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What is OCDOCD SubtypesFears about becoming homeless

Fears about becoming homeless

6 min read
Stacy Quick, LPC

By Stacy Quick, LPC

Jan 30, 2023

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People with OCD may have persistent fears about experiencing homelessness, even if their housing is extremely secure. They may avoid settings that trigger their fears, maintain tight control over their finances, or seek reassurance about their ability to keep their home.

What is the fear of being homeless in OCD?

Fears about becoming homeless in OCD involve obsessions surrounding one’s housing security, or persistent worries about making a mistake or experiencing a disaster that leads a person, and possibly their family, to lose access to housing or shelter. 

Individuals experiencing these fears may not have any particular reason to fear losing their housing; in fact, they likely remain hyper-aware of their finances and resources in an attempt to ensure that they do not make any mistakes that could lead to them becoming homeless. They worry that they could one day experience homelessness, and this possibility feels unbearable. Even if it is highly unlikely that they will ever find themselves without housing, nevertheless they are extremely distressed by the possibility that they could. 

People with OCD focused on a fear of becoming homeless experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that cause them significant distress and anxiety, called obsessions. In an effort to rid themselves of these uncomfortable feelings, people with OCD often will perform compulsions, which are actions, either mental or physical, that serve to neutralize uncertainty or worry or prevent a feared outcome. 

People with this theme of OCD may frequently avoid triggers associated with the possibility of becoming homeless. They may be extremely cautious, particularly when it comes to home safety and security. They may seek frequent reassurance from others that they are doing things to ensure the safety of their home and try to ensure that their home is up to date with safety measures. They may try to anticipate every potential way in which they could end up without a home, and then attempt to neutralize these fears or prevent those outcomes. The content of their fears may vary to different degrees, also including fears surrounding work-related mistakes, losing their job, being seen in a negative light by co-workers, contracting chronic illnesses, or similar related fears.

Common obsessions experienced by people with OCD involving a fear of becoming homeless may include:

  • What if I make a mistake at work and am fired?
  • What if I cannot afford to pay my bills?
  • What if I am kicked out of my housing?
  • What if I forget to pay rent?
  • Did I leave the stove on? What if my house burns down?
  • What if I lose my home to a natural disaster?
  • What if my family freezes because we have no shelter?
  • What if my partner leaves because I can’t afford housing?
  • If I’m laid off from work, will I be able to afford my apartment?
  • What if a medical bill puts me in debt? Could I lose my housing?

Common triggers

People suffering from OCD with a focus on fears about becoming homeless may be triggered by any situations involving negative social, physical, or financial repercussions. They may be triggered when hearing about anyone who has lost a job or experienced a natural disaster. They may be particularly triggered by encountering others experiencing homelessness, afraid that they could end up in the same circumstance. They may also be triggered by natural disasters such as storms, tornados, hurricanes, or fires.

Triggers for people with Responsibility OCD with a focus on the fear of becoming homeless may include:

  • Going through financial difficulty
  • Changing jobs or losing employment
  • Medical emergencies
  • Encountering people experiencing homelessness
  • Hearing about natural disasters such as house fires, hurricanes, tornados, and floods
  • Hearing about others who have lost employment or housing 

How can I tell if I’m experiencing OCD involving a fear of becoming homeless and not reasonable or productive worries?

This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.

The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; 3) compulsions performed to relieve the distress and anxiety brought on by the intrusive thoughts, images or urges or prevent a feared outcome. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to feel at ease or secure immediately and with certainty, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.

Intrusive thoughts and worries can and do happen to everyone. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily, or trust in their ability to control their own outcomes. However, people with OCD struggle to do this. They often believe that even the slightest uncertainty—the lingering “what if?”—cannot be tolerated, and must instead be addressed immediately. 

Common compulsions

When people with OCD centered around a fear of becoming homeless experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may attempt to neutralize their anxiety or prevent unwanted outcomes by engaging in compulsions

Compulsions are behaviors or mental acts that one does to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts or prevent a feared outcome. They may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions from returning again and again. Performing compulsions actually inadvertently makes obsessions and fears worse over time, reinforcing the false beliefs that obsessions pose an actual threat or danger and that anxiety cannot be accepted. 

Compulsions performed by people with fears of becoming homeless may include:

  • Seeking reassurance from others about their job or housing security
  • Self-reassurance about their job or housing security
  • Rumination on what would happen if they lost housing
  • Excessive tracking of finances
  • Excessive safety and natural disaster planning
  • Repetitive checking to ensure safety in the home (fire hazards, etc).
  • Avoiding people experiencing homelessness in fear of becoming overwhelmed with anxiety
  • Repeatedly searching online to find every possible recourse for financial hardship

How to overcome the fear of becoming homeless

Experiencing OCD focused on the fear of becoming homeless can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can gain freedom from the OCD cycle. 

ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average. With ERP, you will be able to teach your brain that you are able to handle uncomfortable feelings like uncertainty, and your distress will be reduced long-term.

In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger intrusive thoughts and anxiety. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will learn how to resist the urge to respond to feelings of discomfort and anxiety with compulsions. By doing this over time, you will learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety, experience decreased anxiety and distress in response to OCD triggers, and feel more confident in your ability to sit with uncertainty and discomfort. 

Examples of possible exposures done to treat Responsibility OCD with a focus on the fear of becoming homeless may include: 

  • Volunteering at homeless shelters
  • Paying a bill the day it is due, rather than earlier
  • Writing and reading imaginal scripts about the worst case scenario
  • Watching videos about people who have lost their homes due to natural disasters

If you’re struggling with OCD and are interested in learning about ERP, you can schedule a free call with the NOCD Care Team to find out how treatment can help you. All of our therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training and ongoing guidance from our clinical leadership team. Many of them have dealt with OCD themselves and understand how crucial ERP therapy is.

Learn more about ERP