What is existential OCD? (A comprehensive guide)

In this blog post, we will define the concept of existential OCD. We will also explain the difference between obsessions and compulsions; the symptoms of OCD and treatment options. 

What is existential OCD?

Existential OCD is a type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, in which affected people are obsessively concerned with the purpose of their lives, the existence of humanity, the connection between people and nature – concerned with existential questions.

Although we all wonder at least once in our lives what our purpose on Earth is, people with existential OCD are obsessed with the philosophical side of life, and these existential questions disrupt their routine and ability to live a happy life.

Existential questions arise from those doubts we ask ourselves in search of our consciousness and essence.

These are questions that often require deep work of self-reflection, and other times they are questions that, as the name suggests, deal with our existence and the problems of life.

Either way, they are problems that help us better perceive reality and our own thoughts and desires.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) refers to the obsessions and compulsions that the sufferer has.

Obsessions are repetitive, uncontrollable thoughts, impulses, or mental images that cause anxiety. Examples: fear of germs or contamination, fear of contracting a disease, aggressive thoughts towards oneself / others, fear of not hurting someone close, fear of forgetting to perform a behaviour such as closing the door or gas, etc.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours that the person feels they need to perform in response to obsessive thoughts.

Examples: checking, excessive cleaning, repeating an action, arranging objects in a certain order, etc. 

The person suffering from OCD generally spends more than an hour a day being preoccupied with thoughts and behaviours such as the ones above.

He does not like these rituals/actions, but after performing them he feels a brief release from the anxiety caused by thoughts. Most of those affected realize that their fears are not fully real.

OCD is a condition that occurs quite frequently among the population.

There is evidence to support the significant role of genetic factors, the peculiarities of the structure and functioning of the brain, as well as the trauma / physical or sexual abuse suffered in childhood.

There is a higher rate of a history of brain trauma, encephalitis, meningitis, epilepsy among patients with OCD, as well as a higher frequency of mild neurological symptoms.

The symptoms of existential obsessive-compulsive disorder

The dominant theme of obsessive thoughts may be the fear of harming or harming others, risk, danger, fear of contamination, indecision, fear of loss, aggression.

Usually, affected people feel the irresistible need to perform repetitive rituals and without a specific purpose to counter their obsessions.

For example, washing counteracts the fear of contamination, checking counteracts indecision and accumulation counteracts the fear of loss.

They can avoid people they are afraid of behaving aggressively.

Most rituals, such as hand washing or locking, are observable, but some, such as repetitive counting or saying verbal formulas while breathing, are not.

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder recognize, to some extent, that their obsessions are not really dangerous and that those actions they take to reduce their agility are exaggerated and unrealistic. 

This persistence of awareness, although sometimes quite weak, differentiates obsessive-compulsive disorder from psychotic disorders, in which contact with reality is lost.

Because people with this condition are afraid of stigmatization and embarrassment, they often hide their obsessions and rituals with which they spend a number of hours each day.

There is often deterioration in interpersonal relationships and school or professional performance. Depression is often a secondary feature of this disorder.

What is existential OCD? (A comprehensive guide)

What are obsessions? 

Obsessions are persistent ideas, thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced as intrusive and inappropriate and cause marked discomfort; the content of these obsessions is foreign to the individual, it is not in his own control and it is not the type of thoughts he would have wanted to have.

  • Do you happen to be bothered by meaningless thoughts that keep coming back despite the fact that you try not to have them anymore?
  • When you have these thoughts, do you try to get them out of your mind? How?
  • Where do you think these thoughts come from?
  • Do you feel pressured to do something over and over again and can’t stop, for example, washing your hands, counting to a certain number, checking several times to make sure you did well?
  • Why do you have to repeat these actions?
  • How many times do you have to do them and how long do they last?
  • Do these annoying thoughts and repetitive actions last longer than you think would make sense?
  • What effect do they have on your life?

The most common obsessions are repeated thoughts about contamination (contamination by shaking other people’s hands), repeated doubts (eg, wondering if he did something – if he locked the door if he hit someone in a car accident), the need to put things in order (eg, anxiety and intense anxiety when objects are cluttered or asymmetrical), aggressive or horrible impulses (eg, injuring one’s own child or shouts an obscenity in the church); these thoughts, impulses, images are not simple fears related to the current difficulties of life.

The obsessive person tries to ignore or suppress such thoughts or impulses or to neutralize them with another thought or action (called compulsion); an example: the individual tortured by doubts about leaving the stove open tries to neutralize by repeated checks and make sure it is closed.

What are compulsions? 

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours (eg, hand washing, tidy, checking, hand washing very often, checking the door lock every few minutes) or mental acts (eg, counting, repetition of words in mind) in order to reduce anxiety and intense anxiety.

Obsessions and compulsions cause a significant impairment of professional functioning, social activities, relationships, are time-consuming (more than an hour a day).

For example, a person with an obsession with dirt will avoid public toilets or shake hands with strangers; Concern about having a serious illness is common, with frequent visits to various doctors seeking reinsurance.

Guilt, a pathological sense of responsibility, and sleep disturbances may be present; there may be excessive use of alcohol or hypnotic sedative medications.

OCD diagnosis 

In adults, obsessive-compulsive disorder is often associated with other mental illnesses that lead to the need for psychiatric consultation, namely: major depression, anxiety, phobias, eating disorders and some personality disorders, some people have reported having tics today. or in history. 

Dermatological problems such as excoriation, eczema caused by excessive washing with water and detergents or hair loss after tearing can be observed.

Although obsessive-compulsive disorder usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood, it can also begin in childhood.

The age at onset is earlier in men – between the ages of 6 and 15 than in women – between the ages of 20 and 29. 

Most often, the onset is gradual with chronic evolution, with improvements and worsening, with exacerbation of symptoms in relation to stress.

From the personal or family medical history are to be considered:

  • family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette’s disease, tics
  • ADHD – hyperkinetic syndrome
  • drug abuse or addiction
  • hemolytic beta streptococcal infection or herpes infections

Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder can negatively interfere with interpersonal relationships and those close to you may become involved in maintaining symptoms – for example, a patient with severe doubts/obsessions may constantly ask for reassurance due to irrational fears; constantly responding by offering insurance can prevent him from working on disturbing behaviours.

Treatment options for existential OCD

People with existential OCD have great difficulty detaching themselves from obsessive thoughts or images.

Obsessions absorb their attention and cause them so much anxiety that the person feels unable to carry out his activities until he removes them from his mind. 

In fact, these people often say they spend hours trying to get rid of obsessions – whether it’s a desperate attempt to stifle the thought (suppress it) or distract them from it, or it is a long repetition of a certain ritual, such as cleaning all objects in the house or repeating magic formulas. 

In short, the lives of people with existential OCD are profoundly marked by the presence of these symptoms.

It can be a major decrease in personal efficiency, a very increased rigidity in the way it works, the refusal of many activities or the avoidance of many people or places, or simply the permanent experience of a state of anxiety or excessive guilt, exhausting.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, although known for centuries, was considered a chronic, disabling and incurable condition.

Effective treatment was discovered about four decades ago, with the development of effective psychological and pharmacological methods of intervention, most of those affected can be helped to control their disabling symptoms.

The available treatments are behavioural therapy consisting of exposure and prevention of the response and antidepressant medication in the class of serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

It is necessary that the pharmacological and the behavioural treatment be followed in parallel for increased efficiency and for the prevention of relapses.

The main goal of treatment is for the patient to control the disorder and not the other way around.

Conclusions

In this blog post, we defined the concept of existential OCD. We also explained the difference between obsessions and compulsions; the symptoms of OCD and treatment options. 

Existential OCD is a type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, in which affected people are obsessively concerned with the purpose of their lives, the existence of humanity, the connection between people and nature – concerned with existential questions.

People with existential OCD have great difficulty detaching themselves from obsessive thoughts or images.

Obsessions absorb their attention and cause them so much anxiety that the person feels unable to carry out his activities until he removes them from his mind. 

In fact, these people often say they spend hours trying to get rid of obsessions – whether it’s a desperate attempt to stifle the thought (suppress it) or distract them from it, or it is a long repetition of a certain ritual, such as cleaning all objects in the house or repeating magic formulas. 

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FAQ about existential OCD

What is existential OCD?

Existential OCD is a type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, in which affected people are obsessively concerned with the purpose of their lives, the existence of humanity, the connection between people and nature – concerned with existential questions.

Do I have existential OCD?

In order to know if you have existential OCD, you have to acknowledge if you have intrusive, repetitive thinking about philosophical questions which cannot possibly be answered, and which may be frightening in nature, for example, questions about your life purpose or the purpose of death. 

How do you deal with existential OCD?

In order to deal with existential OCD, you have to ask for professional help.

The available treatments are behavioural therapy consisting of exposure and prevention of the response and antidepressant medication in the class of serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

It is necessary that the pharmacological and the behavioural treatment be followed in parallel for increased efficiency and for the prevention of relapses.

What are the 4 types of OCD?

There are more than 4 types of OCD, that fall into the following 5 categories:
– Checking

– Contamination / Mental Contamination

– Symmetry and ordering

– Ruminations / Intrusive Thoughts

– Hoarding

Does existential OCD go away?

Existential OCD does not go away by itself.

With the proper treatment, some people can recover completely.

Further reading

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts, by Sally M. Winston 

Essential Art Therapy Exercises: Effective Techniques to Manage Anxiety, Depression, and Ptsd, by Leah Guzman Atr-BC

Break Free from OCD: Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with CBT, by Paul M. Salkovskis 

Overcoming Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Overcoming Books), by David Veale; Rob Willson 

References

Ocduk.org

Webmd.com

Ocdtypes.com

Northpointrecovery.com