False memory OCD involves preoccupation with repetitive, intrusive thoughts or memories involving doubt around past events. These thoughts and memories feel real, even though they may be completely false. While it is normal to reflect on past events, people with OCD are unable to move past these thoughts or memories. They lack confidence in their memory, become convinced that they’re guilty of doing something they haven’t done and find it difficult to accept the uncertainty that comes with these thoughts/memories.
Individuals with false memory OCD may also believe that they are a bad person for having these thoughts/memories. False memory OCD develops when an individual becomes consumed with obsessing over these thoughts and/or memories, begins to feel anxiety, distress, doubt, confusion, or another difficult emotion because of these obsessions, and may develop some compulsive behaviours (physical or mental) to find short-term relief from these difficult emotions. Unfortunately, the obsessive doubts (e.g., “Why am I having this thought/memory”, or “Is this thought/memory real?”) cannot be argued or reasoned with and it is exhausting and endless to attempt to do so.
What are the symptoms?
Obsessions: The obsessions in false memory OCD revolve around thoughts or memories involving doubt around past events. This can involve questioning their past actions or things that have happened to them. Some examples of the intrusive thoughts associated with false memory OCD include: “Did I cheat on my partner on the weekend?”, “Did I say something inappropriate yesterday?”, and “If I am thinking about this now, does that mean I did it?”. The thoughts can take an infinite number of forms and are only limited by the brains capacity to imagine.
Compulsions: To manage the anxiety and distress associated with the thoughts or memories involving doubt around past events, people with OCD seek to reduce the amount of anxiety and distress caused by these thoughts by behaving in repetitive ways that provide short-term relief. They may find themselves attempting to clarify the events of the time in question by seeking reassurance, mentally reviewing past experiences, ruminating, distracting themselves, confessing to others, avoiding certain people/situations, and/or checking photos video footage.
Why does it occur?
False memory OCD can occur when the thoughts or memories clash with an individual’s morals or values (e.g., being honest and having integrity), causing anxiety and distress. As a result, the individual may attempt to suppress the thoughts or memories, causing a rebound effect where the thoughts come back more often and more intensely. Individuals with false memory OCD may try to find relief from the anxiety and distress by attempting to find evidence of their actions through certain compulsions. They may find themselves stuck in a cycle of obsessing, feeling anxious or distressed, and engaging in a compulsion to relieve the anxiety or distress for the short period until the obsession returns.