OCD and trauma: Hi there, I was told following an... - OCD-UK


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OCD and trauma

Cellothere profile image

Hi there, I was told following an assessment that I have trauma and also show OCD traits. I think that I have more OCD than that as I was really covering it a lot, as I am so used to dealing with it privately, in my own mind. I feel like they are mixed together and that I am traumatised, but it can also trigger periods of OCD. Does anybody know anything about this? I had a traumatic experience and certain things can trigger me into a kind of stress state, but then it sets off OCD type obsessions, intrusive thoughts and nightmares. I am not sure how it is all connected. Sometimes my obsessions are nothing to do with the trauma at all - for example I had a longish period of compulsive hair cutting. On the outside I am very sane and reasonable and together. I am in a good place at the moment which makes it easier to explore all of this, because when I am feeling 'in it' then I don't want to be on forums etc. Anyway - I am wondering whether anyone has a good understanding of how the two relate. I have had a few series of counselling. The problem is that I was not willing at the time to really talk about the trauma. Which sounds silly now, but I wanted to focus on relationship problems instead - which I rekon is a part of my OCD in fact! It is complicated - could my brain be using the OCD in some way to 'distract' from other issues? Can the OCD be triggered when things remind me of my original trauma? What is happening here?

28 Replies

Now there's a question! Nobody know what causes OCD and there are lots of people with it who have had good childhoods and haven't experienced major trauma.

Having said that, I know from my own experience that trauma and having personal problems can trigger it. My childhood wasn't all bad, but my father was violent when drunk, which was pretty often, and I have a lot of memories of growing up amidst domestic violence. It's certainly left emotional scars. I've found that work, family and relationship problems make my OCD worse. I'm sure that trauma leaves people vulnerable to mental health problems anyway, as it leaves physical traces in the brain and neural pathways that can set it off.

Obsessions don't have to be obviously trauma related, I'm sure, to still have their roots in trauma. And counselling isn't always easy as you dredge up memories that you've kept in obscure corners of your mind.

I agree that OCD is something most of us deal with privately, or as secretly as we can, and we pass for 'normal' as much as we can. It's quite a surprise to other people that we have a major mental health condition! The swan glides smoothly and people don't realize the feet going furiously underneath the water!

It's a complicated question, and I certainly don't have the answer. But perhaps it could be worth exploring your OCD and the trauma so you can deal with it better.

Thanks for the long and considered response and for being open about your own experiences. Your advice is likely right, but I have packed things away quite well for the moment and don't want to disturb the boxes! I need to get that book you recommended though.

Actually I had OCD before the 'trauma'. I had confession OCD when I was about 6 years old. That was intense. My mum would reassure me every time I confessed to anything, which obviously meant it lasted quite a long time, bless her. She is a kind person and meant well. It would be a build up of anxiety and worrying that I had done something and feeling really, really guilty, until eventually I had to confess everything to her (at about dusk it would get really bad) and make sure I hadn't done anything and it was all OK. This would then happen again the next day. And the next day. I can't remember what ended it, but it went on for quite a long time. However the build-up of intensity was also echoed in a recurring nightmare that I had that was very abstract. So I agree - it was existing in the context of everything being mainly OK, before the trauma and so was not caused by that...but definitely gets triggered by things associated with the trauma and gets mixed up with it somehow. It is really complicated and like a few people have said on here, certainly not always about hand-washing or checking plugs are switched off - not to belittle that though either as anything tat affects functioning and causes intense anxiety is terrible for the sufferer.

I think people react to trauma in different ways, and in those of us who are inclined to OCD it triggers that. Interesting that your OCD started as young as six, which more or less proves that though trauma may trigger it, it didn't cause it.

It's a tricky issue, whether to dredge up trauma. Freud encouraged everybody to let it all hang out, and this became quite a thing in the 1960s, but it really can be like opening a can of worms which then wriggle all over the place and cause you more trauma. If done, it needs to be done carefully, and it can be better to leave it in the box stowed away in a corner of your mind!

MissisJ profile image
MissisJ in reply to Cellothere

Hi I was so interested to read about your confession OCD. I also used to do this as a young child too, and like you, it was always as it was getting into the evening for me too like you said, I wonder why that is? It used to keep me awake, getting more and more intense, and distressed and I felt like I’d really done something really, really wrong and I’d end up waking my mum up in hysterics at some ungodly hour to ‘confess’! She was always so kind - although she must have thought I was crazy but she never said that!

I hope you can get some further help and get properly diagnosed so you can understand it all a bit better.

Thank you so much for sharing your story on here, it’s really reassuring to hear someone else experiencing such similar symptoms to me so that I know it’s ‘just’ the OCD and I’m not going ‘crazy’!!!


Sarah x

Cellothere profile image
Cellothere in reply to MissisJ

Hi Sarah, wow it was amazing to read about someone else having this! It sounds so incredibly similar. How bizarre that for both of us it built up into the evening. My mum was really nice about it too and every patient, but maybe it lasted longer because she was giving me the reassurance I was seeking each time. I wonder why we had those feelings though? I am still really susceptible to guilt. There are certain things I have learned to never do because I know that the guilt for me is just so unbearable - keeps me on the straight and narrow I guess! :-))) xx

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Hidden in reply to Sallyskins

My thoughts exactly regarding the OCD & trauma, but I wouldn't have been able to express it as well as you did, Sally.

Sallyskins profile image
Sallyskins in reply to Hidden

Thanks for the nice comment!

For me, it's part in parcel of my life's journey!! And because of my past, I found that it has made me super sensitive to keeping myself safe!!! I was, well, beaten as a child, mixed with other unsavoury things, which I do believe fueled my OCD and made me watch out for signs of any threats (this is one of the reason I'm really good at defusing angry people, I had to do it to survive) so I think my past has caused triggers in my later life, and fueled my extreme intrusive thoughts!! As a positive outcome of my childhood, I do believe, that the fear of my Dad was so great that I do believe that that's why I had and have Pure O OCD and not have outward compulsions, I know that sounds silly, but I feel I would have done complusions if I wouldn't have got beaten for it!!! I don't know if any of this helps, but this is my thoughts on the subject with regards to what I have experienced.

Maybe it's something to do with if your noticing a pattern, and it's triggering past events, which in turn is causing intrusive thoughts, I've had this, and that's difficult, but with help fixable. We're here if you need us to offer support.

Cellothere profile image
Cellothere in reply to Katz101

I can so relate to this. I am always on the alert for threats. Then occasionally I go into full flight or fight and cannot sleep and will feel my whole body coursing with adrenaline and terror and a kind of white noise. Like you - I do not usually act on my compulsions (although I did with the hair cutting, much to the detriment of my mane). With many of them things are internalised. It doesn't sound silly when you say you didn't act them out for fear of being beaten. We are very conditioned.

Thanks for the support. I am in a good place right now really and that's why I feel able to explore all of these things.

Patterns are massive - if something changes in someone else pattern that can be a problem for me and I need to understand it and have it explained. It can be embarrassing, but if I don't it makes me feel really afraid. I think letting these things go unexplained is part of the key. Caring less. That's what sertreline did and I didn't have thrombocytosis I reckon that would have worked pretty well!

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Hidden in reply to Cellothere

Go, Sertraline/Zoloft!!!

Cellothere profile image
Cellothere in reply to Hidden

I couldn't stay on it Sunn-E, but it was nice for a moment ;) I am now taking loads of vitamins and writing a journal and am in a good place. It may be a coincidence - I'm not saying it's the vitamins. I just had to try something different because the sertreline didn't suit my physiology.

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Hidden in reply to Cellothere

Hi Cello - I'm sorry about the Sertraline. What kind of vitamins do you take? Were they recommended to you for OCD?

Cellothere profile image
Cellothere in reply to Hidden

No - they weren't! I went online and googled anything that had any connection with helping anxiety and then some general things for low immune system so mega 369, zinc, calcium, magnesium, vitamin d, vitamin B6, chromium picolinate and iron! I don't know whether they helped or it was a coincidence and if one did I don't know which one because I tarted taking quite a few, so that doesn't help I am afraid. I was just desperate.

I also have B12 injections every 3 months because my levels are low and I cannot absorb it from food and find that when it gets low any anxiety or OCD is much worse.

I guess my thinking was if I am really healthy that can only help...I was also hoping for a placebo effect!! Anything. I had run out of ideas.

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Hidden in reply to Cellothere

How do you find out your B12 is low? Does a doctor's office give the injections?

Cellothere profile image
Cellothere in reply to Hidden

Yes, I had symptoms such as memory difficulties (quite definite - losing my car several times for example) , low energy, not feeling like 'myself', brain fog. I was specifically tested for B12 and it was deficient. I am not able to absorb it from food or tablets so after two weeks of loading injections I now have it every 3 months. It is given by a nurse at my GP surgery.

I know that B vitamins are related to brain function, so it's good to make sure you have enough of those. I suppose making sure your nutrition levels are good makes you feel physically better, and that improves you mentally.

I took something called Rhodiola Rosea for a while, which is supposed to help with a lot of things. I don't really know if it worked, but I certainly didn't feel worse on it. The advantage is that it doesn't have side effects, as far as I know, and doesn't react badly with other medication. I stopped taking it basically because it was too expensive. Might be worth investigating. It's available in health food stores.

Apparently the placebo effect doesn't work for OCD. So it could be that the B vitamins are actually doing their work!

I will look up the one you mentioned. I am getting a bit wobbly at the moment having had quite a good patch. Not sure why. Being very internally obsessive and despite all being good, thinking lots of horrible thoughts and imagining things (I hope) and negative scenarios. I hate it. I have so much to be thankful for.

There are always ups and downs and ups again with OCD. Keep going!

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Hidden in reply to Katz101

Hi Katz - My dad was also a beater, and I grew up scared to death of him. I hated my childhood. I kept my ruminations to myself, as I knew no one would care or take them seriously.

Cellothere profile image
Cellothere in reply to Hidden

I am sorry to her about your childhood. I hope your adulthood is much better.

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Hidden in reply to Cellothere

Thank you so much, Cello. I'm 61 and my adult life has been SOME better, mostly because of my husband and my OCD doctor, but I've dealt with OCD and childhood scars a lot of my life.

cambridgeborn profile image
cambridgeborn in reply to Hidden

It's interesting that so many of us experienced violent fathers and domestic violence in general. That was my case as well. If there is one thing to learn from all of this it is to protect our children from any form of family violence lest we set them up for a lifetime of mental distress and illness. My mother was unable to protect her children from her husband's violent, drunken outbursts. Women need RUN from abusive men! We must never subject our children to such harmful situations. I just needed to express that.

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Hidden in reply to cambridgeborn

Very well said.

Hi Cellothere. Your story resonates a lot with me. My trauma was about most of my family dieing from cancer at very young age at the same time in a period of 4 years and my OCD of course became a very severe anxiety disorder. I did not have any sign of OCD before than that and my obsessions and compulsion are always related to health and suffering and dead. It's not roket science why I got OCD but it took some time for me to realize that my problem was (and still is in some digree) that I was not able to deal and accept stress, pain, suffering...meaning , dealing with life. ERP and meds helped in some degree but ACT took definitely a very important role in my recovery (if I can say I've recovered, that's it) Try to be strong, be positive but most of all, be compassionate with yourself, we sometime forget we are fucking heroes who are able to deal with the worst bulling and we have a terrorist in our minds 24/7. 💪

I had not heard of ACT and I am googling it now!

I like your advice about compassion. I have been reframing my trauma as being a 'survivor' of something rather than a victim of something. I try to focus on that and my resourcefulness rather than the damage it did.

I realise the other day as well that I am about half way through my life and that I can actually decide how I want the rest to go and what kind of thinker I would prefer to be....this has helped me let go to see degree. It can be constant battle though, one that rages loudly or quietly.

Wow its really interesting reading this thread, as mentioned before, a violent father theme seems to be common with many of us, I too had a very physically and mentally abusive father who for some reason hated me from when I was born and from as far back as I can remember would say nasty, hurtful things to me quietly and under his breath to which I would retaliate, be beaten by him and then be told off by my mum for causing trouble because she didn't hear him or he'd deny he'd said anything. If I complained to my mum she'd say how terrible her dad was and basically tell me to stop complaining because I've got it good compared to what happened to her. I hated my home life growing up and spent a lot of it crying, thinking I was ugly and wishing the years away so I could get away. I used to love going to bed early and spent hours imagining myself in happy scenarios and settings almost like a book or film all within my mind.

Hahaha I went off into a sort of book just now.

I often think my childhood caused the anxiety, ocd problems I have now but as someone else mentioned, a lot of people had happy childhoods.

Maybe its not productive analysing why we're the way we are and we would be better off channelling that energy into fighting the ocd here and now. X

Yes I know what you mean. Thanks for writing that though. I feel I’ve analysed until I lose myself in my own navel!! Hugs xx

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