For quite a long time I refused to touch a knife. I would use a round ended butter knife, but anything else was out of the question. It wasn’t a flight of fancy (like the fact that I love using drinking straws and eating with an ice cream spoon, both of which are true!) but because I honestly believed that if I were to hold a knife in my hand, I would stab and kill someone.
Now I’m not a violent person. I once gave my brother a split lip (but I was about seven at the time and still claim that was his fault) and apart from that, I’m not one to lash out physically. I have no idea how to punch someone and with my total lack of hand-eye coordination there’s a strong chance that I would miss anyway. And yet I was convinced that I was always a hair’s breadth from violently killing someone.
These violent thoughts aren’t uncommon in OCD and can take on all sorts of different forms. One person may worry about whether they kicked their dog, another may think that they have smothered their child. One sufferer might worry about poking their partner’s eyes out and another may imagine themselves strangling strangers in front of them in a queue. They are all incredibly disturbing and they all have something in common – they are irrational. Nobody with this form of OCD will act upon these thoughts.
The answer is, as with all OCD, exposing yourself to the very thing that you fear. For me this meant gradually working my way up a hierarchy of the the things that scared me – starting off by sitting alone with a knife in front of me and building up to using sharp knives whilst chatting normally and interacting with my family who were right next to me.
Sometimes the things that you have to do to get rid of the OCD sound extreme – lots of people who don’t have OCD would say that they wouldn’t do it. But the point is that in order to disprove the theories fed to us by the OCD, we have to go to these extremes. In the same way that someone with contamination problems may be encouraged to wipe their hands all over a toilet seat and then eat without washing them (something that many would call disgusting), someone with a violent obsession may, as in my case, point a knife towards their therapist or someone else or stand over their sleeping child with a pillow in their hand. Once again, to those of you who feel that this sounds extreme – people with OCD never, ever act on their thoughts.
Violent intrusive thoughts are so difficult to talk about. Telling someone that you’re worried that you might strangle them isn’t massively conducive to conversation and unless the listener has a good idea of what OCD is, they can sound very worrying. This is why it’s incredibly important to raise awareness of these sorts of obsessions in order to make sure that people are not afraid to ask for help or talk about these worries. Hopefully by being open about them, we can reduce the stigma.
Obsessively compulsively yours,