Doubting whether you have OCD is commonplace in the OCD community. OCD specialists are very familiar with how this particular doubt can stop people from starting treatment. They are experienced in helping you through this so you can work together to treat your OCD.
You listen to an OCD podcast and recognize so many of the issues the presenter is describing. You read a blog post about OCD and recognize the majority of the symptoms it lists. You’re sitting across from an OCD specialist who is diagnosing you with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
You’re nodding. You feel a sense of relief that you are not the thoughts you’re obsessing on. But soon, that relief goes out the window and you begin to harbor doubts that what you’re experiencing is OCD. Your focus turns to the possibility that all of this information can somehow be invalidated; that you don’t have OCD after all; that the unwanted thoughts you ruminate on are, in some way, significant.
If you feel this way, you are not alone. Doubt over whether you have OCD is familiar to many in the OCD community and well-known among those who treat it. That’s because doubt is at OCD’s very core. It’s why OCD is often called “the doubting disorder.”
Let’s touch upon why that is.
The Doubting Disorder
People with OCD give significance to intrusive thoughts, which can quickly become obsessions. These obsessions foster doubts; doubts about whether their thoughts are significant; doubts about who they really are. Doubt is the opposite of certainty. The quest to eradicate overwhelming doubt from their lives is what leads people to engage in repetitive physical or mental behaviors known as compulsions.
Do the compulsions give the certainty and feeling of control people with OCD are looking for? No. At least, not for long. Ironically, the continuation of the OCD cycle can lead to a loss of control over their lives.
And it’s all thanks to doubt. Doubt is the oxygen that OCD breathes.
That doubt could be over whether they would act on a recurring obsession about pushing a stranger onto the subway tracks; doubt about whether they really are sexually attracted to their pet turtle; and, yes, doubting whether they have OCD at all or whether they are the unwanted thoughts they’re obsessing on.
Endlessly doubting whether you have OCD is functionally no different from any other obsession. What’s different is that this compulsion could result in you not getting help, delaying treatment, or stopping treatment before you’ve learned to manage your OCD effectively. And that can have a big impact on how you live your life.
Misconceptions About OCD Can Fuel Doubt
Some of that doubt is exacerbated by how the disorder is portrayed in the media. That has led to OCD—a severe mental illness—being casually used to describe a personality quirk or wanting things organized a certain way.
“My first thought was this is not OCD because I don’t wash my hands and I am not organized,” says mental health advocate, author, and public speaker on OCD, Chrissie Hodges.
This is an example of how a common but inaccurate perception of OCD is helping to fuel doubt. It can actually delay people getting help for a severe mental health condition.
In her vlogs on the subject of doubting whether she had OCD or not, Chrissie speaks to the relief she felt after starting treatment and finally getting diagnosed. It was a moment that doubt had delayed for 12 years.
“I felt relief from the idea that at least this wasn’t me and that I wasn’t some horrible ridiculous person who couldn’t figure out whether things were real or not,” she says.
Obsessing Over Doubts
While the general population would take the opinion of an experienced medical professional at face value, OCD patients often doubt their diagnosis, obsessing on thoughts like:
What if I am one of the only people who checks every single box about OCD but doesn’t actually have it?
What if these intrusive thoughts are real?
Even after getting a diagnosis from a licensed professional, people delay starting OCD treatment. Via exposure and response prevention therapy treatment (ERP), they’ll learn how to sit with the uncertainty that their OCD creates. It’s only once they learn to accept that uncertainty that they are freed up from the vicious cycle of OCD.
Another common compulsion is for people to discount an OCD diagnosis as too easy and too simple to explain what was happening. Common themes include:
My brain is too complex for this to be a diagnosable mental disorder.
I’ve been thinking these things way too long; they’re too awful.
There’s no way I can simply get rid of these thoughts by labeling them as OCD.
This skepticism can lead to people ruminating on questions like:
Am I using OCD as an excuse?
Are these thoughts coming from me?
Am I a bad person?
OCD is a pernicious disorder, one that uses doubt to prevent the person tormented by it from getting the help they need. The doubt gobbles up precious time, prolonging and intensifying suffering.
Trusting the Process and Breaking the Cycle
People with ocd seek certainty which is why they do compulsions. But that certainty never comes. Certainty is the opposite of doubt. But that doesn’t mean that certainty is the antidote to it.
“We don’t need certainty,” says Chrissie in one of her vlogs on the subject. “We don’t even need certainty about whether we have OCD or not. The danger of seeking certainty is that it’s like chasing after something you can never catch.”
Instead of unattainable certainty, Chrissie encourages trust: trusting an OCD specialist, trusting their diagnosis, and trusting that ERP—the gold-standard treatment for OCD— can work for them. ERP teaches people how to accept the uncertainty behind OCD fears and how to break free of the OCD cycle.
How an OCD Specialist Can Teach You to Accept Uncertainty
Again, doubting whether you have OCD is commonplace in the OCD community. OCD specialists are very familiar with how this particular doubt can stop people from starting treatment. They are experienced in helping you through this so you can work together to treat your OCD.
By using Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, the gold-standard treatment for OCD, an OCD specialist will teach you how to stop spending time researching and questioning your doubts and instead start spending time living life.
They know that it’s a leap of faith to do this. But they also know that on the other side of the hard work and commitment is a path forward. They are here to get your life back from spending time performing compulsive behaviors.
We Are Here to Help You
If you doubt whether you have OCD, it’s important to know that an OCD specialist can properly assess whether you have the condition. Will they give you the certainty you are looking for? No. But by using ERP—the gold-standard treatment for OCD—they’ll teach you to live with the uncertainty that is core to the disorder. OCD therapists are very familiar with helping people who have doubts that they have OCD.
I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment. You’ll learn how a NOCD therapist can help address your doubts, teach you how to manage your compulsive behaviors, and get you back to living your life.