Why an 8-Year-Old Would Obsess About Violence

When I was around 8 years old, as I sat in my counselor’s office at elementary school, he told me I was trying to force adult files into my child-sized filing cabinet.

While it wasn’t a technical explanation or diagnosis, it gave me a greater understanding of what was happening in my head. I could not sort through complicated concepts without obsessing over their implications. I was fixated on nightmarish topics of harm, violence and imprudence seemingly all the time. Why should an 8-year-old be burdened with this material? I cried, and cried often. I was longing to make it through the day unimpeded by what was happening in the confines of my mind, but somehow the fear always overcame me. Fear of what could happen to me, what could happen to loved ones and what harm people are capable of. Eventually they called it obsessive compulsive disorder. Who would have thought?

Pure obsessional OCD is rather obscure, marked by intrusive imagery and mental obsessions not accompanied by the physical compulsions that shape the common understanding of OCD. While the content matter of the thought patterns may vary from person to person, recurring topics of harm, religious blasphemy, loss of control, impropriety, sexuality and anything that the person finds reprehensible, dirty or “bad” are common. Like a record on a loop, it plays on and on, anxiety growing with each rotation. The doubt is pervasive. Doubting one’s character, intentions, goodness and worthiness. A cloud of irrational fears mercilessly feasts on your vulnerabilities. The song just keeps playing.

Pure O is so anxiety provoking for people like me, who are among the least likely to act on the thoughts we experience. Externally, there are few indicators of my pure obsessional OCD; it’s quite invisible. My mother always tells me I look like I am immersed in thought, my brow furrowed in concern. As a society, we rely on what people reveal about their conditions, and thus much goes undisclosed. I think people rarely talk about Pure O because it is embarrassing and stigmatized. There is a level of shame and guilt associated with having thoughts of this kind. Therapists call it “thought-action fusion,” or believing these fleeting thoughts mean something bad will actually happen. Rest assured, it’s an anxiety disorder and not a matter of impulse control. While I cannot speak for all, the way I find solace from the intrusions with a healthy dose of distraction, physical activity, repetitive mantras and cognitive behavioral therapy. From experience, I’ve seen the worst habit is engaging with or trying to suppress the thoughts; suppression doesn’t readily happen. Tell yourself not to think of something and believe me, it is sure to be the only thing on your mind.

Sometimes I feel as if I burden those closest to me because I crave reassurance to explain away the dissonance in my mind. I ask if “everything is OK” and I ask it often, embarrassingly often. Sometimes they enable me and answer, yes, “everything is OK.” They see how desperately I need them to say just that. Other times they force me to rely on myself, to embrace the discomfort and reside with what frightens me most, which in the long run is more helpful.

Regardless, I’ve come to realize that nothing is ever really OK, and that in and of itself, is well, OK.

To anyone who has ever had troubling thoughts, been harassed by anxiety or doubted their worth, know you are not broken. You are not lesser in any way because your thoughts do not match your nature or your actions. You need not be ashamed for being wired a little differently. These differences contribute to human diversity, inspire new levels of empathy and challenge us to rise above adversities. A therapist of mine always told me when I was feeling particularly bothered by my intrusive thoughts that each experiences is a thread in a beautiful tapestry, all my own. Every thread is essential, contributing in a vital yet indiscernible way. This sentiment reminds me that the content of my thoughts is not nearly as significant as the life I choose to lead, and I’m feeling quite fond of this life. Maybe it’s atypical, but it’s mine.

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