OCD and Sensitivity

by dusky freedigitalphotos.net

by dusky freedigitalphotos.net

As most of us know, obsessive-compulsive disorder is comprised of obsessions, (thoughts, images or impulses that recur and feel outside of the person’s control), and compulsions (repetitive behaviors or thoughts engaged in with the intention of negating obsessions). What many people don’t realize, however, is that the thoughts that become obsessions in those with OCD are typically no different from the thoughts that most of us experience.

While these thoughts might be more vivid and intense in those with OCD, the real difference lies in our reactions to these thoughts. Most people without OCD will have an uncomfortable thought come into their heads (perhaps a fear of hurting a loved one, for example) acknowledge it (“what a crazy thought”) and then just let it pass. End of story.

Not those with OCD, however. They attach meaning to the thought (“I must really want to hurt my loved one if I have this thought”) and a vicious cycle begins. I go into more detail here about how those with OCD perceive these thoughts and react to them. Also, if you are not familiar with the cognitive distortion known as thought-action fusion, I highly recommend reading this post.

My son Dan was a highly sensitive child, and has grown into a sensitive adult. In this article, there is discussion of research that concludes those with OCD are more sensitive than others, at least in regard to moral dilemmas. In my own experience with people with OCD, they often describe themselves as highly sensitive.

So are those with obsessive-compulsive disorder more affected by unwanted thoughts than those without the disorder because they are more sensitive people, or because they have OCD? Which comes first? Is being highly sensitive a factor in developing OCD, or does having OCD make one more sensitive?

And maybe the most important question of all – does it matter?

In my opinion, probably not much. While it is part of our nature to seek answers, to solve  the puzzle so to speak, I don’t think it really matters which comes first. What matters is we recognize that those with OCD are often quite sensitive, and if this becomes an issue in treatment, interactions with others, or in any other way, it should be addressed.

The good news, as I’ve said before, is that we don’t have to completely understand OCD to successfully treat it. Whether you’re highly sensitive or not, if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the way to go.



This entry was posted in Mental Health, OCD and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to OCD and Sensitivity


    Hi Janet,

    Do you have any advice on which residential programs you would rate as favourable. Our son has disabling OCD and we would like to proceed with ERP. We are Canadian but willlling to travel to the US. Thank you for your excellent posts.

    Thank you,

    Mohamed Ravalia ravalia@eastlink.ca

  2. Lorre Leon Mendelson says:

    Thank you for this article Janet. my only comment is AMEN! smile. Best, Lorre

  3. Ben says:

    Hello my name is Ben. Very neat read, I want to ask a question about a problem I have cycled into with my OCD. I’ve been to therapy over years and years of my life and I’m only 19. I was born with this problem as my mom is also schizophrenic and mental problems run deep in my family. I have used a method of thinking to battle my OCD problems by putting my mind in a state of “Trust in reality” and it worked for most problems like washing hands because I was scared of drugs getting on them and and thoughts of killing my family in my mind but knew I would never do it, and seeing blood everywhere even though it isn’t there…all these problems where slightly easier to go against when I would put my mind in the mindset of “Trust in reality” until now….I have a problem were after I engage in sexual acts (not intercourse) a few days later I get scared that the possibility of pregnancy is possible. Even if my girlfriend is on birth control and we are being fully protective I have this issue of seeing the always 1% possibility that they must put on all products. And this is problematic to me because this is something that can ruin my life if I get my girlfriend pregnant, not only that but it causes a lot of stress in the relationship. The reason I can use the frame of mind of “trust in reality” like I did with other problems is because of the single slightest chance of it happening is out of my control not matter how big the chance of it NOT happening is, and having that small chance of pregnancy occurring is absolute torcher because we can go through birth control and pregnancy tests and implants but not matter what they can only guarantee to work 99% of the time and as a person with OCD 1% in cases like this is definitely not something easy to accept. How could I go about this? I am very knowledgable about my problem and how I usually battle it but this is something that is out of my grasp and I can’t simply “accept uncertainty” because this is life altering. So this leaves me stuck and I put myself in a “it’s all in my head” mindset and I start to separate myself from life and live my days in the dark alone waiting for it to pass…please help. I’m tired

    • Hi Ben, Thank you so much for sharing and I’m sorry things have been so tough for you. You really do have so much insight into your OCD and understand it. You say you’ve been through therapy but have you seen an OCD specialist who uses exposure and response prevention (ERP)? An experienced therapist can absolutely help you with your latest issue. I am not a therapist and therefore don’t feel comfortable giving specific advice. I am confident, however, with the right help, you can feel much better. Good luck and I look forward to hearing from you again.

      • Ben says:

        Thanks Janet! I’ll keep you up to date with how my problem goes, I go to get a full diagnosis of all my problems this July 13th so ill keep you guys up to date! I’ve been dealing with this for a long time and I’m very aware on how to control it, it’s just starting to find ways that are a little personal and that just makes things very difficult through the day but I want to learn from my issues I’ve delt with to help others! Thanks for this post, I’ll be back 🙂

      • Ben says:

        I realize I had a lot of grammar errors that first message, please excuse those I was in a hurry lol

      • No worries :)………and yes, please keep us posted!

  4. Highly sensitive person here!! Good thoughts, Janet. As always.

  5. Thank you for this article! I, along with others have noticed how sensitive I can be. I have to remind myself sometimes that its okay and it almost makes me more thoughtful and considerate toward others.

  6. musingsalongtheyukonriver says:

    Reblogged this on Musings Along the Yukon River.

      • musingsalongtheyukonriver says:

        I like reading your blog posts! I think your book is the first place I heard about residential OCD treatment centers. Finally getting ERP from Rogers Memorial Hospital’s Cedar Ridge OCD Center made the biggest difference in my fight against OCD. I’m still battling… Glad your son is doing well! Peace 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s