View original article published in Psych Central–
Rhonda was a kind and religious woman. Most importantly, she adored her kids. However, one day, a fleeting thought showed up in her mind, “Did I touch Ronnie inappropriately,” as she was buckling her son in his car seat. Rhonda became anxious and couldn’t stop worrying about it. “Did I really touch him? What if I did? Am I a pervert? No, I’m not! I would never do such thing! But then, why do I feel anxious? Does that mean I did something wrong? Otherwise, I would not feel anxious.”
These and many similar thoughts began to occupy Rhonda’s mind. The more she tried to “get rid” of the thoughts or figure out why she was having them, the more they stuck.
Gary was single with many nephews and nieces. He was a kid at heart and loved playing with them at family gatherings. While playing with his 18 month-old niece, his amazing thought-making machine — his mind — said, “You could easily abuse Suzy, and no one would even know it.” The thought upset him, but the more he tried to figure out why he had had that thought, the more uncertain he felt. He couldn’t sleep and wondered if he was going crazy. He often thought of turning himself in. He said that he would rather be incarcerated, than walk around with the uncertainty of possibly ever harming the children in his life.
Rhonda’s and Gary’s story may sound familiar. POCD is an extremely agonizing type of OCD that no one likes to talk about. Rhonda and Gary were fortunate as close family members knew their thoughts were uncharacteristic of who they really were. Family members and friends also reassured them by saying things such as: “You are a good person who loves children. You would never harm them. It’s just your head saying those awful things. Don’t worry about it.” The constant reassurance backfired as their mental and emotional pain continued to escalate.
If you experience intrusive thoughts related to fear of sexually harming a child, consider the following points:
- Pedophilia OCD is NOT the same as pedophilia. The person experiencing pedophilia will purposely fantasize about sexual activities with children. Individuals struggling with pOCD are tormented by those types of thoughts. The thoughts are unwanted and individuals try to stop, get rid, ignore, or suppress them, which is not effective. In desperation they review every movement they had around a child to help them figure out whether their actions were inappropriate or not. They perpetually seek reassurance from loved ones. They know they would never hurt a child, but they need to hear it from someone else. They search for answers everywhere they can. They avoid children. When this is not possible, their anxiety and uncertainty is heightened.
- It is crucial that you find the right treatment provider who understands OCD and knows how to treat POCD. Going to a treatment provider who misreads your intrusive thoughts could lead to unnecessary trauma and emotional pain. Visit the IOCD.org website to find a trained specialist.
- ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) therapists often use the exercise called “Two Sides of the Coin” in which clients are invited to write at least 5 areas of their lives that are most important to them on one side of a paper coin. On the other side, they are asked to write 5 of their current most painful internal experiences. As individuals complete this exercise, they discover the relationship between their struggles and their values. They realize that one side cannot exist without the other. Thus, OCD is targeting what they care about the most!
- POCD can be excruciating, but don’t forget there are people who care about you and love you unconditionally. Stay close to them and be open to their support. Having a support system will enhance the success of your treatment. Your loved ones can learn how to validate and support you without providing reassurance. Remember, reassurance seeking is a compulsion.
- You may have already noticed that the intrusive thoughts don’t match your character. However, the emotions you experience are so intense that they become entangled with your thoughts in that moment. In that very instant, you forget that you are not your thoughts. Don’t despair. Therapy will help you get untangled from your internal experiences.
- The mind may tell you that avoidance is your only option. Notice if that has given you lasting results, or if it has lengthened the suffering. Your therapist will teach you how to face your fears and look at your internal experiences differently than you do now.
Treatment will provide you with freedom from OCD. This does not mean OCD will leave and won’t be around in your life. It means you will no longer be a slave to it. You don’t need to wait to start doing what matters most in your life. Start today. Stay positive. Don’t lose your hope and recognize that you are more than OCD!