The hell of False Memory OCD
I spend a lot of time on forums, giving out advice to people suffering from OCD. Lately there’s been an uptick in the number of people talking about False Memory OCD and how it is drastically impacting their lives.
There are no statistics available when it comes to this particular form of OCD. That said, I have met quite a few people electronically to gauge a few interesting things about this OCD theme.
- More often than not, the ‘memory’ involves a night that included drinking… Sometimes to excess. Drinking is not a prerequisite to being susceptible to this theme but it does seem to be causal to some degree for some people. This may be because those who drink, especially a lot, are susceptible to not remembering the night of the drinking.
- One form of this theme sees people going from one ‘false memory’ to another, with each of a fairly short duration. Another form of this theme sees a person suffering from a ‘false memory’ for a lengthy period of time.
- In common to all, no amount of reassurance is enough to shake loose the memory and convince the sufferer that the memory is false.
- As time goes on, the ‘memory’ becomes more entrenched and, because the sufferer spends so much time ruminating and doing other compulsions, the memory grows, with more detail being added to it.
- All of the ‘false memories’ involve believing that the sufferer has done something bad.
- Sufferers of this OCD theme do not like to talk about the specifics of their memories, partly out of shame and partly out of a fear of being found out and arrested or abandoned by loved ones.
- There is never any evidence that the ‘memory’ is anything but false.
I know one woman who has been haunted by a false memory for more than four years. It all started a night that involved drinking more than four years ago. Some time not far past that day, she got a thought that she might have done something bad. She is loathe to talk about it. She is so convinced that she did this bad thing that she can’t even talk about it. She cannot bring herself to speak of what the memory is about. All she can say is that it is bad, that it is the worst thing she could ever do. Not a day goes by that this woman is not hounded by her memory. It has expanded over time, with more detail being added. That in itself is ‘evidence’ to the woman that the memory cannot be false and must be true. So far, for at least two years, I and my compatriots on an online forum have been unable to convince this woman that her memory is not true and that she can recover from it if she just took a leap of faith that she is really dealing with OCD and not a true memory. It is daunting and disappointing.
Treating False Memory OCD can be very difficult.
As with other OCD themes, people with False Memory OCD end up being their own worst memories. They start out unsure whether the ‘memory’ is true or not but the subject matter of the ‘memory’ is so unnerving that they have a high desire to figure it out, one way or the other. That leads to a tremendous amount of ruminating and reassurance seeking. Doing those compulsions cements the ‘memory’ in their minds, giving it authenticity where none is justified and leading the sufferer to believing that the ‘memory’ is more true. That leads to more compulsions and round and round the sufferer goes.
Reassurance seeking is common with this theme. Typically a sufferer will question anyone who was around during the time the memory speaks of, trying to determine if anyone remembers the sufferer doing something wrong or bad. Sufferers have gone so far as to ask staff at a bar for videotape from the night in question to help determine if the sufferer did something bad. Of course, the reassurance seeking does not work. It may provide temporary relief, when the sufferer learns that no one remembers anything untoward happening, but soon enough doubt comes back, intrusive thoughts of the ‘memory’ resurface and the sufferer is back to square one again.
I went back and forth with another woman recently who was convinced she did something bad to someone in her own home. As far as I know, there was no drinking involved. The thing is, this particular sufferer wasn’t even in the same room as the supposed victim. Reassurance seeking led her to ask two people who were at home whether anything bad happened and they confirmed that the sufferer was no where near the supposed victim, that she was on another floor of the house. It didn’t matter. The ‘memory’ became solidified and the sufferer became convinced that she did, in fact, doing something horrible to a house visitor on that particular night.
Still another time, I met a man online who became convinced that he had killed someone at a bar and thrown the body into a nearby river. A compulsion this man did, which is a type of reassurance seeking, was to scan TV and print media, looking for stories of a body being found in or near the river. Even though there was no evidence that the man did anything, he became convinced that he had killed someone.
It is difficult to convince sufferers of this theme that OCD can cause intrusive thoughts that seem like memories. The lack of evidence of anything bad having happened is no barrier to further compulsions. Identifying compulsions being done can do little to sway their belief because they have such a desire to prove the memory true or false they are against stopping the compulsions to see what happens.
In the end, treating False Memory OCD is the same as treating any other form of OCD. CBT is the fixative, along with a heavy dose of hard work from the sufferer. Sufferers of this theme need to be willing to let go of their desire to know the truth. They must take a leap of faith that OCD is involved and that their memory may not be a memory at all, but rather a series of intrusive thoughts caused by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Sufferers must identify the compulsions they do and work very hard to stop them. Ruminating is a very tough compulsion to stop and it lies at the core of this theme.
I believe this theme can be recovered from like any other form of OCD. But I don’t kid myself. It’s a tough theme to combat and beat.