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What is OCDOCD SubtypesFears or obsessions about writing

Fears or obsessions about writing

6 min read
Danielle Henderson LPC, PSYD

Possibly related to:

Perfectionism/Just Right OCD focusing on writing involves fears about not writing things perfectly or in a highly specific manner. There may be concerns about incompleteness, spelling, or grammatical errors, or even worries that something harmful was put in a written document without realizing it. 

There may be fears of being judged negatively (ex: being seen as incompetent, incapable, or unserious) or uncomfortable physical feelings associated with something not being right or perfect. Writing OCD can manifest digitally or with handwriting.

Perfectionistic tendencies are often considered to be ego-syntonic, meaning they are acceptable to one’s self, identity, and values, whereas other subtypes of OCD tend to be ego-dystonic (unacceptable to the self). This is an important distinction to make—often with perfectionism in OCD, people will express that it is a part of their personality or identity. With perfectionistic fears, we will have to reformulate our goals in therapy and learn to tolerate the possibility and uncertainty involved in things not being or feeling perfect—writing included.

In general, with perfectionism OCD, unwanted and intrusive thoughts are experienced around getting things perfect, and compulsions are performed to alleviate the distress and anxiety that comes with not getting things perfect. These fall outside the realm of what healthy perfectionism looks like, and since there is a lot of overlap, it can be tough to distinguish healthy vs unhealthy perfectionism. 

Writing OCD – Common obsessions

  • Fears of making mistakes or errors (spelling, grammar, etc)
  • Fears of accidentally putting something in document that could be misinterpreted or misunderstood
  • Worries or concerns about handwriting needing to look perfect or look a certain way
  • Feeling the urge to dot an i or cross a t perfectly
  • Intrusive feelings of imperfection, hesitation, or rhythmic disruption while writing or typing

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Common triggers for people with writing OCD include:

  • Writing, either typing or writing by hand
  • Sending text messages or emails
  • School work or work that involves writing
  • Having to write in front of people
  • Writing with time pressure or short deadlines

On a more broad basis, triggers for perfectionism and writing OCD include any situations where your work or performance are being evaluated, situations where you fear you may make a catastrophic mistake, or feelings that something terrible will happen if you aren’t able to perform to the perfectionistic standards OCD sets. These can appear across settings or contexts – meaning triggers can be present at work, school, and home. 

How can I tell if it’s OCD, and not just a part of who I am?

With perfectionistic fears, it can feel difficult to distinguish what’s OCD and what’s simply you striving to do well and do your best work. We can distinguish between the two when behaviors start becoming excessive, frustrating, stressful, or counterproductive, or begin interfering with other areas of your life. 

When writing starts taking up a substantial amount of time that falls outside of what seems reasonable, the idea of writing not being or feeling perfect causes distress, or this distress results in compulsions such as repetitive re-typing, it’s likely OCD. Other clues that it might be OCD include feeling stressed or anxious anytime writing comes up, feeling urges to re-check or redo your writing, or feeling physically uncomfortable when things do not align with unrealistic or impossible standards. 

One way to try to tease out if what you’re experiencing is perfectionism OCD is to ask yourself if you’re engaging in compulsive behaviors because you want to or because you feel like you have to. If you answered that you feel like you have to, if the compulsions are to prevent a bad outcome, or prevent judgment, then what you’re experiencing is likely OCD. 

Common compulsions

When people with Perfectionism/Just Right OCD focused on writing experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in a variety of mental or physical compulsions. Commonly, these include efforts to make their writing or written communication perfect, which can be frustrating and time consuming. 

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with writing OCD include:

  • Writing and rewriting by hand or when typing
  • Checking for mistakes or errors repeatedly
  • Asking others to review writing for mistakes, errors, etc.
  • Avoiding writing out of frustration or stress
  • Delaying sending, sharing, or posting written messages due to doubt

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How to treat fears about writing

Writing and perfectionism OCD fears can have a major impact on people who struggle with them, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can start to feel relief from your symptoms. 

ERP for Perfectionism/Just Right OCD focused on writing includes gradually exposing you to fears and triggers related to things being imperfect or not right, not doing compulsions to correct writing errors, and then tolerating that discomfort. Some examples could be intentionally making mistakes or errors and not correcting them, writing things imperfectly, or writing things in a manner that may elicit some unwanted judgment. 

The goal is to teach you that you can handle feeling distressed and do not need to do a compulsion to alleviate that distress. In time, you will learn to deal with feelings of discomfort when faced with doubts, uncertainties, or physical sensations connected with writing, and you’ll be able to engage in writing without excessive anxiety or stress, and focus on what you find important when writing, rather than obsessive perfection.

Your therapist will be your coach and guide you through facing your fears and leaning into uncertainty. ERP is the gold standard of care and can help you to live a life that isn’t ruled by perfectionism and OCD’s unattainable standards. 

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.

We look forward to working with you.

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