If you are someone who experiences OCD, then it is likely that you have experienced thoughts from your own mind that disturb, distress, and shock you. At some point in your OCD journey, you may have asked yourself “are my OCD thoughts the truth?” For some of you, this might be the first time you have asked yourself that question. This is not a fun place to be, but I am here to tell you the answer to your question might be simpler than you think.
What is OCD?
OCD is a “doubting disorder”. It causes individuals to doubt their thoughts, actions, or beliefs. On top of doubting oneself, OCD causes individuals to have intrusive thoughts that are often distressing and unwanted. Intrusive thoughts can cause physical, mental, avoidance, and/or reassurance-seeking compulsions.
OCD is a genetic condition that often occurs intergenerationally and goes undiagnosed for many years after the symptoms begin. OCD can occur in several different themes ranging from checking, harm, sexuality, relationships, and many more. OCD often comes with many stereotypes and taboo themes that individuals are hesitant to discuss due to fear of judgment.
OCD is extremely distressing and makes you question yourself and your reality. Imagine an individual who has intrusive thoughts about harming others and doesn’t know what OCD is. This gap in information can cause an individual to question their true nature.
For example; Sally feels like she is a good person but she has been having intrusive thoughts about harming her family members. Sally has begun isolating herself for fear that she is truly evil. Sally then spends much of her time researching online about how to know if she is a bad person or dangerous. Sally eventually gets diagnosed with OCD but still worries about her violent thoughts and if perhaps they are actually true.
Why OCD thoughts feel real
Everyone has intrusive thoughts and our thoughts can be quite random and meaningless. The difference between Sally and someone who doesn’t have OCD is the level of engagement with the intrusive thought(s).
Here is an example of an intrusive thought while Sally cooks with her aunt: “what if I stab my aunt accidentally right now”. An individual without OCD may move on quite quickly from this random thought. We can imagine that they just “shake it off”. An individual with OCD may feel alarmed by the thought and question themselves. The individual with OCD may be more likely to avoid being around knives or eventually being around others when sharp objects are around. An individual with OCD is more likely to naturally engage with intrusive thoughts compared to an individual without OCD. Our own engagement with the random thought(s) makes the thought feel more and more real.
So how do I know if the thoughts are real or not? Well, if they were real and you wanted to harm yourself or others, for example, you may feel pleasure from the thought of it. Most people with OCD are distressed or disturbed by their intrusive thoughts. This means that the individual’s values actually do not align with the thoughts and this is why the individual goes through so many efforts to avoid having the thoughts again. However, this level of engagement with the intrusive thoughts actually keeps the thoughts active and frequent.
For individuals with OCD, their instinct is to block out or stop the thoughts from occurring again. We now know that individuals without OCD don’t engage in this behavior and they actually disregard the thought as false. This means that if you have OCD thoughts then the best approach is to treat them like they are what they are: random, meaningless thoughts.
Our thoughts are random and don't have much meaning to them. Sometimes our thoughts are disturbing and it can be difficult to remember that we get to choose what thoughts we pay attention to.