Are you afraid of harming others?
Well, I guess most of us are and that’s absolutely normal. But if you’re suffering from Harm OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), this fear of harming others – especially your loved ones – means a totally different thing for you.
There are a lot of misconceptions about OCD – a lot of people still think that it is a kind of cleaning disorder or an extreme fear of germs. And while the fear of contamination can be one component of OCD, this is a much more complicated disorder. Or how I usually call it: much more creative.
In today’s post, I will talk about one of the darkest subsets of OCD: harm OCD. Honestly, it’s not the easiest topic to talk about. I have never really had any problems with expressing myself but when it comes to my harm OCD, it’s a different story. And this can be one of the reasons why many people think that harm OCD is far less common than other subsets of this disorder. Like it’s not easy to tell your friends that you just need to check if the door is locked 10 times before you leave your home, but imagine how difficult it is to tell them that you’re afraid of pushing them off a cliff.
What are the most common obsessions in OCD? Read: OCD in numbers
So, first of all: What is Harm OCD?
Harm OCD is a subset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder characterized by having aggressive, intrusive thoughts of violence towards others or yourself.
Am I A Monster? – My Story
Now, the definition I gave is from a book. And it pretty much describes what Harm OCD means, but it does not necessarily describe what it feels like. This is why I have decided to share my story.
Once upon a time, there was a prince…Well, I am not a prince and this is definitely not a fairy tale – even though fairy tales can be pretty scary. Just think about Snow White: your stepmother wants to kill you and when she actually succeeds to carry out her evil plan and to take your life, a handsome prince will come to save you and he will eventually end up kissing your dead body. Anyways, I do not want to over-analyse fairy tales so let’s talk about something far less exciting: my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
I do not actually remember when or how my OCD started – I guess it’s always been there and it just gradually got worse and worse. However, there’s one day that I will never forget: the day when my brain broke and my harm OCD went out of control.
It was a Friday evening. I was 17 years old – so more than 10 years ago when I was still young and innocent (I am not sure whether I was innocent though). So, my parents went to a party and I decided to stay at home and to watch a movie. And I obviously do not want to blame a movie for my harm OCD but I guess I made the worst possible choice: I started to watch Apocalypto. I guess it’s a pretty nice film but I just do not want to watch it ever again because it will always remind me to the terrifying thoughts it gave me that night. Why did it have such a terrible effect on me? Honestly, I do not know but seeing people being sacrificed for ancient Gods kind of fueled my OCD (at that time I did not use to know this thing was called OCD) and it would just give me a storm of intrusive thoughts. And one of them was particularly frightening:
What if one day, I will go crazy and I will kill someone?
Please, do not stop reading. I will soon explain to you the way I felt. So, at that time, I did not know that this random thought would literary turn my life into a living nightmare. And I did not know that it had anything to do with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. To be honest, I did not even use to know what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was – you can imagine, I was a 17 years old teenager from a small, Central European country where OCD was not a well-known condition.
And as I did not know anything about intrusive thoughts or about OCD at that time, this terrifying thought was something very shocking to me. I just thought I was going crazy. Like honestly, what would you think? No sane person would ever be thinking about killing someone. And I did the worst possible thing that I could do: I just started a discussion with my inner OCD voice:
Me: I would never do such a thing. I am not a monster, am I?
My OCD: How do you know you are not a monster? What if you are evil? And if you’re not evil: what if you lose control for a few seconds and you act on these thoughts. You can never know, can you?
And this inner monologue would go on for a couple of hours. Yes, couple of hours: I am not exaggerating. One single intrusive thought was enough to make me suffer for hours and hours. When my parents got home, it would get even worse because I was terribly afraid of harming them. I just tried not to talk to them and not to be too close to them. And I was trying to fall asleep as soon as possible hoping that this whole thing would just go away in the morning. But unfortunately, it did not!
Monday morning, weekend over. Going to school helped but it did not solve the problem. I knew that being among a lot of other people could stop me from harming someone but again, my OCD wouldn’t leave me alone:
What if I push someone off the stairs or hit them with a chair? Or what if I start setting things on fire?
And these thoughts went on. For days. For weeks. For months. And I just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The only solution I could think of was going as far away from everyone as possible and drowning myself into alcohol. Alcohol would help me forget about my terrifying thoughts and it would cheer me up a little bit. Now, I know that alcohol is not a solution but at that time I saw no way out.
Want to read more about this topic? Check:
Peace At The Bottom Of A Bottle – OCD & Alcohol
And obviously, my family noticed that I started drinking and my friends could see that I was avoiding them. And I really wanted to tell everyone about the way I felt but I was scared. And this is one of the most difficult things about harm OCD. You’re just too scared to talk about it.
If I told someone about the way I felt, they would think I am crazy. They would be afraid of me and they would inform the police or even worse: I would end up at a mental hospital for the rest of my life. And I would lose everyone and everything I love.
But I have always been an extrovert. This is something that I will never be able to change. And I couldn’t carry on for too long. One day my Mum would ask me what was wrong. She asked me why I was literary running away from home and why I was drinking. And then, I just couldn’t take it any longer. I broke..And I told her.
I told her that I was terribly scared of harming her and that I was afraid of knives (because if you have harm OCD, you see knives as some terribly dangerous objects, because you can use them for a lot of violent purposes, right?). And I told her that I thought I was a psychopath. An evil monster.
And her reaction surprised me. It was not what I expected like: she was not scared and she did not want to run away or something. She just told me that people with bad intentions wouldn’t be scared to death over their thoughts and that she had also had intrusive thoughts like this but she never worried to much about them. (Now, years later, I know that there are a lot of people who have intrusive violent thoughts but at that time this was a new piece of information to me)
If I said this conversation was the end of all my suffering, I would lie. It was the beginning of my journey to overcome OCD. And at the beginning of the journey my Mum and we got it terribly wrong. I told my whole family about the way I felt and they were very understanding: so they started to help me and this help meant hiding all objects I was afraid of. No more knives, no more heavy objects. Obviously, this would give me a temporary relief but one can not constantly run away from one’s fears. This is something that I learnt later during my journey.
Seeing my family not thinking that I was a psychopath, I decided to talk to my best friends. And their reaction was also very positive and supportive. They do not have OCD, but they do suffer from other mental illnesses so they did not judge me for who I was. And we have been supporting each other ever since. Even after 10 years. 🙂
So, they really wanted to help me and we went for a shopping weekend in Vienna – now, please do not say that I was a spoiled kid – and this little trip made me realize that there is a way out. It’s difficult not to think about your scary thoughts, but you can do it! And I think this is when my travel addiction started. Again, I know that running away from yourself is not the solution but keeping yourself busy and having fun does help a lot!
And when I came back, my aunt convinced me to see a therapist. Now that was terrifying. I was very scared to seek professional help because I thought that a therapist would think I was totally crazy and they would instantly send me to a mental hospital. Anyways, I finally decided to go.
And to my biggest surprise, my therapist did not think I was crazy. Obviously, she was not able to come up with a proper diagnosis right after our first consultation. But I could feel that she was not scared of me and she did not think I was totally insane. So after our first meeting, I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And as we went on with my therapy, she recommended me a lot of useful techniques to manage my anxiety and to keep my intrusive thoughts under control. She also told me that finding a part-time job might help. So that’s what I did: I started my first job at a call center and I was enjoying it a lot. I have always loved talking to people so it was kind of..perfect for me.
And…hm..Happy Ending? That would be a strong world. I do not want to sound hopeless (because I am not), but I do not think that I will ever be able to get rid of my OCD. It’s kind of ..chronic. Like diabetes. You can keep it under control and you can manage it – you may not even notice that you have it – but it will probably always be in the background.
What did I learn from this experience?
First of all: having harm OCD does not mean that you are a monster!
Those who want to do cruel things are not afraid of their violent thoughts. The fact that you would give everything to get rid of your aggressive, intrusive thoughts mean that you do not want to have them so you do not want to act on them.
Seek professional help
Therapists are professional people who are there to help you. And not to judge you. I know it is scary to tell a stranger about the way you feel but it really helps a lot! 🙂
Alcohol is not a solution, it’s an additional problem
Now, my harm OCD is pretty much under control. But I still find it pretty difficult to give up on alcohol. So I just created an additional problem for myself while trying to get rid of my OCD.
Do not ask your family and friends “cooperate”!
Having a loving family and supporting friends is a fantastic thing. And they may even help you with your obsessions – because they love you and they are not professional therapists. Do not ask your partner to hide all the “dangerous objects” because it will not help you fight your OCD: it will only give you a temporary relief, but one day you will have to face your terrifying thoughts and postponing this, will not help! You can not live your whole life running away from your problems.
- OCD – afraid of blinding yourself
- 6 types of OCD
- Pure O: Living in Endless Fear
- OCD: Living a lie
- 12 things that will help you overcome OCD
As you know, there’s one thing that I love more than sharing my stories: reading yours! Please share your experiences in the comment section! 🙂