The problem with Pure O
In the world of OCD, sufferers go to great pains to categorize and sub-categorize their disorder using terms and acronyms. There is likely a no more well used term than Pure O. It is a description found all over the Internet of a certain type of OCD and it is also the most misrepresented.
According to many websites, Pure O is a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that is purely obsessional and devoid of compulsions. The term itself lends credence to this belief. Pure O stands for pure obsession or purely obsessional. Some sufferers on online forums describe their disorder as being the Pure O variety because they don’t have any recognizable compulsions.
In addition, Pure O has come to mean not only a type of OCD without compulsions, but a type of OCD that includes one or more types of obsessions. Violent and sexual intrusive thoughts are the most talked about types of obsessions that constitute Pure O.
Unfortunately, Pure O is misrepresented. In fact the term itself is a misnomer. Pure O is not actually a type of OCD without compulsions present. It is a type of OCD where compulsions are present but are covert, rather than overt.
Overt compulsions are visible and noticeable by other people. They include washing of hands, checking door locks and rearranging items on store shelves to make them right. Covert compulsions are compulsions that are not visible. They’re still compulsions, but they take place in the mind. They are mental acts and rituals.
Sufferers of Pure O do perform compulsions. They just do them in their head. This fact is simply not known to all sufferers, who may not even recognize that they are performing mental compulsions.
Mental compulsions include:
- Trying to force obsessions to stop.
- Attempting to cancel out an obsessive thought with another thought.
- Ruminating. This means thinking about an obsession over and over with no relief or resolution. It is commonly referred to as over thinking an obsession.
In addition, sufferers of Pure O may perform other types of compulsions. Avoidance of people, places, things that might spark an obsession is a type of compulsion. So is reassurance seeking, where the sufferer attempts to get reassurance from others that they are not what their obsessive thoughts portray. Researching can also be a type of compulsion, where the sufferer typically searches on the Internet extensively to try and disprove or prove obsessive thoughts.
It is true that certain types of obsessions lend themselves to being categorized as Pure O. Many people with violent, harm and sexual obsessions do not have overt or outward compulsions. It is important to realize, however, that the classification of Pure O has less to do with the type of obsession present and more to do with the type of compulsion present.