This is a contribution from @theocdfight on Twitter!
What's the harm?!
Let’s talk about Harm Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Harm OCD is a common subset of OCD which consists of graphic intrusive thoughts, images or urges of you causing harm to a loved one or to yourself. I have often described it as watching a horror movie in your head where there is no STOP there is only PLAY. To eradicate these obsessions (intrusive thoughts) the suffer will engage in compulsive behaviours in the hopes of making the obsessions stop, however they will only get temporary relief.
For me, OCD took a sinister turn after I had my daughter, I had never loved anything or anyone as much as I loved her and OCD knew it. I couldn't be around her without thinking of all the ways in which I could harm her. I would even have harm phrases like 'kill' repeat in my head. For years I questioned who I was as a person. Maybe I'm a hidden psychopath? Or a serial killer who hadn't struck yet. No 'normal' person would have thoughts like these, especially towards people they love.
That's the devastating reality of Harm OCD it will attack whatever you love. If you love your parents, partner, friends, yourself and even you household pet it will claim its stake on them. It will make you feel like a psychopath who is going to snap at any moment...
But we never do.
We never do because we have no intention of causing harm, moreover we go to great lengths to avoid harm coming to a loved one. For example, you may hide sharp objects, avoid places like the kitchen which may trigger harm thoughts, restrain your hands, suppress thoughts and even avoid certain cleaning products in case of poisoning, to name but a few.
I have carried out each of these compulsions to protect my daughter, the compulsions got so bad that I would avoid even saying the word 'knife' to try and stop having intrusive thoughts about stabbing. You see, when you look at harm OCD for what it is, you realise that your actions to rid yourself of these thoughts are the complete opposite of what someone who enjoyed the thoughts would do. It’s important for anyone suffering to understand that harm OCD and any OCD for that matter is about protection. We will go above and beyond to protect the ones we love. We are not monsters for having these thoughts, we're people dealing with a crippling illness.
Now that we have established that you're not a psychopath for having these thoughts, let’s talk about what you can do to help yourself manage these thoughts.
Firstly: Exposure! Exposure! Exposure!
ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) is a therapy that essentially encourages you to deliberately trigger yourself and face your fears. You have a hierarchy of challenges starting with the least fear based and work your way up the scale. For example, as you read earlier, I was terrified of knives, with ERP I had to be around knives as much as possible without performing a compulsion. I'm not going to lie, it was absolutely terrifying, however it worked. I started with leaving a knife out for 10 minutes, then progressed to an hour, then to a day and the top of my list was to use a knife around my daughter, which I now every day.
Secondly: play your thoughts on loop
Playing your thoughts on loop diminishes the significance attached to the thought, rendering it meaningless. Say 'milk' twenty times... go on, I’ll wait... what happened? The thought started to lose all meaning. The next time you have a persistent thought that won’t go away, record it and play it to yourself. However, if like me you don’t like the sound of your own voice, you can also write it down and read over it several times a day.
Thirdly: no judgement
What keeps harm thoughts going is our reaction to them. Learning to look at each thought with no judgement is difficult to begin with, however it does get easier. The next time you have a thought of causing harm, just let it go. Don't question who you are as a person, don't attach meaning to the thoughts, let them float in and out. The more you do this the less frequent the harm thoughts will become. For example, I had harm intrusive thoughts constantly, from the moment I woke up and even as I slept but now I only have 1 or 2 a day.
We are defined by our actions, not by our thoughts. Thoughts are not facts!
If Harm OCD is overwhelming and you need more advice, contact your GP or Doctor