Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

What if I hurt kids in the past?

By Kristen Jones, LCSW

Oct 21, 20223 minute read

Reviewed byPatrick Carey

It may be OCD

If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts about the idea that you may have harmed kids in the past, it may be a sign that you have Harm OCD. 

You might be experiencing unwanted thoughts about past interactions with a child/children that make you question if you could have somehow caused harm, or wonder if perhaps you acted inappropriately in some way that may have affected them negatively physically, emotionally, or mentally. You might find yourself reviewing past interactions to try to determine if you may have crossed a line or boundary. You might find yourself having more doubts and even false memories of events the more you research and review past interactions. You find yourself catastrophizing about the ways you may have affected their future, such as how you may have imprinted them negatively, possibly caused them to suffer from ongoing trauma, or affected their ability to function in their lives. 

You might also have fears related to consequences: if indeed you caused harm, might they eventually report you to the authorities? Will you be investigated for child abuse? How might that destroy your life? But you also may experience thoughts that you deserve to be punished because you really are a bad or abusive person. The more you review and research, more distorted memories might arise, leading to more compulsions and more distress, all interfering with your ability to function in healthy ways.  

What if I’m a bad person?

Intrusive thoughts caused by OCD are ego dystonic, meaning that you know from a rational perspective that you have never caused harm or abused a child in the past, and you don’t believe you’ve ever engaged in inappropriate activity with a child, yet the intrusive thoughts continue causing doubt, making you question yourself, and making you think you just don’t remember clearly. 

OCD urges you to review further, just to make sure, which in turn triggers even stronger urges to review further, to determine with certainty that your fears aren’t true. However, as you review and search for answers, it never seems to satisfy the doubt, which only grows the more you search. 

You sometimes stop and ask yourself, “how can these thoughts feel so intense when I know they’re not true?” but the nagging doubt continues to send you into a spiral of continued unwanted thoughts, doubts, and searching. You might even try to accept the idea of actually being a bad and abusive person, as at times this seems easier than having doubts and relentlessly searching for answers. However, the fear of this likely continues to persist, as that is not the person you want to be, so you continue to look for certainty.
If fears about having harmed a child in the past are causing you to suffer, you can get better. By identifying your thoughts and fears, then allowing them to be there, rather than pushing them away or seeking evidence to disprove them, you will find that your level of distress will likely decrease. You are able to retrain your brain to tolerate uncertainty about these intrusive thoughts, just the way you do in other aspects of your memory.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is the gold standard treatment for OCD. ERP teaches these skills and coaches people on how to allow distress/anxiety to be present without engaging in safety-seeking or compulsive behaviors. As a result, the intensity of your distress will decrease and allow you to live your life with confidence, better able to tolerate uncertainty and distress. 

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.

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