Caught in the grip of obsessive-compulsive thinking (OCD), negative thoughts can intrude into the mind of the sufferer to the extent that they sometimes bring the idea of self-harm, or the idea of harming another person, with them.
Often the idea will fade, but sometimes it will feel too compelling to ignore or turn away from. This kind of thinking is recognised as a manifestation of Harm OCD, a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
For those who suffer from these Harm OCD thoughts, or for the loved ones of the sufferer, this experience can be very frightening. It can leave them fearing for their safety and sanity, and at these moments it can feel near impossible to stabilise emotions and so get on top of the cycle of negative and harmful thinking.
Some people experience these kinds of destructive thinking on a regular basis but they learn that it is just how their minds work, that their destructive thoughts are just one of the many kinds of ideas that occur to them, and that there is no need to worry too much. Just because the thoughts occur doesn’t mean they will be acted on. It’s just part of who you are.
Harm OCD, Spirals of Repetitive Symptomatic Thinking
The content of a sufferer’s Harm OCD thoughts, what the urge to harm is aimed at, tends to be repetitive. Obsessional thoughts tend to follow patterns that are particular to each sufferer and it is the nature of obsessional-compulsive thinking that they are very hard to argue with.
The obsessive’s thoughts tend to move in labyrinth-like spirals, their ideas are like rabbit holes they disappear down.
Developing Perspective on Harm OCD Thinking
Finding ways to recognise that you have become caught up in obsessive-compulsive thinking is often a gateway to finding a way to break the pattern. In therapy, we aim to find ways to help the sufferer gain perspective on their thoughts so that they can recognise when they are going down their rabbit hole again. When it can be recognised it can be thought about differently. It is important to state that this often takes time and can be hard work.
If you are in a relationship with someone who starts to suffer from these kinds of ideas it might be helpful for you to stop trying to argue the sufferer out of their thinking. Better perhaps to contact your GP, contact a psychotherapist, and get help, you may need support for you, and help for them.
In Harm OCD the obsessional ideas circle around ideas that the sufferer will harm themselves or inadvertently cause harm to other people.
- They might become fixated on the idea that they have left the gas on at home.
- That they have created a dangerous problem for others.
- They might be afraid to drive in case they cause harm to someone.
People who are in the grip of Harm OCD lose sight of the fact that a random aggressive thought is sometimes as ordinary as any of our thoughts, and instead focus all of their energy on it, building mountains where there were molehills before.
In the grip of Harm OCD a thought changes from being something random and instead becomes a kind of fact, a certainty. It is as though, because the sufferer had the thought that they would punch someone it means that are certain to punch someone, and that the idea is proof that they are a harmful and bad person.
At its core, an obsessional routine is attempting to protect the sufferer and those around them from harm. The sufferer obsesses on an idea in an attempt to protect those around them from harm.
Often in therapy what we find is that the origin of the Harm OCD idea, the thought that the sufferer is bad and will cause harm to others, is rooted in very old, often early childhood experiences. Often the origin of such beliefs about oneself is found in our earliest attachment histories. Or in ways in which we have become attached to old traumatic events in our lives.
For some reason, often related to a chance event, perhaps something going wrong at work, or someone being blamed for something they didn’t do, the sufferer taps back into the old idea that they are bad and cause harm and cannot find a way out of it.
Treating Harm OCD
Treatment should be developed after assessment to establish how severe the sufferer’s symptoms are. If the sufferer is at a point where they can think about the problem then psychotherapy may be suitable. If the harmful ideas are more active then it may be necessary to treat the problem with a combination of medication and therapy.
To be clear, it is not necessarily the case that medication will solve the problem, but it may lessen the intensity of negative self-thoughts. Medication might help the sufferer sleep better. Obsessional problems are energy heavy and exhausting and they create high levels of anxiety, which in turn creates other problems in the sufferer’s life, Sometimes these manifest as problems with sleep or problems with food. Eating disorders sometimes evolve from these type of negative and insidious ideas about oneself.
However, once the sufferer’s mind has found a more stable position, then the problem might be engaged with in psychotherapy.
Therapy might start be aiming to help the sufferer recognise when they are in the grip of their Harm OCD thinking. From there it will try to support the sufferer in developing practices that encourage better emotional and psychological stability. Together these things aim at neutralising the more toxic and aggressive and disturbing side of Harm OCD thoughts so that the sufferer can get a break from the negative thinking. Once these practices have become established, then it may be possible to start to think about where the negative ideas come from.
Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of our Harm OCD pattern of thinking.
By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of understanding how to relate to yourself and others, and how to start living more fully again.
The chance to reflect on ourselves, our feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative. Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed.
I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years. My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.