Beyond the Stereotypes of OCD

| Merrill Wood, LCMHCA

In television and media, OCD is predominately portrayed as a fixation on cleanliness and order. Because of this, our society at large often fails to recognize that OCD can express itself in a number of different formats and dimensions.  

While it is common to experience anxiety surrounding contamination and germs, other themes of OCD include intrusive doubts about romantic partners, fear of causing a tragedy, unwanted sexual or violent images, intrusive post-partum obsessions, or concerns around symmetry and exactness. One common form of OCD involves thoughts, images, or fears of an unwanted nature regarding sexual acts with children.  Individuals with sexual, violent, or pedophilia themed OCD often experience intense anxiety and dismay that they might lose control and act on these uncomfortable thoughts.

Unfortunately, because our society rarely discusses or even acknowledges the diversity of presentations in OCD, individuals experiencing these symptoms can often feel ashamed and isolated due to the nature of their thoughts. In reality, these dimensions of OCD are far from being abnormal, irregular, or uncommon. Research from the Journal of Psychopathology indicates that 43% of individuals with OCD experience moral concerns and 30% have specifically sexual or religious fears.

Deciding to attend therapy can be a difficult choice for anyone, but it can feel particularly risky or perilous for individuals who experience dimensions of OCD that are uncomfortable or vulnerable to discuss.  If you’re considering seeking help from a professional therapist, here are three empowering and comforting truths to remember:

First, OCD tends to “hook into” themes and values that are important to us. If you feel strongly about protecting others, morality, or sexual ethics, it’s not uncommon that your OCD will target fears around immoral or violent behavior. This is more likely reflection of your values, rather than a reflection of your failures.

Not only this, but therapists who specialize in OCD have a responsibility to understand, comprehend, and empathize with all of the forms that OCD might take. If you open up regarding violent or sexual concerns, it’s likely that your therapist is already aware of these themes, and won’t be surprised or uncomfortable with this knowledge.

Finally, if you open up about this topic to a therapist specializing in OCD and they react negatively or unable to know how to best support you, this is valuable and important information for you. It could serve as an indicator that they may not have done their research on OCD, and it’s a valuable thing to discuss openly with them, so that you can determine your goodness of fit and if you might feel more comfortable with a different option.  Whatever you decide, my hope is that you feel the freedom to approach these difficult topics with confidence, knowing that you’re not alone.

Today's the day to make a change.