OCD and Honesty

scales of justice

As a child, my son Dan never lied to me. Okay, I guess I can’t be 100% sure about that, but he was usually an upfront, truthful boy. Teachers and relatives would comment on his honesty as well, saying things like, “If we want to know what really happened, we ask Dan.”

Enter OCD. Now he’s telling us he didn’t realize there were fingerprints all over the walls, or he was too tired to go here or there, or he just wasn’t hungry. All lies (which worked) to cover up his obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even after he was diagnosed and I’d ask how he was doing, the answer was always “fine,” despite the fact that he was obviously so not fine. He lied about his feelings and about  taking his meds. My hunch is he lied to the first few doctors he saw, or at the very least, wasn’t completely honest with them regarding his symptoms.

OCD can turn sufferers into liars. Whether it’s the fear of being found out, the fear of what others will think, or a host of other reasons (many of which I imagine have to do with the stigma associated with the disorder), those with OCD often do whatever they can to cover their tracks. In short, they become sneaky, courtesy of  OCD.

What I find ironic is that many of these same sufferers deal with honesty issues as part of their disorder. For example, some with OCD are so afraid of lying they might have to review their entire day in their minds to make sure everything they said was true. Others might even confess to “bad things” they never did, but how do they know for sure they didn’t do them, so the right thing to do is to own up to the wrongdoing. Concerns that revolve around hyper-responsibility often involve being honest and doing the right thing to keep loved ones, or maybe even the whole world, safe. And of course, scrupulosity is all about upstanding moral behavior, which involves telling the truth.

So once again we see the disconnect between what sufferers strive for and what OCD delivers. Sufferers who value truth and honesty become deceitful. This is just one example of how those with OCD struggle to be certain all is well, but then this insidious disorder goes ahead and makes sure the opposite happens; lives are destroyed. Yes, OCD can steal what is most important to us all, but only if we let it. Please don’t let it. Instead, fight back with ERP Therapy and regain control of your lives.

I’d love to hear your honest thoughts!

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47 Responses to OCD and Honesty

  1. OCD Pure-O Scrupulosity says:

    Do you mean sufferers who value truth and honesty become deceitful when they try to cover up their symptoms or not share the embarrassment of their symptoms?

    • For my son, the importance (or what he perceived as the necessity) of covering up his symptoms forced him to lie, which was out of character for him. Sorry for the confusion. I hope this helps!

  2. grannyK says:

    My son picks the skin off from around his fingernails. Once in a while, I will notice an infection, so I casually mention we need to treat it and his picking caused it. He will deny doing it and say there is nothing wrong and just hide his hands and walk away. I don’t make a huge deal out of it anymore, but I do keep trying to get him to understand to just be honest to me and to himself about it.

  3. I think I have a good example of this from my own life, Janet. When I was a child, I was so afraid of lying, that I would answer, “I don’t know,” to basic questions like, “What’s your favorite color?”

    Well, that was LYING, wasn’t it? I liked purple the best.

    But I was SO SCARED that if I didn’t like purple the next day, then I would have been lying.

    OCD is circular.

  4. Deb says:

    I am afraid that my constant battling with my son against his OCD will soon cause him to lie or that he has already started to. I am not sure at what point I should back off or if I need to continue to force exposures to things at home. Since he is 19, I want to give him privacy and not push, but on the other hand he needs help. I don’t want him to go “underground” with his OCD fears to get me off his back. But I am not going to stand back and enable his fears either.
    I am not sure what the right balance is.


    • Hi Deb, Oh that right balance is a tough one, isn’t it? And I’m sure it’s different for each person. Your comment reminded me of when we were having a tough time with Dan and I never thought to ask him what he needed: https://ocdtalk.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/we-need-to-listen/. Maybe that’s a conversation that might be worthwhile with your son? Just a thought. Also, maybe discussing the concerns you outlined in your comment with your son and therapist together might be helpful…..good luck, I know it’s not easy………

  5. Shell says:

    You describe my 12 year old daughter to a T as far as her scrupulosity. However, that being so strong, she is unable to lie about her OCD even though I’m sure she would like to at times. That may also be due to her constant need for reassurance.

    • Hi Shell, Thanks for commenting. It gets complicated, doesn’t it? Of course it’s good not to lie, but when you’re dealing with that type of scrupulosity, it would probably be a good exposure to not be honest…I assume your daughter is in treatment, and her therapist will help her through this…….thanks for sharing.

  6. This post could have been entitled “How Tina Acted.” I related to so much of this. I, too, was very honest as a child, and then I lied about my OCD symptoms–how much water I used, what I was doing in the bathroom so long, why was I moving so slowly, etc. I remember asking my mother if it was lying if I said “I don’t know” if I wasn’t absolutely sure (she said no, but she of course didn’t understand that I was using “I don’t know” as a safety answer to try to avoid lying, as Jackie said above). It is very ironic that often people with OCD are so scrupulous about their behavior and about being good, and yet we may regularly lie to avoid anyone finding out what’s really going on. We get so mired down in the mess of hiding and covering up. You’re right–get treatment and get better. It’s possible!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Tina. Yes, you could’ve written this. I think you are so right…….when you were in the “thick of it” you felt you had no choice but to hide your OCD……it certainly makes sense to me (well, as much as anything to do with OCD makes sense :)).

    • eks9713 says:

      100% what Tina said. I was scared of lying as a child, but OCD quickly taught me to lie to cover up why my hands were raw or I took so long in the bathroom. I still struggle with this, particularly when I’m late because of OCD, and trying to rationalize telling a white lie so as to not have to discuss the OCD issue with someone I don’t know well or doesn’t know about my OCD.

      • I totally get what you are saying, and thanks for sharing. I can certainly understand not wanting to get into the whole “OCD thing” with someone who isn’t aware you have the disorder.

  7. C says:

    I think sometimes we get backed into a corner, having to decide between talking about symptoms if someone “catches” us or just lying about them. Sort of like when someone you don’t know or doesn’t really care asks “how are you?” and you reply “well” or “fine”, even if something bad is happening. Sometimes it just makes more sense to avoid that step to me, rather than going into why my hands are all red or something like that. I would never say to someone casually the real reason why.

    • staticcalm says:

      I have scrupulosity centric OCD, obsessed with honesty, doing the “right” thing, being a good person and protecting others from harm. Confessing has been one of my compulsions as a result. And yet I completely agree with this sentiment and had the exact same thought about saying “fine” when someone asks you how you’re doing in passing. I would rather not explain to every single person the reasons for my OCD related behavior, so I usually brush off comments, change the subject or act like it’s no big deal. I’m honestly okay with this. Family and close friends already have a good sense of what my OCD behavior entails, and I do agree that we should feel somewhat comfortable expressing our distress to those who are close and wish to help us. However, if someone I hardly knew asked me how I was feeling, I would not feel comfortable saying “Well, I’m having anxiety due to the fact that I am OCD and refraining from performing a compulsion.” Just as I would not feel comfortable revealing every aspect of my personal life to someone who asked me how I was doing.

    • Hi C, I totally get what you are saying, and I think that is something we all do at times. Most people would not even think of saying they are “fine” as lying, but for someone with scrupulosity, for example, you’d think it would be a big deal.

  8. 71 & Sunny says:

    I could have written this post about myself, Janet. Honesty is one of the character traits I value above almost anything. I have at times been “over honest” in sharing details that are unnecessary because of OCD because I was so afraid of lying. I’ve not taken legitimate deductions on my taxes because in my mind there was the slightest possibility that maybe I didn’t meet the criteria 1000%. And yet . . . I lied like the best of them when it came to coming up with an “excuse” for why I had to wash my hands one more time or why I needed to call someone (when I was really secretly double checking that I did not accidentally harm them in some way). Then the terrible guilt would follow about the lying. It was truly a painful lose-lose situation.

    • Hi Sunny, Welcome home! You bring up a very important point that I didn’t touch upon (because it’s worth its own post), and that’s the GUILT that comes with believing you lied, or behaved in some other unacceptable way. I like how you describe the whole sequence of events……..a lose-lose situation.

    • Grackle says:

      ” I have at times been ‘over honest’ in sharing details that are unnecessary because of OCD because I was so afraid of lying.”

      Boy, do I know what you’re talking about!!! Ugh. I’m still embarrassed about some of the things I told people…now I think I have a better handle on the excessive honesty thing (I THINK) but in the past I didn’t know what was happening to me and I was way,way too candid out of some vague, anxiety-laden terror.

      Glad I found this blog!

  9. Nancy says:

    Oh man I could have written this. In fact, somewhere in a journal I wrote (when my child was probably 3-4 years into OCD) that OCD had taught my child to lie. Even now while my child is in intensive therapy, I discover ways the effects and specifics of the OCD are minimized by my child. Several times I’ve found myself detailing things to the therapist that were not fully explained- sort of “lying” by omission. I know it is a common complaint , but this is why the loved ones of those with OCD are always asking “Is that the OCD making you do that ?” I keep probing to figure out the “truth”.

    • Thanks for sharing, Nancy. I used to do the same thing, asking Dan if behaviors were OCD related. It didn’t work out well for us, because he’d get annoyed, and also I never knew if his answer was the truth! You also bring up a great point about those with OCD “lying” in therapy and that’s another good reason for parents (when appropriate) to be involved, so they can relate what they observe to their child’s therapist.

  10. drblogmom says:

    In our situation, our son is so concerned about telling a lie that he won’t even promise to do something – because if it doesn’t work out that he’s able to carry it out, well then, he lied. That’s the scrupulosity part. On the other hand, we will see him doing something that’s in the service of an OCD ritual and when we ask him about it, he will act like he doesn’t know what we are talking about or completely deny what he is doing so that he can continue with his ritual. It’s sometimes a mad circle.

  11. Deb says:

    I have been struggling with knowing that if I push my son too hard with exposures he will start hiding/lying about his issues. I am not sure what the best balance is with encouraging/forcing exposures and giving him space and enabling. It’s a tough one.

  12. jik says:

    hello I can relate so much ,protecting others from harm type of ocd or like saving the whole world from anything harmful its really hard to deal and we sufferers really don’t share this rare ocd to others except for those who we really trust and depend on.there are times that I need to check on something by going back to the area or by asking a clarification the person that I am with have no idea that somethings going on with my tthoughts but I need to lie coz they will not undrstand.

    • Good to hear from you, Jik. I totally understand what you are saying, and I’m sure I would do the same as you if I were in that situation. I’m not sure how rare harming OCD is though, as it seems to me a lot of my readers deal with these types of obsessions. In any case, you are not alone!

      • jik says:

        thank u janet I’m just so happy that I’ve found a support group like this ,makes me feel better hope to meet you someday don’t know when where and how coz I’m from the philippines I’ll send u my email so that u can see my picture in facebook or I’m not sure if u know my email already

  13. The Hook says:

    OCD must drain a person’s mental energy immensely.

  14. staticcalm says:

    I just want to say, honestly, that although I think your concern is absolutely valid, as you wanted to help your son and you felt it was essential that he share with you, each and every person, particularly those of us who are adults and have OCD have a right to privacy. If someone asks you a question you have a right to your own silence. If you had honesty related OCD, I think this is something essential to learn. Or at least, it has helped me.

    As far as lying….lying with the intent to harm someone, or prevent someone from learning information that they have a right to know is destructive. Choosing to refrain from answering something, I suppose could be considered “deceitful,” but I think to some degree we as human beings have a right to privacy and self-protection.

    However, sharing with those you love and trust is important in recovery. OCD is different for everybody, but really the idea of the right to privacy has been really important to me in overcoming the idea of needing to be compulsively honest.

    • Hi Staticcalm, Thank you for your insight, and I totally agree with you. I actually can put myself in Dan’s shoes (to some extent) and understand why he was lying. I’m sure I would have done the same in that situation. The point I was trying to make is that he was able to easily lie when his OCD dictated it, even though being honest was so important to him in so many other situations….the bottom line I always seem to come back to is that OCD makes no sense and is full of contradictions…don’t know if that makes any sense to you (well probably not, because we are talking about OCD 🙂 ) And yes, of course, we are all entitled to protect our privacy. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Krystal Lynn says:

    Hi Janet,
    I have found myself “lying” because I was trying to hide my OCD. I suppose more often than not, it was not to cover up explaining my OCD to people who already knew I had it, but more to strangers or perhaps friends who I was afraid to tell. I hope noone is offended if I call OCD a disability but I felt in the midst of severe OCD I felt disabled.. but without a wheelchair or cast to spell my disability out..and I was, sadly, embarrassed by my behavior. Sometimes questions (well-mean’t) by family irritated me and made my anxiety worse. With time and maturity I have come to the point of being able to communicate more effectively what I am feeling and lying is less an issue ,but I still do it. Apart from OCD lying, I consider myself to be a very honest and forthright person, so it is hard to accept the lapse – even if I condone that I have a right to privacy. It is for me, a difficult issue.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Krystal Lynn. I agree that OCD is a disability, but as you say, not an easily visible or understandable one, so of course that leads to lying, unless you want to spend hours a day explaining to strangers (and loved ones) why you are acting a certain way. I like how you call that lying “OCD lying” because that’s exactly what it is. It’s not the real you.

  16. eventer79 says:

    This is a really interesting post — I think you have a real gift of empathy, being able to write about this so eloquently from the outside, so to speak.

    For me, this aspect is less “truth or lie,” than worry and responsibility. I have a terrible habit of taking responsibility for EVERYONE. If my best friend doesn’t answer an email in a short period of time, I quickly spiral into freak-out stalking (luckily she understands), frantically apologizing for any imagined slight when there was none. I also feel responsible for her happiness and safety, even though she is a grown woman with adult children! When bad things are happening in her life, I feel compelled to somehow fix it and make it better and it is TORTURE when I cannot.

    I never knew until recently that this came from the OCD, but it was like an epiphany when I learned this. Understand where this behaviour came from let me be a little more compassionate towards myself, instead of constantly berating myself for being silly. Of course, it does not take away this phenomenon, but at least it can change the way I deal with it, which is a little bit healthier!

    My situation may be a little different. I was a child in the 80’s, mental health was hardly understood to be as common as it is now. I did not identify my own ailments until I finally figured out the clinical depression in college and it was not until 10+ years later I figured out the OCD and ADHD, so it’s been a long, lonely road for sure. Your son is very lucky to have you!!!

    • Thanks so much for your insights. You bring up a lot of good points and I have also heard from others that finding out your behavior is OCD related can be somewhat comforting, and help you to feel less alone. I’m sorry it has been such a long road for you and wish you all the best as you continue your journey toward recovery.

  17. Reblogged this on counselorssoapbox and commented:
    Interesting post. Wanted to share.

  18. Deb says:

    I have a question that relates to the topic of honesty. My son made the decision to quit the track team his senior year of high school due to the overwhelming OCD he was fighting. This was a big deal in our small town. As a varsity runner for the 3 previous years, he was predicted to win districts and break the school record in the 2 mile. His younger cross country teammates looked up to him as a role model. My husband coaches at our local University and Matt was one of his faster “recruits”. On a daily basis we are asked why he didn’t run track this year and if he is going to run for my husband’s college team. The kids on both the high school team and the college team constantly ask my son, my daughter, my husband and myself if Matt is running again and why he is not running now. Matt tells people he is having personal problems. My husband uses the vague statement that “Matt has a lot going on right now”. I feel like even though it is no one’s business, I am compelled to tell the truth. The vague statements lead people to guess that he is on drugs, or has bad grades or has become lazy. I don’t want people going around saying that my son is crazy, but I also don’t want them coming up with a false rumor or guess as to why he isn’t running. My husband is especially sensitive to this because he literally is asked every day how Matt’s running is going by a recruit, an alumnae or one of his athletes. People tend to think the worse if they don’t know the truth. The worst rumor is that my husband pressured him too much and he quit running because of my husband. I really think it is better to say the truth. “Matt has severe OCD. He is working on recovering. Hopefully when he is better he will run again. Thanks for asking.” BUT the stigma surrounding mental disorders make me feel that I should not tell people this. What do we tell people when they ask? The truth or a vague statement?

    • Hi Deb, It’s hard enough dealing with OCD without having questions bombarded at you daily…….I can’t imagine how difficult that must be for your family.
      I don’t know if anyone can answer your questions except for you. My first thought when you say you want to tell the truth is, “How does Matt feel about it?” If he is uncomfortable with you telling people he has OCD, then I would absolutely respect his wishes. If he is okay with it, and you feel in your heart that this what you want to do, then I say go for it. The more we talk openly about OCD the closer we will get to reducing the stigma…..good luck with whatever you decide.

  19. Alicia says:

    Like so many of your posts, I relate to this one so strongly. I have always been an honest person, but my OCD caused me to become sneaky and dishonest – not because that was who I am, but out of desperation. Desperation to keep my rituals private, fear of being judged negatively, and the idea that “it’ll probably go away on its own anyway” made me hide my rituals and hoarding for a long time.

    But of course, like secrets tend to do, it came out eventually. And considering the way it came out, I almost feel justified in all the hiding and lying. It came out in the most humiliating way possible, when a neighbor caught me moving trash from the curb back onto the property. He screamed at me and called me “weird” and “psychotic” over and over. Of course he emailed the landlord, who then contacted my roommate about it. Both my landlord and roommate treated me like a criminal once I told them I had OCD. My roommate said she had nightmares about me and couldn’t trust me, felt like I had lied to her about everything. She mentioned when we had first talked on the phone about living together, that she had asked if I had OCD and I said no. I had said no, because at that point, when I was about to move in, it was very mild and really none of her business anyway. I had not lied until later, when I was hiding garbage in the apartment.

    My landlord blackmailed me – said that if I was not out within 10 days, she was going to press criminal charges (which was bogus, as I had not committed any crime). She also said that I had not told her about my OCD when I first moved in, which is ridiculous to me because I don’t see how it was any of her business at that point. Not to mention that if I had told her and she had denied me housing for having OCD, that would have been discrimination, which is illegal. Honestly – all of this almost made me feel justified in lying – if this is how I was treated when they found out about my OCD, I had every reason not to tell them and face this discrimination and abuse!

    I don’t think it is healthy for people to cover up their OCD. It needs to be out in the open so that it can be treated. Unfortunately, society as a whole is far too ignorant to be able to treat these people with the respect and compassion that they deserve. People with OCD are generally very perceptive and intelligent, so they anticipate how people will treat them and act to avoid these ignorant reactions. I thought my experience was exceptionally bad, but talking to some other people, the ignorance I dealt with is actually quite common with a condition like this. People who are perfectly nice in normal situations think it’s okay to point, laugh, stare, name-call, shame, and demean people with mental illnesses. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and we were talking about how unbelievable it is that in 2013, we’ve come up with all the amazing technology and medical advances that we have, but in terms of attitudes towards mental illness, we’re still a lot like cavemen.

    I’m sorry I always write so much here, I just have a lot to say on this topic. It just makes me so angry that people who are already suffering are treated badly by other people on top of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone point and laugh at a cancer patient for having no hair, but they think it’s okay to do so with someone with a mental illness.

  20. Hi Alicia, I appreciate all your comments and hearing about your experiences. I’m sorry you had a horrible time with your roommate and landlord, and it just shows me that we have so much more work to do in educating people about OCD. Nobody deserves to be treated the way you were.

  21. KP says:

    this is something i’m still working on, i lie to hide my compulsive avoidance of college classes so as not to disappoint my parents… i hate lying to them and every time i do i feel as thought i’m one step closer to getting kicked out of the house (or so my brain tells me)!

    i’ve been trying to push myself to be honest and to open up about my avoidance and OCD issues with my parents, but it’s such a draining challenge. i often end up crying, with headaches and migraines, or with new scratches on my arm in a worst case scenario featuring self-harm…

    i’m glad you wrote about this; people need to understand that lying isn’t something we folks with OCD want to do! it’s hard to communicate once it becomes a ritual, too, and people begin to think you purposely want to upset them. exposing myself to the discomfort is taking a lot out of me, but it’s happening gradually

    • Thanks so much for sharing and I’m sorry things have been so rough for you. Are you in therapy (ERP) for your OCD? If not, I hope you will move forward with that as OCD is so tough to face on your own. I also hope you can find the strength to communicate honestly with your parents (maybe writing a letter instead of talking to them if that might help?) so they can have a better understanding of your OCD and learn to support you in appropriate ways. A good therapist can help you figure out the best way to communicate with your parents as well. Good luck and I hope to hear from you again!

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