Discover 4 helpful signs to identify OCD thoughts

Often when treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I am asked the question “how do I know what are real thoughts, versus my OCD thoughts?” (the million dollar question!) I feel that I tend to disappoint clients when I tell them that we can never know for certain… However, I do encourage my clients to look out for these 4 helpful tell-tale signs:

1. Urgency: Do you feel the need to do something straight away (a compulsion), or could you wait 30 min before reacting? If your answer is the latter, that doesn’t sound like OCD because OCD is impatient and he doesn’t like to wait.

2. Lack of choice & rigid rules?: OCD is not flexible (its his way or the highway!). OCD makes you feel like you NEED to do compulsions regardless if you want to or not. OCD gets really bossy if you don’t do as he says!

3. High stakes: OCD will make you feel like something bad will happen if you don’t…… (fill in the blank). This causes you much distress as you may feel responsible for someone getting hurt etc.

4. Need for certainty: OCD will always make you seek certainty (a never ending task as it is IMPOSSIBLE). You will never feel satisfied trying to achieve certainty.

How common are intrusive thoughts? well research suggests that the average person has about 4,000 – 6,200 distinct thoughts in a 16 hour day. Therefore, it is possible that nearly everyone experiences fleeting thoughts or images from time to time.

For most people intrusive thoughts are quickly forgotten and create minimal discomfort. Yet those who experience obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can find intrusive thoughts particularly distressing, furthermore these thoughts can be more frequent and cant stick around for much longer. 

People with OCD can have intrusive thoughts that are violent or aggressive, blasphemous, or sexual in nature. Sadly, OCD convinces you that you have to do certain compulsions or avoid certain situations to prevent the intrusive thoughts from coming true – here lies the never ending OCD loop of obsessions and compulsions (the problematic behaviour that maintains difficulties with OCD).

If you experience OCD you may start to think you are responsible for preventing bad things from happening to either yourself or others. You may have magical style thinking and/or superstitions. You may also place over importance on your thoughts, perhaps believing you are a bad person or a dangerous person. OCD thoughts can make you strive for certainty or spend lengthy periods of time making sure things are just right.

If after reading this, you think you may be struggling with intrusive thoughts, the good news is- you don’t have to! Engaging with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you to overcome your difficulties with OCD by identifying the intrusive thoughts that you have, learn how to challenge unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more helpful ones. CBT can help you to understand that having a thought does not mean it will become a reality, nor is it indicative of you as a person.

In addition, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a treatment model that can assist in changing the relationship between you and your intrusive thoughts. It can help you with relabelling beliefs of ” I am bad, weird or crazy” to something more palatable like ” I am normal, OCD is the problem”. 

Remember just because you think something, it doesn’t mean it is true- our thoughts can be faulty!!

If you or your child is struggling with OCD, please contact me via my website to explore if remote CBT can help. For more OCD and CBT related content please check out my Instagram profile











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