If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you might have certain compulsions that are primarily or entirely mental. This can make your experience feel quite different from individuals who have physical symptoms. There are several ways in which mental compulsions or purely obsessive symptoms manifest.

The symptoms include: 

  • mental checking 
  • reviewing “good” vs “bad” thoughts 
  • ruminations or revisiting 
  • mental reassurance 
  • scripting  
  • counting or mentally organizing/compartmentalizing 
  • going through “lucky” phrases 

Understanding Pure O 

Some individuals in the OCD community identify with certain themes as a way to relate to/cope with certain symptoms. “Pure O” or “pure obsession” refers to the theme for individuals who primarily experience mental compulsions. If it is helpful to identify with a theme, there are many folks in the OCD community who have found connection in sharing their stories with Pure O. Regardless of how you want to categorize mental compulsions, there are other individuals who also benefit from shared understanding and support. 

Managing Symptoms 

Even though the symptoms for mental compulsions can’t be physically seen, you can still benefit from using tools like exposure response prevention. Other mindfulness tools like radical acceptance or DBT can be helpful to become compassionate to intrusive thoughts and compulsions. You can use mindfulness techniques to keep yourself grounded and present. Breathing exercises or recognizing your senses are examples of how to take your focus away from the scrutiny of your thoughts. If you find yourself asking the same question over and over again, trying saying “maybe” or responding with “I am embracing the uncertainty”. 

The IOCDF also has an article outlining how to use self-guided exposures, known as ritual prevention and awareness (ERPA) exercises. The goal of these exercises are to isolate the triggers/obsessions and instead of responding with the ritual of a mental compulsion, you work through creating awareness of the thought to help decrease its power. Even though you cannot control the existence of an obsession, you can work to relieve yourself of mental compulsions that follow.

Since mental compulsions aren’t always addressed as frequently as some of the other common OCD symptoms, it can always be very helpful to discuss with a peer support specialist and other members of the OCDPeers community. It can feel isolating to experience these kinds of symptoms; just know there is a community of people who support you!