Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

OCD themes that can be hard to talk about

By Stacy Quick, LPC

Aug 16, 20239 minute read

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is often thought of as a disorder that causes a hyper-focus on cleanliness or counting or organizing. While these are indeed common manifestations of OCD—and can cause major distress for the people who struggle with them—there are many, many others that are far less recognized. 

As a therapist trained in treating OCD, I know that some themes are especially difficult for people to share with others, as they may be highly taboo, shameful, disturbing, or embarrassing. Take, for example, Harm OCD (or themes involving violence), pedophilia-themed OCD (POCD), and other sexual fears, to name just a few. Not only are these themes difficult to open up about, they can also lead to denial. Anecdotal research shows that the more disturbing an intrusive thought is to someone with OCD, the more likely they are to focus on finding meaning behind it, and the harder they are likely to try to assure themselves that it isn’t true. 

When I work with therapy members who are suffering from especially frightening, taboo, or shameful themes of OCD, I can bring a unique perspective: throughout my life, I have suffered from some of these themes myself. Let me share with you what these thoughts and fears can feel like, from my own life and from the lives of the people I’ve worked with.

Do these experiences sound familiar? Learn how you can overcome them.

Here at NOCD, we know how overwhelming OCD symptoms can be—and how hard it is to open up about your experience. You’re not on your own, and you can talk to a specialist who has experience treating OCD.

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Fear of being a murderer

When I was young, maybe 9 or 10 years old, I was constantly afraid that I would poison someone I loved and they would die. Of course, I would go to great lengths to prevent this, but I was haunted day after day by the fear. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but I was terrified that I could

I remember being so sick to my stomach after watching just a few minutes of an episode of America’s Most Wanted. It was a story about someone who was missing and presumed dead. This show caused me so much agony. Intrusive thoughts flooded my mind. What if I was capable of doing that someday? I felt like I needed to know with 100% certainty that I would never be a murderer, and it felt impossible for me to talk to anyone about it. 

Later in my life, these fears turned darker. I’d hear about someone being attacked and held captive, and OCD planted intrusive thoughts: “How do you know it wasn’t you who did that to someone?” This was followed by self-reassurance: “You would never do that.” But it felt like OCD was always one step ahead: “What if you convince yourself you did something, confess to it, and people believe that you did actually do something terrible? What if these fears ruin your life?” Once again, it felt like sharing my experiences simply wasn’t an option; the risk was too great.

That is at the heart of this disorder. The mere possibility of being awful, doing something unforgivable, or not feeling “sure enough” about anything drives it. It feels impossible to share with others, and the fear only grows worse as you continue suffering in silence.

Fear of becoming violent

This one is a familiar one for many who suffer from OCD, and can present in many forms. Like many OCD themes, it tends to start with a “what if”: What if I “snap” and hurt someone? What if I come across as angry and violent to other people? What if I become so angry that I kill someone and go to prison? What if I can’t trust myself and lose control? 

People who experience these fears may also have specific fears in response to in-the-moment intrusive thoughts: swerving into oncoming traffic or pushing someone in front of a moving car or train, for instance. They may have unwanted images of stabbing people. They may worry about poisoning someone on purpose. The list goes on and on, because OCD is so creative in producing and exploiting fear. 

Fear of being a pedophile

I have worked with so many people over the years, of different ages, backgrounds, and genders, who have experienced intense fear that they may molest or sexually abuse a child. When you think about OCD, it makes perfect sense: OCD tends to anchor on worst-case scenarios, and harming children is often one of the worst things a person feels that they could do. 

When I was pregnant with my first child, I had the thought, “What if I somehow molested the baby in utero and didn’t know it?” I quickly reassured myself I would never do that. Again, OCD was a step ahead: “What if you convinced yourself that you did and you confess to others?” I was repulsed. What would people think of me? What would people think if they knew that I had even had that thought? Visions of being labeled “crazy” and being hospitalized flooded my waking moments. I had one of the worst panic attacks of my life following that thought. That’s the kind of fear that OCD can produce from the simple fact that I cared so much about the safety of my future child. And again, I felt like I had nowhere to turn—the stakes were simply too high.

Fear of bestiality

Another common and misunderstood form of OCD is the fear of sexually abusing animals. 

People who suffer from these intrusive thoughts often are tormented by images or thoughts of having done something sexually to their beloved pets, on purpose or inadvertently. They may worry that even thinking about it means that they want to have sex with an animal or are likely to. They sometimes even give away a beloved pet because their thoughts felt too heavy to bear, and the uncertainty about what they might do feels too great. People suffering from this tend to avoid their pets, fearing they may act on the intrusive thoughts that pop into their brain. 

While these behaviors may provide some short-term relief or reassurance, they do nothing to address an actual danger, so obsessions return again and again. In fact, by reinforcing the brain’s false belief that obsessions pose a real danger and need to be addressed, compulsions make them worse over time.

Fear of raping someone

The intrusive fear of raping someone or having somehow been inappropriate sexually with another adult is also very common in people with OCD, and these fears, too, can come in many different forms. Sometimes people wonder if they didn’t get proper consent from another person, or if the person was actually “of age”. They may wonder if while they had been drinking they could have done something sexually violent or inappropriate and they don’t remember. 

Compulsions come in many forms. They may repeatedly reach out to past partners and “make sure” that their involvement was indeed consensual. They may avoid sexual contact with anyone because these fears are so intense. They may even avoid going out and being around people altogether. 

How to move past the shame and secrecy of OCD 

Any specialist who treats OCD has heard similar stories from people they have worked with—experiences like these are actually pretty common for people with OCD. The problem is that many of these intrusive thoughts are not talked about because of how shameful, embarrassing, or horrible they feel. They may not fit neatly into the popular understanding of OCD, but intrusive thoughts about sex and sexuality, harm, violence, etc. are actually far more common than many think. 

The natural response to shame about OCD is to keep your experience a secret and hide. But secrets make it harder to get to the other side of OCD.  Here’s one thing to remember about OCD that can help you start to open up: OCD thoughts are known as ego-dystonic, meaning that they go against someone’s identity, values, and intentions. That’s why they can cause so much distress and anxiety: the topics that people with OCD get stuck on are often the very things that they find most disgusting and horrifying. It is as if OCD knows the things that you are appalled by and uses them to taunt you. 

Sadly, far too many people have no idea that what they are experiencing is a form of OCD, and many will suffer for years without a proper diagnosis and without life-changing treatment. They can spend years not knowing that they are not bad people, that they are not the monsters that OCD would have them believe they are, because it feels impossible to share what they’re going through. Even mental health professionals don’t always understand the many themes and facets of OCD. That is why it is so important for people experiencing these thoughts and fears to know that they are not alone, and that there are people who understand what they’re going through and can help.

How to get help for OCD 

If you are suffering from intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, and urges about taboo or disturbing themes, you could be suffering from OCD. You are not alone, and you are not your thoughts. Let a specialist help you regain your freedom and take back what OCD has tried to steal. 

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the gold standard treatment for OCD, with decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness. ERP helps people suffering from OCD to sit in the anxiety and discomfort of their thoughts, even those that are highly disturbing or embarrassing, and learn that they don’t need to do any compulsions to rid themselves of this perceived danger or feeling of shame. They can learn that although it may not be comfortable, they can actually tolerate the distress, and they can live with uncertainty about their intrusive fears. The key is working with a specialty-trained ERP therapist.

If you’re struggling with intrusive taboo thoughts and themes, NOCD can help. Our licensed therapists deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs – and that means the best care for our members. I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment and get started with OCD treatment.

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