When I tell people I’m making a documentary about OCD the thing that surprises them most is the number of different forms it takes. There is one form of OCD called ‘Pure O’ that looks different from other forms because there are no obvious physical compulsions. People with ‘Pure O’ suffer from repetitive unwanted intrusive thoughts, often sexual or violent in nature. While someone with contamination OCD may try and overcome their anxiety about germs by constantly washing their hands, someone with ‘Pure O’ will obsessively ruminate about the intrusive thoughts they’re having, their compulsions playing out covertly in their mind.
You’re in a meeting and suddenly a violent thought about hitting your colleague, or an image of your boss in flagrante, pops into your head. These types of intrusive thoughts actually happen to most people from time to time, but if you suffer from ‘Pure O’ you can’t brush them away. Does that thought mean I’m a bad person? Doubt and worry kicks in and the more you think about the meaning of the thoughts the more significant they become and the more you worry about them.
The simple solution would be to tell yourself to stop thinking about the thought, right? You may have already heard of the “white bear problem”, an often quoted example to explain Ironic Process Theory: if someone tries not to think about a white bear the more likely they are to imagine one. The “white bear problem” applies here big time. Trying to stop thinking the thought is a typical mental compulsion for someone with ‘Pure O’. You can’t stop thinking about it, you end up in a spiral of worry, the unwanted thoughts become more frequent and they start to dominate. Sucks, doesn’t it?
Rose Bretécher has written a book about her ‘Pure O’ and today I came across her video on Unbound, the crowd funding book publishing platform. The video does a brilliant job of giving us an idea of what ‘Pure O’ really is.
At the time of writing this her book was 91% funded. If you, like me, want to read her book please help her get to 100% by pledging. Here’s Rose’s video: