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Moral OCD

How Does Moral OCD Manifest?

Moral OCD involves individuals experiencing worries about being a “bad” person or doing things that are “bad” or “wrong” in some way.


People with this type of OCD often want to ensure that everything they do is “good” or “ethical” and feel extremely guilty or anxious for minor infractions or mistakes. The types of mistakes that people with moral OCD get stuck on are often things that others would not think twice about or think of as a big deal.


Scenario: Camron felt very guilty after learning a product he purchased was not environmentally friendly. His mind raced with thoughts about being responsible for environmental pollution, and he could not sleep that night. Camron’s friends assured him that it was not a big deal, but he still found it difficult to move on.

Individuals with Moral OCD may often hold themselves to ethical standards that they do not hold others to.


Scenario 1: Latoya feels like a really bad person if she wastes any food and forces herself to finish every bite of food even if it makes her sick. However, Latoya does not think her family members are bad when they do not finish their meals and throw away leftovers.

Scenario 2: Mischka feels she must confess every negative comment she has ever said to her friends about her husband (e.g., “My husband annoyed me today.”). She feels she is being disloyal and a bad wife if she does not confess these things to her husband. Mischka would not expect any of her friends to do this and would not recommend it, but she feels compelled to do it to relieve her guilt.

While moral OCD obsessions can focus on minor mistakes or situations that most people would not even consider mistakes, sometimes it can focus on mistakes that are not minor. Nobody is perfect and we all do things at times that we regret. However, people with moral OCD often find it extremely difficult to have any compassion for their mistakes. They may feel that they are deserving of harsh punishment or should not be forgiven for their mistakes. They may also mentally replay their mistake over and over again and have trouble letting go.


If people who experience Moral OCD do share their mistake(s) with another person, they often receive feedback that “yes, this was not your finest moment but these things happen, and it is okay.” However, the Moral OCD keeps the individual feeling guilty and unable to move past the situation without holding onto high levels of self-blame, shame, and disgust.

Moral 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 Moral OCD compulsions present.

Examples of Moral OCD Compulsions:

Mentally reviewing past events to make sure you did not do something “bad”.


Imagining hypothetical moral situations to mentally check if you would do the “right” thing.


Seeking reassurance from others that you are a “good” person or you did not do something “bad”.


Holding yourself to extreme or perfectionistic moral standards.

(e.g., I must be honest 100% of the time; I must answer my friend’s calls no matter what I am doing, otherwise I am not being a good friend)


Avoiding TV shows, movies, books which include themes that are “wrong” or “bad”.

(e.g., cheating, stealing)


Excessively punishing yourself for even minor mistakes.


Repeatedly confessing to things that make you feel badly, no matter how minor.

(e.g., “Mom, I watched TV for five more minutes after you told me to turn it off.”)


Excessively researching ways to become a “better” person.

(e.g., spending hours reading about racism to make sure you do not act racist)

Help for Moral OCD

Millions of people all over the world struggle with Moral OCD – you are not alone. You also do not have to live your life consumed and controlled by your Moral OCD’s impossible rules and standards. However, there is effective therapy; 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 Moral 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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