Mental Contamination

Mental Contamination OCD

What is Mental Contamination OCD?

Mental Contamination OCD involves anxiety symptoms that also includes feelings of contamination that are triggered by thoughts, images and memories or by association with an individual that has harmed the sufferer in some way. As such, an individual with Mental Contamination OCD may perceive things such as the name of an illness, an individual they know with dislikable traits or symbols of bad lack to be contaminants.

The feelings of contamination triggered by these mental contaminants lead to an intense feeling that one is internally ‘dirty.’ This demonstrates the major difference between Mental Contamination OCD and Contact Contamination OCD which is that, while an individual with Contact Contamination OCD may experience anxiety and discomfort from touching a physical object and respond with a compulsion such as hand washing to clean the physical spot, those with Mental Contamination OCD feel ‘mentally unclean’ typically as a result of feelings of violation or disgust or a general feeling of discomfort and dirtiness.

What are the symptoms?

The common symptoms associated with Mental Contamination OCD are as follows:


  • Fearing imagined contaminants such as words or phrases that may trigger the memory of a situation that caused mental harm
  • Fearing people who have caused harm or done wrong by the individual
  • Feelings of great personal responsibility for the internal contaminant such as a memory or scenario and experiencing great shame or guilt.


  • Ritualistic acts performed to neutralize mental contaminants.
  • Avoidance of people, places, memories, words or images that the individual believes to cause mental contamination.
  • Inability to name people, objects or thoughts that cause mental contamination.

Why does it occur?

As with all forms of OCD, it is difficult to attribute the manifestation of Contamination OCD to any one factor. Research suggests that a number of factors such as past experience, genetic predispositions and distorted beliefs may lead to the acquisition and maintenance of OCD. In the case of Mental Contamination OCD, it may be that the intrusive thoughts may result from internally conceptualizing a past negative memory, image or event, typically involving an immoral act or human interaction, for example, a past mistreatment involving abusive language or criticism.

What treatments are available?

Much like Contact Contamination OCD, Mental Contamination OCD is found to be effectively treated using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy with an emphasis on Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). ERP involves exposing clients gradually to anxiety-inducing situations or memories and phrases and engaging in a process of desensitization. This allows clients to attribute new meaning or interpretation to intrusive thoughts about mental contamination and contaminants such that the imagined contaminants are no longer perceived to be harmful.