When OCD is More than Cleanliness: Pure O OCD

Often, movies depict only one form of (OCD) in films, where characters have habitual rituals like constantly washing their hands before doing a task. For example, Felix Unger, a character from the film “The Odd Couple” (1968), shows indications of OCD in the film where he is constantly cleaning surfaces in the house. Another example is Roy Waller from “Matchstick Men” (2003), who is shown to have OCD cleanliness where he constantly cleans his carpet and wardrobe (Cantrell, 2011). Mainstream media has predominantly characterized OCD as a physical obsessive and compulsive disorder over the years, neglecting disorders such as Pure O OCD. Pure O OCD, scientifically known as non-observable visualization, is a form of OCD where instead of having an uncontrollable physical habitual routine, a person has uncontrollable intrusive thoughts.

There is no definitive reason why people have OCD or Pure O OCD, but there are many theories that try to explain them. OCD can develop from environmental factors. For instance, someone may have set something on the stove on fire. This experience may traumatize and scare the person, causing repetitive thoughts such as, “Did I really turn off the stove?” leading the person to check if the stove is turned off multiple times a day. The excessive behavior of checking the stove multiple times may serve as a coping mechanism to reduce anxiety and fear from the repetitive thoughts. Moreover, neuroimaging has demonstrated there are communication errors that occur in the brain of OCD patients (BeyondOCD). These errors occur in the anterior cingulate, orbitofrontal cortex, striatum, and thalamus parts of the brain responsible for decision making and developing emotions. When someone has random intrusive thoughts, the brain identifies the thought as threatening, leading the person to continually repeat certain behaviors to avoid the threat. In addition, the National Institutes of Health compared DNA samples of parents diagnosed with OCD to that of their offspring. It showed that OCD can be passed on from a parent to offspring; the offspring having a 25% chance of developing the disorder. 

On the other hand, Pure O OCD is thought to be developed differently. Dr. Steven Phillipson, an expert clinical psychologist who discovered Pure O OCD says, “The cause of Pure O OCD is caused by a malfunction in a brain part called the amygdala.” The amygdala is located in the back of the brain and is responsible for basic functions like sleeping and telling the body if it is in danger. The malfunction that occurs is the amygdala sends a sense of terror to intrusive thoughts. The intrusive thoughts that occur are categorized into 3 different subtypes: violence, sex, and religion. An example of a violent intrusive thought is seeing a person on a subway ledge and having the thought of pushing them. Everyone can have intrusive thoughts and forget about them, but someone who has Pure O OCD keeps replaying the intrusive thought repeatedly in their mind, causing them terror. People with Pure O OCD begin to question their state of mind and their personality and lose a sense of self due to the repetitive intrusive thoughts that occur in the mind. 

Luckily there are therapy methods for both OCD and Pure O OCD that may help patients. Exposure response therapy is effective in helping patients face their OCD and Pure O OCD without being afraid. Exposure response therapy teaches patients to purposely think of the thoughts they are afraid of. This is done in order to help patients be prepared to face their intrusive thoughts when they occur. In exposure response  therapy, therapists take small approaches in helping a patient face their fear to not mentally exhaust them. Patients on their own can practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of meditation where people try to understand their thoughts are just thoughts that don’t dictate who they are. Going to OCD groups and observing and talking about the problems other people face can motivate people to recover as well (Hoffman).



Cantrell, W. (2011, January 11). Top 10 O.C.D. Movie Characters. Retrieved September 26, 2020, from http://www.scene-stealers.com/top-10s/top-10-o-c-d-movie-characters/

Hoffman, J. (2016). Characterizing Pure O. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.madeofmillions.com/articles/characterizing-pure-o

OCD.org, B. (2018, March 30). What Causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts/what-causes-ocd

OfMillions, M. (2016, March 15). OCD3: Dr. Phillipson Talks Science, Symptoms & Treatment of OCD. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=113

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