False memory OCD – When the truth eludes you
One of the lesser known types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder still affects many people. It is commonly referred to as false memory OCD and it causes significant problems for sufferers dealing with this particular theme.
False memory OCD is an OCD theme where the sufferer gets an intrusive thought that they’ve done something in the past and the sufferer cannot differentiate whether the thought is a memory or an intrusive thought.
In my experience, having dealt with dozens of people with this particular theme, the majority of false memory OCD scenarios seem to take place after a night of drinking. Being inebriated seems to set up a situation where the sufferer cannot remember with any surety what they did or did not do while they were drinking. False memory OCD does not require alcohol to be consumed in order to affect a sufferer, but it tends to be the more common situation.
The onset of an episode can take place as little as a few hours after a real life event or situation or up to years later. There seems to be no rhyme or reason when the intrusive thoughts will strike.
Common to this OCD theme is a sudden, striking thought that something bad happened at a specified time and place. Almost immediately the sufferer begins to question whether the thought is an intrusive, nonsensical thought or a real memory.
Details of the ‘false memory’ will be very fuzzy in the beginning. However, sufferers of this theme tend to ruminate excessively over the thoughts and that can cause more detail being added to the ‘false memory’, making it seem more real as time goes on. Because the thoughts seem more real, the sufferer ends up ruminating even more. The situation can soon spiral out of control, with sufferers spending countless hours going over the thoughts in their heads.
This theme is called ‘false memory’ because there is no evidence that anything untoward happened. Sufferers have told stories of believing they have raped or murdered people but there is a complete lack of evidence that anyone was rape or murdered. There is no victim; there is no body.
In addition to ruminating, sufferers of false memory OCD can perform other compulsions. Often they will talk to everyone who was present at the event in question to try and ascertain if anything bad happened. They can check their cellphones to see if text messages about the false memory were sent or received. One person went to a bar and requested to see the security videotapes so he could see if he did something wrong. Even when it turns out there truly is no evidence of wrongdoing, the sufferer cannot shake the feeling that the initial thought is a memory and not just an intrusive thought.
I have personally worked with a woman who spent three years ruminating and performing other compulsions around an alleged event that took place where she had been drinking. In three years she found no evidence of wrong doing but she could not let the matter go, believing if there was just a tiny chance that she did do something very bad, she had to figure it out.
Getting past false memory OCD is not easy. The sufferer has to take a leap of faith that what they are dealing with is actually an OCD intrusive thought and not a real memory. Then the sufferer has to work very hard on not performing compulsions, instead letting the intrusive thoughts pop up without giving them any attention. Some cognitive work is in order, chiefly to get the sufferer to realize they would never commit a heinous act such as the thoughts propose could have happened.
Sufferers of this theme are loathe to let the false memory go. They believe, despite a lack of any evidence, that there is a chance they did something very bad. They feel guilty about the possibility and, in their minds, they demand to know for absolute certain, whether they committed the heinous act or not.