Fear of Causing Harm

Individuals with OCD frequently have fears that they or someone they care about will be harmed.  These fears often lead to checking behavior – checking that doors are locked, for example, to prevent intruders from getting into the house.  Or making sure that all electrical items are turned off so a fire doesn’t start. 

But in many cases, people with OCD are fearful that they may cause harm – physical, sexual, or mental.  These fears may include:

  • Concerns about being careless and possibly causing harm to another or oneself, including the preparation of food; providing care for children, medical care or elder care
  • Concerns that words or acts will be misinterpreted as hurtful (or sexual)
  • Fear of not doing enough to help another

Examples of rituals that may be done to ease the anxiety created by these obsessions include:

  • Repeatedly checking on children (or someone in your care) to see if they are OK
  • Repeatedly washing food, examining food for spoilage

In some cases, however, these fears manifest in the form of morbid obsessions about causing harm – obsessions with violent, aggressive, or sexual content – such as:

  • Involuntary thoughts of violent behavior or of willfully causing harm to another individual, child, pets or self
  • Unwanted vivid imagery of violence or of a harmful sexual nature
  • Fears of possibly having committed such acts in the past
  • Sudden frightening thoughts about carrying out such acts

Unfortunately, many people who experience morbid obsessions engage in magical thinking – they believe that a thought can cause an event to happen or not happen.  This belief can, of course, lead to overwhelming fear and anxiety for these individuals.

Rituals that may be done to reduce the anxiety created by these obsessions include:

  • Avoiding being around certain people or children (or not being alone with them)
  • Avoiding movies, videos, magazines web sites that may contain any sexual content
  • Removing items from the house that might be used to inflict harm, such as knives, scissors, gardening tools
  • Mentally arguing with thoughts of harmful actions
  • Spending time analyzing harmful thoughts and looking for signs of agreement with the thoughts
  • Conducting physical or mental rituals, such as repeating words, phrases, prayers; counting, saying or avoiding saying certain words or phrases at all costs to keep bad things from happening or keep harm from oneself or others

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