Wait, I have thoughts like that…
We all have thoughts like this. Have you ever been driving and thought, “What would happen if I drove into that tree?”… I have. If you have too, you’ve had an intrusive thought — a thought that you didn’t choose to be there, but it just showed up. The difference in having intrusive thoughts and OCD is what we do with those thoughts when they are there.
For some, it is easier to see that thought as random information our minds give us. For others, that thought is taken seriously, is terrifying, and is tied to who they are and how they behave. They might think, “Because I had that thought, it must mean I want to do it! What if I lose control one day and end up doing it? I need to make sure I never do that. My kids are in the car. I could hurt them. It would be all my fault.” If this is how you respond to that thought, it makes sense that you would start doing things to prevent your children from being hurt. You might avoid driving near trees, avoid driving all together, only drive alone, try convincing yourself that you would never do that, or say prayers before driving. The behaviors done to avoid these feared outcomes, images, or urges can be logically tied to the outcome or not. For example, tapping the car 3 times before driving with your children, while not logically tied to the safety of your children, may still provide some relief.
These rituals, or compulsions, can be time consuming, frustrating, and can impact your ability to live your life the way you want to. While these are logical responses to fear, they can limit how your life is lived and can lead to more elaborate systems to avoid fear. When the fear and the related behaviors become excessive and interfere with your life, that’s when it starts to become OCD.