What is existential OCD?
Existential OCD, also known as philosophical or ontological obsessions, is a type of OCD that involves worrying about existence and the meaning of life. People with this type of OCD may experience intrusive thoughts about their own mortality, the meaninglessness of their lives, or other big questions related to existentialism and human existence. Although all people experience these types of thoughts at some point, people with existential OCD may experience them more frequently or feel that they are a threat to their well-being.
There is no cure for this type of OCD, but there are treatments that can help manage symptoms and reduce the frequency and intensity of obsessions. Treatments typically include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. In addition to working with a therapist, people with existential OCD may benefit from engaging in certain mindfulness practices or self-care activities that help to reduce stress levels and promote well-being.
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Symptoms of Existential OCD
Some of the specific symptoms that people with this form of OCD experience include:
Obsessive thoughts or images that focus on the fear of one’s own mortality or insignificance. These may include an obsession with death or concern about when you will die, what will happen afterward, whether you have lived your life to the fullest, and so on.
Constant rumination over existential questions like, “Does life have any meaning or purpose?” and, “Is there something I am missing in life?” These thoughts can be very upsetting and may cause a lot of anxiety.
Experiencing intrusive, unwanted impulses to act out your fears related to existential threats like death, annihilation, and nothingness. For example, you might feel compelled to constantly check on loved ones, seek reassurance that you are doing okay in life, or do something drastic to prevent your own death.
Having extreme anxiety when faced with a situation where you need to take action that could jeopardize your safety or well-being. For example, you may feel panicked and unable to move when it’s time to get into a car, or you may avoid driving altogether.
Feeling incredibly overwhelmed by your fears and constantly worrying that they are rational and justified. You may also experience symptoms of depression such as sadness, guilt, hopelessness, despair, helplessness, loneliness, and worthlessness.
Obsessions of Existential OCD
- The fear of meaninglessness and purposelessness: One of the most common obsessions that people with Existential OCD experience is a deep-seated fear that their lives are meaningless, futile, and without purpose. This obsession can manifest itself in urges to do “something big” with their lives or in extreme pressure to find a purpose or meaning to their existence.
- The fear of death: Despite the fact that most people are actively avoiding thoughts and reminders of their own mortality, people with Existential OCD may constantly think about death and imagine how it might happen to them personally. This obsession can cause extreme anxiety and distress, as well as compulsive behaviors aimed at “dealing” with thoughts of death.
- The fear of insignificance and irrelevance: People with Existential OCD may worry constantly about whether they are making a difference in the world, whether their opinions and viewpoints matter, and whether they have any value or impact on the people around them. This obsession can lead to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that aim to increase the sense of significance and meaning in a person’s life.
- The fear of uncertainty: Many people with Existential OCD experience extreme anxiety about not knowing what is going to happen next and whether they will be able to cope effectively with whatever comes their way. This obsession can lead them to seek certainty and control in every aspect of their lives, as well as compulsive behaviors that are intended to reduce uncertainty.
- The fear of abandonment: Because Existential OCD revolves so heavily around fears about death, insignificance, and meaninglessness, individuals with this condition may become obsessed with the idea that they will be abandoned by the people they care about or that other people will not value them as much as they believe they should be valued. This obsession can lead to compulsive behaviors that aim to boost a person’s sense of self-worth and significance in order to prevent this perceived abandonment.
Compulsions of Existential OCD
- Answer seeking: Existential OCD sufferers often exhibit a persistent need to seek some sort of answer or solution to their fears. This can manifest as compulsive attempts to research the meaning of life, religion and spirituality, existentialism, or other philosophical topics.
- Harm avoidance: Many people with Existential OCD experience an intense fear of death or fear of the unknown. This can lead to compulsive avoidance behaviors, such as staying inside the house for long periods of time or excessive use of safety measures (such as locking all doors and windows in the house before leaving).
- Fear of confusion: The fear of uncertainty is another common compulsion associated with Existential OCD. Sufferers may become preoccupied with trying to figure out the meaning of their lives and may engage in compulsive behaviors such as analyzing their thoughts, feelings and memories in an attempt to discover some sort of hidden meaning or pattern.
- Search for certainty: Many people with Existential OCD exhibit a profound desire for certainty about life and its meaning, despite the fact that there is no clear “right” or “wrong” answer to many of the questions posed by existentialism. This compulsive need for certainty can cause sufferers to become deeply preoccupied with trivial details and takes up a significant amount of time and energy that could otherwise be used more productively.