Convinced you have 'Pure O'?

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Do you have wild, dark thoughts? Heard about ‘pure O’ and convinced that you have this disorder?

What is pure O?

The internet will lead you to believe that 'pure O' is a diagnosis where you have a special type of OCD without the compulsions. You have just the obsessions.

But ’Pure O’ is not an actual psychological diagnosis. It’s just an internet-created idea.

That's not to say you don't have a serious issue.

You can have intrusive thinking

Of course it is entirely possible to have just wild dark thoughts by themselves. It's just that it's not OCD. Rather you’d be amongst the millions of people out there who suffer from what is called ‘intrusive thinking’.

Intrusive thinking is more connected to anxiety and depression than OCD. And a round of cognitive behavioural therapy could really help.

You might indeed have OCD

Most people who think they have pure O simply have the same obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), compulsions included, that all other OCD sufferers have.

Pure O is more often than not just regular OCD in disguise. It’s just that people don’t realise that compulsions don’t have to be obvious or manifest physically.

Compulsions can also be subtle or mental. But how do subtle or mental (also called ‘cognitive’) compulsions work?

A quick overview of obsession vs compulsion

Well let’s go back to basics and remind ourselves of the difference between obsessions and compulsions when it comes to OCD.

Obsessions are repetitive thoughts that are distressing. They look like a flash of an unpleasant image, or a voice in your head telling you to do something.

Compulsions are repetitive actions. They are something you can’t stop yourself from doing again and again.

A classic and clichéd example is a distressing obsessive thought about dangerous germs that will kill you compelling you to wash your hands.

Examples of invisible or cognitive compulsions

But let's say that when you have obsessive thoughts about germs you then always get out your phone and do obsessive research on germs.

Or you go through a mental checklist in your head (do I have my hand sanitiser, am I standing well away from everyone, am I standing in the most aerated place in the room, am I as far away from other people as possible).

Or you do a 'test' to see if you'll 'die' by forcing yourself to touch something dirty.

These are repetitive actions! They are forms of compulsion as much as hand washing.

So subtle compulsions can look like:

  • endless research
  • avoiding certain things or people
  • seeking reassurance (always calling the same person, always going on a certain forum)
  • testing (every time the obsession comes you have a certain way you ‘test’ it.).

And cognitive compulsions can look like:

  • a mental checklist you go through again and again when the obsession comes
  • a mental preparation process, like a recipe you follow
  • forcing yourself to focus on a certain mental image.

But my obsessions are way worse than normal OCD

It is true that those who identify as having ‘pure O’ often have really overwhelming obsessions that relate to themes of sex, religion, good and evil, violence, and breaking social norms.

This can look like:

  • thoughts about hurting yourself or others
  • images of strange sexual acts
  • a constant impulse to do something humiliating
  • a voice telling you that you are evil or deviant, or something dark like a paedophile, even if you’ve never been attracted to kids.

Why would my obsessions be so dark?

Why is it that when you have such dark and strong obsessions your compulsions are more hidden? There is not clear research yet.

One could hypothesise, however, the shame that the obsession comes with leads to secret compulsions.

For example, if your obsessive thought is you running naked down the street grabbing people’s genitals, you’d likely have a shame reaction. Whereas if your obsession was the thought that taking the wrong route to work meant something bad would happen at the office, this is not so socially frowned on. Most people take the same route daily and know another route can be stressful.

Can anyone help me stop being OCD?

Therapy can really help. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often a good place to start. It helps you retrain your brain to move from dark thinking to balanced, helpful thinking.

Ready to stop having your life ruined by obsessions and compulsions? Use our easy booking tool to find an OCD specialist now.

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