Join Carrie as she helps you distinguish personal thoughts from OCD obsessions. She breaks down common OCD themes and the urgency they create and offers practical tips for navigating the complexities of OCD.

  • How to recognize common themes of OCD thoughts.
  • The urgency often associated with OCD obsessions and the behaviors they provoke.
  • The tendency of OCD to make insignificant issues feel overwhelmingly important.
  • The importance of mindfulness in discerning the true significance of intrusive thoughts.
  • Strategies for embracing uncertainty and resisting the urge to seek reassurance.

Explore related episode:


Hi, welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 118. I’m your host, Carrie Bock, and I’m a licensed professional counselor in Tennessee. I wanted to talk with you today about “How Do I Know If this is an OCD Obsession?” This is something that comes up for a lot of people, right? Is it God? Is it the devil? Is it OCD?

Is it an OCD obsession or is it really just me? I want to break it down for you a little bit, maybe give you four ways that you can know whether or not this is an OCD obsession. Number one, does it fall in line with your typical OCD themes? You know your themes that OCD typically runs through. For someone with scrupulosity, for example, “Have I offended God in this way?” “Did I actually sin?”

A lot of times, OCD starts with, “What if?” What if I hurt that person’s feelings? What if I ran over someone with my car? What if this is not arranged properly, then something bad might happen, that superstitious type of thinking that can come along with OCD? Is the obsession or the thought process that you’re having, is it in line with what your themes typically are?That’s number one. 

Number two, does this feel urgent? OCD will tell you, you have to do something about this right now and it may not be an external action. So it may not be like a typical checking the doorknob or checking to make sure that the stove is off one more time. It may be a rumination of. I have to figure this out right now, and I have to have an answer right now.

It feels very urgent, so that may lead you to say, “Okay, if I need to know right now, that means I’m going to go Google about it. I’m going to go call my best friend and ask her the same question that I’ve already asked her and I’ve already received an answer to.” That’s reassurance seeking. “I have to sit here and think about it, or I have to find three scripture verses that tell me yes or no. I have to look at what this pastor that I listen to, let me try to see if he’s done a sermon about this situation.” If it feels like, yes, I’ve got to engage, I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to figure it out and it’s so urgent. It’s like, I’ve got to do it right now. That’s a good indicator that you are dealing with an OCD obsession.

Number three, does it feel like it is the most important thing, even if it is not? OCD has a tendency to just cloud and zoom in and tell you this is the thing that you need to be focused on. Right now, you need to be focused on, did you hurt that person’s feelings three years ago when you told them the truth about their boyfriend, that he wasn’t the right person for them.

OCD may have you stuck on that for a long time. And if you’re able to zoom out a little bit and look at kind of your life in total, Is the most important thing to be focusing on right now, or is it just that’s what OCD is telling me? It’s the most important thing to focus on right now. Because what happened between you and your friend three years ago when you made a comment about her boyfriend wasn’t the person she should be with.

I imagine that you have many other things going on in your life right now, whether that’s work, school, family responsibilities, current friendships, maybe you’re still in a relationship with that friend and things are fine right now. What’s actually happening in the present. This is why I teach people mindfulness skills.

This is why I stress those and have a course on mindfulness because learning to be able to be in the present helps us know what’s the most important thing right now. And a lot of times it’s not what OCD is telling you. Sometimes, we can be running from the stress of the present moment into an obsession and you don’t even realize that you’re doing it.

It’s much easier for me to like, it’s a familiar pathway in my brain, maybe easier is not the right word, but it’s a familiar pathway in my brain ruminate about this scripture verse and trying to figure it out. Versus sitting with the uncertainty maybe of my present situation of a family member who’s sick or of not being certain if I’m doing a good job on this work project.

Thinking about what is OCD possibly trying to distract you from that’s uncomfortable in the present. And as you’re able to sit more with some of those present uncertainties, that’s going to help you be able to manage the OCD and to recognize. That it’s not the most important thing right now.

Acceptance and commitment therapy or act teaches you to move towards your values, to move towards what’s important to you. And so if you’re sitting in your room obsessing about something or seeking a lot of reassurance, a lot of times that’s taking time away. From what’s most important to you at that moment.

Even though OCD is telling you, Hey, you’ve got to figure this out right now, you’ve got to sit and ruminate on it. Thinking about what are my values? What’s actually most important to me? How can I move towards that value system instead of being stuck in this OCD loop over and over again, where I like to tell people that OCD is trying to get you to scratch an itch that you can’t scratch.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had an itch on your back that you couldn’t reach. It’s a little bit like that. It’s like, well, maybe I can, maybe if I just move this way, or, oh, maybe if I just put my arm that way, maybe I’ll be able to get to it. That’s what OCD obsessions are like. It wants you to believe that you can scratch that itch, but really you can’t.

Really, you have to learn to be able to sit With the discomfort to sit with the uncertainty. And as long as you keep chasing, being able to scratch that itch, the more and more uncomfortable you’re going to be. And it’s just going to continue back that loop of obsession and compulsion. We’ve covered three different points so far on the four points of how do I know if this is an OCD obsession or not.

Let’s say point number four is that you’re still unsure. You’re still not sure if this is an OCD obsession or not. And I would say, encourage you to embrace that uncertainty in any way that you can. I know that may seem big or impossible for some of you who are listening to this. With anxiety or OCD, but embracing uncertainty is what allows you to be able to say, Hey, I can move forward towards my values.

I can keep living and functioning in my day-to-day life. I don’t have to figure this out right now. There are some things that take us a long time to figure out. Is this the person that I’m supposed to marry? Probably shouldn’t make that decision in a day or in an hour. We don’t necessarily need to know that absolutely right now, but that is what OCD is telling you, to say, let me sit with this uncertainty.

Let me gather more data over time, not gather more data by Googling a bunch of stuff. But let me take my time on deciding, is this the person that I should marry? If it’s a spiritual obsession, a lot of times people can get stuck on sins and making sure, “Okay, I have to eradicate every sin from my life, sins in the present, sins in the past.” Can I sit with the fact that maybe there are some things that I’ve done in the past? Maybe sometimes I can reconcile those things. But there are some things that we just can’t that it might be damaging to go back and rehash something with somebody that they’ve already healed from, but you might still be stuck in shame about that’s something that you might have to sit with.

Embracing that uncertainty and that discomfort in the present is going to help. Slow you down, slow all the racing obsessions down because the less that you give into them, the less that they’re going to reoccur. Everyone has uncertainty in their life. Everyone has things that they don’t know, and it’s okay to not know, and it’s okay to have a mindful moment and acknowledge there are some things that I’m questioning right now.

There are some things that I am uncertain about. I can sit with those things. I can recognize that discomfort, but I don’t have to become a slave to it. I can continue living my life. I hope that these tips have been helpful for you and you can reach out to me anytime at I encourage you to click on the courses tab and check out the options there.

I have a great course on mindfulness that can really help you learn to sit with some of that uncertainty, learn to sit with those uncomfortable feelings and recognizing you don’t have to act on them. 

Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling. Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock, licensed professional counselor in Tennessee. Opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the use of myself or By The Well Counseling. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum.

Until next time, may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.