The many ways OCD can cause feelings of disgust
Most people probably encounter things that trigger disgust nearly every day. Uncomfortable feelings are a part of everyone’s life, and some people may barely even notice when they arise. But for many with OCD, feelings of disgust feel impossible to tolerate, and even the slightest sensation can seem overwhelming. If there is even a minuscule possibility that something is dangerous, dirty, or disgusting, then OCD insists that it must be avoided at all costs.
For example, if you bump your leg against a toilet seat, the possibility that it will cause serious contamination may be next to nothing. However, for people struggling with Contamination themes in OCD, even that minuscule possibility can feel painfully real. You don’t have to see any contaminants. You don’t even need to feel that anything is contaminated. The mere chance of contamination might trigger a strong reaction.
The emotion of disgust can be extremely difficult to recognize, yet it is often highly prevalent in people with OCD. Let’s examine some of the ways that feelings of disgust are central to people’s OCD experience.
Although the specific things that trigger disgust differ from person to person, their response to these objects or situations is often similar: avoidance. And if these triggers cannot be avoided, people may adhere to a certain set of rules or compulsions in an attempt to manage the feelings of disgust that arise.
Some people may even report feeling disgust, but cannot really pinpoint its source. They might have a very general sensation of being unclean—sometimes involving magical thinking, where they feel mentally or spiritually unclean, triggering very real feelings of disgust. The underlying belief is that they cannot tolerate the feelings. Although no one likes to feel uncomfortable, people who suffer from OCD go to great lengths to avoid discomfort at all costs. Sometimes, this can sometimes lead to something known as anticipatory anxiety, or anxiety about having anxiety, causing people to feel disgusted by their own worries about contamination or disgust.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
These feelings may not only exist in relation to physical items or situations, but can often be linked to emotional intrusive thoughts as well, as in the cases of emotional contamination. Many people who have OCD display something referred to as thought-action fusion, or the belief that if they think something, it is the same as doing it. As a result, when someone experiences intrusive thoughts that they find distressing or disgusting, they can become disgusted by themselves, as well.
Disgust tied to specific items
Someone I worked with once shared that their feelings of disgust kept them from wearing several pieces of clothing for years. They eventually shared with me that the clothes they wore when they had certain especially disturbing intrusive thoughts felt unclean or contaminated, no matter how many times they washed them or tried to move on from their feelings. This was a perfect example of how disgust can latch itself onto not only physical contaminants but also thoughts that are shrouded with shame.
Another person I worked with would not wear clothes that they wore to the funeral of a loved one. The idea of transferring death, although they knew was illogical, felt like too great a risk to take. I have also worked with many people who avoided wearing clothes with certain colors for years because they have intense feelings that the colors are “bad”—often, they cannot put into words why certain colors carry that connotation, but their disgust feels too powerful to tolerate. This can go on for years and years before ever really being addressed, and most are unaware that their magical thinking and avoidance are even symptoms of OCD.
You can learn to tolerate feelings of disgust
If OCD causes you to feel intrusive disgust in response to certain stimuli, situations, or even your own thoughts, you don’t have to live by its rules. You can learn to enjoy your life without avoiding discomfort at every opportunity. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a specialty-trained therapist, you can learn to tolerate feelings of disgust, and maybe even feel decreased disgust in response to triggering situations.
ERP teaches people with OCD that their thoughts, feelings, and urges do not have to have meaning, and helps them learn to sit in anxiety and discomfort without relying on compulsions that only reinforce their fear and disgust. You can learn that although it may not be comfortable, you can actually tolerate things that trigger distress or disgust. Eventually, the feelings do pass, but it takes consistent practice. Retraining your brain takes time, commitment, and perseverance.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
If you’re struggling with OCD, 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. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.
Stacy Quick LPC, is a therapist at NOCD, specializing in the treatment of OCD. She has been working in the mental health field for nearly 20 years. Her goal is to help members achieve skills to help them live a more fulfilling life without letting OCD be in control. Ms. Quick uses ERP and her lived experiences to help her members understand it is possible to live a life in recovery. She is a mother of 3 children, 2 of whom are also diagnosed with OCD. Ms. Quick is also a writer and content creator. Learn more about Stacy Quick on Instagram: @stacyquick.undone
NOCD Therapists specialize in treating OCDView all therapists
Licensed Therapist, MA
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.
Licensed Therapist, LCMHC
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.
Licensed Therapy, LMHC
I've been a licensed counselor since 2013, having run my private practice with a steady influx of OCD cases for several years. Out of all the approaches to OCD treatment that I've used, I find Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy to be the most effective. ERP goes beyond other methods and tackles the problem head-on. By using ERP in our sessions, you can look forward to better days ahead.