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Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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Why “Pure O”Isn’t Real

By Lynne Gots, posted on November 1st, 2021.

With all the misinformation about vaccines and health risks, you would think people might think twice about looking to the internet for diagnostic advice about their mental status. Sadly, this is not the case.

Despite the many credible sources (including this one) dispelling the myth of “pure O” OCD, I still get frequent queries from people who have diagnosed themselves as having “pure O” and are looking for treatment to help them get rid of their disturbing thoughts.

If you think you suffer from Pure O, you probably have been stuck in a repetitive thought loop about a distressing event or belief. You think you have obsessions without compulsions (such as the stereotypical ones like hand-washing and checking). But I guarantee you are engaging in rituals even if they are not readily apparent to an outside observer or only exist in your head.

Here are some common obsessional thoughts that may masquerade as Pure O:

I am a pedophile.

I have violent thoughts and may kill someone.

I might kill myself.

I have an underlying mental illness and will go crazy.

Let’s do some unpacking:

If you worry about having these types of thoughts, you are falling prey to a common OCD cognitive distortion: thought-action fusion—the belief that thinking about an action is the same as actually doing it.  Thought-action fusion can also cause you to believe, superstitiously, that having a thought will make the event more likely to happen.

Thoughts of committing a violent or repugnant act can feel very real. Such obsessions often lead to repeated attempts (compulsions) to push them away in order to relieve distress. Some common rituals are: mentally reviewing the past for signs of the feared action; seeking reassurance from friends and family; repeating a phrase or mantra (“I would never do that,” “I’m a good person”); praying; doing research about people who have committed the feared action and comparing yourself to them.

Trying to control thoughts only makes them more tenacious, as countless experiments on thought suppression have shown. Contrary to what the false notion of Pure O would have us believe, thoughts are not the problem!

OCD worries gain a foothold from the efforts to suppress thoughts, not from the thoughts themselves. The most effective way to deal with unwanted mental intrusions, then, is to allow them. In fact, if you stop trying to barricade the door against the unwelcome cognitive intruders and invite them in, they will lose their power over you in time.  Little by little, you will find it easier to realize they are not evidence of a deep-seated pathology or predictions of future actions. 

They are just products of an over-active imagination, nothing more.

So remember: “Pure O” is never pure, and don’t trust those who tell you otherwise.




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This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

Contact Dr. Gots

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If you don't receive a response to an email from Dr. Gots in 48 hours, please call the office and leave a voicemail message.

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