OCD and Reading

by david castillo dominici freedigitalphotos.net

by david castillo dominici
freedigitalphotos.net

As many of us already know, obsessive-compulsive disorder often latches on to the things that matter to us most. Your family and friends mean the world to you? Let’s give you harming obsessions. You love to travel? OCD will set you up with fears of flying and staying in hotels. The list of possibilities is endless.

One of the obsessions that I often hear about that makes me particularly sad is reading. For so many people, reading is a simple yet vital part of their lives. Whether reading a newspaper for information, a textbook for studies, or a novel for sheer pleasure, OCD can proceed to take these everyday activities and turn them into vicious cycles of obsessions and compulsions.

So how does Reading OCD manifest itself? As with all types of OCD, compulsions can vary from person to person. Some of the more common ones include having to read a word, sentence, or paragraph multiple times before continuing on. This could be as mild as having to reread the last word of every page, to something as severe as having to reread a particular sentence over and over for hours. To me, the worst compulsion of all is avoidance, where someone has given up reading altogether because it just takes too long and is too difficult.

One underlying obsession that typically incites these compulsions is the fear of not completely understanding what is being read. Some people with OCD might feel as if they are cheating if they don’t read and comprehend every single word. Or perhaps they feel others might view them as frauds. Even though those with OCD often acknowledge that these obsessions make no sense, they can’t control their compulsions or escape the vicious cycle.

The treatment for Reading OCD is the same as for all types of OCD – exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Ideally, the person with OCD works with a competent therapist using ERP, which involves doing the opposite of what OCD demands. So no rereading and no avoiding reading. One example of how this might be accomplished involves covering up words already read and not allowing yourself to uncover them to reread.

So without rereading, how can we be sure we really understand everything we read? Well, we can’t. Certainty is an elusive goal and part of ERP therapy is to accept that; there is very little in all of our lives that we can actually be sure of.

I have heard from people who have Reading OCD who haven’t read a book for pleasure in years. That is not the way life should be lived!  We all deserve the freedom to be able to read if and when we want to. So if you have Reading OCD, I hope you’ll get the appropriate help. With hard work, you can soon be curling up with your favorite book.

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18 Responses to OCD and Reading

  1. grannyK says:

    My son gave up reading years ago because of this. He fights to keep his eyes from darting around the edges of the pages and the uneven paragraphs drive him crazy. He ends up with a huge headache. For me, I have to end my reading on an even numbered page and even numbered sentence. I also have to turn the pages twice. I have it easy compared to most! It is so strange, too. I KNOW I don’t have to do it, but I like to read before bed and if I don’t do it, I will not sleep for thinking about the odd numbered page I stopped on, or worry that I didn’t read an even number of sentences on the page I stopped reading on. It makes no sense, even to me! I still read anyway, dangit, because I love it!

    • Thanks for sharing Granny K and I am sorry to hear your son gave up reading. I’m glad you are still reading though and your comment shows how there is no limit to the ways Reading OCD can manifest!

  2. I used to think this one wouldn’t get better but it absolutely can!! It took many, very uncomfortable exposures but it can improve.

  3. Karen says:

    I used to struggle with this one too, re-reading things over and over, or if a sentence didn’t make sense I would sit there and analyze its meaning, couldn’t let it go and couldn’t move on in the book. A typo or editing mistake in the book would drive me over the edge, I kept re-reading it to make sure I wasn’t missing something or seeing it incorrectly. It truly does get better, thankfully this was something that I easily overcame. Now, the contamination stuff…not so much 😦

    • Thank you for sharing Karen, and I’m glad to hear you were able to overcome your reading OCD. I’m confident you’ll beat contamination OCD as well. I’m rooting for you!

  4. varun says:

    My ocd had obsessions which would make me do what u listed above… re-reading, fear of incorrect comprehension, making meaning out of not so meaningful things… a major one getting stucked n not able to move further. Key to recovery is ERT n tapping the root cause.

  5. Peyton says:

    I always thought I just wasn’t concentrating and was letting my mind wander. I would read something multiple times to make sure I understand.

    • That’s interesting, Peyton. I’ve had comments throughout the years from people who’ve said, “I never knew this behavior was part of OCD.” That’s one of the reasons it’s so important for us to share! Thanks for commenting.

  6. Hi Janet, Many thanks for this. It was a reassuring read. I have just successfully completed my first ERP, which was to read a book without checking the page numbers. I talk about it and your blog in my latest ‘OCD’ blog: http://breakingfreefromchronicocd.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/i-can-read-book-without-checking-page.html All the best, Gemma

  7. Elissa says:

    There are certain words that I need to re-read. They are somehow connected to the intrusive thoughts and seeing them (but also hearing) leaves me with the unsettling feeling. My OCD intensifes greatly when I care for somebody… When I do not have a person to look out for; just my regular friends, my OCD doesn’t trouble me anyhow. That’s the time when I read a lot. As an extrovert, I can’t give up on spending time with people, but I tend to be apathetic. Thank you for this read. The rest of your posts made me tear up… It’s easy for me to find folks with depression to share our experience, but it’s not that simple with OCD. I’m not from the USA (English isn’t my mother language so I’m sorry for all the mistakes) and my country does little to help people with mental illness.

    • Thank you so much for sharing Elissa and I am sorry to hear you do not get the support you need in your country. There are a lot of good self-help workbooks to help you get started with ERP therapy. Also have you checked out the IOCDF website? It has a wealth of information. Good luck as you move forward in fighting your OCD and I hope to hear from you again.

      • Hi Elissa, I’m sorry you’re not able to access the help you need. I could really identify with what you wrote about reading. Just to let you know, I am doing self-help for my OCD using the acclaimed book, ‘The OCD Workbook – Third Edition’ by Bruce M. Hyman, PH.D. and Cherry Pedrick, and write about my experiences in doing self-directed ERP on my blog: http://breakingfreefromchronicocd.blogspot.co.uk/ I wish you all the very best, Gemma

    • FlyingLizardIXXI says:

      Hi Elissa 🙂
      My name is Paul and I have OCD as well, but this comment is not about that. I just wanted to tell you that your ability to write in the English language is wonderful! You have absolutely no need to apologize for the quality of your writing. It is excellent!

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