OCD and anger often go hand in hand. Here’s how to channel your frustration in healthy ways — or help a loved one.

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People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have unrelenting, invasive thoughts (obsessions) and can act in ways they feel unable to control (compulsions).

For example, they might worry obsessively about having secured their house safely or turned off their stove. They might feel compelled to perform certain rituals in the same order or pray excessively to prevent harm.

People with OCD can also experience episodes of anger. OCD is a chronic, distressing condition, so feeling angry makes sense. In fact, anger is a common human emotion that everyone experiences.

But intense anger, particularly when it turns into aggression, can be distressing for people with OCD and their loved ones.

The good news is that you can absolutely manage out-of-control anger in healthy ways, and you can support a loved one by managing it, too. Here’s how.

Some research suggests that anger episodes may be more common in OCD. For example, this 2011 study found that out of 42 adults with OCD attending an outpatient clinic, 21 reported experiencing angry outbursts in which they:

  • yelled at others
  • threatened to hurt others
  • acted aggressively
  • threatened to leave

In the same study, people who experienced anger episodes also experienced more panic attacks and had more severe depression.

This 2019 study of 90 Chinese people with OCD found that around 31% had experienced at least one anger outburst in the past week. In this 2020 German study, people living with OCD also reported more anger than people without the disorder.

Anger may also occur in children with OCD.

For example, this 2012 study found that anger attacks were relatively common in children ages 6 to 16 with OCD. Researchers also found that anger attacks were associated with more severe symptoms and impairment.

This 2015 study found similar results with increased anger in children with OCD and more intense symptoms. According to the study, the anger also took a toll on caregivers and led to poorer relationships with parents, siblings, relatives, and peers.

The link between OCD and anger is complicated and multilayered. Some people with OCD may become angry at having to live with such a difficult disorder. Others may experience anger as part of their obsessions or compulsions.

If you live with OCD and experience intrusive violent thoughts, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a thought crime, and just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

A wide range of factors can spark anger outbursts in adults and children with OCD. These can include:

  • loved ones not accommodating compulsive behaviors, which can also lead to profound fear
  • others not understanding or minimizing what it’s like to have OCD
  • interruptions that prevent performing rituals or performing them perfectly
  • frustration with having OCD
  • having to suppress feelings of anger
  • negative reactions to medication
  • symptoms of OCD, such as having to perform compulsions perfectly and constantly having unwanted, upsetting thoughts
  • prolonged levels of anxiety and stress
  • PANDAS, which stands for ‘pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections’ — a strep infection in children that triggers or worsens OCD by causing mood changes and irritability

OCD can affect people of every race, from children to adults. While both diagnosis and treatment options are widely available, there can be disparities in what people experience.

Barriers to treatment are an especially significant challenge for African Americans and other historically marginalized groups who, according to research, are less likely to access psychological and psychiatric services and are less likely to receive effective treatment for OCD.

Affordable options, available mental health professionals, and community education are noted as obstacles.

In OCD, the level, intensity, and specific behaviors of an anger episode can vary from person to person. Some people may express anger in destructive ways, while others internalize their anger instead. Some may do both.

During an anger episode, adults or children with OCD may:

  • yell
  • swear
  • make hurtful remarks
  • throw things
  • hurt themselves
  • hurt others

Often, people with OCD turn their anger inward, which may include:

  • having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • having feelings of self-hatred or worthlessness
  • withdrawing from loved ones

If you’re witnessing an angry outburst, it can understandably be concerning. However, it can be helpful to remember that a person with OCD is dealing with a lot.

So, even though they’re directing their anger toward you, their frustration may really stem from what they’re experiencing.

Of course, this doesn’t make it OK for anyone to become violent. If that happens, consider the below resources for immediate help.

Everyone experiences anger from time to time. Again, anger is a natural — even necessary — emotion. For example, anger tells you when someone is crossing your boundaries. Anger is also a signal that you may need to make some important changes.

To better understand the link between your OCD and anger, consider these questions:

  • On a daily basis, when do I feel the most frustration?
  • When do I feel the least frustration?
  • In the last month or week, why did I get angry with someone?
  • Were there early signs that my anger was building?
  • What emotions or experiences might be underlying my anger, such as loneliness, shame, or sadness?
  • How was my anger related to my recurring thoughts or behaviors?

In general, when dealing with anger, the key is to prevent it from escalating into aggression. Consider trying these practices to effectively channel your anger and minimize anger episodes:

  • Get treatment for OCD. Your anger may decrease once your symptoms are successfully managed.
  • Pinpoint what is specifically triggering your anger and brainstorm solutions that address each trigger.
  • Figure out your personal early warning signs so you can practice some relaxation techniques before your anger gets out of hand.
  • Use a meditation app to help you relax and become more mindful.
  • Make yoga part of your day, such as trying this 20-minute yoga for anxiety video.
  • Identify the positive ways you’d like others to support you.
  • Journal about your feelings regularly.
  • During an outburst, take a time-out by leaving the room until you cool off.
  • Consider an anger management course.

If your loved one has OCD, it can be difficult to know how to help them through an anger outburst. In general, it’s important to create a supportive environment, manage your own emotions, and set boundaries to maintain your own safety.

Here are some specific actions that may help:

  • Acknowledge that living with OCD is difficult, and their anger is warranted.
  • Avoid pressuring them to stop being angry or criticizing them for feeling frustrated.
  • Recognize their improvements, big or small.
  • Gently encourage them to try calming practices, which you might take on together.
  • Regularly check-in to see how they’re feeling, encouraging them to share their frustrations.
  • Listen fully to what they share, without judging or interrupting them and becoming defensive.
  • Avoid comparing them to other people with OCD or comparing their progress from day to day.
  • Learn to effectively manage your own anger and frustration.
  • Consider attending family therapy or working with your own therapist.
  • Create a family contract of clearly defined goals for reducing OCD symptoms and getting on the same page.
  • Identify what you need to feel safe and advocate for it.

For many adults and children, OCD and anger often go hand in hand. The relationship between the two is complex.

Overall, living with OCD and dealing with its symptoms can leave people feeling frustrated, confused, and angry. Feeling misunderstood and having rituals interrupted can also heighten anger.

While anger is a normal, natural emotion, in some cases, it can turn into aggressive, violent behavior. When that happens, it’s important to make sure everyone is safe and seek help.

To maintain a safe, healthy environment, it’s also important to develop an action plan that everyone understands and supports. Your plan might include a list of shared goals, appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and consequences.

Ultimately, give yourself grace. Give your loved ones grace. Check out these OCD resources, and consider working with a therapist who specializes in OCD.

OCD is highly treatable, and your entire family can thrive.