Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD
What is OCDOCD SubtypesFears about burns

Fears about burns

6 min read
Joanna Chille, LMHC, NCC

Possibly related to:

Burn OCD is categorized by obsessions surrounding the idea of burning oneself or someone else. This fear falls under the larger subtype of Harm OCD, which includes any fears about harming oneself or someone else.

Burn related OCD involves fears about getting physically burned by fire or chemicals, or playing a role in someone else being burned. People who endure these kinds of obsessions may struggle with anxiety in response to intrusive thoughts or images about burning themselves or someone else, along with guilt for experiencing these kinds of obsessions or potentially being responsible for them if they were to come true. 

It’s important to remember that OCD attacks our core values. Obsessions are ego-dystonic in nature, meaning they do not align with our wants/desires or what we intend to think about. People with Burn OCD do not want to burn themselves or someone else; rather, they experience intense fear about the idea of burning themselves or another person. 

In response to this fear, individuals may engage in compulsions in order to get rid of anxiety or prevent a feared outcome. These compulsions can be mental, such as ruminating over and over in their minds about how to prevent themselves from being burned or burning someone else, or physical, such as avoiding matches, lighters, and stoves, or avoiding some people altogether.

When people with burn themes in Harm OCD engage in these compulsions, they make OCD worse over time, reinforcing the belief that their obsessions posed a real danger that needed to be dealt with.

Fear of being burned – Common obsessions

  • What if I leave my car running while filling my gas tank and cause a gas fire resulting in burns to myself/everyone else here?
  • I could mistakenly burn myself/this person if I use a lighter.
  • I might burn myself if I use the stove to cook.
  • What if I get angry and set something on fire?
  • If I go to this campfire/cookout, I could end up burning myself.
  • What if I am having these thoughts because I want to burn myself or someone else?
  • I could lose control and end up burning myself.
  • I can’t remember if I unplugged the charger. What if someone else does and they get burnt because of me?
  • I could forget to apply sunscreen or miss an area on my body and endure a sunburn.
  • Is this scar on my hand from a time I burnt myself and don’t remember it?

Common triggers

People with Burn OCD may be triggered by situations involving fires, chemicals, electricity, flammable objects, or situations where a burn mark or scar may present itself.

Triggers for people with burn related OCD fears include:

  • Matches and lighters
  • Candles
  • Using stoves, ovens, and barbeques 
  • Campfires
  • Electrical-powered objects, outlets, and extension cords
  • Chemicals
  • Sun exposure 
  • Smoking or being around smoke
  • Operating or viewing fireworks
  • Content about burns or fires
  • Images of burns of fires
  • Intrusive thoughts or images of burns or fires
  • Leaving the house for fear of leaving the environment prone to fire and burns
  • Going to bed for fear of fire/burns happening overnight

How can I tell if it’s OCD, and not cautiousness regarding burn/fire safety?

Practicing fire safety and burn prevention are good practices to employ in any situation where a fire or burn is a reasonable threat. In assessing what is typical and appropriate versus obsessive and symptomatic of OCD, we would want to ask ourselves the question, “Is my fear or my behavior in response to this fear reasonable to the threat posed in this situation?” 

If you are regularly overestimating the threat of a burn occurring, it is fair to say OCD may be at play. If you acknowledge you are acting with an extreme abundance of caution or compulsively acting simply to respond to your own feelings of anxiety, that is a sign that you may be suffering from OCD.

Common compulsions

When people with Burn OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may feel the urge to complete certain mental or physical behaviors that provide temporary relief from the distressing obsessions. These behaviors are typically rigid, repetitive, and done with the intention of seeking certainty or safety from a feared outcome produced by an intrusive thought or image.

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with OCD fear of being burned include:

  • Avoiding fires (fireplaces, campfires)
  • Avoiding objects that could overheat or cause a fire (stove tops, ovens, barbeques, lighters, matches)
  • Avoiding news about fires or burn injuries
  • Applying burn creams or topical ointments to any marks on their body
  • Checking outlets, stove burners, and power controls for electric-powered objects
  • Excessively checking or changing smoke detector batteries
  • Not using chemicals or combustible items
  • Refusing to independently pump gas into their car
  • Ruminating about what could cause a burn
  • Ruminating on past memories where they may have caused a burn
  • Repeatedly applying sunscreen before appropriately necessary
  • Seeking reassurance from others that marks on skin don’t look like a burn
  • Researching for local burn victims to seek reassurance they didn’t cause someone else to suffer burns

How to treat fear of being burned

OCD fear being burned can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained therapist, individuals struggling with symptoms of Burn OCD can find relief from their symptoms. 

In ERP therapy, you can expect to be guided through a treatment plan focusing on facing your fears in a safe, controlled setting. A therapist will help you to identify your intrusive thoughts and the triggers that cause those thoughts or images to be present, then guide you in systematically confronting those situations while refraining from engaging in compulsions.

Harm OCD themes like Burn OCD cause pervasive doubt about what could happen in situations where a burn could occur. The therapist will help you accept uncertainty and build tolerance to the distress caused by the fear of enduring or causing burns in everyday situations.. The therapist will help you accept uncertainty and build tolerance to the distress caused by the fear of enduring or causing burns in everyday situations.
  • Seeing pictures of burn victims
  • Reading articles about local fires or burn injuries
  • Utilizing the stove, oven, or barbeque
  • Filling your car’s gas tank
  • Looking at marks or scars on your body that may or may not be a burn

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

We look forward to working with you.

NOCD Therapists specialize in treating OCD

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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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