages which in turn takes away the happiness and excitement I was experiencing. This makes me avoid doing things which will potentially make me happy, even little things like cuddling my boyfriend. It’s like feeling happy, content or excited triggers it and I can’t allow myself to feel positive because of the past event. I get confused and am wondering if I prevent letting these thoughts get the better of me and pushing on doing the things that make me happy even if they give me that horrible dread and niggling feeling, is the correct way to go with it?
Like others, the OCD can trick me and makes me feel like i’ve just done something terrible and I am deserving to feel this way but I feel I have that logical side of my mind that thinks otherwise.
Thanks for such an interesting and helpful article.
Hi Stacey, I was diagnosed with Severe Pure Ocd by a psychiatrist recently, but i was wondering if you could provide any helpful techniques on handling one of my obsessions, The theme is quite bizarre in my opinion, but basically when i was young (around age 11) my father took me hunting as that’s quite normal where i’m from, And i shot and killed animals. But a bit ago my OCD spiked with it and i thought to my self ‘Those animals are gone forever because of me’ and even tho i attempted to justify it in my mind the feelings of anxiety wouldn’t decrease, So now the thought of the animals i shot over 10 years ago are in my mind daily and i find my self wondering how to deal with this type of OCD, I hadn’t thought about this for many years and when i did it didn’t bother me until recently, I’m not sure what exactly is fueling the obsession possibly guilt, But i’m not sure how to handle this type OCD. Any help would be appreciated.
Hi Chris, Thanks for sharing your story. It is good that you have finally been diagnosed properly and you have begun to work on reducing your compulsions related to these events. Notice when your brain is trying to figure out what it all means and label it a mental compulsion. You can agree with what OCD tells you about the events as an exposure. If your OCD tells you that your actions were sexual or that you harmed your brother irreparably, then reply, “Yes, he will never be the same again due to my actions. I will have to accept the uncertainty about how my actions affected him if I want to have a decent rest of my life. I have never been punished properly for my actions but I can find a way to live a happy life anyway.” Also try to steer clear of trying to punish yourself, as this can be a compulsion that feeds the problem.
Hi John, I have seen many OCD clients with the exact same fear as you. I’m sorry to hear you are struggling so much. The way to help yourself is to stop trying to figure out what you did when you were a teenager. This will feel so wrong to stop the search. You will get thoughts telling you that you are a terrible person if you don’t get to the bottom of it. It is impossible to prove what you google searched, what you saw, and what you did with 100% certainty unless you have a time machine, a crystal ball or a video of it. You can’t prove a negative and you can’t view the past. So the effort to prove it will be futile and will only make fear and doubt grow. But not being able to prove it and not remembering perfectly doesn’t mean you did it. All of us don’t know with 100% certainty that we didn’t do something terrible just because we don’t remember not doing it. People without OCD do not know the meaning of all their actions either, but it is good enough to say, I am not attracted to kids and I don’t want to harm kids. That is good enough. But the OCD brain won’t allow that to be good enough. Let your thoughts and feelings try to taunt you, but do not react. This will soften your doubt through time if you are strong and consistent enough. You can also seek out treatment with an OCD specialist. We are available depending on your location.
Hi Antoinette, You feel guilt after taking a calculated risk with your baby. When you feel the guilt after the fact, you punish yourself by thinking of all the ways that he could have died. While this is an uncomfortable process, you feel a little better that you haven’t let yourself get away with what you did unpunished. This is actually a compulsion and not an exposure in this case. Exposure script in this case would be to write anything that makes you think you are letting yourself off the hook unpunished. The script in this case would be writing what would increase your guilt until the writing no longer triggers guilt. The OCD will target the ‘gray area’ things that people allow themselves to do with their kids. An example might be leaving a 3 year old in the bath alone for a minute while going to grab something. The could drown, but I bet many parents do it. And if you asked your doctor, they would probably tell you not to. I’m guessing these gray area moments are your main triggers.
Hi Mickey, One thing that stands out is that you are thinking in an ‘all or nothing’ way. ‘All or nothing thinking’ is a way OCD often distorts thoughts so that you are forced into doing a compulsion – finding out if your stranger was the stranger who died. If you can challenge the ‘all or nothing’ thinking than you may feel less need to do the compulsion. There are not only 2 choices. OCD makes you erroneously think there are only 2 options: That was my person who died and I did something horrible and perhaps need to be punished, OR that was not my person and I am off the hook. What is the in between? Perhaps even if it was your person you are still not responsible for the car accident / death? OCD will definitely not let you off the hook with this new info, but it may stop you from searching. If you stop searching for the answer (compulsions), your brain will stop feeling like it is an important thing to answer through time. Exposure to uncertainty is key.
Hi Elis, What is great about your situation is you know the exact thing that triggers your OCD, it is when you allow yourself to go on with your happy life unpunished. You are doing your exposure work when you cuddle and move on with your life in other happy ways. If you then stop doing the happy behavior, you are doing a compulsion that feeds the OCD. To work with ERP, you will want to continue the happy behavior without stopping. This will not be happy and comfortable to do because your OCD will tell you to stop because you in no way deserve it because of your real event. This is a trap! Don’t believe it. It is only OCD trying to manipulate you into feeding it with an avoidance compulsion. Eventually, you will get to have some joyful moments back if you are super open to some of them not being perfect.
Hi Chris, It is interesting you say this. Just last weekend I left an apple core in my office garbage can overnight and I returned to a bunch a fruit flies. Every minute or so I killed one. After killing about 20 of them I had the thought, “You just killed 20 living things.” I didn’t like the sound of that thought. The idea is to try to see your intrusive thoughts as thoughts. “I am noticing I had a thought that I killed animals as a kid.” “I am noticing I had a thought that these animals are gone because of me.” They are thoughts now. There are not animals being killed by you now. What is currently reinforcing the obsessions is the justification. If you are telling yourself things in effort to feel okay about it, to make your brain let it go, this is a compulsion that will feed the obsession. Try instead to say, “I killed animals. They are gone because of me. I can find away to live a happy life even though I killed animals.” Allow yourself to feel guilt and resist trying to punish yourself, as this is a compulsion too. We are available for treatment if you need further help with an OCD specialist.
Hi Stacey. Just wanted to express my gratitude for this article about real event OCD. Finally things make sense to me. I’ve been torturing and punishing myself for almost two years because of some life event I’m not proud of and I was so ready to give up on myself and to think I was hopeless in getting better. I had no idea OCD could be about real life events… so in a way, this article has saved me. Thank you so much.
my girlfriend is in a very bad situation. It is not appropriate to tell her story for her, but I am getting desperate trying to help her and she is losing hope in help from others.
In childhood she had signs of GAD and OCD. As teenage she experienced traumatic event at gynecology, that took place more than 5 years ago. Since then she is having urge to rethink that event/memory every day multiple times, it is there at any time and she tries to push it away, to concentrate on something else.
Some days like today, from these small waves becomes an earthquake. She speaks of humiliation, worthlessness, loss of dignity, feel of being not in her body, need to stop it. It is what she is experiencing constantly for so many years. When she gets tired, she can’t suppress those feelings anymore.
She begs me to help her, to stop that circle of past events in her head and terribly real feelings, but I don’t know how?
It is so intimate and hurting her to talk about it with strangers, specially when already three therapist treated her badly. She fears of losing control again, so she is panicking about being in any psychiatric facility, she fears of misunderstanding and misuse.
Please help me to know better, how to help her. Is it real event OCD triggered by PTSD? What can I do?
Thank you very much,
Not sure if this comment section is still active. But to follow up on the question above, what if it’s still happening? For example, you still drive drunk periodically (that’s not what I’m doing, but I’m using it as an example). But at other times, you obsess and ruminate about what you’ve done. As I work on addressing my OCD, I’ve learned that everyone takes calculated risks, so I know that regularly doing something risky or careless doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop. But how do you decide whether you actually need to change the behavior (i.e., maybe driving drunk regularly isn’t such a great idea?) versus working not ruminating about it? Thanks!
Your ‘real event OCD’ post is brilliant. I have been having therapy here in Ireland. M therapist has told me to not to respond to my OCD and to ignore it, and not dignify it with a response. The problem for me has been that I have always been convinced (one one level at least – the OCD level) that my OCD is based on a 100% REAL EVENT and cannot be ignored. So, my therapy has pretty much gone nowhere. What you have said here has given me hope because I had started to believe that I will have to simply accept that I committed a rape when I was younger (I’m 51 now) and that the only way I can survive is to forgive myself for it. The incidence that happened all those years ago is one of those grey area situations, where my OCD has utterly fixated upon. I’m sure some people wouldn’t see a whole lot wrong with what I did, but others certainly would. That has led to never ending questions in my brain – Are you a rapist or not, let’s go back and review the evidence of that night (and there are one or two other nights my OCD likes to fixate on too). I believe this is driven by fear, as I’m worried that – as a guy brought up in a good Catholic family where there were clear rules on right and wrong and where rape is nearly the worst crime of all – that I might not be able to cope with the reality of being a rapist. Not coping might then mean I either go crazy, or lose it completely and take my own life. Thus, primal fear is feeding the OCD, and it has become incredibly powerful. I also feel that depression is taking hold of me now because of fear of not being able to defeat the OCD and PROVE to myself that I’m not a rapist. I had hopes for therapy, but after a few weeks, I feel worse. The fact that I have ‘reached out’ to you though has made me feel somewhat better. Perhaps long distance Skype therapy might work for me?
I stumbled across this article and I am just trying to figure out exactly what to do/say with my OCD. I have had it since I was 7 and the themes have changed over the years but the one most recently (within the last 2 weeks) have been about past things that happened in my life that threatened my relationship with my boyfriend.
I like attention and there are times I have pushed the boundary a little with what is appropriate vs inappropriate. These instances happen when I am highly intoxicated especially. I have very poor judgement and tend to think things are okay that are not okay.
A boy tried to take advantage of me and I kept saying no but he kept persisting and I didn’t know what to do and I eventually stopped him before it got any further. That triggered my rOCD.
I have always wanted to experiment with a woman and my friend who is about to get married has been with her boyfriend for 8 years so we agreed we’d just try it. My boyfriend was upset that I’d think he’d like it or be aroused by hearing that but forgave me.
Other time when I was blackout intoxicated I went around hugging and kissing my friends saying I love them (2/3 of the guys were gay and there was another girl) so I think I thought at the time that there isn’t a threat because they are not interested in women.
Long story short, I have since controlled myself and have not allowed myself to get that intoxicated again. I just sit here and beat myself up for having a perfect boyfriend that I keep disappointing. I ruminate about how horrible of a girlfriend I am and that I don’t deserve him whatsoever. It makes it really hard to function normally with him and to forgive myself.
I know these things are irrational. The latest one happened 6 or 7 months ago and the others were from years ago. They’re old news. But my brain is racking up how horrible I am and that I deserve to be alone. What should I tell my OCD or how do I go about accepting the thoughts?
I relate to Sarah’s question because I tend to obsess over very recent transgressions and mistakes that could potentially be “fixed” if I come clean. My work involves a lot of detail and a lot of rules, so mistakes happen and you can’t be 100% careful all the time. In many cases when I confess the other person doesn’t think it’s a big deal. They give me a weird look. But sometimes they take it seriously and say it’s important to fix. I know I need to stop confessing to minor transgressions, but how can I tell the difference between a minor one and a major one when my feelings are not a good guide?
This article has been a lifesaver for me. I have struggled with OCD all my life, it comes and goes and I historically experienced severe OCD over my health and my relationship. I finally got a grip on the compulsions and behaviours a few years ago only for POCD and what I now see is real event OCD to attack me. OCD is such a diverse illness, it will constantly be looking for new ways to take over your mind. I have been ruminating on and off over the last year about past events which I am ashamed of, this has lead me on a seemingly endless quest to discover whether I am a good person and find an explanation as to why I did the things I did. When I am really ruminating I sometimes feel so guilty and disgusted with myself. I tell myself that I am the only person in the world who has done this, I am abnormal. I struggle to look at my partner as I feel he deserves someone who is good and instead he got me who is bad. We want to have children and I feel guilty they will have me as a mother. One of my events happened over 15 years ago and here I am aged 29 endlessly analysing and reliving it. I have a lifetime of experience with this illness And yet still I don’t recognise it as OCD.
So thank you, thank you for writing this and reminding me once again that i am NOT a terrible person, that it isn’t normal to be awake at 5am searching the internet for examples of things people have done wrong to offset my own misdemeanour and that this once again is slippery old OCD finding a weakness and exploiting it. I am sincerely hoping that once I am able to conquer this form of OCD that should be my last experience as I am now able to pinpoint the ways in which different forms of it manifest itself in my mind, Fingers crossed!!
Thanks for reading and I’m glad you have found the article helpful. Try to keep in mind what is possible in terms of “overcoming” and what goals will be helpful vs unhelpful. It is most helpful to think of your brain as unique, and therefore will continue to be sensitive to uncertainty throughout your life. There is not really an end point and rather you becoming smarter than your OCD. Think of it as par for the course that you will have thoughts, feelings and uncertainty about whether you are a good person. That is where you can notice and label your particular OCD in action when it shows up. Knowing is half the battle. You can then recognize what actions you are wanting to take to resolve uncertainty (compulsions) and try to practice instead, staying with uncertainty. This is what weakens the OCD over time…but it takes a lot of mindfulness, willingness and bravery.
Hi ZD. There lies the problem with OCD. In life there are not many things that are certain, yet OCD lies and tells you that is something you can achieve by performing compulsions. You will not be able to know if your mistake is something that others would find minor or something that needs fixed. I bet the issues you are most uncertain about are the ones that fall somewhere in the gray area, where half your co-workers would say to fix it and half would say let it go. For this reason, I would take some risks by not asking for reassurance and make your own judgment if it is something that needs fixed. If you are really on the fence about it, practice letting go sometimes. It is a great way to find out that your world doesn’t crash around you even if it wasn’t the right choice.
Hi Liv. It sounds like you have been making some decisions that work better for your relationship and don’t inflame the OCD. I know how past events can become stuck in your brain and then you feel you need to punish yourself adequately to move on. You can try to label any self-punishment you are doing as a compulsion. Self-compassion is actually the exposure here because it will feel uncomfortable that you are getting away with your bad behavior so to speak. You can also work with a therapist or learn how to use cognitive restructuring / automatic thought record to challenge distorted thinking and focus on taking actions towards living your valued life in the future.
Hi Sean, Thanks for reaching out about the real event article. I have seen many clients like you that have similar life events and fear what it means about them as a person. It is those gray area memories that are magnets for OCD and life isn’t so black and white. I will contact you to discuss potential treatment options.
Hello. Your point is very interesting and I have seen some examples where continued behavior and OCD can be intermingled. For example, someone can have unprotected sex more than once and obsess meretriciously about having HIV. It would be in this person’s best interest to use protection in the future AND they have obsessions and compulsions that are outside customary behavior for people without OCD. The obsessions and compulsions can be treated at the same time they try to work on making good future decisions. Keep in mind that there are some very obvious examples of behaviors that you will want to change. There will also be some that are more in the gray area. For the ones that don’t seem obvious you might try to take the calculated risk, move on with your life, and resist compulsions.
Hi Alex, It is difficult to say since I have not met with her and have not heard about what occurred. If she has an assessment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD and OC spectrum disorders, they will be able to diagnose her and help her to make sense of what is happening. She can look up her zip code at http://www.iocdf.org on the therapist search tool. I know it is difficult to talk about what happened, but when she feels brave enough she will start of the road to recovery.
Hi Caroline, Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you found my article helpful in making sense of your real event.
Stacey, thank you so much for your post and work, it really is so helpful to come across when facing real event OCD.
My particular ‘event’ is the threat of someone revealing inappropriate things I said as part of a private sexual chat online. I’ve replayed the situation over and over many times and the uncertainty seems even more difficult to deal with when it seems to be in the hands of someone else’s actions.
Hi! I really appreciate this article. I don’t believe I have any overt form of OCD, but I have been experiencing a spike in mild depression lately — which has been causing a similar experience for me. This article is very insightful and comforting.
When dealing with excessive or obsessive guilt and rumination, how does one recognize it; how can someone differentiate between appropriate or intrusive/obsessive guilt? I can recognize, intellectually, that the behavior/event that is causing me excessive guilt is probably not as awful as I believe it is, but I can’t grasp that emotionally. I’ve also realized that once I am able to absolve the shame over one bad behavior, my brain will try to pick out another one. It’s like against my conscious will, my mind is trying to trap me in feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. It picks out things from the past — from a decade ago or more and I replay them in my head. There are certain memories that I have cycled through so many times at different angles that I’m not quite sure which is accurate — so I don’t even know if the guilt is legitimate because I don’t know if the event is as bad as my darkest retelling of it. Is it rational to feel guilt over things from when I was 9 to 13? Or since they’re so far in the past, does it fall into a category of obsessive/intrusive/maladaptive?
I rambled on quite a bit more than I intended. Truly, I appreciate this article; it gives me hope that maybe I can be a good person, despite having done some bad things. And I work so hard to be a good in the world.
Hi Tom. Thanks for reading. I’m glad it was helpful. Try to resist replaying it and using phrases like, “So be it!” and “Bring it on!” This serves to soften the importance your brain is placing on it over time by reducing compulsions. I have clients write exposure scripts on the worst case scenario coming true as well. You might find an OCD specialists to assist you in this process.
Hi Rosie, It sounds like you are experiencing obsessions and compulsions over past events. Spending any time trying to figure it out, punishing yourself, or not moving on in life until you know how bad it was, will validate the obsessions about these events and make them more frequent and powerful. Work to greet the thoughts about the event, “Hello, I see you are here again. I’m not sure what it means about me but I don’t have to figure it out.” Doing something in the present moment to live the life you want to live despite the thoughts / memories, is a good skill to remember. Do it even though your brain will tell you that you don’t deserve it. You can take your life back. You might find an OCD specialist to help you.
About a year ago I received an inappropriate text message from an ex girlfriend, and instead of just deleting it I responded by saying some things I shouldn’t have said. I never told my girlfriend about it and was able to put it behind me as a stupid mistake that nothing came of, and which I wasn’t intending on making again. But recently that memory was triggered during a period of high anxiety and I’m being hit with strong feelings of anxiety, guilt, and a strong urge to confess. But my gf is so sweet and sensitive and I fear this would wreck her, and she might even wonder why I’d even bother telling her something like that at this point. Now on top of that I’m experiencing guilty urges to confess all sorts of things to her–things which didn’t bother me much even a few weeks ago. I’ve had ocd ((“pure-O”) about many things since my teenage years, but this episode seems the worst. I must have been spinning the whole “to tell or not to tell” scenario around in my head a good 12 hours today and even had a panic attack about it. I don’t know what to do. It was a fairly long while ago it happened and I don’t think it woukd ruin our relationship or that any good will come of it, but it’s almost like I feel like I should be punished, or that she ought to know how bad I am for having done it. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for this article!
…mostly I fear being overwhelmed by guilt and anxiety and–I don’t know, becoming unnfunctional or something. But at the same time I’m sure if I confess on this other things will pop up as well.
Hi Stacey – Thank you for your reply! It was helpful. The behaviors I have in mind are similar to what you described as the halfway point in your article. For example, let’s say you’re obese and you obsess about the health risks of obesity, but you aren’t changing your eating habits. Some would say you should change your eating habits. But others would say, hey, a third of the population is obese, nobody can follow all the health recommendations, and we’re all going to die of something. So, accept your body and enjoy your food. Or, let’s say you’re a small business owner, and you occasionally take questionable tax deductions (like maybe deducting a lunch where you talked about personal stuff rather than business). But at other times you obsess about going to prison for tax fraud. Some people would say you better listen to your conscience and clean up your act. Others would say a lot of small business owners take questionable deductions, and it’s not really worse than breaking the speed limit. These are again not my issues, but my issues are similar in that people would be divided on whether I’m taking reasonable risks or should change my behavior. I know from your article that this ambiguity is precisely what triggers my OCD – that was a really helpful insight. But I struggle to know what to do about these kinds of situations!
HI Ms. Wochner in real event OCD is there such a thing as, you did something in your past that you’re ashamed of and can’t move forward on with life because of it, and also a tremendous fear of repeating the same mistake, not that you want to but a fear of what if i do this? what i did it again? or what if these thoughts come into my mind? or thoughts of repeating it come into your mind but you don’t want to do it. i hope that makes sense.
I have been struggling with a couple of things on and off now for a number of years. 1 event in particular keeps replaying in my head very much like the ones you described and at times it can be quite miserable continually raking over the same old ground.
I often return to the article if I’m feeling bad and I find that going over what you’ve said does help a lot.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve moved on but randomly the thoughts return and I find myself slipping back again into the old habits of rumination.
Is it possible to get past something like this entirely or will it always be there to some degree? Given that one doesn’t remember every single thought must mean that it is possible but I suppose the focus placed on this issue over the years has caused it to become sticky to the point that it feels like i might never move past it. Is it simply just about training the mind to not react?
Any thoughts would be very welcome.
Im very glad I found this article because before even knowing OCD could target events like this I simply thought I was going crazy. The life event I have found myself to obsess on is what I did when I was 13-14. My younger cousin was 6-8 and with clothes I dryhumped her back when she was laying next to me. There was no coercion or force, it was more in a playful context. I remember this happened around 4 times in the period of two years. I have spent much time ruminating if this has effected her and if I had committed a serious act of abuse/molestation. Most people I have asked say since there was no nudity involved, touching, intercourse, this would be viewed more as childhood experimentation than abuse. I believe my actions are in a gray area and I have done extensive internet research and ruminating to try to solve this problem. When I first started ruminating I gained some reassurance that I had not committed an unforgivable act and my obsession stopped completely for months. However now I find myself ruminating again trying to play it back in order to be sure I had not done worse unnecessarily. What if I had touched her and I do not specifically remember it. What if she remembers but not me. What if in her mind she falsely remember that I did something more that I did not? The rumination is constant as I am looking for details as you mentioned in the article to set me free. I can not find specific evidence that I have done worse at all and I have been ruminating for months so that’s where the false memories might set in. It is like my mind is fixated on finding myself guilty in some sort of black and white investigation that can have only two outcomes. Is it possible that this is OCD creating this turmoil in my head and purposefully not allowing me to let go and I am magnifying the situation?
Thank you so much stacey..
I have come across this as I was typing in past ocd thoughts.
Mine is a few past thoughts at moment I can’t forgive myself for…
One being when I was about 15 having sexual intrusive thoughts about my dad.. obviously confused and not knowing why I had them I questioned myself if something had happened to me as a child….
I remember speaking to my friends saying I might of been abused.
I know can’t live that they might think something happened…
I’m now 36..
Also at age of 7 taking my cousins nappy off and I licked her..
I don’t know why I done this.. but feel I’m a peodophilr now..
And im so worried now if I messed around with my sister growing up…
I’m at my end of going over and over these events
Hi Sarah, I’m sorry to hear you are struggling so badly with your intrusive, real event thoughts. Try to accept that thoughts and memories of these events will intrude on your day. Attempt to stop trying to control the thoughts and instead work on letting them come in and leave as they choose. The more you try to control the thoughts the more powerful they will become. In doing this, you will have to accept that feelings of guilt and uncertainty will be present. The hope is that with more practice and willingness to experience the thoughts, the less impact they will have on your daily life. It is very important to live your life today according to your values. Figure out if you are stopping yourself from living a full life because of these thoughts, and try to make sure every day you create the life that you want even if you don’t feel you deserve it.
Hi Ron, Thanks for reaching out. This is a situation that does sound like it falls within a gray area. It wasn’t a great decision you made as an adolescent, but it also doesn’t sound like it matches what OCD is telling you. OCD can attach itself to these types of situations and you perform obsessions and compulsions related to the real event. Both things can be present, a real event that you regret and an extreme OCD reaction to the event. You can work on trying to accept the experience and the incoming thoughts and feelings in regards to the experience. Pay attention to what compulsions you are doing to try to feel more certain or comfortable about the situation and resist performing them. You may need someone to help you so I recommend contacting a specialist in your area. You can look up your zip code at http://www.iocdf.org.
Hi Richard, There is an area in your brain that is programmed for this memory. We cannot remove things from our brains and we don’t need to. You will see things that remind you of this event and the brain file will be pulled. This is a very helpful function of the brain that we benefit from every day. Try to thank your brain for doing its job when the thought comes up. Try to not see it as a bad thing, albeit very uncomfortable. The more you work towards accepting the thoughts, the less impact they will have on you. If you try to push them away in mental or physical form, they gain power.
Thanks for your comment and your insights. Individuals with OCD definitely get stuck on gray area situations where some people take risks and others would chose not to. Another example might be where some people download music on underground sites and others pay for it. You will have to work on making quick decisions and taking the risk that it wasn’t a risk you should have taken. Being on either end of the spectrum is not a good way to live, so being somewhere in the middle may be scary for someone with OCD, but normally the best place to be.
Hi Joe, You may want to also read my article on ROCD here. Try your best to sit with guilt and uncertainty. Think of it as lifting weights, you will become stronger the more you willingly sit with your thoughts and feelings.
Hi Jose, You would have to have an assessment with an OCD specialist to determine if you have OCD. You would have to be experiencing obsessions and compulsions that meet the criteria for a diagnosis of OCD. You could also have regret and fear about a past event that is not necessarily OCD, but could also benefit from psychotherapy.
Same here. I know this post is old but I have pure O. I didn’t know it could get this bad after I did something horrific. Oh my god I have been non stop searching for things to make me feel better or to find things that make me feel even more cruel! I try to see what other people have to say about it and I have read this article twice now in my ocd searches. I mean this had to be my thousandth search in a few days. Ocd is killing me right now even though I know what I did was not morally right and I wouldnt serve life in prison. It was a harmless act on my part and then discovered im such a bad person. My ocd is making me want to blurt this what i did out to the world and that if i did no one would speak to me ever again and I have pure o about what if i did it again and think what if i did some of my old ocd complusions. I didnt have ocd about what i did a few days ago but now i do. I feel like a terrible person even though I know deep inside im not the person my ocd is making me think I am. Im scared this will haunt me everyday for the rest of my life. It’s only been 3 days and i know with other things i get through it and time changes everything with hard work.. but u guys.. i feel freaking crazy and its killing me. I feel like I have to act on this NOW as said in the article. I even did my own ocd exposure which might of been a ritual and I thought see i dont really feel this way or am doing or want to do what I did in the past. But it just makes everything worse with ocd.
Same here. I know this post is old but I have pure O. I didn’t know it could get this bad after I did something horrific. Oh my god I have been non stop searching for things to make me feel better or to find things that make me feel even more cruel! I try to see what other people have to say about it and I have read this article twice now in my ocd searches. I mean this had to be my thousandth search in a few days. Ocd is killing me right now even though I know what I did was not morally right and I wouldnt serve life in prison. It was a harmless act on my part and then discovered im such a bad person. My ocd is making me want to blurt this what i did out to the world and that if i did no one would speak to me ever again and I have pure o about what if i did it again and think what if i did some of my old ocd complusions. I didnt have ocd about what i did a few days ago but now i do. I feel like a terrible person even though I know deep inside im not the person my ocd is making me think I am. Im scared this will haunt me everyday for the rest of my life. It’s only been 3 days and i know with other things i get through it and time changes everything with hard work.. but u guys.. i feel freaking crazy and its killing me. I feel like I have to act on this NOW as said in the article. I even did my own ocd exposure which might of been a ritual and I thought see i dont really feel this way or am doing or want to do what I did in the past. But it just makes everything worse with ocd. I can’t even say what happened because I feel like a total piece of crap. Even being anonymous!!
Hi: I know this article is extremely old but it spoke volumes to me. Six months ago I caused myself extreme embarrassment and humiliation and I think about it every day. I suffer from anxiety and depression. I inadvertently posted a question on Facebook regarding anxiety and depression thinking I was on a site relevant to it when in fact I posted it to my own Facebook page. Needless to say I was mortified as friends started asking me if I was ok, offered to help, etc. I was in a rush that day and ran out after I posted the question otherwise I would have taken down the post immediately. I tried to save face by lying to those who saw it (8 people) and by telling them that my Facebook account was hacked. I think that most believed me as only 2 of them know of my current struggles with. Anxiety and depression. I know my continually thinking about this event is a form of OCD. I just don’t know how to deal with it as my quality of life has suffered. I feel guilty for lying and shame at what I did, Realistically, I am sure that most people have forgotten about this post but I just keep thinking and thinking about it, It is torture! Thoughts? Thank you.
I confessed to cheating on my girlfriend (4+years ago). We accepted it, she forgave me and we moved on beautifully. 3 days before I got married I had this overwhelming guilt about never telling her how I kissed these 3 girls from 4-5 years ago drunk. 1 time in a club with someone random (Literally just a small kiss on lips). The other 2 times were with women I work with. Again drunk at work parties (And they weren’t complete makeout sessions, just drunk kissing like idiots. I had this obsessive thought If I didn’t tell her before the wedding that I was marrying under false pretenses and that it would fail because of me etc…My mind raced. It was a huge obsessive feeling of guilt. My therapist told me not tell her but i did anyway. The guilt was so strong. She was pissed but was relieved it was when we were young and knows it meant nothing. My therapist told me this obsessive guilt was my OCD. However that was the first time he told me i had OCD and it felt strange. During the months of therapy 2 years prior, for an issue unrelated to OCD he told me i had a compulsive personality and showed some minor obsessive compulsiveness. And I’m not asking because I want to cheat again. Matter of fact infidelity scares the shit out of me. Because during the years of our relationship whenever i thought about those 3 girls randomly, it NEVER stressed me. Now all of a sudden it started driving me nuts. At this point I have nothing else to say to confess to her about cheating. we are married and I have nothing to hide. Literally have nothing to hide lol. So here are my questions
my question is if this was OCD Guilt? Is it fair to think that the more I would have avoided telling her the more the guilt would have faded?
Hi Joe, It is possible it was OCD if you were performing obsessions and compulsions related to your event, when someone else might feel guilt about that behavior but be able to move on and not be as stuck. Confessing is just one compulsion in the bunch that you may have been performing. Other common compulsions here would most likely be mental rituals to punish yourself and/or to reassure yourself in an effort to let it go that ends up fueling the obsession. Perhaps confessing to her and getting reassurance helped you to stop doing mental rituals that were the main compulsions that were feeding the obsession. You didn’t say in your post if you are still stuck, or stuck in a new way, but since you said “we moved on beautifully,” I am guessing this obsession has passed.
Hi Sophie, Thanks for your post. If my client had this issue, I would teach them that avoiding the fear is actually making it stick around. I would have them do some exposure work where they put themselves out there again and practice acceptance of their thoughts and feelings that follow. I might make a list of things that they would be afraid to post and put in order from easy to hard. For example, start by posting a meme about how many Americans suffer from depression, for example. Then perhaps next post something like, This “insert current event” is really depressing me. You can also think about sharing your anxiety and depression with someone you care about in person who you have not shared with yet. Sharing reduces shame and also exposure is the treatment for OCD so it is a win – win! And if someone replies to your post with concern, don’t back down and say, yep! but I’m okay thanks for asking.
Hi Sally, I would first recommend trying to reduce and stop the internet searching to find answers / reassurance etc. about your event. This is the trap that OCD wants you to fall into. If you keep searching and analyzing what you remember about your event and what you read about your event, you add oxygen to the fire. It is very scary to do, and you will ultimately feel like a bad person, but commit yourself to stopping compulsions and sitting with how you feel. This will take oxygen away from the OCD and over time it will weaken. But in the mean time, you will practice strengthening your skills to having difficult memories, thoughts and emotions. Please add a dose of self-compassion to the mixture because your OCD will be very mean to you during the process so you have to be the nice one.