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Harm OCD Treatment With ERP

    

A discussion of Harm OCD and its treatment using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).  Part four of a series.

Harm OCD treatment
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the key component to effective treatment for Harm OCD.

In our three previous articles in this series, we discussed the primary symptoms of Harm OCD, along with how one can use mindfulness and cognitive therapy to address unwanted harming thoughts.  In this installment, we focus on directly challenging the behaviors associated with Harm OCD by using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

What is Exposure and Response Prevention

The primary behavioral therapy tool used when dealing with Harm OCD is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).   While cognitive therapy challenges the content of our intrusive thoughts, and mindfulness addresses our perspective towards those thoughts, ERP directly confronts the behaviors done in response to those thoughts While mindfulness and cognitive therapy set the table, ERP is the main course.  This is where the real work gets done.

The basic thesis of ERP is that, by gradually facing your fears, you will become used to them and hence less afraid of them.  In clinical terms this is called habituation or desensitization.  In other words, if you face your fears, they will cease to be so scary.

Treating Harm OCD with ERP is quite similar to how one uses exposure therapy to treat a phobia.  For example, if a young girl is afraid of the swimming pool, she can usually be helped in overcoming this irrational fear by gradually exposing her to swimming in the pool.  At first, you may want to have her merely look at the pool.  When she becomes less afraid of being near the pool, you might then have her dip her toes in the pool.  Then you would introduce her to wading in the shallow end of the pool, and eventually to the deeper parts of the pool.  Gradually, over time, you work up to the point where she feels so comfortable in the pool that she can do back flips off the high dive!

Now, anyone with Harm OCD who is reading this is likely to be thinking “That sounds great for someone with a swimming phobia, but I am afraid of killing people.  I don’t do any compulsions and there is no way for me to expose myself to killing people!”

If that sounds like you, it is important to know that you are almost certainly doing compulsions related to your harm thoughts, and that once you identify those compulsions, you can do exposures that will help you to stop doing them.

Compulsions in Harm OCD

Harm OCD is generally considered a type of Pure Obsessional OCD (Pure O).  The basic thesis of Pure O is that some people with OCD experience obsessions without doing observable compulsions.  But this idea is extraordinarily misleading.  I have been treating OCD for nearly 20 years, and have yet to meet anyone with any type of OCD, including Harm OCD, who doesn’t do compulsions.  Simply put, people say they aren’t doing compulsions, but they are.  This misunderstanding is to a great extent a function of how people define the term “compulsion”.  Some people think of compulsions in OCD as being limited to only the most obvious physical behaviors, such as hand washing and door checking.  But there are many different ways of doing compulsions, which can be loosely categorized into four types:

  • overt compulsions
  • avoidant compulsions
  • reassurance-seeking compulsions
  • mental compulsions

A brief description of each of these will help to clarify how those with Harm OCD perform compulsions.

Overt compulsions are obvious physical behaviors done in an effort to reduce anxiety related to an unwanted thought.  In Harm OCD, this might include any of the following common overt behavioral compulsions:

  • Compulsively washing hands after exposure to insecticide for fear of accidentally killing your child.
  • Throwing away your sharp knives for fear of stabbing your spouse.
  • Repeatedly driving around the block to ensure that you haven’t killed a pedestrian.

Avoidant compulsions are behaviors you avoid in an effort to reduce anxiety related to unwanted thoughts.  Some common avoidant behaviors seen in Harm OCD include:

  • Not driving for fear of running someone over.
  • Not eating with your family because you want to avoid thoughts of killing them.
  • Not watching certain TV shows or movies with strong violence such as The Sopranos, Dexter, or movies like Saw or Hostel.

Reassurance-seeking compulsions are any attempt to relieve your anxiety by searching for information that will provide you with reassurance that you did not (or will not) cause harm.  Some examples of reassurance-seeking compulsions in Harm OCD are:

  • Repeatedly asking your parents whether you poisoned the neighbor’s dog.
  • Going online to check if any accidents have been reported in the area you where you were driving earlier today.
  • Discussing a bloody murder with friends in an effort to see if anyone suggests that you may have had a role in it.

Mental compulsions are the most misunderstood of the four compulsive categories.  In fact, clients often ask what the difference is between an obsession and a mental compulsion.  An obsession is an unwanted thought that comes into your mind unbidden, while a mental compulsion is any active mental effort put into resolving that thought.  Put another way, an obsession is the  “what if…” question that your mind produces, while a mental compulsion is a volitional internal attempt to answer or silence that question.  It is any attempt to prove or disprove the validity or accuracy of the “what if…” thought.  Some examples of mental compulsions seen in Harm OCD include:

  • Mentally reviewing your entire drive home from work in an effort to prove to yourself that you didn’t run anyone over.
  • Consciously trying to think “good” thoughts, either preemptively or in response to an unwanted thought such as a thought of stabbing your wife.
  • Saying prayers in a ritualized manner to make sure that your mother doesn’t die in a plane crash.

All of these various behaviors are compulsions.  Simply put, a compulsion is any repetitive behavior (mental or physical) that one does in a conscious effort to reduce, eliminate or control the feeling state of distress they experience when faced with an obsession.  Regardless of which type of compulsion one does, the process is the same – an unwanted harming thought leads the sufferer to take action in order to relieve their distress.

ERP For Harm OCD

When clients tell us that there is no possible way for them to do ERP for harm thoughts, it is usually because they have read just enough about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to get the wrong impression of what an “exposure” is.  If by “exposure” you mean that you must kill somebody for therapy to be effective, then no, you obviously can’t do ERP for Harm OCD.  When clients bring this concern to us, we immediately clarify three basic ground rules of exposure therapy:

  1. We won’t ask you to do anything we wouldn’t do ourselves.
  2. We won’t ask you to do anything illegal, immoral, or dangerous.
  3. We will never force you do anything.

Unfortunately, some people have the idea that ERP involves bizarre exposures to things that nobody in their right mind would do.  This is usually because they have seen talk shows and reality TV programs in which ERP has been twisted to the dictates of TV producers who want to make ERP look exotic and over-the-top.  That might make for good television, but it makes for terrible therapy.

Conversely, our approach at the OCD Center of Los Angeles is to do exposures based on the client’s actual, real life obsessions and compulsions.  With that as a guiding principle, there are plenty of ways to implement ERP without actually doing harm to anyone or anything.  In fact, most of the exposures we do with clients who have Harm OCD involve mundane activities that people without OCD do every day.  For example:

  • If someone can’t drive because of their fear of hitting a pedestrian, we will do therapy sessions in a car with the client driving.
  • If a mom must wash her hands compulsively before preparing food for her children for fear of poisoning them, we will have her prepare meals for her kids without compulsively washing.
  • If a man can’t hug his children for fear of strangling them, we will assign him to regularly and consistently hug his children.
  • If a child repeatedly asks his parents for reassurance that he did not harm any of his peers with his science project, we will help the child to learn how to better tolerate their anxiety without asking for reassurance.

In each of these cases, the individual has harming obsessions and compulsions that can be addressed by Exposure and Response Prevention.  The actual process of doing ERP is fairly straightforward.  The client and therapist create a list of the client’s compulsive behaviors.  That list is then rank-ordered starting with the least anxiety provoking behavior.  This list, called a hierarchy, is then used throughout the course of treatment to gradually challenge all of the client’s OCD behaviors.

The key word here is “gradually”.  Many times, clients call us because their OCD has gotten so overwhelming that they are incapacitated.  They are at the end of their rope, they want relief, and they want it now!  While this is understandable, the process takes a certain amount of time, mostly because anxiety doesn’t go away just because we face it once.

Early in treatment, we may have a client do exposures to seemingly simple things such as writing the word “killer” on a piece of paper and carrying it around with them in their wallet.  This may seem ridiculously easy to someone without Harm OCD, but to someone who fears that they may secretly be a serial killer, this assignment can be terrifying.

Over time, we gradually have clients with Harm OCD expose themselves to stimuli that are more anxiety-provoking. For example, we may show them crime scene photos or have them read certain news articles about murders or people being killed by hit and run drivers.  These sorts of exposures are particularly helpful for those who compulsively avoid exposure to the news media for fear that their harm thoughts will be triggered.  We frequently ask clients with with Harm OCD to watch a TV show or movie that has scenes of violence that trigger anxiety for them.  When a client identifies a particular scene that significantly exacerbates their anxiety, we will assign them to watch that scene repeatedly, until such time that it becomes tedious to them.

For clients with stabbing obsessions, I may ask that they hold a butcher knife or an open pair of scissors to my throat.  At first glance, this may seem insane to clients with Harm OCD (and to readers without it).  After all, why would anyone ask a person with thoughts of stabbing people to hold a sharp knife to their throat?  And doesn’t this violate the principle of not doing anything dangerous?  Well, the simple truth is that I don’t ask clients to do this until we have spent enough time together that I am confident the client is not a genuine risk of stabbing me.  I can usually tell within minutes of meeting a new client whether that person has Harm OCD, and thus, whether they pose an actual threat of killing someone.  In point of fact, clients with Harm OCD are so horrified by the idea of committing some sort of violent atrocity that I can safely safe they are less likely to purposely harm someone than just about anyone I’ve ever met.

It should be noted that clients with Harm OCD often need to face particularly scary fears repeatedly in order to see a significant reduction in their anxiety levels.  Conversely, if an individual with Harm OCD feels that they are being pushed too fast or too hard, they are likely to feel overwhelmed and to abandon treatment.  So moving at a pace that doesn’t result in too much anxiety is critical.

It is also important to stress here that there are two parts to ERP – the exposure and the response prevention.  If you do exposures, but then follow them with compulsive behaviors, you are unlikely to see much, if any, improvement.  In fact, this can actually be worse than doing no exposures at all!  When you do exposures, but then respond to the inevitable anxiety they produce by doing compulsions, you reinforce in your mind that you are not up to the challenge of ERP – that your OCD is bigger than you and stronger than you, and that you have no choice but to capitulate ad infinitum.  The goal is graduated exposure, in which you allow yourself to develop your capacity to tolerate anxiety by preventing yourself from doing your customary compulsive response.   Think of it as exercising you anxiety-tolerance muscle.

Also, keep in mind that obsessions tend to change – to morph.  As Phil Jackson said, “problems never cease, they just change.”  And as your obsessions and compulsions change, you will need to adapt in kind.  Today’s thought about killing a stranger may turn into next month’s thought about killing your newborn child.  This is not unusual for Harm OCD – it is the norm.  When change happens, your goal is to change with it.  Once you have learned to challenge a specific Harm OCD symptom, you can generalize that to all Harm OCD symptoms.  So, when you get blindsided by a new, unexpected obsession or compulsion (and you will), use the ERP tools that have worked previously for you to challenge that new symptom.

Imaginal Exposure

With Harm OCD, there are times when it is beneficial to do exposures specifically for an obsession (as opposed to a compulsion).  For this purpose, we utilize a variant of ERP called imaginal exposure.   This technique involves writing and reading short stories based on the client’s actual obsessions. You can click here to learn more about imaginal exposure and its use in the treatment of Harm OCD.

To take our free confidential online test for Harm OCD, click here.

To read part one in our series on Harm OCD, click here.

To read part two in our series on Harm OCD, click here.

To read part three in our series on Harm OCD, click here.

•Tom Corboy, MFT is the founder and executive director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related anxiety based conditions.  In addition to individual therapy, the center offers five weekly therapy groups, as well as online therapy, telephone therapy, and intensive outpatient treatment.  To contact the OCD Center of Los Angeles, click here.

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186 Comments

  • Fantastic article

    I have suffered with harm OCD for many years, it morphed from General anxiety about my health into harm OCD. The thought of holding a sharp knife or open pair of scissors to someone’s throat scares the living day lights out of me! I sometimes sit on my hands while having dinner with family – I long for the day when ocd doesn’t ruin happy occasions.

    Thank you for this article, it has helped a lot.

    Reply
    • Hi Marion,

      Your experience of symptoms morphing is extremely common. In fact, health anxiety is very common in those who have various types of “Pure O” such as Harm OCD and HOCD. Part of your recovery will be to accept this natural shift, and in fact, to be prepared for it. Just keep in mind that you can challenge any new symptom with the same ERP tools that have previously helped you with another symptom.

      I certainly understand that you would be terrified to hold a knife to someone’s throat as part of treatment. That is the first response of pretty much every client to whom we suggest this as an exposure. But your discomfort with the idea is further evidence that you are not a person who would stab someone. If you were actually a sociopathic killer, the idea of stabbing someone wouldn’t bother you!

      Take care.

      Reply
      • So I have not been diagnosed with ocd. but over the years i have obsessed about my health, and now harming loved ones. It like even when i get the anxiety under control the worry or idea that i will act on my thoughts is still there. At times I feel numb and that scares me more. Am I capable of these things I think? Sometimes my anxiety is so overwhelming I am convinced I am tormented by evil spirits or am secretly a killer……its like everyday I wake up thinking what if today is the day i snap or act. Even when I am having an okay day it is still there making me doubt. Is this ocd? I am not a violent person but it seems to attack the character flaws I do have?

        Reply
        • Ashley,

          People don’t just suddenly change from being a decent moral person, to suddenly becoming a deranged killer. That just doesn’t happen. All of this sounds like textbook Harm OCD.

          Reply
        • I am in the same exact boat as you. I have two small children and am terrified of my intrusive thoughts about harming them or other loved ones. It’s TORTURING. It’s almost a constant anxiety that I can’t shake. It’s starting to effect every aspect of my day. The guilt, shame, and uncertainty I feel is horrible. I avoid violence on tv and news media, sharp objects, etc… it’s like my mind tries to convince me that I’m some serial killer. I hate it. I’ve never been a violent being and I absolutely LOVE my kids and family. Sometimes I’ll question my thoughts and think maybe I’m secretly unknowingly evil or possessed or something.

          Reply
          • Reb,

            Sure sounds like Harm OCD to me.

      • I was told i have self harm ocd with knives. I was told i have mild ocd that i can do at home.

        Looking at knives no longer bug me. Holding a knife doesnt bug me.So therapist said hold knife to wrist which scares me.

        Is this normal exposure therapy? Also i have no fear when cutting food with a knife.

        Reply
    • Hi, I was diagnosed with harm OCD almost 10 years ago. My big fear has been of accidentally pushing someone onto a train track just before a train comes. It has now evolved into the fear that what happens if I’ve pushed someone onto the track and now their spirit is tormenting me. Any advice?

      Reply
      • Paul D,

        This sounds like classic Harm OCD to me. My advice is simple – seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

        Reply
    • Please help me for the last two months i had HOCD. Then on Thursday night the word pedophile got stuck in my head its horrible as soon as it did i started crying and attempted suicide. Then just last night i had this horrible grim thought that i molested my sister i started crying again ive never had this thought before the last 2 months of my life have been grim id never ever hurt my sister. So i debated suicide again i thought what is going on my family aren’t safe if im thinking this i dont feel stable its horrible even though id never do such a thing. Then i took a step back last night and thought its all just 1 big lie. A false reality i was happy again until this morning. So now im getting thoughts that i might stab someone i dont know what is going on how do i tell my family i dont want to harm my sister shes beautiful and only 13 and were so close. These thoughts are disgusting and disturbing. They feel so real. Im constantly reassuring myself again like i did with HOCD AND POCD id never do such a thing im so depressed. Literally i don’t feel my family is safe with me around only about 5 minutes ago i was thinking about jumping infront of a train.

      Reply
      • Cameron,

        All of these unwanted thoughts (homosexuality, incest, pedophilia) have two things in common.

        1) They are all about sexual activities that you consider to be inappropriate.

        2) They are all common sexual obsessions experienced by people with OCD.

        These are just thoughts, not actions.

        Thoughts do not harm people.

        There is no evidence that you are going to take action based on these thoughts.

        I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in OCD.

        Additionally, if you find that you are genuinely suicidal, please take yourself to your local emergency room immediately.

        If you are too young to get there on your own, ask one of your parents to take you to the emergency room immediately.

        Reply
  • This is one of the best articles I’ve read about treating harm OCD with ERP. It’s easy to understand and addresses a lot of common misconceptions about Pure O as well as ERP Therapy. Keep up the great work! I plan on sharing this post with my readers as well.Looking forward to the next installment on Imaginal Exposure.

    Reply
    • Hi Janet,

      Thanks so much for your comments. We always appreciate hearing that our articles are helpful. And thanks in advance for sharing the article with your readers as well. Take care.

      Reply
  • Hello,

    I have harm OCD-I am scared I will say or yell racist or sexist comments at people. I never have, but for some reason, the thoughts come to my head, and I’m always scared they will come bubbling up. For several years, I was seeing a therapist who was not an OCD expert, who made me feel more guilty about the thoughts. Last year, I switched to an OCD expert, and slowly I am getting my life back.

    Reply
    • Hi Fal,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Obsessions about the possibility of yelling racist or sexist comments are actually quite common in OCD. While some would not conceptualize this type of fear as Harm OCD, I think you are right to do so. In my experience, people with this fear are concerned that such inappropriate comments would be hurtful to the person on the receiving end.

      I am not surprised that your prior therapist was unable to help you, as most therapists are clueless about Harm OCD (and OCD in general). It’s good to know that you have found an OCD specialist. Keep up the good work.

      Reply
  • URGENT :i desperately need guidance to help my young 21 yr old child who’s suffering from what seems to be ‘harm ocd’ symptoms. i am petrified of losing her. shes been a brialliant child academically and otherwise, a source of immense happiness and pride to the entire family. But am taking her to a psychiatrist for the last 5 months but nothing of what i have read in your four-part series has been mentioned by him. where as i FIND ALL OF WHAT U HAV MENTIONED SO true and so USEFUL and so relevant. she has obsessive thoughts of harming herself and an irrational fear of being left alone at any point .scared to hole knives/sharp object.

    she has her ENTIRE FUTURE ahead and i worry whether she will be able to manage – i DONT KNOW HOW TO DEAL with her problems OR CURE her of it,
    PLEASE HELP….

    Reply
    • Mrs. RS,

      Thank you for your email.

      While I cannot provide a diagnosis via a blog comment, I can say that the symptoms you describe being experienced by your daughter sound very much like Harm OCD. Unfortunately, you are running into a problem that is experienced by many people with OCD – namely that most psychiatrists and therapists know almost nothing about OCD and its proper treatment.

      I strongly encourage you to find a psychotherapist who specializes in treating OCD with a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This approach to treatment has repeatedly and consistently been found by researchers to be the most effective treatment for all types of OCD. As you indicate that you live in India, you may have difficulty finding such a specialist. If traveling to the US is an option for treatment, please feel free to contact us via our website at https://ocdla.com/. Take care.

      Reply
  • Great article! I don’t have harm OCD myself, but I enjoy reading up on these things just in case… Also, will you be writing articles on treatments for other types of OCD? Because I’m pretty sure I do have a different kind..

    Reply
    • Hi Hannah,

      Thanks so much for your comment and your kind words. We love hearing that our articles are helpful. And yes, we will be writing many more articles about OCD and its numerous permutations.

      Reply
  • Thanks so much for this article – it was very informative, and gives me hope for my own situation. I have intrusive thoughts related to being a terrible parent, and worry that I may be something horrendous like a paedophile. My ocd has taken many forms over the years from worry about health, to my relationship, to now intrusive thoughts about my children. It’s truly hell in earth and I feel that it may ruin my life. Does ERP work for these types of thoughts and how do you possibly treat this using this technique?
    Thanks for your advice!

    Reply
    • Hi Lyndsey,

      Thank you for your comment. I am glad you found it helpful.

      First, it is worth noting that it is extremely common for those with OCD to experience their obsessions changing over time, just as your obsessions have morphed from health to your relationship to harm and now to pedophilia.

      Second, rest assured that there absolutely is hope for your situation. Harm OCD and Pedophile OCD are both very common manifestations of this condition, and both respond quite well to ERP. Simply put, the principles of ERP are the same, regardless of the specific type of OCD being experienced. I encourage you to seek out a treatment provider who specializes in ERP for OCD. If you would like to discuss online treatment for OCD with one of our staff therapists, you can reach us here. Take care.

      Reply
  • Can harm ocd make you think that you may actually want to harm someone even though you don’t. I have never hurt a thing in my life and i w ould rather die than hurt anything but I feel like the ocd is tricking me

    Reply
    • Hi Rachael,

      Yes, OCD can lead one to believe they actually want to harm someone. That is one of the defining symptoms of Harm OCD.

      Reply
  • Thank you for this series. I have recently been “flung” into a very bad state of harm OCD after a very dramatically bad reaction to a medication. When I was younger I feared that having thoughts about my family getting into car accidents or somehow getting hurt meant that I wanted them to die secretly, and that because I thought about it, it would surely happen. Those thoughts never involved ME hurting them myself though, so they never sent up red flags. However, after my reaction to the meds, I felt like my ONLY thoughts were of me hurting my family, myself, my pets… not knowing what it was, I ended up in the ER because I feared I could not control myself. That was about a month ago, and through reading things like this I better understand what I am going through.

    My biggest fear now is that I have become calm while having the thoughts, so I am afraid I am getting used to them and therefore closer to making them happen. I worry because I now feel very disconnected from my family who, up until a month ago when this happened, were my very best friends. It is a horrible feeling. I feel that since I am so removed from the feelings I used to feel for them, I may somehow find it easier to harm them in the awful ways my mind projects it happening. I believe I am showing some of the common signs of depression and I think that is adding to the issue.

    Reply
    • Hi Kali,

      Thank you for your comments.

      As with many people with Harm OCD, you are experiencing numerous cognitive distortions. In your case, the two most noteworthy appear to be the following:

      1) Your fear of causing bad things to happen because of your thoughts is an example of “Thought-Action Fusion”. For those with Harm OCD, this is a fairly common cognitive distortion in which one believes that an event is likely to occur because they thought it, and that they will actually cause that event to occur. But our brains are not that powerful. Just because we think something does not mean it will occur, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we can cause it to occur.

      2) Your fear that, because you have become more calm while having the thoughts, then you must be getting used to the thoughts and are actually closer to making them happen is called a “back-door spike”. This is an extremely common thought process in those with sexual obsessions and harming obsessions. A back-door spike occurs when a person becomes less anxious about an unwanted thought, and then obsesses that their reduced anxiety is evidence that they are likely to do the very thing that previously terrified them. Basically, the thinking is “if I’m not as worried as I used to be about this horrible thought, that must mean I am actually more comfortable with the idea, and thus more likely to do it”.

      Though-Action Fusion and back-door spikes are complex cognitive distortions that involve lots of over-attending to, and over-valuing of, otherwsise mundane thoughts. I encourage you to seek a therapist who specializes in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This should help you not just with your Harm OCD, but with your depression as well. Take care.

      Reply
  • My ocd starts last 2 months ago but it leads to harm ocd. Can harm ocd be cure without medication. I don’t want to take medication.

    Reply
    • Hi Phyo,

      Thank you for your comments.

      It is important to realize that “Harm OCD” is just a slang term for a specific set of thoughts commonly seen in OCD. So your OCD didn’t lead to Harm OCD, because Harm OCD is just OCD.

      It is equally important to recognize and accept that there is no “cure” for OCD. But there is no need for a “cure”, as OCD is at its core nothing more than over-attending to unwanted thoughts. The goal of treatment is not to “cure” OCD, but rather to manage these unwanted thoughts, primarily by stopping the unnecessary compulsive behaviors that reinforce and exacerbate these thoughts. I strongly encourage you seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for OCD, with a strong focus on Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

      Reply
  • The past couple of days I’ve been having recurring violent thoughts about harming people around me. Which obviously led me to compulsively check the internet for symptoms… I was convinced I was becoming a sociopath/schizophrenic. Got to point where i would analyze a thought where I was thinking : ”Is this how a sociopath would think? Maybe i want to do these things?” Then I started fearing thoughts you see in movies where someones mind is saying ”Do it!” so it would pop in my head and i would instantly have my stomach churn and avoid all knifes etc. I even fear my own anger now so let’s say I’m having a silly argument with someone i instantly get scared that i will snap and get violent. I fear hearing “do it” voices in my head and listening to them..to the point where these two words flash in my head…

    Reply
    • Hi Marcus,

      Everything in your comments suggests that you are experiencing Harm OCD. Note that you have been having these thoughts, analyzing these thoughts, fearing these thoughts, and responding to these thoughts with avoidance behaviors. Yet, you have never actually acted on these thoughts. Sociopaths don’t analyze and fear their sociopathic thinking. They think their thoughts are just fine.

      I encourage you to take our free, confidential, online test for Harm OCD at https://ocdla.com/harm-ocd-test/. And if these thoughts continue to bother you, I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for OCD.

      Reply
  • I don’t know whether or not I have Harm OCD or not. I have the violent thoughts, and I really, really dislike them and don’t want to act on them because I know it’s wrong. But I don’t have regular panic attacks over the thoughts like most people do-usually I clench my fist and try to convince myself that I wouldn’t do such a thing, but I don’t have a panic attack. Yesterday I cried a little bit over it, but I was in a really emotional mood anyway. If I don’t have the panic attacks, and don’t feel much at all about the thoughts other than I know that they’re wrong, is it still Harm OCD? I have panic attacks about pretty much everything else, but not the thoughts…
    I am really, really ashamed of this, but about a year ago now,one night I had thoughts of killing my little cousin, and of luring her upstairs and then stabbing her. I really didn’t want to do it, but I was afraid I would, because at that time she was really annoying me. I can’t remember what I did then, but I didn’t have a panic attack. Then I forgot about it, and then one night about two months ago, my little cousin was coming round the next day so we could go somewhere together. I suddenly remembered having that really detailed thought last year, and I still didn’t have a panic attack. Instead I went upstairs and picked at my skin for ages, telling myself that if I drew blood, nothing bad would happen. I didn’t draw blood, but one of my cuts got infected. I panicked more about that than I did about maybe killing my little cousin.
    I really, really don’t want to hurt anybody.

    Reply
    • RU,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I’m not sure where you got the idea that one needed to have panic attacks in response to unwanted harm thoughts in order to qualify for a diagnosis of OCD. Many people with OCD, including Harm OCD, do not have panic attacks. Everything in your comment sounds like textbook Harm OCD, specifically:
      ~ You have the violent thoughts
      ~ You really, really dislike them
      ~ You don’t want to act on them
      ~ They are so upsetting to you that you have cried about them
      ~ You are afraid you will act on these thoughts
      ~ You have done compulsions (in your case picking at your skin), while telling yourself that the compulsions would prevent you from doing the harmful thing you fear doing

      I encourage you to seek out treatment with a therapist who specializes in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as this is the approach that will most likely lead to a long-term reduction in your symptoms.

      Reply
  • Thank you so very much for this thoughtful series of articles on Harm OCD. Frankly, I’ve just stumbled upon this term tonight and I can’t even express the relief I am feeling knowing that I’m not crazy, lol. I’m not to far from L.A., so I might actually call to see if you have time in your schedule. In my case – I’ve never had these thoughts up until this year (in my 40s) – I started smoking pot earlier this year and started to get them…which is a real bummer as I believe MJ has many useful benefits, just apparently not for me. I stopped smoking MJ and it decreased significantly. Over the summer, I realized I was depressed and started on Wellbutrin. I noticed a very sharp uptake in these thoughts – and the distress of having them and not understanding what any of this all meant is truly terrifying. I stopped the Wellbutrin (doctor put me on Lamictal – last 6 weeks have been great, but sadly today I realized I’m getting “the rash” – and I’m sure I’ll be pulled from the drug immediately…the rash is not something you play around with)… so I’m slightly apprehensive about that. Anyway, I am curious if you had any insight into drugs like MJ, or Wellbutrin exacerbating these issues? As a side note, I’ve had some tremendous stressors put on my in the last couple of years, very serious ones that have spiked my anxiety – so it makes sense to me that my brain is trying to cope with those feelings/thoughts in a different way as a way of escaping that pain, but throwin myself into a new type of pain. Anyway, I know this isn’t a therapy session, haha, but was curious if you had any thoughts regarding the above. And again, thank you so very, very much. I will follow up with my own therapist who is a CBT and frankly, I’m sort of disturbed he has not recognized it as this…warm regards, NS.

    Reply
    • NS,

      Thank you for your comments.

      First, allow me to note that I am a therapist, not a physician, and as such I cannot provide you with medical advice. You will need to direct your questions about medication to the doctor who prescribed the meds.

      As for Marijuana, we have treated many, many people over the years who have had negative reactions to cannabis. If it causes you to feel more anxious, then I encourage to continue staying away from it.

      As for the impact of stress, it is a rule of thumb in OCD treatment that more stress = a higher likelihood of spikes in OCD and anxiety.

      Finally, allow me to note that any therapist can say that they specialize in CBT, but that doesn’t mean that they really do. Simply put, most therapists are ridiculously unaware of how to effectively treat OCD, and have no business providing services to clients suffering with it. I encourage you to find a therapist who actually specializes in treating OCD with CBT. It sounds like you are not far from LA, so please free to contact us if you would like to discuss treatment options. Take care.

      Reply
  • I’ve had harm OCD for over 20 years and my current obsession is of the thought of wanting to harm my mother.
    I sometimes get a sharp strange excitement feeling the moment I remember the intrusive thought before any actual intrusive visualizing. I don’t know what this feeling is. I am so worried that if I posted this on a forum someone would say I don’t have ocd and I have a deep down desire of wanting to hurt her. If I had to guess what that sharp strange excitement emotion really is, i would say either a form of anxiety that I’m misinterpreting or a subconscious relief thought of “I know this is just OCD”. But I just simply can’t convince myself this. It feels too much like excitement and It scares me to death. I ritualize and ruminate over and over this feeling and I’ve read nowhere online of anyone else with this problem and that scares me even more (it’s always about OCD unwanted thoughts not unwanted feelings).

    I also woke up today angry at my mother for wanting me out of bed. For wanting me to go out with her today and not letting me be alone to do my own thing. I was worried I was going to get more intrusive feelings around her. I was angry at her. I also felt angry at her for in-directly making me worry about wanting to harm her. I was blaming her and that thought itself quickly turned to more guilt and anxiety. So before spending the day with her, I decided to do some Imaginal Exposure therapy to myself by visualizing harming her. As i visualized stabbing her with a knife I felt calm and no emotion. This turned to mild anxiety (for feeling calm, not for the visualization). So then I visualized a second time exactly the same thing only this time I actually felt a bit of anger while visually stabbing her to death. I knew that instant, I was done for. That’s it. That’s the proof I’ve needed all along. I am now plagued constantly with anxiety from this one feeling I had. Why did I feel angry? I love her so much I don’t understand! Why do I want to kill my mother? The thing I must reiterate and emphasis on is that I am not worried of actually committing any harm or violent acts towards my mother. Not at all, I’ve passed that stage a long time ago (remember I’ve had this for over 20 years). I know it’s not possible to act on thoughts. It’s the thought that I ‘want’ to harm her or want her dead. This is the worry that plagues me. She is such a good person and the guilt is killing me. The compulsion I have is the mental ritual of convincing myself that the feelings are misinterpreted or I was just angry at the time. Though the reassurance is very short-lived and I’m stuck in this loop. Maybe because I’m not worried that I will actually hurt her I should change my Imaginal Exposure technique? Do you think I should try focusing on thought “I want to kill my mother” as exposure to desensitize myself from this thought? Is this a better idea then actually visualizing it?
    Any advice will be Immensely appreciated.

    I have read your reply comments and saw your reply to Kali regarding Back-door spikes and cognitive distortions. It explains my feelings of calm though it still doesn’t explain my anger or “misinterpretation” of excitement. If you could help anyway I would be so thankful. I’m dying over here

    Alen

    Reply
    • Hi Alen,

      Thank you for your comments.

      Everything you have written sounds like textbook OCD. You are getting into OCD trouble when you analyze your thoughts and feelings in an attempt to get certainty as to why you have them and what they mean. The bottom line is that people have all sorts of thoughts – they just happen 24 hours a day and they don’t necessarily mean anything important. Also, and you needn’t feel guilt for any thought. After all, thoughts are not the same as actions – you haven’t actually done anything to your mother – you just had some thoughts.

      Likewise, just as people have all sorts of unwanted thoughts, they also have all sorts of feelings. Being angry at your mother doesn’t mean you want to kill her – it means you had an emotion. Welcome to the club – we all get angry.

      My suggestion is that you allow these unwanted thoughts and feelings to exist without over-attending to them and with out over-valuing them. Their existence doesn’t mean they are important, nor does it mean that they deserve any of your time and energy. I also encourage you to seek treatment. While it is laudable to try doing imaginal exposures on your own, you would likely be better served if you did so under the guidance of a therapist who specializes in treating OCD.

      Reply
  • Hello, I recently had to put my dog to sleep. I am very upset over this but all I can think is that I may have tried to cause the death of my dog by spraying the floor cleaner i use to clean up after him in his water. or that if i didn’t directly cause his failing liver that possibly spraying the water bowl with cleaner may have exacerated his preexisting condition. initially when he got sick, I was afraid i shook him too hard when i was frustrated with him but the vet said his chiropractic workup was fine. after his death, i then began thinking that maybe i kicked or hit my dog alot over his life with me. i tried to analyze if i did this but felt that maybe my brain wasn’t letting me acknowledge that I actually did these things. I tried to think logically and figure out if i could remember a specific time i did, etc. then this past weekend, which is weeks after my dogs death. I am concerned i poisoned him and now that maybe i gave him an Aleve instead of his medication i gave him daily. I have tried reviewing the entire few days around his death to get a specific answer but i keep having the image of spraying the water or maybe giving him a pill. I initally thought of these couple things but then dismissed them, but now they are back in full force. I keep thinking if I think hard enough, i will get an answer as to whether i poisoned him. i also am afraid that even though i have thought things in the past, .like maybe i sabotaged my boyfriends boards when i was helping him with them, that my trying to attribute them to ocd is just a cover so i don’t have to acknowledge i didn these things. I see a therapist, but it doesn’t seem to help much.

    Reply
    • Hi Katie,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Everything you write sounds very much like classic Harm OCD. It is extremely common for people do have unwanted harm obsessions about their pets. After all, people have very strong feelings for their pets, so it makes sense that OCD would aim for them.

      Your attempts to get certainty about your thoughts and actions are the problem, not the solution Simply put, you cannot get certainty because it doesn’t exist. You will never know with 100% certainty if you didn’t secretly or accidentally poison your dog or sabotage your boyfriend.

      Acceptance is a far more effective strategy that certainty-seeking. That doesn’t mean accepting that you harmed your dog or your boyfriend – it means accepting that you have thoughts about those things. You have a creative brain that comes up with creative thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that those thoughts are true. Let them exist just as you let a scary book exist on your bookshelf – it’s there, but you needn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it.

      Reply
  • I always ask myself will I get rid of this or this will follw me my whole life..

    Such irrational thoughts pop on my mind that I am freaked…I feel that I am loosing touch with reality. I received new offer for job with one big Israeli company which will be very good and I was first satisfied but after that thoughts started to come to my head…what if they are trying to trick me…why did they called me on interview to Israel..etc.. I know that it is irrational and that nobody is trying to do that but I was so anxious and still am because I had that thoughts…I started to think yes you are psychotic these are the signs, this is paranoia…normal people dont think on that way…I must say with all irrational thoughts I start to obsess as I see them as a schiz sign

    I had a CBT with very good psychiatrist and also before him during last 15 months I visited 5 and all of them told me that I am not psychotic and that this is OCD. I stopped CBT in October because I felt great and stopped meds in July.

    I had a very stressed things at work after I returned from my honeymoon…I had to move my office on other location, release the employees and I saw big decrease in business I dont know if this is the reason of relapse.

    I still cant convince myself that I dont have schiz and always have doubt 🙁

    Reply
    • Vekiqf,

      Thanks for your comment.

      The fear of having or developing a serious mental illness is quite common in OCD. And for people with this type of OCD, the primary obsession is almost always the fear of having Schizophrenia. You can think of this obsession as being similar to Hypochondria, only instead of being afraid of having a “physical” illness, you are afraid of having a “mental” illness.

      Visiting five different psychiatrists in one year to inquire about the same concern is compulsive. And as you can see, compulsions don’t work – you continue to have these obsessive thoughts, despite repeated assurance from all of these psychiatrists that you do not have Schizophrenia. I encourage you to accept the existence of these unwanted thoughts about having Schizophrenia, without defining them as evidence of Schizophrenia. Instead, identify them as evidence of OCD.

      The bottom line is you will never be able to convince yourself that you don’t have Schizophrenia, and your efforts to do so are the compulsions of your particular form of OCD. Accepting uncertainty will do you far more good than seeking certainty through compulsive psychiatrist visits.

      Reply
  • Hi Tom,

    many thanks for your comments. I must say that in the past I had a fear of having AIDS(after unprotected sex..fellatio), cancer, DT after few months of drinking…also I had an obsession that I was pedophile. Also I always have doubt and say maybe doctors made mistake, maybe they dont want to tell me…which I know is totally stupid. All this above passed and I was 8 years totally free. As I told you this obsession started 15 months ago and I cant feel relaxed. Can you advise me what is the best CBT to use on myself and if it is ERP what type.

    Main problem is that I cant accept the thoughts as I am scared that I will start to believe in them

    Thanks

    V

    Reply
    • V,

      You note that you “cant accept the thoughts as I am scared that I will start to believe in them”. At the core of all OCD is anxiety related to uncertainty about something one considers unacceptable. You mention numerous examples of anxiety-provoking thoughts that you have experienced related to uncertainty about things you find unacceptable, including:

        ~ uncertainty about having AIDS
        ~ uncertainty about being a pedophile
        ~ uncertainty about having the DTs after a bout of drinking
        ~ uncertainty about a doctor’s diagnosis

      All of these thoughts are classic symptoms of OCD. Now you have obsessions about developing schizophrenia. This is a common obsession in OCD, and it fits with your pattern of being anxious related to uncertainty about something you find unacceptable. This fear is nothing new – it is just the last incarnation of your OCD.

      There are not different types of ERP. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a specific type of CBT, and it has repeatedly and consistently been found to be the most effective treatment for OCD. I encourage you to find a therapist who specializes in ERP, as this is the approach that is most likely to provide you with the best results.

      Reply
  • I’ve had ocd for over twenty yrs. most times the harm o is gone but it recently popped back up. It is almost always about my son who is my heart. He is 11. I am very protective over all family and I just can’t make sense of these violent thoughts that spark up sometimes. It always causes anxiety and depression. Is it normal to feel shut off and void during an episode? I have a bad problem of analyzing every thought. Then I constantly try prove to myself that I don’t want to harm anyone in any way. I ask myself questions that doesn’t help. And I seek reassurance. That doesn’t help. These thoughts are so different than the actual me. I can never answer my questions in a way to provide myself relief. When the thoughts leave and anxiety goes away I can say with certainty that I don’t and never would want to harm a flea. I have classic ocd symptoms as well. Checking locks switches health etc. it’s not new to me but it scared me just as bad every time. Can ocd make you doubt your own self?!!! Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi NW,

      You ask if OCD can “make you doubt your own self”, and the answer is a resounding “yes”! OCD is colloquially known as “the doubting disease” precisely because doubt is the way it causes so much distress – it leads people to doubt all sorts of things, including things about their own personality, character, and actions. But as you also note, your unwanted thoughts are “so different” from the real you.

      The main problem is that you are doing compulsions in an effort to rid yourself of the distress caused by these intrusive harm thoughts. For example you mention four compulsions you are doing that may provide short-term relief, but which are guaranteed to reinforce your OCD in the long-term:

      ~ analyzing your thoughts
      ~ trying to prove to yourself that you don’t want to harm anyone in any way
      ~ asking yourself questions about the thoughts
      ~ seeking reassurance

      Your best long-term strategy is to accept the existence of these unwanted thoughts without taking them seriously. That means tolerating the discomfort of these thoughts, including the feelings of being “shut off”. If you tolerate and accept the existence of the thoughts, without doing compulsions, your mind will over time come to view these thoughts for what they truly are – annoying, but ultimately unimportant thoughts just passing through your mind.

      Reply
  • Thanks for the reply! This weekend was tough as far as ocd goes. I had my son. I always have had the what if thoughts about harming but they sometimes up the ante by changing to I want to thoughts. That scares me so bad even typing those words. Can ocd change like that just to keep you anxious? I also worry sometimes that I believe the harm thoughts even though I know that’s not possible. I am strongly opposed to anyone harming another especially my own child. A week ago I was fine this week miserable and questioning my own sanity. Seems after being diagnosed 3 different times by 3 different psychs I wouldn’t fall for this sh”t anymore but each time it feels new and real. I love my child family and life and these thoughts just make me feel horrible and nuts. It’s like I do not wanna ever want to harm a soul if that makes sense. It’s just not me. It’s against my very being so why do I worry???!!!!!! Thank u

    Reply
    • NW,

      In reply to your two most recent comments, the answers are…

      Yes, it is normal for your doubt-filled thoughts to shift from “what if I want harm my son” to “I want to harm my son”. This is the very nature of OCD – to plant seeds of doubt in your mind about things that you think are unacceptable.

      The reason that you worry about these thoughts is because you have Harm OCD. Wondering why you worry about them is like an diabetic wondering why they have problems with blood sugar. It is the nature of your condition.

      Reply
  • I usually can end an episode pretty quickly but it seems this time the I want to harm_____, not what if thoughts make me more scared. In my mind I thought they had to be what if. Also I find myself believing but not believing them. If that makes sense. I am a loving dad and I know these thoughts about my dear child are totally opposite of me. I have taken every psychology test possible and I don’t have anything but ocd. I just don’t see how it can make me unable to answer the questions I ask myself. It’s like a brick wall that blocks everything except the very thought that’s keeping my anxious depressed sad scared and guilty. Is it abnormal for the thoughts to come in the form of I want to? And almost like you believe them but don’t?? I’m not nuts or violent. I’m the total opposite. Loving caring fun dad and son. Who would gladly give my life for anyone in my family if I had to. That’s why these thoughts scare me so bad.

    Reply
  • Thank u tom. It certainly is the doubt that keeps gnawing at me. Reassurance does no good. I see that now just like I’ve seen it in the past. Because say for instance I tell myself “I am so anxious” ocd makes me doubt it. If I ask myself “do you want to harm anyone”? Ocd won’t let me answer. Even though it’s plain to see how much the very thought of harming anyone just throws me into a sea of sadness and fear. It’s really weird this time how I know it’s ocd just like I’ve known that for 20 years but for some reason I can’t accept it. But then again if it leaves if only for a few minutes or a few hours I KNOW for a fact it’s all ocds lies. But it’s like I can’t let it go. Thanks tom

    Reply
    • Glad to help NW. Remember, OCD is all about doubt. So you need to accept not just the thoughts, but that you will have doubts about the thoughts, and doubts about OCD itself. The ultimate goal is to accept that our brains can come up with just about anything, and to accept whatever our brains conjure up without taking it seriously. They are just thoughts…

      Reply
  • I had suffered from harm OCD for almost a year about 2 years ago. It all started with me getting really upset with my cat and smacking him. After doing this I immediately had a panic attack and within 24 hours convinced myself that I could never have children with my husband because I would one day get mad and hurt them or worse, kill them. Pretty soon I was overwhelmed with unwanted thoughts and got depressed. I lost 20 lbs and even thought about suicide. I started seeing a therapist who specializes in OCD and I got better. So much better in fact that I am now pregnant with my first child. I was doing great until the other day when I was wiping the mud off my dog’s paws. I couldn’t get them clean and she kept moving and I all of a sudden got really mad at her and these feelings of wanting to hurt her for making me mad just overtook me and I pushed her. I could actually see myself hurting her more but it scared me and I didn’t. It makes me sick even writing this and I worry that because I acted on my feelings of anger by pushing her (just like before with my cat) it means that I really don’t have OCD and I am just a psycho who was able to control myself before it got too bad. I worry about my unborn baby. Will I do that with him? I know its probably just a flair up of my OCD but I keep telling myself that because I acted on the feelings I’m really not an OCD sufferer.

    Reply
    • Hi Vic,

      Thanks for commenting.

      Just because you have acted harshly a few times in your life doesn’t mean that you are doomed to a life of always acting harshly. Furthermore, there is a HUGE gap between hitting your cat, and murdering your child.

      It sounds like treatment with an OCD specialist has helped you significantly in the past, and I encourage you to have a booster session with that same therapist. Take care.

      Reply
  • This blog is amazing. Thank you for the extensive writeup. I’ve only had Harm OCD for a little bit (it’s mostly fear of self harm) but it’s been making me anxious regardless. I’ve actually successfully resisted 99% of my compulsions (I have what you call “magical thinking” compulsions) but they still make me anxious sometimes. I’m going to see a therapist to basically find ways to make me less anxious and be more mindful. Your mindfulness techniques are very interesting and I am really trying to learn how to do it effectively to tell myself that these thoughts literally have no extra meaning other than the fact that they are just thoughts. It’s challenging but I think I am slowly getting there. What else do you recommend?

    Reply
    • Hi Victor,

      Thank you for your comments and for your kind words.

      You note that you are resisting 99% of your urges to act compulsively, and that is fantastic. This is the single most important step one can make in learning to manage OCD thoughts. If you continue to effectively resist your compulsive urges, you will likely see a profound decrease in the impact of OCD on your life.

      It sounds like you are also in therapy, or at least planning to start therapy. My recommendation here is that you seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD. Most therapists are well-meaning, but utterly clueless about OCD. You should put your time and resources into treatment with someone who really understands OCD and how to treat it.

      Hope that helps. Take care.

      Reply
  • Hey guys, I’ve had this for around 7/8 weeks now and have become de sensitized and can let the thoughts run through after much difficulty most of the time, but on occasion I still feel as though I may harm my partner even though I have not had the thoughts for a while in the particular day. Is this an example of backdoor spiking or a reaction to not having the thoughts? I know I would never harm anyone I just find it difficult to interpret as it seems to wind me up when I am not experiencing the thoughts. Many thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for commenting. First, let me say that it is great that you have quickly become so skillful at letting unwanted harm thoughts run through your mind without paying them much attention. This is one of the most important skills one can develop in managing OCD thoughts – to simply not give the thoughts any importance. That said, it is worth noting that developing this skill does not mean that you will stop having these types of thought. Everybody has these types of thoughts.

      A back-door spike is slightly different – it is when your obsession becomes “OMG, why am I not freaked out by these unwanted thoughts – that must mean I really am (fill in the blank)”. Your “occasional” unwanted thoughts are just run-of-the-mill OCD thoughts.

      Reply
  • Hi,
    I know I battle OCD–my current issue is fear of losing control and self harm. When I have the thoughts, I think: I would never do that to my family. But then the thought shifts to: maybe they wouldn’t be hurt or you wouldn’t be sad because your reality would be altered. I HATE all of the self-harm thinking and know I want another baby, to travel…It wears me out and makes me wonder if I am depressed and maybe I should just lay in bed until my brain clears. Is my second thought about never doing that to my family a mental compulsion? Should I stop responding to self harm OCD with a thought about why I wouldn’t do it? How can a person tell if they are really depressed enough for self harm? The thought of self harm scares me–is that evidence of it being OCD?

    Reply
    • Hi Mel,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Laying in bed until your brain clears would be a counter-productive waste of time. All it would do is reinforce your belief that you cannot function while having unwanted thoughts of self-harm, and give you lots of time to obsess even more. As an alternative, I propose that you: a) accept that your brain produces unwanted thoughts about self-harm; b) pay these thoughts little or no attention; and c) get on with the business of living. If you want to travel and have another baby, then by all means do these things!

      If your thought about never doing that to your family is a volitional thought that you consciously call up in an effort to reassure your self that you don’t want to kill yourself, then yes, it is likely a compulsion. On the other hand, if this thought comes without any effort and with no intent, it is likely just part of the obsession. Either way, I think it is normal to find self-harm thoughts undesirable, and it makes sense that you would feel unhappy about having them. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg – the thought or the feeling. Either way, analyzing the self-harm thoughts doesn’t seem to be providing you with any relief, so I encourage you to stop analyzing and start living the life you want to live. Travel, have a baby, and do all of the other things you want to do, even if these unwanted thoughts are regularly floating around in your consciousness.

      Reply
  • Hi,
    So for the past couple years I have been hugely concerned with my health. I’ve noticed a couple more bruises appearing on my legs, Google what easy bruising is a symptom of, and then immediately ask my doctor for blood work to make sure I don’t have cancer, for example (even though I know it’s most likely because I’m anemic). I never considered this to be OCD, everyone’s just always told me that I’m overly dramatic.

    Lately though it’s changed; I’ve had thoughts of hurting people in my sleep. Like, what if I wake up and realize I’ve killed someone? I’ll be locked away forever and I won’t have a future, I’ll never travel, etc. I told my boyfriend about it and he tells me it’s ridiculous, but I still analyze my thoughts and they still keep me awake at night.

    I’m also convinced that the minute I let my guard down and say that this is all ridiculous and go to sleep easily, I’ll wake up a killer, or something. Is that ‘normal’? I’m not sure how to go about this. Do you think constantly worrying about my health was a precursor, or something?

    Any reply would be greatly appreciated,
    K

    Reply
    • Hi K.,

      Thanks for commenting. The line between OCD and Hypochondria (health anxiety) is very thin. Some argue that Hypochondria is really just a sub-type of OCD. In any case, the symptoms are quite similar, and we have treated many people with OCD who also have exaggerated health concerns. I encourage you to stop researching health issues on the internet, as this is a compulsion that will just make things worse. You may want to read our earlier article on this issue at https://ocdla.com/hypochondria-health-anxiety-1946/.

      As for your harming thoughts, they sound very much like textbook Harm OCD. Rather than analyzing these thoughts, the best thing to do is to accept that your brain is very creative and loves to come up with new ideas. In your case, you have come up with some ideas that you are, or will become, a killer (despite the complete lack of evidence to support this thesis). These thoughts don’t require or deserve any analysis whatsoever. They are just thoughts. If you continue to be plagued by these thoughts, I encourage you to seek out the services of a therapist who specializes in OCD.

      Reply
  • This article is the best and most accurate description of my harm obsession and mental compulsions that I have found anywhere. This is so valuable as I have not been able to properly explain to my wife exactly how I am suffering. By simply having her and other family members read this article, it is explained. Thank you for defining this awful disorder. Just reading this accuracy gives me hope for treatment.

    Reply
    • Hi Matt,

      Thanks for your kind words. It means a lot to know that our articles are helpful. There is definitely hope for treatment of Harm OCD. The key is to find a therapist who specializes intreating OCD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), as this is the treatment approach that has consistently been found to be the most effective approach to managing OCD. Take care.

      Reply
  • Omg! I am so happy right now. After reading this I feel better than I have in over a year. I have always had ocd but mine was always more of not wanting to think about a word. I was hospitalized in 7th grade and had stomach issues. When I went back to class I was scared of getting a stomach ache and bc I didn’t want to think that word it would continuously pop on my head. I have had many intrusive thoughts or “words” between 7th grade and college then I got to college bam same thing but with headaches. Its like that word is hanging in the back of my head. This took longer because I started associating a headache with homework so when I did my homework bam that thought would knock me down. So im surprised this ocd waited until I was 22 and pregnant with my second child. my 2 year old was having a tantrum and the words “kill little” popped into my mind. I had noticed myself getting depressed before this. Let me tell you that night starred hell on earth. I knew nothing about ocd I thought was crazy.

    Then i linked the thought to work. I work in the billing dept doing data entry and i listen to books all the time so omg my brain is going to make me think these words over and over every night at work.i can deal with anything because they are like you say just thoughts but why cant i get this damn word out of my head. I have been successful before by not feeding the thought and trying to rationalize it. The process in my head goes something like this “everyone thinks intrusive thoughts the problem is you are fighting this thought” i know why its coming back but damn here it comes again!!!!ugh please help i would put a “bullet to my head before i “killed little” by the way. And by the way if i insert his name “mill mason” nope doesn’t bother me!!!! Or anything else! Why does my brain do this to me! I have the biggest heart i cant even spank my children! Helppppppp!!!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Lauryn,

      Thanks for commenting.

      When you ask “why can’t I get this damn word out of my head”, you are asking a version of the question that virtually everyone with OCD asks – “why can’t I make this obsession stop”. And the answer is simple – because you have OCD! Your brain has a glitch that makes it get stuck on thoughts.

      The better question is “what should I do about this thought”, to which the answer is “nothing”. Just let it be without viewing it as important and worthy or a response. It really is just a thought. Furthermore, as you noted, you “know why it’s coming back, but damn, here it comes again”. When you resist the presence of a thought you make it much more likely to reappear. The bottom line is that you need to accept the existence of this thought, without valuing it as being important.

      For a good book on this, I encourage you to read White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts.

      Reply
  • Thank you so much for these amazing articles. I just developed a pretty intense case of harm OCD over the past year and a half. It started when I fell into an emotional crisis due to uncovering abuse that I had experienced as a child and had buried deep in my mind. I fell apart, and because of the sadness, depression and anxiety from all of that I began doubting myself. The thoughts came first as self-harm OCD – thinking that because I was depressed and in a crisis that I would kill myself. Then, when I began understanding that this was ludicrous, the thoughts ‘morphed’, as you say, into harming others. My spouse has been very supportive, not helping me to feed any kind of meaning behind the thoughts but instead to encourage me to not worry about them, but it is not enough. I feel that I would like to try CBT/ERP.

    I’m 30, and this is very difficult for me because I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I’ve had unwanted thoughts but they never seemed to bother me until now. Is it common for Harm OCD to arise out of an emotional crisis?

    Reply
    • Hi DHW,

      It is not unusual for any type of OCD to first exhibit itself (or to worsen) in response to a crisis. It is also quite normal for OCD to morph into different manifestations – for example to start as Harm OCD and to shift over time to other obsessions such as HOCD or health obsessions.

      Take care.

      Reply
  • This article is really helpful and lets me know that I’m not alone in this issue of mine, however mine is different than harming others I’m more concerned about harming myself. So how would I go about helping myself with that? I don’t do anything to avoid the thoughts other than just tell myself they’re ridiculous.
    But the thoughts are so incredibly horrifying, even though I know that I would never harm myself or others.

    Reply
    • Hi Madi,

      You are not even close to alone. Harm OCD is extremely common – just look at all of the people who have commented on our articles about Harm OCD.

      Unwanted thoughts of harming one’s self are no different from unwanted thoughts of harming others, and the treatment is the same. I think telling yourself that the thoughts are ridiculous is a good start (so long as you don’t turn that into a compulsion). The bottom line is that we all have unexpected, unwanted thoughts, and the best response is to do nothing – recognize what they are (just thoughts) and get on with your day. If one is unable to do that, then I encourage seeking help from a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has consistently been found by researchers to be the most effective treatment for all types of OCD.

      Reply
  • Hey. I am petty sure I have Harm OCD. I’ve spent the last year fantasizing about harming/killing my ex girlfriend amongst other people. The thing that triggers it seems to be mostly related to other people being unfair/ignorant or misuse their power. I can not watch videoes of police brutality for example. Such a relief to find this site. However the relief was shortlived as I quickly remembered that I also have a fear of hurting animals and that I have actually acted out those thoughts, kicking my cat on many occasions. I think I did it to relieve the pain of having those thoughts but it only brought shame and disgust. In the end I had to give him away to someone else. So it’s not that reassuring after all to hear that these thoughts are not harmful, because they can actually lead you to act violently…. How do you explain that??

    Reply
    • Hi Robeatnik,

      The fact that you repeatedly kicked your cat does not rule out the possibility that you have Harm OCD. It is quite possible that one can have Harm OCD and also do bad things. Perhaps your kicking of your cat was a function of some other issue – anger, frustration, etc. It is also worth noting that kicking your cat resulted in “shame and disgust”, which is a healthy response to that sort of behavior. If you were a violent sociopath, you likely would not have had that sort of emotional reaction to your behavior. Perhaps your fear of hurting animals is related to the fact that you know you actually have hurt your cat.

      You do not report that you have acted out on your unwanted thoughts of hurting/killing your girlfriend and other people. You use the word “fantasy”, which suggests that you may like the thoughts – there is a difference between an unwanted thought that causes revulsion, and a fantasy that one enjoys. If these thoughts of harming/killing your girlfriend are repetitive and unwanted, and cause you distress and discomfort, they are probably a sign of Harm OCD. If that is the case, you should seek out treatment with a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for OCD. On the other hand, if you enjoy these thoughts about harming your girlfriend, then you should seek out longer-term treatment to address why you enjoy the idea of harming people.

      Reply
  • You mentioned that ERP for OCD remains the same in principle no matter what the fear. I think part of my ocd is doubting that the exposures I come up with are acceptable and a way I should continue to do things to make the ocd get better.

    I have a fear of handling raw meat. I always wash my hands after handling it but I feel that I should not be afraid to take an empty raw meat container to the trash can in the garage, touch the top of the soap dispenser with my hand to get soap or handle the refrigerator/freezer handles to return raw meat to that area after touching it BEFORE I wash my hands. I’ve been doing all those things and I decided I would only wipe (not disinfect) those items if I SEE or FEEL any residue from raw meat on those items without actively looking for it.

    Does this sound like a good exposure and a way I should continue to handle this fear? I would truly appreciate your input.

    Reply
    • Hi Cody,

      It is extremely common for people with OCD to doubt the appropriateness and efficacy of their exposures. This is part of the disorder – to doubt anything related to what one sees as “important” (i.e., harming people, sexual orientation, cleanliness, religious faith, etc.). This is why it is often beneficial to seek the counsel of a professional therapist who specializes in treating OCD who is able to objectively prescribe exposures.

      As for handling raw meat, you are on the right track. That said, some would argue that an even better exposure would be to purposely spread raw meat residue around the kitchen (or even the entire house). But I believe that in most cases, we do not need to create artificially exaggerated exposures – we just need to do what people who don’t have OCD would do. People without OCD don’t purposely spread raw meat juice around their house. But they also don’t compulsively wipe, clean, and disinfect their houses. I suggest you treat raw meat the same way a person without OCD would treat it. While wiping without disinfecting is good, I bet that many people would not even wipe many of the surfaces you are wiping. So don’t actively check for residue, don’t disinfect, and don’t even wipe in situations where others without OCD would not wipe. And tolerate the doubt that things are clean and safe.

      Reply
  • Thank you so much for your response. I am a little confused. I’m not wiping anything because I have not noticed any meat residue but I worry a lot that I should. Are you saying that even if I notice something I should not wipe it? Also are you saying that some therapists would say to spread meat residue around the entire kitchen or house and NOT wash hands after contacting it?

    Reply
    • Hi Cody,

      Yes, there are therapists who specialize in treating OCD who would suggest that you purposely spread meat residue around your kitchen (and your entire house) and then suggest that you not wash your hands.

      As for wiping, I am suggesting that you stop paying so much attention to meat residue. You do not need to actively check for meat residue. If you just happen to find some, ask yourself “what would someone without OCD do?”.

      My guess is that:

      a) most people would not spend any time at all searching for meat residue;
      b) if they accidentally found “something”, they would not assume it is meat residue;
      c) and if they determined that it was meat residue, many people would do nothing, while some would wipe it off.

      Oftentimes, when humans worry about things, they have an exaggerated idea of the risk involved. Your fears of meat residue seem to me to fall into that category. I believe you are over-concerned with the potential harm that may occur by people being exposed to meat residue.

      Reply
  • Hi Tom,
    I found this intriguing set of questions and your responses after searching for ‘ERP for mental health obsessions.’ I checked in before googling to determine whether I was seeking reassurance or simply an ERP option. I was in the process of adding a bullet point to my notecards, as the notion of developing a serious mental illness (completely unbeknownst to me, of course:) is the latest in a string of ‘the things that just cannot be’ doubts. It has been twenty years. I have covered a gamut from fear of harming my family to fear of suicide/homicide/driving off the road or into traffic to, today and most recently, serious and profound mental illness.

    For these twenty years I have gotten by on periods of time with lulls in OCD, avoidance and reassurance. This year I said, no more. I am working with a therapist at Dr. Phillipson’s center in NY and learning, for the first time ever, to exist with doubt. To accept it — a notion that struck me as completely absurd all these years. Accept the existence of doubtful thoughts that overwhelm and shake me to the core? Never! My goal – when I acknowledged OCD enough to claim one – was to be rid of OCD once and for all. OCD… what is OCD? I have spent a good deal of time wishing for a ‘cure’ if you will.

    No more. I have OCD. It is odd, it can be funny, it has caused me no end of pain as I have, at different points in my life, fought it tooth and nail, it is sneaky, it can morph, it will wiggle between two doubts you may have chosen to allow to find a secret passage to yet another doubt… but it can be rooted out. It fabric (betting on you providing endless relevance to its many questions, different manifestations, brand new questions, novel mysteries to solve) can be torn. The rug of relevance can pulled out from under OCD. And Tom, reading your kind, balanced, spot on, measured and informative responses only reminds me of this anew.
    So many thanks for your good work and message not of reassurance… but of hope.
    Jessica

    Reply
    • Hi Jessica,

      Thank you so much for your comment and your kind words. It is gratifying to hear that our articles have been of service to you.

      You are in good hands at Dr. Phillipson’s clinic. Acceptance of doubt and uncertainty is essential to effectively managing OCD, and it sounds like you are doing a good job in this area. Keep up the good work, and you will indeed pull out the rug of relevance from under your OCD.

      Reply
  • I have had harm/suicidal thoughts for awhile now. Morphing is right, I’ve had checking to hit someone with car to I have cancer to I’m a pediphile, to I’m suicidal. Peace is usually not on the menu. The anxiety is not a big deal any more. I can feel it rise sometimes but it’s always at a reasonable level i can handle. It’s the thoughts themselves, I don’t believe I can have a happy life thinking that I want to hurt myself or others. From what I’ve experienced so far is that I cannot be happy when I constantly think about opening a vein and calling it quits. I mean how can you want to do what your suppose to how are you suppose to have fun with your friends, not be miserable all day when suicide is racing in your brain.

    Reply
    • Hi Matt,

      You you write “I don’t believe I can have a happy life thinking that I want to hurt myself or others”, but I think that thought is a classic Cognitive Distortion. You are giving these thoughts so much value that you believe they will determine the course of your entire future. But they are just thoughts. We have treated many clients with harm and suicide obsessions who were happy and had full lives.

      I strongly encourage you to find a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MBCBT). I think you would get particular benefit from a specific kind of MBCBT called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which focuses on acting based on your values rather than on your fears.

      Reply
  • Tom, I have to commend you on a four series article which is nothing short of OUTSTANDING! How I got to you is worth telling. I’m about to be 48 and I have been in HELL OCD USA for the last nine years! many therapists, books, pills, doctors, etc NONE! not one! came close to how you spell this thing out. I think it is worth mentioning that when I first started feeling “funny” I self diagnosed myself as OCD and all of the docs said no. It has taking me nine years to connect the dots, so fast forward to two days ago, where the spike of perimenopausal anxiety giving hormones (read cortisol, adrenaline etc) made me feel like ripping my sking off, so as customary my brain searches for a thought to match the body’s sensation, sadly for me that thought has been (big, deep breath before typing the following sentence) killing one of my offsprings. So, two days ago “the thoughts” grabbed me really bad and I googled “support groups for unwanted thoughts” which led me to a blog where this individual who goes by the name of “feelalive” relates his or her story really well and mentions the term “Pure OCD”. As obsessively as I search and research I have never hear that term, so obviously I googled it and it led me to you and all I can say is WOW!,WOW!,WOW! Now, needless to say you are the one for me, but I can’t afford therapy presently. Part of your article mentions that for people like me CBT and cognetive reestructuring is a must! My question is, are people who for financial reasons can’t afford any of this, doomed to this insuferable existence? or are there things we can do individually and free? Please advise, because even though not anymore there was a time where suicidal thoughts felt as the only way out. I must also mentioned that I have made great use of the 12 step community as a form of pseudo psychotherapy, even without “their” qualifications for attendance, I go any way. I have been pretty desperate. ANY WORD FROM YOU I WILL TREASURE.
    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, a million times Thank you!
    E.

    Reply
    • Hi E.

      Thank you for your comment and your kind words. I am glad to hear that our articles have helped you.

      Unfortunately, it sounds like you have run into a common problem – namely that many therapists are utterly clueless about OCD, and have no idea that Harm OCD even exists.

      As for free treatment, you are unlikely to find any therapists who specialize in treating OCD who work for free. If finances are a concern, I suggest you read some books on OCD, many of which you can find if you click here to access the OCD booklist on our website. You can also click here to learn more about our sliding scale treatment program.

      Reply
  • Hi Tom,

    I suffer from intrusive and unwanted thoughts.

    But I also have another problem:Sometimes when i walk past a dog (could be any dog),i think it has bitten me,even though i kinda know it didn’t. It’s not hallucination. I just worry that it did bite me when i kinda know it didn’t. Is this OCD,anxiety or phobia?

    English is not my first language. i hope you understand what i said. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi PD,

      This sounds like just one more example of how our brains can come up with all sorts of goofy thoughts that defy reason. It sounds like you are pretty sure that you have not been bitten, but your brain wants to play tricks on you anyway. Recognize this as your brain doing what brains do, and make no effort to figure it out. Instead, just accept the presence of the thought, and get on with your day.

      Reply
  • What a great article hit every thought on the Nose. Harm OCD feels like you are living in a nightmare it’s like a horror move playing in your head. Why do we get these thoughts? Every thought is based on violence and any object you look at think you can use it as a weapon. Thoughts are directed towards family/strangers everything feels like a battle inside your head. All “what ifs” that go on in your head scares the hell out of me it’s been going on for like 2 months now I just want my life back to normal. I see a therapist every week and seen a psychiatrist and he says I have GAD, OCD, and depression and put me on medicine put me on a combo and said these pills work together for OCD been on it for a week and a half my energy is back and appetite but thoughts still there so distressing. I know it can take up to 4-6 weeks for it’s full affect. When will this go away? I have good and bad days but when I think it’s gone pops back up in my head and my anxiety is back so annoying.

    Reply
    • Hi Trickster OCD,

      Thanks for commenting. I like your analogy of Harm OCD being like a horror movie playing in your head.

      As for why you have these thoughts, the best and simplest answer is this: because you have OCD. If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t ask “why does my leg hurt?”, would you? OCD is a neurologically based condition that research has suggested has a genetic component. I encourage you to focus not on “why” you have it, but rather on how to best manage it.

      As for when it will go away, I want to encourage you to seek out a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for OCD. While medication can be a good adjunct to CBT, medication alone is not the best approach. And if you use medication alone to manage your symptoms, what do you think will happen when you go off the meds? With CBT, you will learn tools that you can use to manage your symptoms effectively, regardless of whether or not you are taking medication.

      Reply
  • I am seeing a psychologist and he does CBT, is there a big difference between Mindfulness CBT for OCD and regular CBT?

    Also are you able to provide with statistics of just how many people suffer from this illness? In north america and in the entire world?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Shafique,

      Mindfulness is an addition to CBT, and is considered by psychotherapists to be the “third wave” of CBT (with cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy being the othe two waves).

      I do not know of any studies that have looked specifically at how many people have Harm OCD. Research suggests that roughly 2% of the population has OCD, but this research does not break it down to specific sub-types. That said, my experience has been that Harm OCD is a very common theme in OCD.

      Reply
  • Thank you for the quick response I’ve looked at many websites and this is by far the best one. It’s gives you relief that your not alone a lot of people suffer from harm OCD. I’ve always had OCD I would have to touch things like 4 times leave my radio on volume 4, and pray before I ate and if I got interrupted I had to start all over etc…… And now it turned Into harm OCD. I was able to dismiss those thoughts before now I can’t. Question when anxious why does your mind think of the craziest stuff like what if I hear voices, or what if this object start talking I know it sounds crazy but your mind thinks of crazy stuff. Then you get a panic attack. Also why does everything have to be associated with violence towards everything I wouldn’t harm a fly. It’s just get me mad that this is happening so over it right now. I just want to be back where I was two months ago no crazy thoughts and be able to enjoy my newborn son that I love so much and be able to enjoy everything again.Sorry so long but it feels good to let it out cause no one understands you they think you are crazy and I’m not at all.

    Reply
    • Hi again Trickster OCD,

      Glad to help. The reason your OCD thoughts focus on “crazy” thoughts and violence is that this is the nature of OCD. Nobody ever contacts us for treatment saying that they are tormented by endless happy thoughts. Everyone has weird, uncomfortable thoughts, but people without OCD just dismiss these thoughts as unimportant. Conversely, people with OCD take the thoughts extremely seriously, despite there being no evidence that the thoughts are anything but cognitive junk.

      Reply
  • Thank you very much, Tom.

    Speaking of the worry about bitten by the dog, I’m not 100% sure that it did not bite me. When i think back, it feels like there’s a blank period in my memory when the dog pass by.I’m not sure whether i’ve been bitten or not. There’s nothing wrong with my memory;I can remember other things really well. I think dying from Rabies is horrible.

    Your advice is still “make no effort to figure it out, accept the presence of the thought, and get on with your day”?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • PD,

      It doesn’t matter if the thought is about being bitten by a dog or any other irrational, unexpected, and unwanted thought that pops into our minds. My reply remains the same – accept the existence of thought, and get on with your day.

      Reply
  • Is it at all possible to develop OCD as a side effect of anxiety? About 9 weeks ago I had a massive anxiety attack after a build up of stress and then one large event that led me to getting anxious again. This is the second period of high anxiety in about 6 years for me. Last time I did get one or two intrusive thoughts but I put this down to the anxiety and after a period of time I was able to get over the anxiety and thoughts without any external help. This time however the intrusive thoughts seem to have become much more of a problem as I allowed myself to dwell on them too much and feel I may have developed the OCD as a result. The thoughts did not come until about 2 weeks into this anxiety period. I hate the thoughts and I managed to get to a point where I was able to dismiss them and felt I was doing well. Then I think I may have gotten back door spiked as I started to worry that because I was getting comfortable with the thoughts and dealing with them that maybe I was accepting them too much and had a fear that I may be liking them. The fear response to the thought of liking them to my mind goes to show that I do not and it causes me a lot of anxiety to would you say this sounds like a backdoor spike? Should I keep doing what I am doing and giving the thoughts no respect. I started CBT 3 weeks ago but we are yet to get into what I should do about these thoughts as we have been trying to figure out the main fear etc and are due to start a few exercises next week to begin action. I feel it cannot come soon enough as I am doubting the approach I have been taking and worry it has been making me worse somehow.

    Reply
    • Hi Rik,

      Thanks for your comments. It is important to note that OCD is not separate from anxiety, but is essentially a way of exhibiting anxiety. In fact, OCD was formally classified as an anxiety disorder until 2013, and most OCD specialists conceptualize it as an anxiety disorder. So it is not unusual for one to have anxiety and OCD – in fact it is quite normal.

      What you are describing as a back door spike is exactly that. And yes, the best response to unwanted thoughts is to give them no respect whatsoever. They are just mental garbage.

      Finally, allow me to note that a therapist who specializes in OCD doesn’t need three weeks to figure out your “main fear”. It should take about five minutes, or at most one session. I am concerned that your therapist is trying to find some sort of deep seated issue, which is not just a waste of time, but can actually exacerbate the OCD. There is no deep issue beneath OCD – it is a neurologically based condition that spirals out of control when people pay too much attention to thoughts that are unimportant, and which non-sufferers write off in seconds. If your therapist is looking for some sort of deep seated issue, I strongly encourage you to find a new therapist as soon as possible.

      Reply
  • I was wondering if you have ever heard about someone with Harm OCD who used to have violent sexual fantasies for fun but never acted on them. But then something in their life convinces them that their thoughts are as bad as actions, and they suddenly develop classic Harm OCD symptoms (i.e. avoiding violent movies, repeatedly checking memories to make sure you didn’t harm someone, constantly checking the diagnoses for sociopathy and OCD, constantly checking stories of serial killers to see if you share anything in common with them, etc.) I bring this up because I used to have violent fantasies of my own free will, but then for whatever reason I started panicking about having them and they suddenly because intrusive and unwanted and I engaged in all of the above behaviors. I just tend to get hung up on the whole “intrusive, unwanted” idea because I used to enjoy them but now they cause me incredible anxiety.

    Reply
    • Hi Cobra Man,

      Your comment does not make clear just what sort of violent fantasies you previously “enjoyed”, but I’ll consider it a good thing that you no longer “enjoy” the idea of violence. That said, thoughts are not the same as actions, and these thoughts are clearly “intrusive” and “unwanted” by you now. The only real problem with them is how you are responding to them. Stop the compulsions, and you will almost certainly see a reduction in anxiety. Your goal should be to neither enjoy nor panic in response to uncomfortable violent thoughts, but rather to view them as a common, unimportant aspect of human thinking.

      Reply
  • Dear sir, maam

    I was wondering if you could help me. I started having OCD when I was 21. I’m 26 now. For the first last five years I’ve been having gay thoughts and for the last 3 years I’ve been convinced that I have become bisexual but these thoughts dissapeared 5 months ago or at least almost dissapeared and now I’m convinced that I’m straight but that’s not the reason I’m asking your help. Almost 2 years ago I started having thoughts about killing someone but the problem is I am very self destructive and for the last 9 months I’ve been constantly sabotaging myself and I don’t know if I can stop. Every thought I have be it a sexual one,or to steal something, or to do something evil or to kill someone I constantly try to do.For the last 5 months I have self sabotaged so much that I have actually become evil. The problem is that I am constantly trying to kill someone and I’m really tired of it. As I always say to my mother in my opinion my problem is no longer OCD but the fact I’m trying to do everything that comes in my mind. As I said my constant sabotage lately is that I’m trying to kill somebody. So far I have killed only ants but I think if I continue like this I’ll become a serial killer. Please help me if you can.

    Reply
    • Hi Mate,

      When you say that you “constantly trying to do” something evil or to kill someone, I am concerned. People with Harm OCD are uniformly distressed by their thoughts, and would not try to act on these thoughts.

      I encourage you to seek a psychotherapist immediately in order to determine if you are genuinely trying to kill someone, or if you are merely having unwanted thoughts about killing.

      Reply
  • Thanks for the information! Do you know places where I can have a therapy in Mexico city? I have been suffering all of this and unfortunately is like hell in life 🙁

    Reply
  • Is it common to have existential and harm OCD together? I think in my case, my OCD connected some ideas and it feels like a dangerous cocktail of thoughts.

    Reply
    • Hi TD,

      There is nothing unusual about someone having both Existential OCD and Harm OCD. People can have an infinite combination of different variants of OCD obsessions.

      Reply
  • Please help. I am a kind, loving person. I was diagnosed with Panic disorder and depression at the age of 20 and ever since I was 15, off and on, I have been having intrusive violent thoughts about killing loved ones. I recently cut down on medication but now, at 30, my thoughts are back. My current intrusive thought it an obsession about killing my boyfriend, my animals and myself. These thoughts make me feel horrible.

    With OCD, is it normal to think that you are going to carry out your actions? I try to ignore these thoughts, and I also try to play them out to get it over and done with, but nothing seems to work.

    I feel compelled to carry out my actions so I don’t have to feel terrible anymore. These thoughts interrupt my work and are strongest when im alone. They make me think things like: “just do it already, do it tonight, then you wont suffer anymore” or “I will kill tonight, then I wont have to face feeling horrible tomorrow”. When I feel normal again my emotions switch back to being normal and happy and I think how illogical I sound and it saddens me that I give into my obsessive thoughts. It seems that the obsessions are wining and they are telling me that I must want this to happen and if I do this I wont feel the pain anymore.

    This has only happened over the past 3 days and appeared out of nowhere. I remember this happening about 2 times in my life. Why does it just appear out of nowhere? and Do I really want this to happen? right now I am totally convinced that I am suicidal and every time I think about it I am overwhelmed with a clouded head and I feel like “tonight is the night” that I will end everything.

    Reply
    • Hi Annon,

      While I cannot provide a diagnosis via a blog, I can say that everything you write sounds very much like textbook Harm OCD.

      Nothing you write suggests that you actually want to cause harm to anyone. In fact, your acute distress about these thoughts and urges suggests the exact opposite – that you are a kind loving person who is horrified at the idea of harming her loved one’s.

      You have been suffering with harm thoughts for 15 years, and these are very treatable. I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Take care.

      Reply
  • I watched a Columbine video about a month ago and freaked out because one of the killers was on the same medication that I am currently taking and his mother was in part blaming the medication for what he did and I instantly freaked out afraid I would have a similar fate. Now I’m afraid to hug my boyfriend for fear I’ll try and strangle him. I am terrified of turning into some psychotic killer. I’ve read a lot about Pure O since I started freaking out and I do find comfort in knowing this is indeed a medical condition and others freak out similarly, but I’m afraid to talk to my therapist about it for fear they’ll call the cops on me and the world
    will think I want to be some crazy killer. I don’t know how to find a therapist that I would feel comfortable talking to about it. I have never hurt anyone and now I get scared to the point where I lock myself in my room and fear needing to call the police on myself. I get to a point where I tell myselI’d rather kill myself than hurt someone and I get super depressed. I hate this and just want to be able to hang out with my friends and family without fear. I’m to a point where I would rather have crippling anxiety attacks (which was what I was originally medicated for) than these horrid intrusive thoughts. I don’t want everyone to hate me or think I’m crazy.

    Reply
    • Hi Molly,

      Just because you are taking the same medication as one of the Columbine killers doesn’t mean you will do what he did. Furthermore, there is no way to know if the medication played any role in his actions. Also, thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people have taken the same medication without killing anyone.

      It is very common for people with Harm OCD to fear getting into treatment out of concern that their therapist will believe they are a danger and call the police. The best way to ensure that you find a therapist who actually understands OCD is to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

      Reply
  • Hi Mr. Corboy,

    I’ve been dealing with intrusive thoughts since 2009. My issue is, whenever I’m in public, I get a very strong urge to yell out obscenities…This only happens when there are a lot of people around in a quiet place. The obscenities that I get the urgr to yell out, don’t represent who I am as a person. So why do I get the urge to yell out such horrible things? I have a profound respect for people and their feeling’s, that’s why dealing with this internal monster is very troubling!! I just want to reclaim the life I had before this problem robbed me of my happiness. If there’s any advice that you can give me, I would really appreciate! I hope to hear back from you. Thank you for your time!

    Dean

    Reply
    • Hi Dean,

      Your obsession about yelling out obscenities is actually quite common in OCD. People who have this type of obsession generally worry that they will say things that will are inappropriate and offensive. In other words, they are obsessed with the possibility of saying hurtful things. This type of obsession often has the flavor of both Harm OCD (“What if I blurt out something that really hurts someone’s feelings”) and Moral Scrupulosity (“What if I say something that I [and others] find morally offensive”).

      The best advice I have for you is the same advice I would give for any type of OCD – accept the presence of the obsession, while not taking it so seriously. I assure you that we all think plenty of horrible thoughts that we don’t actually want to do. A more aggressive approach would be to purposefully write down all the horrible thoughts you are afraid of saying, and then carrying those words around in your wallet. Or repeatedly saying those unwanted words into an audio or video recorder over and over. Another exposure that I frequently ask clients with this type of OCD to do is to repeatedly send me emails with the exact words and phrases that they are afraid of saying.

      You beat OCD by facing it head on. And don’t look for complicated reasons for why you have this obsession – you have this fear because you have OCD.

      Reply
  • Hello! For about 5 months now, I have been terrified of harming myself. I am a very happy person, and I am very creative. I love life so very much. About a month ago I got over this by realizing I would not ever hurt myself. Then my brain attacked me by saying I would kill myself when my mom died. My mom is almost fifty, and I get thoughts like “you will probably be 56 or so when she dies. ” It is extremely annoying. My grandma had this same thought, and her mom recently died. She is fine. Does this mean I will hurt myself when my mom dies? Please help.

    Reply
    • Hi Karry,

      Everything you write sounds like Harm OCD, which often focuses on obsessions of harming one’s self. It is important to remember that, just because you think something doesn’t mean it is going to happen. And evidence of this is your grandma, who had similar thoughts, yet did not kill herself when her mother died.

      Thoughts are just thoughts…

      Reply
  • I’ve been suffering from what I think is Harm OCD for about a year or so now. It started after I had this dream where my father was killed by a bear. Now, everyday since, I’ve been having thoughts and impulses to harm my siblings. It’s getting to the point where at least every 20 minutes I get these thoughts. I don’t want to be robbed of my happiness any longer, its getting in the way of my everyday life. I just want things back to what they used to be.

    Reply
    • Hi Hunter,

      Everything you say in your comment sounds like Harm OCD. That said, you can’t get your thoughts “back to what they used to be” – none of us can because we cannot control what thoughts pop into our heads. But we can control how we respond to them.

      Your job is to accept the presence of these unwanted thoughts without taking them seriously and without doing any compulsions or avoidance behaviors. If you just let the thought sit there in your head without responding to it, then it will eventually pass as your brain moves on to other thoughts. Yes, the thought (or other equally unwanted thoughts) will almost certainly pop up again, at which time your job is to again let it be.

      Reply
  • I understand this, but I have another problem relating to this, immediately after this I get a thought ” If I did this I might get away with it ” when in reality the last thing I want to do is act upon it!

    Reply
    • Hunter,

      The thought “If I did this I might get away with it” is just another typical Harm OCD thought. As I noted in my earlier reply, your goal is to accept the presence of these thoughts without taking them seriously or doing any behaviors in response to them. Your brain will present you with all sorts of weird thoughts throughout your life. But just because you have a weird thought doesn’t mean that the weird thought is particularly meaningful or worthy of a response.

      Reply
  • Hi, I have suffered with Harm OCD for over 20 years and generally ignore the thoughts until I go into a kind of cycle and trigger an obsession again. I have got obsessed I’m going to kill my children, the more I try to expose myself to knives at the dinner table and using exposure techniques the way I normally try to deal with these thoughts, the more my mind has got hooked.
    I now feel trying to push myself to do it as a way of proving I won’t has really backfired as now I feel the exposure technique is actually going to make me do it. Arrghhh and that the more I push myself and say go on then do it, to prove I won’t, the more I’m actually going to make myself do it. So the feeling is I’m trying to force myself to kill them to prove I won’t but I think it’s going to make me do it. I can’t get this out of my mind and am playing it over and over as well as visualising which is all just making me worse and scared of myself. Does this still sound like Harm OCD as I’ve also got worried these thoughts are new as if I’m changing and this is moving away from Harm OCD and into something which means I could actually do these horrible thoughts. I love my children with all my heart and this is really ruining me

    Reply
    • Hi OCD,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, everything you write sounds exactly like Harm OCD, especially how you are over-analyzing your thoughts in an effort to ensure that you are not actually going to act on them. All of this shows just how difficult it is to self-administer ERP for OCD, especially when the thoughts are so horrific to the sufferer. I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating Harm OCD.

      Reply
  • I have experienced harm OCD before but never to the intensity that I have experienced over the last month. I love animals and adore my pets. But recent events have me wondering if there is something evil in me. I am constantly thinking that I have run over something on purpose or that I have broken the neck of a kitten or stomped on a kitten even when I am sure there are no kittens about. But the ‘What if?’ thought terrifies me. I work in a bookshop and receive in stock. I have to use a Stanley knife to open the boxes. This never used to bother me but now as soon as I hold the knife I feel like I am going to stab something (usually a cat). It is highly unlikely that there would be a cat in the book shop but I can’t get out of my head that what if there was and I acted on my thought. Just before I was very carefully using the knife to open a book and then when I turned towards the desk to put it away I feel like I made a stabbing motion. I’m not sure if this is in my head or if I physically did stab the knife. I felt like I did. And what if there was a cat? I feel like a horrible monster. Like I don’t really know who I am anymore and maybe there is an evil side to me.

    Reply
    • Hi Jane,

      “What if…” thoughts are central to the experience of OCD. Everything you write suggests that there is not something evil in you, and that you are exactly who you have always been, except that you have OCD.

      Reply
  • Hi I found this article very helpful. I have aquestion on ERP. I get intrusive thoughts to stab a religious statue. I thought of putting a knife near the neck of the statue as part of ERP but this is disrispectful. I don’t want to do anything in ERP that is disrispectful or could harm anyone. But then how do I overcome this intrusive thought? How much is too much for ERP?
    Regards
    Shelly

    Reply
    • Hi Shelly,

      Your concern about stabbing a statue sounds like it not only has the flavor of Harm OCD, but also of a type of OCD known as Scrupulosity, which can loosely be defined as the obsessive fear of doing something religiously blasphemous or morally unacceptable.

      Sometimes in the course of challenging OCD, it is necessary to do things that one wouldn’t normally do. Your example of stabbing a religious statue is a great example of this. That said, the only thing that makes doing this “disrespectful” is your thinking. So long as the ERP does not harm anyone, I fail to see how it would be wrong. There is nothing objectively disrespectful about stabbing a statue, and it is hardly causing harm to the statue to stab it – it is just a statue.

      I have had devout Catholic clients who had thoughts of having sex with Jesus while they attended church services. Our exposures were to go to church and purposely have these unwanted thoughts while praying. While some would argue that this is disrespectful and blasphemous, I would argue that it is the appropriate treatment for Scrupulosity.

      Reply
      • Shelly here-Thanks so much! that was very helpful and thanks for directing me to the link for scrupolosity. As a bhuddhist it is important that we respect and venerate religious monuments. Can I imagine stabbing the buddha statue as part or ERP rather than actually doing it? just as you would get your clients to imagine having thoughts of having sex with Jesus rather than them actually having sex with a jesus statue. The thing is when I try to have thoughts of stabbing a buddha statue (I can do this quite easily as I’m used to make myself imagine horrifying images for erp) ocd tells me ‘you’re not doing ERP properly, ocd tells me ‘you need to actually physically stab the buddha statue to do ERP properly- I feel lost , scared and confused. Ocd is trying to manipulate ERP so i dont get better.
        Also just along the same lines I have a fear of going crazy in public, I have imagined thoughts of myself screaming and acting like a mad person in public, but ocd says ‘you’re not doing ERP properly, you have to actually scream and act like a mad person in public’- this will ruin my reputation, if i really tried I could do this but like I said it will ruin my reputation and be so shameful.

        Reply
        • Hi Shelly,

          While imaginal exposure to stabbing a statue is OK, actually stabbing the statue would likely be more effective. The choice is yours.

          The fear of “going crazy” is extraordinarily common in OCD. One very good exposure would be to act psychotic in public (i.e. talking to yourself in an incoherent manner in a public space). You can do this in an area in which people will not recognize you, thus eliminating the possibility of your reputation being ruined.

          Rather than trying to negotiate the subtleties of ERP on your own, I think that a better option for you is to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in the treatment of OCD.

          Reply
  • Hi tom,

    Thanks for your response, my main question is how can I do ERP when my fears are about stabbing my children. Reading how erp works I’m confused how to do it for this fear. Obviously stabbing them is not An option as its my worst fear especially since I feel I’ve always had this testing thing that has proved to myself I won’t act on it.

    But now this has backfired as I wrote in my earlier post and I feel like it’s that testing compulsion which has now become the issue and in fact that I’m going to stab them in a split second as the only way out. Then I get this whole “even ERP says to face your fears” so I’m never going to get better unless I act on it.

    It goes round and round and I’m a complete mess and scared to be near the kids or knives or even eating at the dinner table because of all of these what if thoughts. It’s as if I’ve gone further than anyone else has with harm OCD and then I get this thought I’m an individual what if I am the first to act on these thoughts in OCD and then panic again. I feel I need to be taken away but I know that is avoidance it’s so hard as it scares me so much

    Reply
    • Hi OCD,

      As the article above notes, “there are plenty of ways to implement ERP without actually doing harm to anyone or anything”. The article also provides specific examples of how to implement ERP. The bottom line is that you don’t need to hurt someone in order to do ERP for Harm OCD – you need to challenge the specific compulsive behaviors and avoidant behaviors that you are doing.

      I strongly encourage you to find a therapist who specializes in OCD treatment, as you are discovering what many people learn, which is that doing ERP on your own is not very easy.

      Reply
      • Hi tom, because my exposure has become a compulsion I am finding myself unsure of which route to use. If I expose myself I am actually doing the testing. But I’m finding it nearly impossible to not bring these thoughts on on purpose to get the panic they produce. I guess I’m trying to use my old exposure which has always worked to prove I won’t act on the obsession, but now I’m being told I have to stop all voluntary thoughts and move on. Problem is the only thought that produces the panic is the one I feel I need to desensitise too but it is also a testing behaviour and imagining and feeling like I actually was just about to act on the horrific thought. I’m confused if I should be exposing to this or not doing any compulsions. I feel if I don’t expose then I will never habituate to it but if I do expose its following a compulsion and the further I push it mentally the more likely I am to act on it. Ie backdoor spike effect. Have you dealt with people who have pushed this far and turned exposure into compulsion?

        Reply
        • Hi OCD,

          As I noted in my prior reply, your comments are evidence of just how hard it is to implement ERP on your own. I encourage you to seek out a therapist who specializes in treating OCD.

          Reply
  • I have been suffering from a rather sever case of HOCD for the last 2 years (I am 23). It started one night when a joking friend made a comment about the sketchy looking basement to my new apartment looked like a rape dungeon. It has been getting progressively worse since then, and now seems to be the majority of what I think about. My problem with it is that even though I would very much like this to stop and for my thoughts to return to more normal topics, I honestly can’t tell anymore if the things I am thinking of are making me feel bad because of what I would be doing to other innocent people or because of what other people would think of me. It seems extremely selfish, but I think about hurting people like children or my family in horrific ways and it gets to the point when I wonder or even accept the fact that I might enjoy it. It gets to the point where I end up on “If you did this to a child or loved one right now, I don’t think you would really care about what you did to them, but only how it made you feel about it.” I am just about to start therapy and am very nervous that my condition has transcended that of pure O to one of psychosis.I seem to have no empathy

    Reply
    • Hi Aellis,

      A few thoughts…

      1) It is worth noting that HOCD generally refers to obsessions about sexual orientation. I am guessing you meant to say “Harm OCD”.

      2) There is nothing in your comment to suggest you are psychotic or lacking in empathy. The very fact that you are so concerned about these thoughts suggests the exact opposite.

      3) Everybody has unwanted thoughts, including thoughts of murder, etc. You cannot stop or control these (or any) thoughts, and your goal should be to accept their presence, but not take them so seriously. They are just thoughts, and giving them importance is the real problem.

      4) Be sure your therapist specializes in the treatment of OCD with CBT. If not, they will almost certainly be unqualified to treat your symptoms.

      Reply
  • Hi,
    I have obsessions about writing something incorrectly and very specific ones about harming or killing myself. I sometimes avoid sharp things and over-edit my writing, but even after reading this article I don’t notice any real compulsions. I also have GAD and problems with suicidal thoughts and self-injury. Do I actually have OCD?

    Reply
    • Hi e,

      I cannot provide a diagnosis via a blog comment, but I can say that obsessions related to writing inappropriate or harmful words are actually quite common in Harm OCD. You also mention that you don’t think you are doing any compulsions, yet you named two very clear compulsions:

      • Avoiding sharp objects
      • Compulsively analyzing what you write

      That said, it is also important to note that you have suicidal obsessions combined with a history of self-harm. I encourage you to seek treatment for these issues asap. If at any time you believe you are going to commit suicide, please take yourself to your local emergency room immediately.

      Reply
  • Hello,

    thank you for this series of Harm OCD articles. they have been helping me and giving me encouragement.

    I do have a question though how do I go about dealing with doubt? LIke “I doubt that I have Harm OCD or I doubt that I DON’T want to act on these or I doubt this or that”

    It seems like this is getting in the way of my treatment.

    Also, I am wondering if I should switch therapists. She doesn’t seem very organized. She has just one piece of paper for me and is trying to create my hierarchy but going out of order. and she had me think of a thought about hurting my crush which is like a 10 on the hierarchy and we haven’t even done a one. Also she kind of jokes about my condition sometimes….
    Should I not be with this therapist anymore??

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Amy,

      Doubt is at the core of all forms of OCD. The best way to deal with it is to accept it as normal. The more you accept doubt about your unwanted thoughts, the less they will bother you.

      I cannot provide advice about your therapist, as I have no idea who they are or if they are qualified. That said, if you believe your therapist is not providing appropriate care, then you would be well-served by finding one who can.

      Reply
  • I am having a relapse of harm ocd after 3 years of living with low grade symptoms–just the occasional thoughts. I’ve recently taken a job where occasionally I get very little sleep and I’ve notice I have intense anxiety and intrusive thoughts when I don’t get enough sleep. I believe this is because my serotonin levels drop. If I drink alcohol this tends to mitigate some of the anxiety, but it can make the following day even worse. Today is one of those days and it is particularly bad.

    I am worrying that I am secretly, or meant to be a psychotic serial killer. This is not a new thought by any means, and I can usually just identify as an ocd thought and shrug it off. Today when this was going on after listening to an audio book that gave me a gnarly spike I started to worry that maybe its not just ocd and I will turn into one. Then I began to worry that I wouldn’t care. So then I passed people and had thoughts of, well if I am I should just kill these people. Of course I did not, but then my anxiety dropped. And now I am worried that I just don’t care one way or the other if I turn into a killer. Can Harm ocd just turn into psychopathy?

    Reply
    • Hi W.,

      A few thoughts…

      You mention that when you don’t sleep, your obsessions worsen. This is a pretty good argument for making sleep a priority.

      You also mention that when you drink, your symptoms decrease, but return with a vengeance the next day. This is quite common. For many, alcohol provides temporary anxiety reduction, but leads to a worsening of symptoms the next day. I suggest you stop drinking.

      There is absolutely no evidence of anyone with OCD ever turning into a psychopath. However, worrying that one is secretly a psycho killer is one of the most common symptoms of Harm OCD, as is the fear that one will stop caring about the possibility of being a psycho killer.

      Reply
  • Thanks so much for this very enlightening article! I am 32 with five children. My oldest is 15, and sometime after he turned a year old, I was sitting on the couch with him alone in our home and a news broadcast came on of that woman who drowned her four children in the bathtub… I looked down at my sweet sleeping boy and thought, “I’m going to kill you.” I never ever thought about anything like that my whole life until that moment.

    Since that day on the couch when I saw that news broadcast I’ve just had the thought pop in my head when I look at people, or even inanimate things, which induces extreme anxiety! Then I heard of a mom who drown her 3 children in a lake because she wanted them to be in heaven… YIKES! Trigger much?! I just told a close friend recently who related her similar experience. I also told my pastor who says it’s the devil.

    I saw a psychologist yesterday who believes in having intrusive thoughts but that I do not have harm OCD. She specializes in intrusive thoughts and CBT and says there’s a underlining cause of this reoccurring thought.

    I struggle with where the bible says to, “Take every thought captive, bringing it into obedience to Christ.” I feel like I’m at a cross road, where I have to choose between the bibles healing or trust in modern medicine. Can people be completely relieved by just trusting in Gods promises?

    Reply
    • Hi Kay,

      Everything you mention sounds like classic Harm OCD. People with this condition are often triggered by news stories.

      Your psychologist may claim to be an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for OCD, but if she is suggesting that there is some deep, underlying cause for these thoughts, then she probably has no idea how to treat OCD. Looking for underlying causes for your thoughts would be a complete waste of time.

      Your pastor sounds like he is living in the 18th century, and it is clear that he knows absolutely nothing about mental health. I strongly encourage you not to listen to him on this matter.

      As for the bible, I see no reason you would have to choose between the modern medicine and your religious faith. That said, “trusting in God’s promises” cannot replace effective mental health treatment. I encourage you to find a therapist who specializes in treating OCD.

      Take care.

      Reply
  • I have been able to live with Harm OCD for a year on and off, but just recently I have been having thoughts of “What if I like this”? “Do I even want help myself”? I have always been disgusted by the Harm OCD, but now I don’t know if I am, or if I even care. Is this normal? I also am a huge hypochondriac to mental illnesses.

    Reply
  • Hi, I would like to know if what I describe is normal for OCD. I’ve had harm OCD for almost five years and resisted every thought. Sometimes actually quite often I get this sick and disgusting enjoyment of of the thoughts like I would really like to act them out and like it’s what my desire is!! This scares me and leaves me to feel emotionless, like I don’t care about anyone or anything, however, then I always find myself crying and becoming upset at sad situations. For example when I watch a video of someone losing their best friend or something like that, I get sad and emotional. I’ve always been sensitive and always believed being good was right and what I strived to be. I wanted to be just like Jesus, actually. But now, I feel like I’ve changed and become an evil person, that would love to harm others and would enjoy it greatly. It frustrates me so much that I get this sick enjoyment out of the thoughts. I used to preform hour long compulsions like repeating tasks, avoiding things having to do with violence or things like magical thinking, and avoiding certain trigger words, and constant reassurance. just would like to know if this is normal. thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Justin,

      What you describe sounds completely normal for Harm OCD. That said, it is worth noting that you say you like these thoughts, yet you describe them as “disgusting”. And if your truly had become “evil”, I doubt you would be writing into a blog bout Harm OCD to ask for help with managing these thoughts. There is no evidence whatsoever that you have changed or that you actually enjoy these unwanted thoughts.

      Also, you note that you “used to preform hour long compulsions like repeating tasks, avoiding things having to do with violence or things like magical thinking, and avoiding certain trigger words” and constantly seeking reassurance. If you “used to” do these things, but have stopped, that is great. However, if you continue to do these or any other compulsions (including mental compulsions), then I encourage you to stop, as these compulsions only make things worse.

      Reply
  • Great article. I have harm OCD about throwing my little cousin off his 9th story balcony. My therapist isn’t great at this stuff but I’m in contact with an expert. However a therapist of mine told my cousins about my violent thoughts, and now they don’t seem to trust me with their children. I can only go to their apartment of both parents are home, they said a few months ago. This has greatly reduced my ability to do exposure. I love my cousins very much and this distance is very painful, but esp because they don’t seem to trust me. What do I do about this? How can I do exposure if I’ve lost their trust?

    Reply
    • Jeff,

      Your therapist most likely told your cousins that they were concerned about your thoughts because therapists are required by law to take steps to intervene if they think someone is a threat to another person. The problem here is that the therapist intervened on the basis of thoughts that may be related to OCD, not to a genuine desire to harm the child.

      If you indeed have Harm OCD, then your therapist is not qualified to treat OCD, as any OCD expert would be able to discern an OCD thought from a true desire to cause harm. On the other hand, I have no idea if you actually have Harm OCD. Nothing in your comment suggests that you don’t have Harm OCD, but I have never met you, nor conducted a formal assessment of you, so there is just no way for me to make that assessment.

      Assuming you do have Harm OCD, this is an unfortunate situation that was created by a therapist who has no business providing treatment for a condition he doesn’t understand. That said, there is likely nothing you can do to alleviate your cousins’ concern. I think most parents who were told that that someone in their family wanted to kill their child would have a similar response as your cousins. I’m truly sorry that you are faced with this situation.

      Reply
  • Hey Tom. Great answers to all these questions. I’ve had harm OCD on and off for my entire life and I’m 42. It usually flares up when there’s a ton of change in my life, such as now, when I’ve got a new job and a new baby. My fear is that I’ll kill myself or get so depressed that I won’t be able to handle it. I’m getting treatment now but of course it takes time. What I’ve found, oddly, is that my fears actually push me outward. They make me want to do positive things in life. This latest bout has motivated me to look into helping others with OCD, for instance. Of course, the whole ordeal is scary, as it always is, but people here should know that OCD is treatable and does respond medications, ERP, and therapy. That’s the key. To me, reading other stories on here only makes me more certain that I indeed have OCD and not some deep desire to off myself. Thanks for having this page.

    Reply
    • Hi Todd,

      Thanks for your comments. I think it is great that you can see your experience with OCD as a motivator to help others struggling with it. And know that your experience with symptoms increasing at times of stress is extremely common.

      Reply
  • I am crying as I read this article. I have been tortured for years by harm thoughts. They just appear one day. I blamed it on my childhood that was fraught with violence. Years of talk therapy did not help at all because I was TOO afraid to admit why I was having endless panic attacks, I have learned to “live” with it but I avoid all violent movies, news stories, and the only knives in my house are butter knives. Even my scissors are blunt tip. Harm OCD, my God I didn’t even know I had an OCD. I didn’t even know it had a name let alone a CURE!
    This article is a game changer. This website is the HOPE I prayed for for years.

    Reply
    • Hi Kay,

      Thank you for commenting. It is gratifying to hear that our article has helped you to better understand your obsessions. The next step for you is to get into effective treatment that addresses your Harm OCD. Take care.

      Reply
  • I have had OCD all my life since I was n my teens / now 60/ and I have read countless articles and books on the subject which have really helped me in times of stress. But, I have a simple question yet have never seen something written on it. When researching and reading about Harm OCD, say for instance, which too has reared its ugly head in my life too, is READING AND RESEARCHING about OCD ALSO a form of compulsion? It does make me feel better knowing how many suffer the same illness, reading their stories and what helps in over coming it? I feel better after but it seems I never can quite breakaway from it. Or, just maybe my OCD tricks me into thinking it’s another compulsion?

    Reply
    • Nick,

      Yes, reading and researching about OCD can very definitely become a compulsion. Obviously a little research is a good thing, as it brings us knowledge. But repeatedly researching a topic which you have already researched is compulsive, and will actually worsen your OCD instead of providing you with long-term relief.

      Reply
  • I have been diagnosed with Harm OCD with motor tics and have to say I’m in and out of treatment. My motor tics scare me as they seem to be a ‘half way ‘ house to actually committing a harm. For e.g, if my young daughter is cuddling with me, my harm OCD builds and builds, like a pressure cooker. My compulsion is then to give way to a motor tic (voluntary, it’s a myth that all tics are involuntary, I’m told by my psychiatrist), which takes the form of a sudden jerky hard squeeze (she thinks it’s funny. To me it feels violent and renders me out of control which gives me instant relief, but of course is short lived.

    My harm OCD always focuses on things of great value to me, like my family, or, objects of value like a phone or laptop, the latter of which I have actually damaged through motor tics. Interesting this because damaging an object, is not catastrophic, it’s replaceable. But I know, I could never harm a person, despite my thoughts. I often think that I have something way more serious than OCD, despite reassurances from my psychiatrist and therapist that it is OCD. I’m interested in your thoughts and experiences of my type of OCD/Tics. I’m based in the UK. Thanks…

    Reply
    • CN,

      I fail to see how your tics are “a halfway house to actually committing harm” – you report not a single instance in which your tics have been followed by harm. In fact you mention no instance of causing harm at all. It sounds to me like to your analysis of your tics is a compulsion, and that you are coming to the exact wrong conclusion. Your therapist and psychiatrist appear to have come to the same conclusion as me, and I encourage you to listen to them..

      Reply
  • I am so stuck in this place of dark fear…. I am a loving mother of 5 children 2 are adult and 2 are teenagers and the 5 is a 2 year baby… i have never had any life crippling mental disorder until i was 6 months pregnant with my last baby ( she was a choice and she was very much planed we wanted her pretty bad after the miscarriage ) I had my first bad thought about killing the baby, i almost died when i had this thought, i went to my doctor and i told them ( two weeks after the first thought) i have been told that i have obsessions but not Harm ocd because i don’t have compulsions. i don’t believe them because i mental compulsions all the time. I need help i have been suffering for over 2.5 years. there is 10 month list to see a therapist and been stuck in this hell for 2.5 years now.. i can’t wait any longer for help and i don’t have the money to pay a good ocd therapist. I am so scared that i am going to hurt her and i won’t be able to control my thoughts or my actions… i don’t even know what meds i should be on… PLEASE HELP ME this is ruining my life,

    Reply
    • Hi Cindy,

      Unfortunately, most mental health treatment providers do not understand OCD, so I am not surprised that your’s did not grasp that mental compulsions are compulsions. My best suggestion is that you seek out a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

      As for hurting your child, there is no evidence to support that you will do so. In fact, you have 2.5 years of having these thoughts without losing control and hurting your child, so the evidence is quite strong that you are not going to hurt her.

      Reply
  • Hi,
    Unlike most cases of harm OCD which focus on future harm, I have obsessions that I’ve killed somebody at a place where I’d been (past harm). This causes me to do a LOT of mental reviewing to go through the chronology of events and determining what things I did and did not do. I also went back to the location where I think the incident has allegedly happened to check and this further worsened my condition.
    I am about to begin a new course of CBT therapy with a new therapist and I really pray that it works. But I wanna hear your input first.

    Reply
    • Shawn,

      I don’t know where you got the idea that Harm OCD mostly focuses on the possibility of future harm, but that is not even remotely accurate. It is extremely common for Harm OCD obsessions to focus on having already committed harm. And your mental review of past events is a very common (though ineffective) compulsive response to these types of thoughts.

      Reply
  • Hi Tom, I think I have Harm OCD, my thoughts focus on stabbing my mom. I love my mom and my biggest fear has always been something happening to her. The thoughts made me feel disgusted and guilty, I would cry a lot, I feared I would lose control and do something to her. It scares me so much. I avoid the kitchen (knives) and I hate watching violent shows. Sometimes at night I would wake up and check my hands if there is blood. I tried to accept the thoughts, it was hard because I was worried that by accepting its presence I’d accept the thought. I managed it and felt great, I started having other thoughts but I brushed them off. Then I began to worry that I’m not worrying enough about the thoughts about my mom and that it means that I want to hurt her. I made me feel horrible again but the anxiety is not as bad as before and that scares me. I almost believe that I don’t love my mom and that I really am a bad person and that I want to do it. I’m worried that I might be a killer and I worry that I enjoy the thoughts. I know I don’t, I love my mom, but it makes me doubt everything, my feelings, who I am.

    Is it OCD or am I a psychopath? Can OCD make you doubt your feelings for someone.

    Reply
    • Bára,

      A few thoughts…

      1) Everything you write sounds like classic Harm OCD. Psychopaths do not generally feel guilty about their thoughts of causing harm.

      2) Avoidance of knives etc. is a compulsion that reinforces your obsessions, and makes your OCD worse.

      3) Ditto for checking your hands for blood.

      4) Obsessing that you no longer feels as horrible about your unwanted harm thoughts is called a “backdoor spike”, and is very common in the various types of OCD that are often described as Pure Obsessional OCD, (or Pure O), including Harm OCD.

      5) Yess, OF often leads people t doubt their feelings for people who are important to them.

      Reply
  • Hey there, So this is a tricky situation for me because I don’t want to sound like a crazy person or a psychopath. Over a year, distressing events that caused me to become extremely out of it called “anxiety induced depersonalization”. But these violent thoughts have been there since, images, thoughts, feelings and everything. They were easy at first to just ignore since I had someone there to tell me it was ok. But since about two weeks ago it’s come back even worse than it was, I can barely sleep and everything I think about is related to me having all encompassing. I have been telling myself I’m not a psychopath or serial killer but everything has taken over my life, there has not been a day it hasn’t been just about that. I can’t ignore them, I see myself no more. And over the last few days I’ve been getting more and more hints that I might actually like these bad things even when in truth I would sooner die than to like them or act on them, but everything in my mind is screaming at me to believe it, that this is who the real me is, that it’s just wanting and waiting to come out.

    Reply
    • Shayna,

      While I cannot provide you with a diagnosis via this blog, I can say that the symptoms describe sound very much like classic Harm OCD. Keep in mind that OCD is an anxiety disorder, so your “anxiety induced depersonalization” is likely related to, or at least co-existing with, OCD. I encourage you to discuss this issue with whatever treatment provider diagnosed you with “anxiety induced depersonalization”. If they fail to see your obsessions as a symptom of OCD, then I encourage you to seek out an OCD specialist.

      Reply
  • Hi. I had ocd 6 years ago and i cured.but this year it started again.
    I afraid of harming myself whit a sharp thing. I afraid of dying in this way and by myself.
    and when this damn thought comes to my mind i feel stressed and depresed and it affect my appetite.i think its not curable 🙁
    I am a top student in university but this thoughts makes my life bitter. What can i do to help myself ?

    Reply
    • Sima,

      You are correct, OCD is not “curable”. After all, there is no cure for thinking, and at its core, OCD is about over-reacting to one’s thoughts.

      That said, the good news is that OCD is very treatable. With proper treatment, OCD can be reduced to a minor inconvenience. I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD.

      Reply
  • Thank you so much for helping understand what i have!! I had no idea about most of what you have explained and now i have a sense of relief in a lot of ways!

    Thank you for making smile after having thoughts of hurting my loved one! A sense of relief after having my mind tortured (at least that’s how it felt!).

    Reply
    • Hi Conor,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s great to hear that our article helped you better understand your unwanted thoughts.

      Reply
  • Thank you very much for writing this article, out of all my research this one has been by far the best! I started getting horrible thoughts about self harm and suicides and was relieved to discover that Harm ODC existed! I have started CBT to try and combat these thoughts. But the most difficult thing that I find is actually trying to convince myself that they are not real and I go for hours researching the difference between OCD harm/suicide thoughts and real harm/suicide thoughts. Always trying to find a definite answer that what I have is Harm OCD rather than real thoughts and then getting really scared that what I might have is ‘real’ thoughts! I am also really scared of the idea of carrying out these thoughts and often look for reassurance online that I will definitely never carry out these acts. I now have a fear of knives, razors and often imagine all the different ways there are to kill or hurt yourself. These thoughts are so disturbing and frightening to me that I can go all day feeling afraid and easily get upset. Dose this sound to you like I have Harm OCD? Any help or advice you have is greatly appreciated! Thanks again for the great article it has helped me a lot!

    Reply
    • Laura,

      A few thoughts…

      1) This all sounds like textbook Harm OCD.

      2) Trying to convince yourself that your thoughts are not real or accurate is a compulsion that makes your OCD worse.

      3) Ditto for “researching the difference between OCD harm/suicide thoughts and real harm/suicide thoughts”.

      4) Ditto for “trying to find a definite answer” about whether this is Harm OCD.

      5) Ditto for seeking reassurance online that you will never act on these thoughts.

      My best suggestion is to accept the presence of your thoughts without taking them to be meaningful, important, or accurate. They are just thoughts. Other than that, I encourage you to discuss these issues with your CBT therapist.

      Reply
  • I have in the past struggled with harm OCD and fear of killing myself. I did this 3 week intensive erp treatment and was back to normal and was happy. I now have these thoughts again and they’ve come on incredibly strong, because I’m a bit depressed and going through some very tough constant struggles and uncertainty about the future. I also now have become a mother since I had them last. I get these urges or impulses to just do it now, and that every time I do something it is for the last time, and that when I clean at home or have a conversation with someone it is me preparing for suicide. That I am saying goodbye. Also get thoughts about how to do it, what I need to do before I do it (for example make everything ready, clean and write a letter). With this I get this extreme crippling anxiety in my chest that is almost unbearable and I want to drive to the nearest emergency room and be commited. I get convinced I am truly suicidal, and some mornings it is hard to get out of bed because I” sure I’ll do something stupid. Which again makes me think I am truly depressed and want to commit suicide.

    Reply
    • Annie,

      Ego-Dystonic thoughts of suicide are fairly common in Harm OCD. Considering you have in the past had Harm OCD focusing on the exact same fears that you are now experiencing, I think it is reasonable to assume that these obsessions likely mean nothing more than that your Harm OCD has resurfaced. Furthermore, the fact that you had successful ERP for your prior Harm OCD suggests that you would be well-served by re-entering into treatment. I encourage you to re-connect with the therapist who previously helped you. If that is not an option, or if you would prefer online therapy with one of our staff therapists, please feel free to contact us.

      Reply
  • hi! my names is valentina and i am applied psychologist . im from greece and i have harm ocd only six months. im very sorry for my english but i can to writting very good.I want to say a huge thank you for your articles.
    They helped me.

    I have visited 4 psychiatrists and 8 psychologists in greece ,but I did not analyze all of that you have analyzed. I have begun medication 2 months with SSRIS (NAME= LA DOSE ) something like PROZAC.

    I would like to say to all of the people that this disorder consists of two basic things. 1) doubt 2) anxiety.

    There is no chance of losing control and doing evil to someone.
    I am absolutely sure of this and you are. I wish good strength to everyone. Thank you again Tom. 🙂

    Reply
    • Valentina,

      Thank you for your kind words. I am happy to hear that you found our articles an Harm OCD to be helpful.

      Reply
  • Hi there,

    My name is Edd and I’m in the UK. I’ve had occasional thoughts of harming people as I’m talking to them for a little while now. I’ve typically dismissed them until after spending a weekend away with my girlfriend. I developed a fear of jumping out of the hotel window whilst away which isn’t a new feeling to me but was quite intense this time. I can climb old abandoned buildings without an issue but put me in a safe high place and I worry I’ll jump.

    On returning home, this seems to have manifested into a fear of harming my children or my girlfriend. I don’t use coping mechanism like repeating actions or words or hiding sharp objects but I am avoiding books or TV that may have violence. Unfortunately it has become quite persistent and is on my mind more often than not. I am a perpetual worrier and will worry if I don’t have anything to worry about.

    Having read your articles, it has helped immensely. Realising I hadn’t just invented this issue and indeed knowing deep down that these thought are purely just thoughts and not a prelude to me turning into a deranged psychopath. Sadly, it hasn’t stopped the thoughts and I have arranged to visit a therapist…

    Reply
    • Edd,

      “Avoiding books or TV that may have violence” is every bit as much of a compulsions as hiding knives, repeating phrases etc. So long as you maintain your avoidance of these things, your OCD is unlikely to improve much.

      That said, you are doing the right thing by scheduling an appointment with a therapist. Just be sure that they have significant training and experience treating OCD with Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) as noted in the article above. If not, then you will likely be wasting your time.

      Reply
  • Hi there,

    I have Harm OCD, fear of self harm, which has manifested itself before, but this time after quitting a very stresfull job and trying to figure out what to do now. At the beginning I was afraid to be alone, I am now manging this, I am back to driving my car, cooking , I am even going for holidays in 10 days (thoough because of my intrusive thoughts, I can’t seem to make myself look forward to that). The reason I am writing is the following, since Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain suicide news, I have constantly been thinking what if I turn like them, what if my family will think I am ok, but in reality I am not and I will do smething like this, what if this gets too much and I end up like them. This worries me, because it seems these two had it all but still commited suicide. One thing, I did not want to avoid reading about this, because I want to face these fears. I am very loving person, recently got married, I have incredible parents and I do not want this thoughts in my head, I really want to go back to my normal self 🙂

    Reply
    • Anna,

      What if, what if, what if…

      These are useless, unanswerable OCD questions that your brain is generating. I suppose you could end up like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. So could I and everyone else in the world. There is no way to get certainty that you will not commit suicide.

      The good news is that you don’t need certainty – you just need to accept that you have Harm OCD, and to not invest any energy into these thoughts. They are just thoughts, with no more importance than the thought “What if my brain is composed of mint toothpaste, and I end up flying to Pluto on a magic carpet”.

      Reply
  • Hello, I have been suffering from pure ocd for about 6 years now its been on and off their are time I thought I was getting better but never did the treatment because I was scared to do the Cbt and erp for my obsession. But i’m currently on the harm ocd obsession now and it was pretty severe two years ago but now my anxiety has lessen, but I still currently have the thoughts but not soo much anxiety to them. I am not seeing a therapist at the moment due to my kids I have no one to watch them so I decided to do the therapy at home without a therapist and I have noticed that my thoughts have decreased but I still currently am during the therapy because some thoughts do cause some anxiety to me but i try my best to not engage in them or react to them but I have a question. I always get these images of people who committed crimes in the past and its sort of freak me out a little and they always pop up in my head, Am I suppose to expose myself to these images or their crimes article because it is bothering me.

    Reply
    • Samantha,

      Yes, the goal is to expose yourself to any stimuli that cause anxiety (that’s the “exposure” part of ERP), without responding that anxiety with compulsions (that’s the “response prevention” part of ERP).

      Reply
  • Good day,

    I’ve suffered from most forms of OCD (harm, disease, sexual, etc.) in the past 10 years. The majority of my suffering has clearly come from harm OCD. I’ve had psychiatric help twice. Both times it was harm OCD that overwhelmed me.

    I got very good at distracting myself and blocking unwanted thoughts of hurting people (at least some of the time) and then performing certain rituals (checking) when I couldn’t block the thoughts completely. I’ve been living in this hell for 10 years now. It’s a tremendous mental effort. It’s no life.

    How do you recommend I proceed now (due to my personal circumstances, I would like to combat this myself)?
    Based on your articles, I should NOT
    – avoid uncomfortable situations
    – block unwanted thoughts of harming others
    – perform any kind of checking

    Do you agree?

    Would you recommend that I purposely think about harming people from time to time as an exercise to combat my OCD? I kind of tried that once (though maybe I just didn’t actively block, who can tell …) and my fear was so great, that I had to check many times to make sure that all was okay. It caused great anxiety in me.

    Any help is much appreciated. Thank…

    Reply
    • Nick,

      Yes, I agree that you should:

      – not avoid uncomfortable situations
      – not block unwanted thoughts of harming others
      – not perform any kind of checking

      That said, your experience with combatting OCD was largely ineffective because you were not properly responding to your unwanted thoughts. The best treatment for all types of OCD is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with an emphasis on a specific CBT technique called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This therapy has repeatedly and consistently been found by researchers to be the most effective treatment for all forms of OCD. What you were doing was “exposure”, but you did not do the “response prevention” part at all. In fact, you responded to the anxiety caused by the “exposure” by doing compulsions.

      I encourage you to seek treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with CBT/ERP, as they will be able to guide you through ERP correctly.

      Reply
  • Hey Tom
    I’ve posted here before over the yrs so I won’t ask if what I have is harm ocd. I’ve been diagnosed. The one symptom that I have that keeps me doing my compulsive questioning is as follows. My harm ocd always revolves around one intrusive thought/idea. The words “I want to harm”. It is usually directed at my son who I love and would die for. My compulsion is asking myself do you want to/do you not want to? This is where the anxiety depression confusion comes into play. When I am in a bad episode it’s like my brain won’t let me answer. Even though by my reaction and terror from the thought plainly shows hell no I don’t want to. But then when I have clarity I am able to say god no I don’t and never will. My question is what causes this inability to answer a question that at any other time I could answer without a doubt with a God NO. Is it the unrelenting doubt? Is it the fear of yes popping in my head? I just don’t understand. I’ve had hiv ocd to where I couldn’t answer if I had it even though I knew damn well I didn’t. Rocd when I couldn’t answer to I love her even though I did. Etc etc. any explanation would be appreciated. I won’t double post again…

    Reply
    • Neal,

      You are trying too hard to find an explanation for your obsession.

      You ask “what causes this inability to answer a question that at any other time I could answer without a doubt with a ‘God NO’.”

      The answer is simple:

      OCD is what causes this problem.

      Don’t waste your time trying to figure out why you have obsessions, or why you react so strongly to them. That’s like someone who just fell and broke their arm asking “Why am I feeling this pain”.

      You have OCD. That is the problem.

      Reply
  • hope its not too late to comment!
    i believe i have harm OCD, One night i smoked weed and ive alays worried about people i care about committing suicide since i know a few people in my area who have. My brother told me he would never do that and in that moment while i was high i realized that ive never worried about myself doing that and that i needed to start. After that moment i began like imagining me acting out these ways of doing it like i was watching a movie it has been an off and on battle ever since trying to research and find out if i actually do have harm ocd or if i wasnt to do this act that never crossed my mind as an intention. I am starting ERP but i am afraid tonight they are gonna tell me i am too crazy and that my thoughts are real. I just want to return to the place before these thoughts were present.

    Reply
    • Michael,

      A few thoughts…

      1) Everything you write sounds like Harm OCD.

      2) Many of the thoughts that pop into people’s minds are meaningless and unimportant. This is especially true of thoughts that pop into people’s minds while they are high on weed.

      3) The idea that you should start worrying about harming yourself just because you had a thought that you had never previously worried about harming yourself makes no sense. Using your logic, you should worry about everything that you have never worried about before.

      4) Thoughts are just thoughts.

      5) It sounds like you are starting ERP. I encourage you to discuss these issues with your therapist with the intent of developing exposures that address this obsession.

      Reply
  • Do HARM OCD individuals ever act on their thoughts? What is the rate of suicide and homicide for people with this illness?

    Reply
    • Tina,

      I know of no incidents of people with Harm OCD acting on their obsessions. I have specialized in treating OCD for nearly 25 years, and not one of my clients with Harm OCD has ever acted on their obsessions. Further, I know of no specific statistics about homicide and suicide rates for people with Harm OCD. That said, people with Harm OCD by definition obsess about the possibility of causing harm to others or themselves, and your questions are likely a function of OCD, not of any legitimate threat.

      Reply
  • This article is super, super helpful! I’ve had OCD for as long as I can remember – checking locks and stoves since elementary school. In adulthood, harm OCD became pretty bad for me. Typically, this was been focused on whether or not I’d done something bad in the past and forgotten (called someone a bad name, written something mean in a card, punched someone, touched someone inappropriately, etc.). I sought treatment as an adult and moved into recovery via ERP.

    Since my shift into recovery, I’ve experienced a tough year, losing a close friend to suicide. I cried for days and was completely distraught. However, the family was really private and there were a ton of rumors. Eventually, my OCD latched onto this and I became convinced that it wasn’t really suicide and that I somehow harmed my friend. I’ve been doing ERP with a therapist since my relapse, after months of checking where I was, emails, calls, step data – until I was convinced it could be true. I’m doing ERP, but it’s tough to accept uncertainty on something so painful. My biggest fear is that I don’t really have OCD and am horrible. Any suggestions on letting something so painful go.

    Reply
    • Kelly,

      I’m sorry to hear about your friend. I think your situation is likely a combination of OCD and a reasonable grief response to such a terrible event. There is no simple way to “let go” of your feelings of loss or your OCD thoughts related to that loss. I encourage you to discuss all of this with your current therapist.

      Reply
  • Hello. I have had ocd for several years. I have managed to basically get over my fear of harm by poisoning as well as hit and run ocd. However, I still get stuck with the idea of snapping. Whenever I get slightly mad my mind immediately turns to what if I had a knife or could I do it. It’s very scary and I find myself analyzing my levels of anger rather frequently. I was wondering what I should do for exposure. Should I carry knives in public (not something I really want to do and would take a lot of motivation to do)? Are there other things I could try first?

    Reply
    • Kevin,

      You mention three obsessions:

        ~ harm by poisoning
        ~ hit and run ocd
        ~ fear of snapping and killing someone

      These are all variations on the theme of Harm OCD. In other words, there is no important difference between them.

      As for what you should do, my best suggestion is to get into treatment with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD with ERP.

      Reply
  • Hello Tom,
    Thank you for what you do. I hope it’s okay to add a comment nearly a year after the last one!

    Do intrusive thoughts have to be repetitive? Can you have one bad thought & then the repetitive thoughts are over the guilt for having had that (unwanted?) thought? I worry that I may have briefly enjoyed the thought, and my reaction to it was delayed. It’s all the more disturbing these thoughts are sometimes about people who have upset me.
    It’s a bit like real event OCD & the thought here is the real event. Sometimes it’s like day-dreaming, until I snap out of it and my moral self kicks in.
    Can OCD morph over time to the point where your brain produces thoughts as material to feed your OCD, even disguised as wanted thoughts?

    Reply
    • Musetta,

      Everything you write sounds like typical OCD. First you had a thought, then you had a bunch of thoughts about whether or not you are a bad person because you had the initial bad thought and may have enjoyed it, and then you turned to analyzing not just the initial thought, but your response to the initial thought.

      All humans, including name and you, have thoughts that could be interpreted as “bad thoughts”. That doesn’t mean you are a bad person because you had a “bad thought”. What matters is your behavior, not your thoughts.

      Reply

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    Many people with OCD engage in 'memory hoarding', a mental compulsion to over-attend to the details of an event, person, or object. Memory hoarding is done with the belief that the event, person, or object carries a special significance, and may be important to recall exactly as-is at a later date. […]
    263 Comments
  • OCD and the Law – Part 3
    An Australian pro boxer assaults a 70-year old man on a ferry boat and claims his OCD made him do it. Last of a three part series on OCD and the law. […]
    No Comments
  • OCD and the Law – Part 2
    A Kentucky man murdered his wife and then tried to claim that his OCD led him to kill her. Part 2 of a 3 part series. From the OCD Center of Los Angeles. […]
    4 Comments
  • OCD and the Law – Part 1
    A Scottish man claims his massive child pornography collection is due to OCD. Part 1 of a 3 part series from the OCD Center of Los Angeles. […]
    1 Comment
  • OCD Stockholm Syndrome
    Something akin to the Stockholm Syndrome occurs in some people who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ( OCD ). […]
    2 Comments
  • Athletes With Anxiety
    Mental health has long been shrouded in secrecy and shame. So when public figures like professional athletes actively seek help for anxiety, it is a sign of cultural progress. Here are some who have gone public with their struggles. […]
    1 Comment
  • Social Anxiety in Baseball Revisted
    This past week marked the arrival of the 2010 Major League baseball season. And as with last year, this season already has three developing stories of athletes dealing with Social Anxiety. […]
    No Comments
  • Treatment of OCD and Anxiety: A Brief History
    A look at how the treatment of OCD and related anxiety disorders has changed over time, especially the development of CBT and mindfulness for OCD. […]
    3 Comments
  • Tiger Woods, Sex Addiction, and OCD – Part 2
    Sex addiction is misconstrued by many to be a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This article reviews various factors relevant to determining what diagnosis might be more appropriate. Second of a two part series. […]
    4 Comments
  • Tiger Woods, Sex Addiction, and OCD
    Many people, including professional psychotherapists, incorrectly think of sex addiction as a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This article reviews the essential differences between these two conditions and, how therapeutic strategies used for the treatment of OCD are unlikely to be successful when treating sex addiction. First of a two part series. […]
    18 Comments
  • Latisse and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
    The drug Latisse is prescribed to lengthen eyelashes, but it has significant, under-reported side effects. This raises two questions - is Latisse safe, and does its marketing exploit women's body image concerns? […]
    2 Comments
  • Proposed DSM-5 Changes for OCD and Anxiety Disorders
    The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has proposed significant revisions to its "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition" (DSM-IV). Tom Corboy of the OCD Center of Los Angeles discusses changes planned for the new DSM-5, specifically those relevant to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related anxiety-based conditions. […]
    7 Comments
  • Reassurance Seeking in OCD and Anxiety
    Those with OCD and other anxiety based conditions often seek reassurance that their unwanted thoughts and feelings are not a threat. The OCD Center of Los Angeles discusses the problem of using reassurance seeking as an anxiety management strategy. […]
    92 Comments
  • Phobia Treatment in Unconventional Settings
    Traditionally, phobias have been treated in a therapist's office. But effective help for phobias can now be found in some very unexpected places. […]
    No Comments
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and Cosmetic Surgery
    Many with Body Dysmorphic Disorder turn to cosmetic surgery in an attempt to alleviate their insecurities. Unfortunately, there are plenty of cosmetic surgeons who are more than willing to cash in on those with this serious psychiatric condition. […]
    No Comments
  • OCD & Anxiety: The Year 2009 in Review
    OCD and anxiety were in the news throughout 2009. Here are our votes for the top stories of the year about OCD and related anxiety based conditions. […]
    2 Comments
  • Bizarre, Disturbing, Weird, and Unwanted Thoughts in OCD
    Everybody has bizarre thoughts. But people with OCD respond differently to these thoughts. From the OCD Center of Los Angeles. […]
    26 Comments
  • Emetophobia treatment at the OCD Center of Los Angeles with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)Emetophobia and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
    Emetophobia is the fear of vomit and/or vomiting. Tom Corboy, MFT, Executive Director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, discusses Emetophobia and its treatment. […]
    85 Comments
  • OCD and Mental Checking
    People with OCD often struggle with 'mental compulsions'. The OCD Center of Los Angeles explores how to manage this sometimes baffling problem. […]
    186 Comments
  • Cyberchondria: Health Anxiety in the 21st Century
    The twin explosions of television and the internet have spawned a sharp increase in Hypochondria, and spawned a new mental health issue - 'Cyberchondria'. […]
    8 Comments
  • Is Compulsive Overeating OCD?
    A discussion of compulsive overeating (aka binge eating) and how it differs from OCD. From the OCD Center of Los Angeles. Serving clients internationally. […]
    No Comments
  • Cy Young, Zack Greinke, and Social Anxiety
    Zack Greinke has overcome his Social Anxiety to become a superstar in major league baseball. […]
    No Comments
  • Exposure Therapy for OCD and AnxietyExposure Therapy for OCD and Anxiety
    Exposure therapy for OCD and other anxiety conditions is discussed by Tom Corboy, MFT, of the OCD Center of Los Angeles. […]
    46 Comments
  • Social Anxiety Research
    Recent Social Anxiety research is discussed by Tom Corboy, MFT, executive director of the CD Center of Los Angeles. […]
    No Comments
  • OCD Awareness Week
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    No Comments
  • CBT and Evidence Based Psychotherapy
    Unfortunately, many psychotherapists dismiss evidence-based treatments such as CBT, instead choosing to do what feels comfortable for them. […]
    No Comments
  • OCD, Mental Health, and the National Health Care Debate
    A look at the national health care debate, especially as it pertains to OCD and related anxiety based conditions. […]
    No Comments
  • Childhood OCD, Strep Infections, and PANDAS
    There is a growing body of research that indicates strep infections are related to rapid-onset OCD in children. […]
    No Comments
  • OCD and the Swine Flu – Part 2
    Panic about the Swine Flu continues, despite facts that suggest there is no cause for increased concern. […]
    No Comments
  • 2009 Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation Conference
    A review of the 2009 Obsessive Compulsive Foundation conference. […]
    No Comments
  • New Trichotillomania Research
    A look at recent research related to Trichotillomania. From the OCD Center of Los Angeles. […]
    No Comments
  • Parenting a Child With OCD
    Parenting any child is a full-time job. But parenting a child with OCD can be particularly challenging. From the OCD Center of Los Angeles. […]
    No Comments
  • Social Anxiety in Baseball
    A look at the recent rash of pro baseball players struggling with Social Anxiety Disorder. […]
    No Comments
  • Michael Jackson and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
    A look at the sad tale of Michael Jackson and his mental health issues. […]
    No Comments
  • OCD and the Swine Flu
    The past few months have seen an avalanche of news stories on the Swine Flu, despite its relatively low impact in the US. […]
    No Comments
  • Meet the OCD Center of Los Angeles Staff
    Meet the OCD Center of Los Angeles Staff […]
    No Comments
  • Welcome to the OCD Center of Los Angeles Blog
    Welcome to the OCD Center of Los Angeles Blog […]
    No Comments

    
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