Opposite thoughts are a type of intrusive thought or obsession that can come with OCD. Though stressful, you can learn to manage them.
Imagine the children’s game “red light, green light.” Now, imagine that even if you know that red means “stop” and green means “go,” your mind suddenly mixed these rules up and told you to go on red and stop on green. And, that if you didn’t obey, everyone else playing the game with you would get hurt.
Your mind might also tell you that it’s up to you to prevent mass chaos by doing the opposite of the game’s rules. You might want to obey the rules — but if you do, people could be injured, and it will be your fault.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), this particular version of “red light, green light,” may be what your brain feels like every day.
Opposite thoughts — or doing the reverse of what you may know is right because your brain tells you that it’s wrong — can be common with OCD.
People with OCD often experience a fear that not giving into obsessions might cause harm, or worse, to themselves and the people around them. Doing the opposite can become a compulsion in and of itself.
Living with OCD opposite thoughts can cause immense stress on your body if left unaddressed. But with the right treatment plan and support, you can learn to cope with these thoughts.
People with OCD often respond to obsessions and compulsions by doing the opposite of what they feel they’re being compelled to do by intrusive thoughts. These behaviors are typically done compulsively in an attempt to stop or slow the anxiety and distress of obsessions.
Opposite thoughts are often an attempt to cope with OCD, not a symptom of OCD.
- the idea of causing something bad to happen if certain compulsive rituals aren’t carried out
Ego-dystonic OCD vs. pure obsessional OCD
Ego-dystonic OCD often involves “unacceptable thoughts” about sex, violence, or religion, and accompanying compulsions to act against these thoughts or prevent them in some way.
The term “ego-dystonic OCD” means that the thoughts tend to go against a person’s personal belief system.
Pure-obsessional OCD, which was once believed to be a variation of OCD without compulsions, often involves seeking reassurance that intrusive thoughts aren’t hurting anyone else. You may also mentally review or research a situation without physically trying to prevent it.
Experiencing opposite thoughts with OCD is a form of intrusive thoughts. Some common signs of opposite thoughts can include:
- They’re against your personal belief system. You might have intrusive thoughts about sex, violence, or religion.
- You can’t tolerate them. Intrusive thoughts may be so unacceptable and intolerable to you, that you may feel like you need to “do something” to stop them.
- A belief that something bad will happen. You might feel strongly that something bad will happen to you or others if you don’t give in to your intrusive thoughts.
- They’re debilitating. Intrusive thoughts cause you so much distress and internal conflict that they become debilitating and disruptive to your life.
You may have a higher chance of experiencing opposite thoughts with OCD if you have other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
The intensity and duration of opposite thoughts with OCD may wax and wane over time.
To be diagnosed with OCD, intrusive thoughts must consume more than an hour of your day and cause significant daily stress. Only a healthcare or mental health professional can formally diagnose OCD.
While opposite thoughts can be extremely distressing, you can learn to manage them. Here are two key strategies to consider.
It may be beneficial for people with OCD to engage in some form of mindfulness practice such as:
These techniques can help you refocus your mind when intrusive or opposite thoughts become active.
While relaxing may sound counterintuitive when your anxieties seem to rule your life, focusing your mind less on the intrusive thoughts you may experience and more on the feelings they provoke can help divert some of those thoughts.
Over time you may find that relaxing helps you cope with intrusive or opposite thoughts related to OCD.
Managing OCD symptoms with the right treatment plan is often the best first step toward mitigating opposite thoughts.
Treatment for OCD often includes a combination of therapy and medication, though some mild cases may be treated through therapy alone, according to research from 2022.
A healthcare or mental health professional can review your symptoms and help you decide on a treatment plan. Like all mental health conditions, it may take time and effort to find what’s most effective for you.
Behavioral and exposure therapy may be the most effective forms of psychotherapy for treating OCD.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you reframe mistaken beliefs around intrusive or opposite thoughts. It can also help you challenge compulsions by guiding you in thinking about how useful or necessary they actually are.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is a first-line therapy for OCD. With ERP, a therapist can gently and safely help expose you to the underlying anxiety behind your obsessions without allowing you to perform the accompanying compulsion. You’ll also learn relaxation and coping techniques to help manage these thoughts.
Over time therapy can help restructure your mind to react differently to anxieties and triggers for obsessions and compulsions.
Certain medications may also be prescribed for OCD such as:
- antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- D-cycloserine, including ketamine, though more research is currently needed
- antipsychotics — such as aripiprazole (Abilify), risperidone (Risperdal), and haloperidol (Haldol) — may be prescribed for severe cases
Only a healthcare or mental health professional can prescribe medications. It’s important to follow your prescription’s guidelines when taking medication for OCD.
OCD is a common mental health condition, but symptoms can affect everyone differently.
Opposite thoughts are often linked to obsessions or intrusive thoughts in OCD that compel you to do or say things that counter your personal belief system. With opposite thoughts, you may also be convinced that you might hurt yourself or others if you don’t comply with your compulsions.
The stress of OCD on both your brain and body can be significant, and experiencing opposite thoughts can be extremely distressing and disruptive to your life.
You can learn how to cope with opposite thoughts. This often begins with treating OCD symptoms. Other approaches — such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques — can also be helpful for managing opposite thoughts.
Treatment for OCD typically involves a combination of therapy and medication. Talking with a healthcare or mental health professional is the first step in seeking help.
Treatment often varies from person to person. It may take time to find what works best, and you may have to try multiple strategies. Your case may not be the same as anyone else’s, but help is still available.
If you’re looking for additional help, you can check out Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.