shockI spend a fair amount of time checking out online forums related to OCD and I answer a lot of questions raised by OCD sufferers.

One of the most common themes when it comes to questions asked by sufferers is an almost disbelief that certain bothersome thoughts can be related to OCD because they seem too real. The general consensus among many sufferers is that OCD thoughts (at least the ones they are referring to) are just as real as other thoughts and that means that maybe it’s not OCD at play.

Here’s the thing: OCD thoughts are just as real as any other thought. Of course they’re going to be.

OCD thoughts are obsessions, which are intrusive, unwanted thoughts (or images or urges) that cause distress. We answer those thoughts by performing compulsions.

People with OCD inherently know that the thoughts that cause them problems come from their own minds; that is to say they don’t come from some outside force. If the thoughts are generated inside your own mind — the same place where all your other thoughts are generated, why in the world would they seem less real than any other thought?

OCD sufferers have to deal with intrusive thoughts that pop into their heads and come from the same place as all other thoughts. Since they come from the same place they are going to seem just as real as any other thought.

The problem with thinking that intrusive thoughts are too real is that the sufferer begins doubting that what he/she is dealing with is OCD at all. Take for example a woman who gets thoughts that she might have touched a child inappropriately in the past. She doesn’t buy it’s all OCD because the thoughts seem too real. Since she can’t reconcile the thoughts to OCD she fails to take the appropriate steps to overcome her disorder.

The key to solving the problem is to step back and look at the situation within the context of OCD.

  • Is the thought intrusive? Does it just pop up? Is it unwanted?
  • Does the thought cause distress? Most people refer to the distress as anxiety but it could be guilt, fear, doubt or several others.
  • Are there compulsions performed in response to the thought? Compulsions can be physical acts, behaviors or rituals or mental work or rituals that are done to try and alleviate the distress.

Answering yes to the above questions points to OCD. If the thoughts and result of the thoughts matches the above criteria then its a good bet the person is dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. One OCD book author commented that if it feels like OCD then it probably is.