Please note: The information on this page should not be construed as medical advice, nor should it be used to diagnose or treat any condition. The content on this page is written by recovered OCD sufferers, not by clinicians. Read More
A Look at Magical Thinking OCD: Its Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
If you can’t let go of your intrusive Magical thoughts, you are not alone; there is a name for it. It’s called OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Around 2% of the population suffers from OCD, making it one of the most common mental disorders. So what is Magical Thinking OCD, what causes it, and how can you cope with it?
ERP therapy (Exposure and Response Prevention) and medication are the two most commonly used treatments for Magical Thinking OCD; sadly, only 35 to 40% seek treatment, and less than 10% receive evidence-based OCD treatment
Is Magical Thinking OCD real?
If you struggle with Magical Thinking OCD, you know it’s very real to you. You can’t just write it off as some type of over-exaggeration of the mind, or ‘just your imagination.
Magical Thinking OCD can be so intense and consuming for many sufferers that they may fear losing their minds entirely. But there is no need for that Fear; you are not alone, and there is help for OCD.
What is OCD, and how does it manifest in people’s lives?
OCD is a mental disorder that causes people to have intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or images that enter your mind against your will. Compulsive behaviors are rituals or routines that you feel forced to do to relieve the anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts.
What exactly is Magical Thinking?
Magical Thinking is when an individual has optimistic thoughts and behaviors based on the belief that wishing something to be so can make it happen.
There are many different types of Magical Thinking, and they all have one thing in common: they create unrealistic expectations for themselves and others.
Some examples of Magical Thinking include: Believing that crossing one’s fingers or saying novenas will help change the outcome of a situation. Wishing on a star every night before going to sleep, in the hope that your wish will come true.
Hanging a cross or religious icon above your bed or desk, believing it will provide you with happiness and good luck. Believing that avoiding stepping on sidewalk cracks will protect you from harm.
How does Magical Thinking OCD manifest
The manifestations of Magical Thinking OCD are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, meaning you experience negative emotions when your mind latches onto a thought you don’t want to have.
For instance…”If I don’t say the exact words someone is asking me to, something terrible will happen to them, or “If I don’t do my compulsive behavior (rituals), something bad will happen to me.”
Negative emotions may arise because the thought itself is disturbing, or you believe your thoughts are dangerous.
Either way, unwanted Magical Thinking leads to compulsive behavior to relieve the anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts. For example, saying prayers or crossing yourself repeatedly throughout the day after thinking, “I didn’t say that prayer correctly; I better start over.”
Your level of relief is directly related to the lengthiness and number of rituals it takes to make you feel ‘safe’ again.
Rituals are also used to protect others from danger. For example, if you don’t step on sidewalk cracks, you will keep the people you love safe.
Without proper treatment for Magical Thinking OCD, your ritualistic behavior can quickly take over your life. It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill; its power and speed grow with each pass until it consumes everything in its path.
How can I tell if I’m just being superstitious or not?
A key indicator that you might have Magical Thinking OCD is Fear of negative consequences, which leads to compulsions (rituals)or avoidance.
Another indicator to look for is if these thoughts or behaviors cause significant distress; sometimes, it’s difficult to tell the difference between superstitious thoughts and OCD symptoms.
But it’s important to remember that these OCD thoughts can become very intense at times and cause much anxiety and distress.
What it’s like to have Magical Thinking OCD
Everyday intrusive thoughts are random and fleeting, but with OCD, these thoughts can be constant and disturbing. Also, because of your unwanted anxiety around the thoughts, you may try to push them out of your mind.
But instead of getting rid of the thought forever, you may unintentionally give it more power by bringing it back to your consciousness.
This brings on even more anxiety and can lead you to do compulsions as a way to relieve your anxiety. The problem with this is that OCD hijacks your thoughts…just when you thought you were getting rid of them, they come back stronger than before!
This is where Magical Thinking OCD gets its power. For example, You may think to yourself, “If I don’t go back and check the front door twice more, my husband is going to die.”
The anxiety your intrusive thought creates can change your behavior, causing you to compulsively return home even though logic tells you there is no reason for you to go back.
In other words, your OCD tells you that there’s a chance…a tiny possibility…that something terrible could happen if you don’t do your compulsions.
What causes magical thinking OCD?
There are many theories as to why some people develop OCD. Experts believe OCD is caused by changes in the brain, genetic factors, an imbalance in neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical messengers), and how you process your thoughts.
Many people who develop Magical Thinking OCD have had other types of intrusive thoughts associated with anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Panic Disorder.
OCD is more likely to develop in people who have a family history of mental health disorders, particularly OCD or other anxiety disorders. Autoimmune diseases are also a common cause of OCD.
What treatments and tools can I use to fight and overcome OCD?
ERP Exposure and response prevention is the treatment of choice for OCD.ERP works by helping you face your fears and resist rituals, and discover that what you fear will not actually happen. ERP has been shown to help reduce anxiety levels and the frequency of intrusive thoughts.
It’s important to understand that this can become a severe and very real problem, and it’s okay to ask for help. OCD does not discriminate and can affect anyone and at any time. Asking for help is a sign of strength and courage, and there is no shame in taking the first step towards recovery.
Magical Thinking OCD can be highly distressing, and sufferers tend to go to great lengths to avoid the thoughts and rituals associated with it.
When these behaviors are left untreated, they can prevent sufferers from leading fulfilling lives. The key is getting help early because the longer you leave it, the harder it gets.
Research shows that both medication and ERP (Exposure Response Prevention), when combined with psychoeducation on the disorder, are effective ways of treating OCD. However, only 30 to 40% of people seek treatment, which is very unfortunate.
Finding a good OCD therapist is essential
Finding an experienced OCD specialist that you connect with can be difficult. There are limitations to what the average therapist knows about OCD (and therefore their ability to provide effective treatment). Still, there are also plenty of therapists out there who do not understand what people with OCD go through.
If you’re struggling with obsessive thoughts, anxiety, or depression, it’s essential to take advantage of the many resources available to you. It’s essential that you seek out a qualified and experienced therapist who is an expert in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
The importance of working on the faulty belief system is key to overcoming OCD
If you’ve been diagnosed with Magical Thinking OCD, it’s essential to understand the thoughts you experience are not real. In fact, they’re often distorted and exaggerated thoughts that have no basis in reality.
Understanding their falsehood makes it easier for sufferers to separate themselves from them and avoid acting on them compulsively. Unfortunately, by doing compulsions to relieve your anxiety, you’re reinforcing your faulty belief system.
Examples of the faulty belief system
The faulty belief system is the primary source of maladaptive responses in OCD. The false belief system is usually at the heart of all magical thinking OCD sufferers’ obsessions. The thoughts are powerful because they come from deep-seated fears rather than logic, making them very real to you.
For instance, if your main Fear is that your partner will die if you don’t check the front door twice before you leave your house, this is likely to lead you to compulsively check it throughout the day.
Or if your main Fear is that something terrible will happen to a loved one unless certain rituals are performed, this could result in countless hours spent performing these tasks.
Magical thinking OCD medications
OCD is a chronic and progressive disorder that can last a lifetime. Research shows that medication alone will not be enough to help sufferers recover; it must be combined with ERP (Exposure Response Prevention).
The good news is there are medications available (the most common being SSRIs) that can help reduce the impact of OCD by altering the levels of serotonin in the brain.
Just make sure to remember that antidepressants can make you more anxious at first before they start working, and that’s why many people end up getting discouraged.
Examples of magical thinking OCD compulsions
There are endless examples of compulsive behaviors performed by sufferers to reduce anxiety and prevent “bad things” from happening – but the most common compulsions include:
If you have Magical Thinking OCD, you might compulsively count everything. You may also repeat specific phrases or words to prevent bad things from happening. And if that doesn’t work out for you, you may end up avoiding specific numbers or words altogether.
You may feel the need to check things repeatedly to make sure everything is okay. You might double-check lights, taps, locks, and doors, or you might constantly check for signs that something terrible is about to happen.
You may also become obsessed with checking that people are okay, constantly calling and texting your loved ones to ensure they’re safe and sound.
This is a common way of coping with the Fear of bad things happening. Rituals may include touching particular objects, tapping your feet a certain number of times before exiting a building, and so on. They’re often performed repeatedly to prevent bad things from happening. For example, You won’t feel safe or in control unless you tap your feet 10 times.
Many sufferers with Magical Thinking OCD may avoid symbols that bring bad luck, such as the number 4 or black cats. You may also avoid specific numbers such as 13, Friday the thirteenth, and so on. It can be challenging to leave the house if you believe it’s an unlucky day.
Avoiding things, people, and places will only make your anxiety worse. You need to learn how to challenge these irrational beliefs and eventually face your fears to recover from Magical Thinking OCD.
The first step toward overcoming the compulsion of Magical Thinking OCD is understanding that your thoughts may not be grounded in reality. You need to learn to challenge these irrational beliefs and stop avoiding things that trigger your anxiety.
This is a form of compulsive checking, where you find yourself constantly seeking reassurance from others. In other words, you keep asking questions such as “Did I lock the door?”, “Is my loved one okay?” and so on.
The purpose of this compulsion is to reduce your anxiety, but it doesn’t actually help you deal with what’s causing it. In the long run, your anxiety only gets worse because you’re constantly going over and over questions in your head.
Examples of Magical Thinking OCD exposures:
Every time you avoid something, this reinforces the idea that it’s unsafe. No matter how terrible you feel when facing your fears, remember that you’re desensitizing yourself to the obsessive thoughts every time you face them.
Remember that anxiety is not dangerous. It only becomes a problem when it causes avoidance or stops you from doing things.
For example, if you have a fear of someone in your family dying because of your intrusive thoughts, then an exposure may involve writing down all the possible ways that your loved one may die (e.g., car accident, cancer, etc.)
You may also have an exposure where you purposely try to have your intrusive thoughts while driving, walking, or doing another activity. You would then rate your anxiety while doing this exposure and continue to do it until your Fear goes down.
If you’re not sure how to do ERP Exposure exercises, simply search YouTube for “Exposure and Response Prevention” or check out other great articles on this website.
Magic thinking OCD and relationships
If you have Magical Thinking OCD, your relationships could be affected because living with this condition can be highly taxing. The best advice I can give anyone in a relationship with someone suffering from Magical Thinking OCD is to be patient and understanding and never lose hope. Your loved one still needs you, even if things seem to be falling apart.
OCD behaviors make it difficult for sufferers to maintain relationships. It takes emotional energy to carry out rituals, which can cause sufferers to withdraw from family and friends because they don’t want anyone to see the extent of their OCD.
They may also become angry or irritable when their family and friends fail to understand the nature of OCD or why they need to perform certain rituals.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who suffers from Magical Thinking OCD, there are some essential things you can do to support them.
1. Educate yourself about OCD and the compulsions of Magical Thinking.
2. Help face their fears and resist compulsions by encouraging exposure and response prevention therapy.
3. Participate in therapy sessions with your loved ones, so you know how best to support them at home.
4. Be patient and believe in your loved one, even if it seems like therapy isn’t working or their OCD is getting worse. Recovery from Magical Thinking OCD takes time, but it is possible.
5. Help your loved one take back control of their life by encouraging healthy activities outside the home.
It’s essential for family members to be patient and understand the Fear of intrusive thoughts is built up over a long period, so treatment can take some time to bear fruit. OCD is a complex anxiety disorder that can take time to understand and address. Stay strong!
What are the chances to beat OCD?
OCD is treatable; even if you don’t think that exposure and response prevention therapy [ERP] or your treatment is working, keep the faith and continue to participate fully in your therapy sessions.
Recovery from OCD takes time, but it is possible. With time and effort, you can expect to progress towards overcoming the disorder. I wish you all the best in your recovery journey from Magical Thinking OCD. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
My name is Jonas Eriksson. I was suffering many years with magical thinking OCD. I often feared that if I thought about my loved ones dying, they would die in real life. I also fear that something terrible might happen to me or someone else if I don’t perform certain rituals.
My OCD thoughts wouldn’t let me sleep at night, and it took over my life completely. It affected all areas of my life, including work and my relationships with colleagues and friends.
I hope you can begin your own journey towards recovery one day soon.
I wish you all the best in your recovery journey from Magical Thinking OCD! It’s not easy, but it is possible.
You’re never alone in your fight against OCD. We at ocdTalk are here to help!
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Hello, I am Jonas Eriksson. I suffered from severe OCD for many years and have now recovered. My OCD is related to an autoimmune disorder called Autoimmune basal ganglia disorder. Sadly I was undiagnosed for 27 years. The inflammation put my brain to be in a state of constant terror. By sharing helpful information, I hope someone will get motivated to seek treatment and learn more about OCD and related disorders.