Today, I'd like to clarify a part of OCD that for many people will be unfamiliar. One of the worst parts about OCD is the phenomena of intrusive thoughts.
Dr. Seif, a clinical psychologist and anxiety treatment specialist, defines intrusive thoughts as "frightening thoughts about what might happen to
you or someone you care about, or what you might do to yourself or
another person. They seem to come from outside of your control, and
their content feels alien and threatening."(1) I have noticed that my intrusive thoughts can extend to animals as well (who I generally consider as people too!)
Now, everyone has intrusive thoughts sometimes, the problem is when they become totally consuming. Dr. Hannah Reese for Psychology Today notes that, "When someone becomes very distressed by their intrusive thoughts, goes
to great lengths to get rid of them, and prevent them from occurring,
this can become a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
People with this 'bad thoughts' form of OCD often avoid things that
could trigger these thoughts or being in situations where they might be
at risk for acting on a thought."(2)
An example of intrusive thoughts and their repercussions is how my fear of plagiarism has stopped me from writing in the past. I have the "bad thought" that I might be a cheater, and the anxiety surrounding the thought is so great that I have often avoided writing simply to avoid the thought.
These thoughts can be much more sinister than fears of cheating, and can also include fears of violence and other disturbing deviance. When I was younger, for example, I was convinced when I passed knives in the kitchen that I might stab myself. I didn't really want to do it, I was just so scared that I might want to do it that I could not tell the difference between my real thoughts and the OCD thoughts.
One of the worst parts about the anxiety surrounding intrusive thought OCD is that it can blur your memory. Sometimes, rather than just worry that you might do something bad, you worry that you already have. You can question the past, every action and every motive that surrounds the worry. This can be one of the most debilitating parts of the disorder.
I really consider intrusive thoughts to be the ultimate tragedy of OCD. Intrusive thoughts can make you feel like a terrible person. When you can't stop thinking about horrible things, it can make you feel like that is what you want to be thinking about. I hope that as more information comes to light on this phenomena, more people will realize that this is not the case. These thoughts cause anxiety and suffering rather than joy or pleasure.
If you or someone that you know is dealing with intrusive thought issues, I highly recommend going to see a therapist to help work through the problem. Know that you are not alone! There is no reason to continue suffering in silence.