Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) always involves obsessions and compulsions. However, those can look different depending on the different types of OCD. False memory OCD is a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder that can cause people to doubt memories about their past. It can also make them wonder if they did something but can’t remember. Learning to recognize false memories of OCD can help you avoid being swept away by doubts and fear.
Keep reading to learn more about false memory OCD, including how to identify the signs and symptoms, what causes it, and how it can be treated.
What Is False Memory OCD?
As the name implies, false memory syndrome is marked by intrusive thoughts related to past memories.
“False memory obsessive-compulsive disorder is a subtype of OCD characterized by intrusive self-doubts and false memories of doing something wrong. Sometimes these memories can feel so real that the person struggling with them has difficulty understanding what’s true and what isn’t. These intrusive thoughts and compulsions can cause anxiety, fear, and confusion regarding whether or not something occurred.”Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
Obsessions can include doubts about the accuracy of a memory. They can stem from OCD and thinking you’ve done something you haven’t. It’s common for false memory OCD to cause anxiety over fear of wrongdoing, which can make symptoms extremely upsetting.
Studies suggest that people with OCD are more likely to experience rich false memories. False memories OCD takes this to an extreme. The distressing thoughts around false memories can lead people to participate in compulsions in the hope they’ll be able to determine whether their memories are true or false.
“False OCD can often cause an individual to need to be reassured again and again and again about the same situation, even when proven that the situation did or didn’t occur — it is still met with doubt.”Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
It’s common for people with any type of OCD to ask for reassurance. Someone with false memory OCD, though, may become fixated on searching for evidence that proves or disproves their version of events.
Signs & Symptoms of False Memory OCD
When someone has false memories OCD, it can be incredibly difficult for them to believe their memories are true. They may have intense doubts about what they recall or extreme fear they’ve forgotten about a horrible act.
“Symptoms can include rumination, obsessive cleaning, intrusive thoughts and worrying, lack of confidence, and uncertainty about what’s real and what is not.”Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
False memory OCD, like other forms of OCD, causes obsessive intrusive thought patterns. Examples of obsessions in false OCD can include:
- Worrying they said or did something inappropriate
- Constantly doubting their version of events
- Convincing themself that they’re responsible for something they didn’t do
- Believing that feelings of guilt or anxiety are a sign of wrongdoing
- Having anxiety about repressed memories
- Questioning if their beliefs are true
- Experiencing thoughts about things that didn’t happen
False memories can cause extreme distress and anxiety. To cope with those feelings, people with false memory OCD may feel urged to engage in compulsions. Typical compulsions seen in people who have false memory syndrome might include things such as:
- Repeatedly asking for reassurance that things really happened the way they remember them
- Replaying memories over and over to assess their accuracy
- Imagining a new version of events
- Searching for evidence related to the event
- Asking people to describe events they were present for
- Confessing to things they didn’t do
- Punishing themself for perceived misbehavior
What Causes False Memory OCD?
The causes of OCD aren’t entirely clear. Neuroimaging studies show that people with OCD share similar brain abnormalities. Other research suggests that genetics and environmental factors can also play a role. It’s common for any OCD symptom to appear after a stressful or traumatic experience.
Many people assume that rich false memories are rare, but the reality is they’re relatively common. While most people can shrug it off when they realize their memories aren’t on point, someone with OCD may fixate on their false memories.
Once someone realizes that their recollection of an event may not be accurate, they might start to doubt or question all of their memories. This feeling of uncertainty can be very upsetting, and it’s frequently a trigger for obsessive thoughts.
How to Fix False Memory OCD: 4 Treatment Options
Most people respond very well to OCD treatment, regardless of what type they have. Treating OCD that causes you to think you’ve done something you haven’t can seem challenging. However, many evidence-based OCD treatments consistently deliver excellent results.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
For people with OCD, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors feel connected. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that can help people break these connections and challenge distressing or irrational thoughts. It’s a highly effective form of OCD treatment, with research finding that as many as 70% of people respond positively.
The term CBT refers to a broad range of therapy techniques. One of these is known as exposure and response therapy (ERT). This style of therapy involves exposing people with OCD to triggers in a safe, therapeutic environment and teaching them to deal with their feelings without resorting to compulsions. Over time, exposure therapy for OCD can relieve the anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts.
While individual therapy can be highly effective, many people with OCD respond positively to support groups and group therapy. In fact, some research suggests that individual and group therapy are equally effective when it comes to treating OCD symptoms.
One of the most significant advantages of group therapy is that it allows participants to build a support system. It gives people a chance to meet others who are struggling with the same challenges they are. Being in a group setting can also motivate people to commit to change.
If someone with OCD has severe symptoms, they may find it challenging to focus on treatment. OCD medications can improve symptoms and relieve feelings of anxiety, which can help people get more out of treatment sessions. While medication technically can be used alone, it’s more effective when used in conjunction with psychotherapy.
OCD can be treated with antidepressants, but other psychiatric medications can be used, too. Some of the medications that are FDA-approved for treating OCD include clomipramine, sertraline, and fluoxetine.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): The majority of people with OCD respond to psychotherapy and medication. However, there are additional options in cases when these aren’t effective. For example, an intervention known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be beneficial. TMS is a non-invasive deep brain stimulation type that uses electric pulses in certain brain parts.
Inpatient or outpatient treatment programs: People with severe OCD symptoms might be admitted into intensive outpatient or inpatient treatment programs. These programs typically use medication and CBT as primary treatment plans, but they allow people to receive care in a controlled hospital setting. Programs usually last a few weeks, and friends or family members can be included in the treatment process.
Manage False Memory OCD with Talkspace
It’s not unusual to have a false or inaccurate memory, but if you obsess over your memories, it might be time to talk to a mental health professional. The symptoms you’re experiencing could be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
At Talkspace, you can connect with a licensed mental health professional who has experience treating OCD. With their help, you’ll be able to learn how to recognize false memories of OCD and cope with the symptoms you’re facing. You don’t have to live with OCD — you can find effective coping tools to manage the symptoms of your condition and go on to live a full, rewarding life.
Get started with therapy for OCD today.
Talkspace mental health services
Convenient and secure online therapy from the comfort of your home
Psychiatric treatment from a licensed prescriber
Relationship-centered therapy that connects you and your partner
Specialized online therapy for ages 13-17