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Magical Thinking OCD

What Is Magical Thinking OCD?

Magical thinking OCD involves repetitive intrusive thoughts about something bad happening if a person does or does not do a specific action(s).


With Magical Thinking OCD, there is no logical connection between the specific action that the person feels compelled to do (or not do) and the bad event that they are trying to prevent.


Scenario: Zander worries that his family will die in their sleep if he does not turn the light switch on and off seven times before he goes to bed. Zander logically knows that repeatedly flicking the light switch has nothing to do with keeping his family alive, but he feels compelled to do it anyway “just in case” and because he feels anxious if he does not do the ritual.

People with magical thinking OCD may feel responsible for random bad events happening and make unfounded connections between their actions and a bad event.


Scenario 1: Mischa remembered she did not make her bed the morning that her parents got into a car accident. She now worries that she will cause her parents to get into an accident again if she does not make her bed every morning.

Scenario 2: Alex feels that he will do poorly on tests if he does not avoid stepping on cracks on his way to school. He was in a rush one morning and accidentally stepped on a crack. Incidentally, he received a lower than typical grade for himself on a difficult math test that day, which further solidified Alex’s worry that stepping on cracks will lead to low test grades.

Magical Thinking 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 illustrating a range of ways Magical Thinking OCD compulsions present.

Examples of Magical Thinking OCD Compulsions:

Saying a specific word or phrase to prevent something bad from happening.


Saying your intrusive thoughts out loud or confessing them to people.


Thinking “good” thoughts to counteract “bad” thoughts.


Doing a specific action(s) to prevent something bad from happening.

(e.g., washing one’s hands; tapping the bottom of a glass before using it)


Avoiding a specific action(s) to prevent something bad from happening.

(e.g., not sending any emails/texts if the time involves the number six such as 6:00pm or 8:26am)


Carrying “lucky” objects to prevent something bad from happening.


Seeking reassurance from others that doing (or not doing) a specific action

will not cause something bad to happen.


Reassuring yourself that nothing bad will happen if you do not do your OCD rituals

because your worries are just magical thinking.


Blinking, breathing, chewing, or moving in a certain way to prevent something bad from happening.

Help for Magical Thinking OCD

Living with Magical Thinking OCD can be overwhelming, and it can feel frustrating to be stuck doing rituals that a part of you knows are not logical. However, there is hope; please know effective therapy exists. Magical Thinking OCD, like all types of OCD, is treatable. 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 Magical Thinking 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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