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Moral Scrupulosity OCD Made Me Think I Would Murder My Mother

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Editor's Note

People living with harm OCD are not dangerous and would never act out on their intrusive thoughts.

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

I sat in my GP’s windowless office, wracked with sobs, gripping the denim of my pants and bracing myself against the truth. “Either you call an ambulance to lock me away in a ward or you call the cops and take me to prison before I murder my mother.” 

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but not the “classic” hand-washing kind; something referred to as moral scrupulosity OCD. It’s a subset of intrusive thoughts fixated on moral judgment. I agonize over whether a decision of mine is morally right or which option is fairest, which on the surface sounds like quite a good thing to do. To be sure that each action I take is morally justifiable. However, this obsession with being scrupulous quickly turns sour. 

I often visualize these thought spirals like a tangled ball of yarn. A moral conundrum such as “should I eat meat?” quickly becomes a tangential argument for pet ownership or land rights or even genetic manipulation. This simple question becomes impossible to tease out from the grey, moral dubiousness of daily living. 

After a few hours of this recurring tangle, my mind says, “If you can’t beat em? Join ’em.” And it’s as if I am taken over by a whole new personality; my very own Mr. Hyde and I become euphoric at the idea of committing heinous homicides and gruesome crimes. It’s as if a switch in my brain flips and if I can’t be this perfectly moral soul, I must become the dramatic opposite and crave the blood of my family and friends. I have images of murdering the people I love flash before my mind’s eye. But, that’s not the most disturbing part. The most fearsome part, for me, is that I genuinely feel the “urge” to act this out. I thought I felt gleeful at the idea of hurting the people I love.

“I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine.”

— Robert Louis Stevenson, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

So, taking the leap and telling my GP that I not only thought about murdering the people I love, but that I found those thoughts enjoyable felt world-endingly frightening. I genuinely thought I was going to be escorted from this small room that smelt of antiseptic and placed into prison. I thought I was going to be left to rot. Hell, it’s what I thought I deserved. I was Mr. Hyde and I had smothered out Dr. Jekyll with my bare hands. 

A major caveat here is that I have never actually hurt someone while having these thoughts. Not once. But the mind often struggles to differentiate between what we imagine and our actions, so when I was in the grips of my disorder I was convinced I was the scum of the Earth. Worse than Hitler. So when my GP, eyes full of concern, told me that I wasn’t in fact a murderer but was experiencing obsessive-compulsive disorder and should see a psychiatrist because recovery is possible? I ugly cried.

Several years later after intensive therapy and some medication, I can happily say I have made a total recovery from OCD. Now, it’s important to note that everyone experiences these “Mr. Hyde” thoughts from time to time. Like when you’re standing at the top of a tall building and a little voice in your head says, “jump!” But, importantly, a healthy mind is able to dismiss this information as unhelpful and move on to another topic of thought. It knows not to dwell on whether this urge to jump makes them a horrible person. I still get these thoughts from time to time because I am nothing but a fallible human trying her best. But, so is everyone else. But the horrible “urges” to enact torture really have gone. I could try and find a lesson in the pain, but really? I’m just relieved that I don’t think that way anymore, and that’s enough for me.

Photo by Tori Wise on Unsplash

Originally published: February 4, 2022
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