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Harm OCD

How Does Harm OCD Present?

Harm OCD involves worries about accidentally or intentionally harming others or oneself.


People with harm OCD may have repetitive worries, and these worries are unwanted and cause significant distress because they go against the person’s values and desires.


Possible repetitive worries: “What if I push someone into the road?”; “I am going to kill myself tonight when everyone is sleeping.”; “Did I accidentally poison my family’s dinner?”; or “I could lose my mind and choke my dog.”

It is possible that people with Harm OCD can also experience repetitive, intrusive violent images.


Scenario: Isa experiences intrusive thoughts about losing control and shaking her baby. Whenever she holds her baby, she has violent mental images of shaking her baby, which makes her anxious about holding her baby. Isa worries the images are a sign she could lose control at any moment and hurt her baby.

The human brain produces hundreds of random thoughts every day, and sometimes those thoughts happen to be violent. Every person, regardless of whether they have OCD, can experience random violent thoughts.


People without OCD do not focus on or care about the random violent thoughts they experience, and the thoughts do not make them anxious. In contrast, people with Harm OCD have a strong anxiety reaction to the random violent thoughts – they think the thoughts are meaningful and that they must stop or do something about them to make sure they do not act on the thoughts.


Unfortunately, the effort and attempts to stop the intrusive thoughts actually cause them to show up more frequently, making people with harm OCD feel even more certain that they are unsafe or dangerous.

It is important to know that people who have Harm OCD are not “dangerous” or “evil” for having these intrusive thoughts. 

Harm OCD Compulsions

Compulsions are anything that people with OCD do to relieve the anxiety and distress brought on by their intrusive thoughts (i.e., obsessions, worries). The variations of compulsions are endless and vary from person to person, which makes it impossible to include examples of all possible compulsions in this guide. Below is a selection of examples demonstrating how Harm OCD compulsions can manifest.

Examples of Harm OCD Compulsions:

Avoiding news stories of violent crimes.


Avoiding shows and movies with violence, suicide, or other themes that trigger intrusive thoughts.


Avoiding being alone with people for fear of hurting them.


Avoiding being alone for fear of hurting oneself.


Avoiding objects that trigger intrusive thoughts about hurting others or oneself.

(e.g., knives, hammers, medications)


Purposely imagining violent scenarios to check one’s reaction to them.

(e.g., Imagining stabbing someone and then asking yourself questions such as, “Does this disgust me?” or “Would I enjoy doing this?”)


Repeatedly asking yourself questions such as “Would I hurt someone?” or “Am I feeling suicidal?”.


Asking others for reassurance that you would not hurt someone.


Avoiding driving or repeatedly checking the rearview mirror to ensure you do not hit someone.


Needing to do certain rituals to keep yourself or others safe.

(e.g., praying each time you have a violent intrusive thought)


Repeatedly calling people to check if they are safe.


Researching the profile of violent criminals to check if your personality or life is similar to theirs.

Help for Harm OCD

Millions of people all over the world struggle with Harm OCD. Fortunately, help is available. The gold-standard treatment for OCD is a type of  behavioral intervention called exposure therapy. In addition to exposures, there are also other highly effective acceptance-based interventions that complement exposure therapy for OCD. 

We hope that this guide has helped you to better understand Harm OCD.

You do not need to live a life overwhelmed and controlled by OCD. Equipping yourself with practical information for treating OCD and learning how to respond to OCD in an effective way can be life changing. Oftentimes, people unknowingly engage in actions that feed the OCD cycle

If you would like to learn more in-depth information about OCD treatment and recovery, you are welcome to read our Educational Guides on exposure therapy and other acceptance-based interventions for OCD:

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