Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD
What is OCDOCD SubtypesWhat if I’m really a child predator?

What if I’m really a child predator?

5 min read
Tracie Ibrahim, LMFT, CST

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It may be OCD

If you’re experiencing recurrent intrusive thoughts involving a worry or fear that you could be a child predator, that may be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is important to remember that everyone has intrusive and disturbing thoughts, images, urges and feelings, even people without OCD. The difference is that people with OCD feel that they are unable to let go of these unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts, images, oranges, and feelings, and they become obsessions that can lead to feelings of distress, fear, shame and confusion. 

Thinking about possibly being a child predator can be terrifying and lead to rumination in which someone thinks more and more about their fear, trying to “test” themselves in various ways to”figure out” what worries are “real” and what aren’t. These fears can feel so real that people with OCD may start to distance themselves from their loved ones, avoid children and teens at all costs, make excuses why they cannot come to gatherings where there may be children present, or even change jobs in order to distance themselves from children. Often people will search online for answers, trying to find certainty about their fears. 

These ruminations, tests, internet searches, and avoidant behaviors are called “compulsions.” People with OCD do compulsions in an attempt to find relief from their fears, without realizing that they actually make OCD symptoms (their distress, fear, and anxiety) worse and worse over time. Compulsions are also called “safety behaviors”—they give people with OCD a false sense of security, but the feeling only lasts briefly before the cycle of obsessions and compulsions returns even stronger. 

These fears about the possibility of being a child predator may be involved in various subtypes of OCD, including Pedophilic OCD, Harm OCD, Real Event OCD, and “Pure O” OCD. Here’s what that means: 

Pedophilic OCD involves intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges focused on the possibility of interacting with someone in a sexual way who is not an adult. It can contain fears about being attracted to people who are kids/teens, fear of molesting minors in the future or by accident, and similar fears.

Harm OCD involves intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges focused on the possibility of causing harm to someone in any way. Harm OCD may focus on fears of being a murder, becoming sadistic, accidentally causing harm or death to someone, and similar fears.

Real Event OCD involves intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges focused on things that really did or did not happen, and fears that one cannot trust their memory. Sometimes it involves an excessive focus on one real-life event or memory that becomes obsessive and overwhelming, consuming one’s thoughts and causing intense distress and anxiety. 

“Pure-O” OCD involves intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges experienced mostly or entirely as mental obsessions and compulsions. Rumination, or compulsively trying to solve something that is bothering you, can play a central role in this subtype.

OCD is treated the same way no matter the subtype(s) involved. Subtypes are simply used to describe symptoms and behaviors so that they can be addressed in treatment.

What if I’m a bad person?

Intrusive thoughts caused by OCD are ego dystonic, meaning that they do not align with the behaviors, actions, goals, and values of one’s ideal self-image. They cause confusion and doubt about why one is experiencing them, often involving things they do not want to happen and do not agree with morally or ethically.

OCD is known to create intense doubt about the intrusive thoughts and fears that people experience. Compulsions, including rumination, searching online, asking other people questions for reassurance are some of the ways people with OCD try to “solve” the problem and figure out whether their thoughts and fears are “real” or not. People with OCD are not bad people because of their thoughts, no matter what OCD might cause them to believe. 

How to treat fears about being a child predator

If fears about the possibility of being a child predator are causing you to suffer, you can get better with the right treatment. Any theme or fear in OCD is treated the same way. The gold-standard, evidence-based approach to treating OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. In ERP, the goal is for you and your therapist to carefully, gradually expose you to the thoughts and situations that cause you anxiety, as you continually resist the urge to engage in compulsions for short-term relief. Eventually, you are able to train your brain not to respond with as much anxiety when faced with these intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges, and instead accept uncertainty and sit with feelings of anxiety. OCD may be chronic, but it is highly manageable, and you can live a wonderful life with the OCD management tools developed in ERP therapy.

Examples of possible exposures done to treat OCD fears include:

  • Saying triggering words out loud with your therapist
  • Writing words and sentences that cause anxiety or distress
  • Spending some time intentionally thinking about distressing thoughts, visualizing the parts that cause fear and discomfort (imaginal exposure)
  • Looking at pictures and reading articles online about children or about child predators
  • Planning to spend some time with a child or teen you may have been avoiding

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.