OCD Thoughts: Seriously?…Really?

By Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Laura and I sometimes amuse ourselves by noticing how language and expressions gradually morph over time. For example, have you ever taken note of how often people preface something they’re about to say with the single word, “Look!”? I think in the past, folks used to call attention to what they were about to say with “Listen.” Why the change? Go figure (another one of my favorite phrases).

And then there’s the ever popular “Seriously?…Really?” I like that one a lot. Why? I really don’t know. It just conveys a tone that I like. Perhaps it’s my sarcastic streak. At any rate, I find myself wanting to say “Seriously?….Really?” pretty often when I confront the thoughts that constantly bombard the minds of people who have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

I feel like saying that because people who have OCD really take their thoughts seriously. As in “really seriously.” Thus, they may have thoughts such as “I must have perfect thoughts about everyone I care about or something bad will happen to one of them,” or “If I have bad thoughts, it must mean that I am bad,” or “If I think about profanity in church, I must be a horrible, sinful person.”

What’s really interesting about OCD thoughts is that researchers have found that almost everyone has similar thoughts from time to time. In other words, the thoughts of those with OCD are virtually indistinguishable from those that people without OCD have. The key is that people without OCD simply don’t take such thoughts seriously. Really.

In other words, they notice these thoughts; they think the thoughts are sort of weird, but they don’t put much meaning into them. They don’t believe that thoughts cause things to happen in the world and essentially realize that “thoughts are just thoughts,” nothing more.

So if you have OCD and worry about the types of thoughts that run through your mind, try repeatedly telling yourself that “thoughts are just thoughts.” And “everyone has thoughts like these every now and then.” Finally, remind yourself that thoughts simply don’t cause things to happen in the outside world. LOOK: Thoughts exist in your mind, but they can’t reach out and do anything to anyone or anything—SERIOUSLY…REALLY!