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Can OCD Make You Believe Things That Aren’t True?

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted or intrusive thoughts (also called obsessive thoughts or “obsessions”) and repetitive behaviors or rituals (also called compulsive behaviors or “compulsions”). While symptoms of OCD look different for every person, the condition can be debilitating and have a profound impact on a person’s daily life. 

If you are living with OCD, your obsessions and compulsions can look different depending on the subtype you have. Research suggests that OCD can be classified into several subtypes based on the nature of the symptoms experienced. One subtype is called false memory OCD; people with this subtype may experience frequent, recurring intrusive thoughts and doubts about past memories.  

What are the signs and symptoms of false memory OCD?

If you are living with or suspect you may have false memory OCD, it can be difficult to believe your memories. You may have intense doubts about what you remember or fear that you have forgotten something horrible. You may become convinced that you have done something “bad” or “wrong” even if there is no evidence that your memories are accurate. 

If you are living with false memory OCD, you may experience consistent negative emotions, like guilt, shame, or anxiety, which can make your symptoms worse.

Like other subtypes of OCD, false memory OCD causes obsessions and compulsions. While obsessions and compulsions may look different for each person with false memory OCD, there are some common experiences, which we’ve described below. 

What are common obsessive thoughts seen in false memory OCD?

Examples of common obsessions or obsessive thoughts seen in false memory OCD include:

  • Doubting your memory or version of events
  • Questioning whether your beliefs and experiences are true
  • Constantly worrying that you said or did something inappropriate
  • Convincing yourself that you are responsible for something you did not do
  • Experiencing anxiety or worry about repressed memories
  • Having thoughts about events that did not happen

What are common compulsions seen in false memory OCD?

Examples of common compulsions seen in false memory OCD include:

  • Constantly seeking reassurance from loved ones that events happened the way you remember them
  • Imagining a new or different version of events
  • Focusing on your memories repeatedly to assess whether they are accurate
  • Confessing to actions or events that you were not involved in or did not commit
  • Punishing yourself for perceived “bad” behavior
  • Avoiding people or places that you are anxious about 

How do you treat false memory OCD?

Like all subtypes of OCD, there are several standard treatment options. These include: 

  • Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy: EPR therapy is a type of therapy that has been shown to be effective in treating symptoms of OCD. In ERP therapy, you will be gradually exposed to thoughts and situations that may trigger or worsen your obsessions and compulsions. The goal of ERP therapy is to help you delay and resist the urge to engage in compulsions. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, that can help reduce OCD symptoms. In CBT therapy, you will learn to identify and change the negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to your OCD. 
  • Support groups: Support groups are another option available to those living with OCD. Some research has shown that individual therapy and group therapy may be equally effective at treating OCD, so if you are interested in joining a support group with other people living with OCD, check to see if an OCD-related advocacy group has a local chapter or support group near you may be a good place to start. 
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are just one type of prescription medication that can help people living with OCD, but they are one of the more commonly prescribed medications. SSRIs are a type of antidepressant medication that work by increasing the serotonin levels in your brain, which are believed to play a role in your mood and impulse control. 

If you are interested in learning more about finding the best treatment plans for false memory OCD, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional who specializes in OCD. With your doctor, you will be able to determine which treatment option is the best fit for your life. 

And if you don’t yet have a diagnosis, but suspect you may be living with OCD, or false memory OCD specifically, sharing your experiences with your health care team might be a good next step! 

Originally published: November 16, 2023
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