OCD: The Surprising Truth

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94% of people have experienced unwanted, intrusive thoughts.

Have you ever had a sudden impulse to jump under a train, stab your partner with a knife or perform some other unthinkable act?

Many see these as signs of mental disturbance but, according to new research from around the world, fully 94% of people have experienced unwanted, intrusive thoughts or impulses.

The phenomenon is not confined solely to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other problematic thinking patterns.

The research comes from Concordia University in Canada and 15 other institutions in different countries, including France, Hong Kong, Sierra Leone and Australia (Moulding et al., 2014).

They found that across 777 participants, almost all of them had experienced intrusive thoughts or images in the last three months.

The types of strategies people used to distract themselves from these thoughts were also relatively universal:

  • People told themselves to stop,
  • they thought about something pleasant instead,
  • they reassured themselves,
  • and they reasoned with themselves.

People who used confrontational strategies like reasoning with themselves tended to have fewer intrusive thoughts than those who used avoidant strategies, like thinking about something pleasant instead.

Intrusive thoughts

One of the study’s authors Adam Radomsky, explained:

“We’re more similar than we are different.

People with OCD and related problems are very much like everyone else.”

He continued:

“This study shows that it’s not the unwanted, intrusive thoughts that are the problem — it’s what you make of those thoughts.

And that’s at the heart of our cognitive and behavioral interventions for helping people overcome OCD.”

For instance, most people who have an intrusive thought about jumping off a balcony or a metro platform would tell themselves that it’s a strange or silly thing to think, whereas a person with OCD may worry that the thought means they’re suicidal.

OCD patients experience these thoughts more often and are more upset by them, but the thoughts themselves seem to be indistinguishable from those occurring in the general population.”

→ Continue reading: 8 Ways to Get Rid of Unwanted Negative Thoughts

Image credit: Shifteye

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 26 April 2014

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