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5 Taboo and Very Common OCD Obsessions

11 min read
Alegra Kastens, M.A., LMFT
All types of OCD include obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, feelings, urges and doubts, while compulsions are repetitive physical or mental actions performed in an attempt to relieve distress and anxiety.

This is a guest post by Alegra Kastens, M.A., LMFT, founder of The Center for OCD, Anxiety, and Eating Disorders.

When the layperson thinks about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), they likely call forward the stereotypical symptoms: contamination obsessions, hand-washing compulsions, and “just right” obsessions that are followed by an individual doing something again and again until they achieve an internal state of “rightness.”If portrayed accurately at all, this is typically what the media depicts about the disorder.

What is not commonly represented, but frequently experienced by those with OCD, is the taboo nature of the disorder: pedophile obsessions, postpartum obsessions, incest obsessions, bestiality obsessions, necrophilia obsessions, violent obsessions, and more. Some with OCD are not afraid of germs, but of their own brain that produces unwanted sexual or violent thoughts about kids, family members, animals, dead bodies, etc.

Before jumping into specific examples of obsessional themes, it’s important to define what an obsession is. Contrary to the pop culture definition of an obsession, which is utilized to describe a deep love of something, the psychological definition of an obsession is as follows: repetitive intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, and urges that are distressing to the person experiencing them. The person does not like that their brain continues to produce such thoughts, does not want to be thinking of such things, and does not derive pleasure from them.

It’s crucial to educate about the taboo aspects of OCD because the “dark” side of OCD is what often keeps people from seeking treatment. They fear opening up to a professional about their symptoms and having the police called on them, despite how much they despise what their brain is doing to them—and this is if someone can even recognize what is happening. A large percentage of people with symptoms of OCD have no idea that what they’re experiencing is OCD because of misinformation and inaccurate portrayals of the disorder. They go years of their lives fearing the worst of themselves and suffering silently.

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Below is an in-depth look at 5 different taboo obsessions (note: this is not an exhaustive list):

Violent Obsessions

Do you live with a relentless fear that you’re the next Jeffrey Dahmer or that you might throw yourself off the Brooklyn Bridge despite how scary that sounds? You could be dealing with “Harm OCD,” a nickname for an obsessional theme involving intrusive and unwanted violent thoughts, images, and urges about harming others or oneself. It’s a terrifying experience for the person with such symptoms who does not know that they have OCD and fears that they could be homicidal or suicidal. Unlike a homicidal person with a desire to kill or a suicidal person who wants to die, the person with OCD does not at all align with the thoughts and performs mental and physical rituals to ensure that they do not come true. Still, the person with such obsessions may be fearful of accessing treatment in case a professional misunderstands their symptoms and initiates a 51/50 (an involuntary commitment).

Examples of obsessions:

  • Intrusive thoughts about harming others or oneself
    • “What if?” thoughts
      • “What if I stab my partner while they’re asleep?”
      • “What if I kill myself when I’m alone in my apartment?”
      • “What if I snap and shoot up a school?”
      • “What if I swerve into the median while driving?”
    • “Command” intrusive thoughts
      • “Stab them with the knife!”
      • “Slit your wrist!”
  • Intrusive images or “mental movies” that pop into a person’s mind of them violently harming themselves or others
  • Unwanted urges such as an urge to push a person in front of a bus or cut oneself with a shaving razor despite how much they do not want to do that

Examples of compulsions:

  • Hiding all knives, scissors, and other sharp objects to ensure that nothing bad happens
  • Compulsively avoiding movies and TV shows with violent or suicidal themes
  • Compulsive online research about serial killers to make sure that one is not like them
  • Refusal to be alone for fear that one will snap and die by suicide
  • Mental rumination about the thoughts to try and figure out why one is having them, what they could mean, etc.
  • Playing out a feared scenario in one’s mind (for example,  swerving into the median while driving) to check their reaction to it
  • Compulsive prayer to ensure that the thoughts do not come true

Pedophile Obsessions

“Pedophilia OCD” or POCD is a nickname for obsessional content that centers around sex with children. People struggling with such obsessions experience intrusive and unwanted sexual thoughts, images, and urges about children. This is far different than a pedophile who aligns with sexual thoughts about children and the desire they feel toward them. The person with OCD is deeply disturbed by the unwanted thoughts and does not desire sex with children at all. The obsessions are so anxiety-inducing and distressing that the person with OCD feels the urge to repetitively perform physical and mental rituals (compulsions) to get rid of the unwanted thoughts and images, alleviate anxiety, seek absolute certainty, and ultimately protect kids at all costs.

OCD tends to attack what a person values most, and this obsessional theme typically attacks those who love and adore children. It’s a devastating obsessional theme and one of the most shame-inducing and stigmatizing. 

Examples of obsessions:

  • Intrusive images and “mental movies” that pop into a person’s mind of naked children, sexual acts with children, etc.
  • Unwanted sexual intrusive thoughts about children
    • “What if?” obsessions
      • “What if I’m a pedophile?”
      • “What if my sexuality changed and I turned into a pedophile?”
      • “What if I snap and harm a child?”
      • “What if I harmed a child in the past and don’t remember?”
    • “Command” intrusive thoughts
      • “Touch that child!”
      • “You’d like this”
      • “Have sex with that kid! Do it!”
  • Unwanted urges to touch a child
  • The fear that one’s partner or someone close to them is a pedophile

Examples of compulsions:

  • Compulsively avoiding being around children, even one’s own kids, and any kind of media that involves children
  • Mentally scanning one’s body to check if they are aroused by the obsessions
  • Thought neutralization: replacing every “bad” thought about kids with a “good” thought such as “I don’t harm kids”
  • Reading news stories about pedophiles to compare them to oneself and ensure that one is not a pedophile
  • Compulsively avoiding sex for fear that such thoughts and images will pop up during it
  • Staring at children to be assured that one is not aroused by them

Postpartum Obsessions

“Postpartum OCD” is a nickname for obsessions that arise after the birth of a child. The obsessional content centers around a parent harming their newborn, intentionally or unintentionally, or harm befalling the newborn. While such obsessions are common amongst new moms, dads experience them as well. As with all other obsessions, the person experiencing postpartum obsessions is terrified by what they’re experiencing and faces the added layer of worrying that their new child will be taken away if they seek help.

Contrary to someone experiencing postpartum psychosis who experiences a break from reality and may believe the hallucinations and delusions they are experiencing, the person with OCD is fully grounded in reality and recognizes that their thoughts are so opposite to anything they would ever carry out. While we hear about postpartum depression and psychosis, we need more information about and screening for postpartum OCD in new parents.

It’s important to note that the fear of something happening to one’s baby, like the baby dying of SIDS, is typically not as taboo as the fear that a parent will intentionally harm their baby but does fall under the category of postpartum obsessions.

Examples of obsessions:

  • Intrusive thoughts about harming one’s baby sexually or violently
    • “What if?” thoughts
      • “What if I molest my baby while changing its diaper?”
      • “What if I’m turned on while looking at my baby’s genitals?”
      • “What if I snap and throw my baby over the balcony?”
      • “What if my baby stops breathing in its sleep?
    • “Command” intrusive thoughts
      • “Kill the baby”
      • “Suffocate the baby”
  • Intrusive images or “mental movies” that pop into a person’s mind of them throwing their baby down the stairs, suffocating them, drowning them, etc.
  • Unwanted urges such as an urge to throw the baby down the stairs while walking, despite how much it scares the person with OCD

Examples of compulsions:

  • Staring at one’s baby to check and make sure that they are not aroused by them
  • Compulsively avoiding holding one’s baby, changing the baby’s diaper, bathing the baby, or carrying out any other triggering activity that involves the baby
  • Checking feelings while breastfeeding to ensure that one is not aroused by their baby
  • Refusing to be alone with one’s baby unless someone else is present
  • Compulsive carefulness around one’s baby; for example, only touching the baby’s back while picking them up to avoid touching the baby’s butt 

Incest Obsessions

Sometimes referred to as “Incest OCD,” this is an obsessional theme that involves intrusive and unwanted sexual thoughts, images, and urges about family members. The person may experience intrusive images of sexual acts with their mother or relentless thoughts such as “are you attracted to your dad?” As with most sexual obsessions, they can be deeply shameful and confusing for the person experiencing them and may lead to them compulsively avoiding their own family members because they’re so afraid of the obsessions. 

Examples of obsessions:

  • Unwanted sexual thoughts about one’s family member
  • A relentless fear that a person could be attracted to or be in love with a family member
  • Unwanted mental images of a sexual act with a family member
  • Fear that one will snap and act sexually toward a family member
  • Unwanted urges to kiss or touch a family member sexually

Examples of compulsions:

  • Internally checking feelings and arousal during sexual intimacy with one’s partner to make sure they are truly attracted to their partner and not a family member
  • Purposely bringing on a hypothetical feared scenario, such as a sexual act with one’s sibling, to check and gauge what their response is to that
  • Mental rumination about the obsessions to analyze them and seek absolute certainty that they are not attracted to a family member
  • Mentally reviewing past situations with a family member to check and ensure that one did not act in a sexual way toward them

Bestiality and Necrophilia Obsessions

OCD knows no bounds. It can offer up unwanted thoughts and images about sex with children and family members, as well as sex with animals and dead bodies. You heard that right! People with OCD may experience a relentless fear that they are attracted to or want to perform sexual acts with their dog, a corpse, a dead family member at a funeral, and more. If you’re experiencing this, you’re not alone.

Examples of obsessions:

  • Unwanted sexual thoughts about one’s dog, cat, or other animal
  • Unwanted “mental movies” that pop into the mind of a person carrying out a sexual act with a dead body
  • The fear that a person may snap and touch an animal inappropriately or that they have in the past (even a normal petting of an animal may be misconstrued to the person with OCD as an inappropriate touch)
  • A persistent fear that one is attracted to animals or dead bodies
  • Unwanted urges to touch an animal in an inappropriate manner

Examples of compulsions:

  • Compulsive avoidance of animals
  • Touching an animal (for example, on their back) and internally checking to ensure that they are not aroused by it
  • Compulsive online research about bestiality and necrophilia to make sure that they don’t relate to it
  • Avoidance of sexual intimacy for fear that such thoughts and images will pop up during

OCD can latch onto anything

As stated previously, this is not an exhaustive list of obsessions and compulsions. If you do not see your taboo obsession listed, it does not mean that it does not exist. Remember, OCD can latch onto anything. If you are experiencing this, you are not alone. 

There tends to be an added layer of shame that people with taboo obsessions carry that needs to be validated and worked through. When I say validated, I mean acknowledging its existence—not that the shame is valid. You are not choosing to live with OCD. You are not choosing to have such thoughts. And you are not a bad person or a monster because of them. You are actually a really lovely person who values things so much that OCD attacks them.

If you’re struggling with taboo intrusive thoughts, you don’t have to suffer in silence or be ashamed or afraid to seek help. You’re not alone – NOCD is here for you. At NOCD, you’ll find specialty-trained, non-judgmental OCD specialists who deeply understand all themes of OCD – including those that are more taboo, aggressive, sexual, or violent in nature – and can help you overcome your intrusive thoughts with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the gold standard treatment for OCD. I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment to start taking intrusive thoughts out of the driver’s seat.

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Network Clinical Training Director

I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Gary Vandalfsen

Gary Vandalfsen

Licensed Therapist, Psychologist

I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist for over twenty five years. My main area of focus is OCD with specialized training in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. I use ERP to treat people with all types of OCD themes, including aggressive, taboo, and a range of other unique types.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Director of Therapist Engagement

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

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Alegra Kastens, M.A., LMFT

Alegra Kastens is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and received her master’s degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University. She is the founder of The Center for OCD, Anxiety, and Eating Disorders, and practices in CA and NY, and specializes in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, eating disorders, body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Her passion for OCD treatment, education, and advocacy comes from her own personal experience with the disorder. She understands firsthand the relentlessness of OCD and how painfully it holds one’s life captive. She also understands that relief and recovery are real with a large dose of evidence-based treatment and an equally large dose of willingness.

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