Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fear of someone reading your mind

Apr 9, 20236 minute read

Reviewed byPatrick McGrath, PhD

It’s not uncommon for people to be genuinely fearful that another person can hear their thoughts or know what they’re thinking. Based on the types of thoughts one is having, this may fall under a few different subtypes of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), such as Harm OCD, Scrupulosity OCD, or OCD themes related to taboo and sexual fears.

Is thinking people can read my thoughts OCD?

Mind reading themes in OCD involve fears about someone else being able to hear one’s thoughts, know what one is thinking, and/or hearing intrusive thoughts. Someone experiencing this type of fear may be worried that someone else will be able to tell what is on their mind, which might lead that person to judge them or cause consequences based on their thoughts. Depending on the types of thoughts the person is having, this fear can fall under many subtypes of OCD. 

If someone is having intrusive thoughts about harming someone else, plus the fear that someone can read their mind, this would fall under the subtype of Harm OCD. The person is fearful not only of their intrusive thoughts of harm, but also that someone might be able to read their thoughts. 

If someone is having intrusive thoughts about sex along with the fear that someone can read their mind, this would align with OCD themes related to taboo sexual fears. The person may find someone they saw attractive and have a sexual thought about them. They may then become anxious about the possibility that this person is somehow aware of the sexual thoughts they just had. 

If someone is having intrusive thoughts about God or religion, along with the fear that someone can read their mind, this would fall under the subtype of Scrupulosity OCD. For example, a person could be in church when a curse word or “blasphemous” thought enters their mind. They may become anxious that someone around them, such as a religious leader, could tell that they had an impure or sinful thought. 

Common obsessions 

  • Did that person hear my thoughts?
  • What if my spouse/friend/co-worker can read my mind?
  • What if my intrusive thoughts can be heard by other people?
  • What if someone judges me because they know my thoughts?
  • What would my spouse/friend/coworker think if they read my mind and knew my intrusive thoughts? 
  • Can that person hear my thoughts? 
  • Can people see my intrusive thoughts in my facial expression?

Common triggers

People with OCD focused on mind reading fears may be triggered by any situations involving unwanted, intrusive, or embarrassing thoughts while around other people. They may be anywhere while in the company of others and experience an intrusive thought about something that produces anxiety or shame, then become more anxious or fearful worrying that the people that are around them might be aware of the intrusive thought they just had. 

Triggers for people with mind reading fears in OCD include:

  • Being in social situations while having an intrusive thought
  • Being in the middle of a conversation with someone and having an intrusive thought
  • Someone making eye contact with them following an intrusive thought 
  • A person making a facial expression to them following an intrusive thought
  • Feeling attracted to someone while in their company
  • Having angry or hurtful thoughts around loved ones

How can I tell if it’s OCD with a fear of mind reading, and not anxiety, delusional thinking, schizophrenia, or something else?

People with OCD are most likely fearful of the uncertainty they feel around their obsessions: “What if that person read my thoughts?” They do not necessarily believe it is actually happening but become fearful at the slightest prospect that someone could know their thoughts. 

Often, people with OCD have a level of insight, realizing that their fears aren’t rational. Nonetheless, the slightest shred of uncertainty creates such anxiety that they are compelled to engage in safety behaviors, or compulsions, in an attempt to relieve their fear or anxiety brought on by the thought that someone could read their mind. 

To help determine if you’re struggling with OCD, it’s important to understand the symptoms of OCD. OCD is characterized by a cycle of obsessions—persistent, intrusive, unwanted thoughts, images, or urges—anxiety and distress caused by obsessions, and compulsions—actions performed in response to obsessions in an attempt to reduce distress and anxiety or prevent a feared outcome. Compulsions often provide temporary relief from fear and anxiety; however, they lead to significantly increased fear and anxiety in the long run. Engaging in compulsions strengthens the obsessions and causes the OCD sufferer to become more trapped in the vicious cycle of OCD and anxiety. 

When people with OCD experience intrusive thoughts about others reading their mind, they may engage in behaviors known as compulsions in an attempt to alleviate their discomfort or eliminate uncertainty and doubt. 

Common compulsions

Compulsions can be mental or behavioral actions, and they are generally performed when someone with OCD experiences a trigger, intrusive thoughts, or fears. One may feel that they “have to” do something, often something highly specific, in order to feel better or prevent something bad from happening. 

Common compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with fears of mind reading in OCD include:

  • Seeking reassurance that nobody else heard their thoughts
  • Asking people around them if they heard their thoughts
  • Ruminating or overthinking on their thoughts and others’ responses
  • Mentally reviewing past conversations 
  • Checking and rechecking someone’s facial expression to ascertain whether they heard their thoughts 
  • Saying a phrase over and over again such as “no” 
  • Trying to replace a bad thought with a good thought
  • Saying things that oppose their intrusive thoughts out loud

How overcome fear of someone reading your mind

OCD with a focus on fear of someone reading your mind can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained OCD therapist, you can find relief from these fears and be able to enjoy more comfortable social interactions. 

The goal of ERP is for one to reduce their reliance on compulsions and learn to live with uncertainty. ERP is the leading evidence-based treatment for OCD, is highly effective at treating OCD, and has been empirically validated by decades of clinical research. By doing ERP over time, most individuals experience a decrease in OCD symptoms, reduced anxiety and distress, and improved confidence in their ability to confront their fears and tolerate anxiety. 

ERP therapy works by progressing through a series of exercises called exposures, in which a person purposely triggers their OCD fears and anxiety for an opportunity to resist engaging in compulsions as a result. 

Examples of possible exposures done to treat a fear of mind reading include: 

  • Having a conversation with someone without seeking reassurance about one’s intrusive thoughts
  • Purposely thinking a “bad” thought while talking with someone
  • Saying “they may or may not be able to read my mind” and sitting with the uncertainty
  • Talking to someone without internally reassuring yourself that they can’t read your thoughts
  • Purposely thinking “bad” thoughts while around loved ones, in public, or in sensitive situations like a church service

If you’re struggling with OCD,As an OCD specialist, I’ve used ERP to help many people regain their lives from OCD. I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment 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.

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