Shame and Guilt in OCD

Man in despair, sitting on a bench, holding his head

Andrii Zastrozhnov/iStock/Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Shame and guilt are two powerful emotions that can have a major impact on individuals' lives. If you live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you may be all too familiar with these feelings. Shame and guilt can fuel your OCD and make it harder to manage your condition.

Shame is an intense feeling of humiliation or worthlessness. It's often accompanied by a sense of powerlessness and helplessness. Guilt, on the other hand, is a feeling of remorse or responsibility for something you've done wrong.

Both shame and guilt can be difficult to deal with, but they're especially challenging if you have OCD. That's because OCD can cause you to obsess over your perceived flaws and mistakes. This can lead to a never-ending cycle of shame and guilt.

If you're struggling with shame and guilt in OCD, there are some things you can do to ease your pain. In this article, we'll explore some of the strategies that can help.

Can OCD Cause Shame?

Shame is a complex emotion, and it can be triggered by many different things. For some people with OCD, shame is constantly lurking in the background. It may be triggered by a specific thought or action, or it may be more generalized and all-consuming.

There are many ways that OCD can contribute to feelings of shame. One way is through intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, often disturbing thoughts that come into your mind against your will. They can be about anything, but they're often about taboo topics such as sex, violence, or religion.

Having intrusive thoughts can make you feel like a bad person, even if you would never act on them. This can lead to feelings of shame and self-loathing. Additionally, people with OCD often try to hide their intrusive thoughts from others. This can add to the shame you're already feeling.

Another way that OCD can cause shame is through compulsive behaviors. Compulsive behaviors are repetitive actions that you feel compelled to do in order to relieve anxiety. They may be mental (such as counting or repeating words) or physical (such as washing your hands).

Compulsive behaviors can be very time-consuming and interfere with your daily life. This can make you feel like a burden to others and lead to feelings of shame. Additionally, some compulsive behaviors, such as hoarding, can be embarrassing. This can also contribute to feelings of shame.

Treatment for OCD Shame and Guilt

If you're struggling with shame and guilt in OCD, there are treatment options available. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can be especially helpful for managing these emotions.

CBT focuses on changing the way you think about yourself and your OCD. It can help you challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to your feelings of shame and guilt. CBT can also help you develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with these emotions.

In addition to CBT, medication may also be helpful for treating shame and guilt in OCD. Some types of medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help reduce anxiety and OCD symptoms. This can make it easier to manage your emotions and reduce your feelings of shame and guilt.

If you're struggling with shame and guilt in OCD, there is help available. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to find the treatment that's right for you.

How Do You Overcome OCD Shame and Guilt?

Guilt is a normal emotion, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Guilt can motivate you to make things right and help you learn from your mistakes. However, guilt can also be debilitating if it's constant and overwhelming.

If you have OCD, you may feel guilty about your thoughts, behaviors, or both. You may feel guilty for having intrusive thoughts, even though you know they're out of your control. Or you may feel guilty for engaging in compulsive behaviors, even though you know they're not rational.

Regardless of the source of your guilt, it's important to find ways to cope with it. Here are some tips:

  • Talk to someone who understands OCD: Talking to a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional can be helpful. They can provide support and understanding, and they can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Challenge your thoughts: If you're obsessing over something you did wrong, try to challenge your thoughts. For example, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that you're doing the best you can.
  • Focus on the present: Guilt is often rooted in past events. However, dwelling on the past won't change what happened. Instead, focus on the present moment and what you can do to make things better.
  • Practice self-compassion: Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would show to a friend.

A Word From Verywell Mind

Shame and guilt are common emotions in OCD, but they don't have to control your life. If you're struggling with shame and guilt, reach out for help. Talking to a therapist or other mental health professional can be the first step in managing these emotions.

Additionally, there are many self-help strategies that can be helpful. Challenge your thoughts, focus on the present, and practice self-compassion. With time and effort, you can learn to manage your shame and guilt in OCD.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Repetitive Behaviors Take Over.

  2. Visvalingam S, Crone C, Street S, Oar EL, Gilchrist P, Norberg MM. The causes and consequences of shame in obsessive-compulsive disorderBehav Res Ther. 2022;151:104064. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2022.104064

  3. Weingarden H, Renshaw KD. Shame in the obsessive compulsive related disorders: a conceptual reviewJ Affect Disord. 2015;171:74-84. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.09.010

  4. McKay D, Sookman D, Neziroglu F, et al. Efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorderPsychiatry Res. 2015;227(1):104-113. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2015.02.004

  5. Pittenger C, Bloch MH. Pharmacological treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2014 Sep;37(3):375-91. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2014.05.006

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."