Irrational thoughts are a feature of OCD. You might even find that they play a huge role in your obsessions and compulsions.

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you may often notice irrational thoughts and urges.

This isn’t to say that people with OCD never think rationally. It also doesn’t mean that everybody prone to irrational thoughts has OCD. Rather, irrational thoughts link to OCD in a unique way.

Recognizing and addressing your irrational thought patterns might help you manage your OCD symptoms.

OCD is a mental health condition. Although the symptoms can be distressing and isolating, there are many effective treatments for OCD that might help you feel better.

Data from the National Institute of Mental Health tells us that 2.3% of U.S. adults will develop OCD at some point in their lives. It’s also possible for children to have OCD.

OCD is made up of two main components:

  • Obsessions: repetitive, intrusive, upsetting thoughts that won’t go away
  • Compulsions: actions or behaviors you feel urged to do to get rid of obsessions or minimize their effects.

While most people occasionally have intrusive thoughts, obsessions are significantly distressing and persistent. Someone with OCD won’t find it easy to make the thoughts go away. Some might feel that it’s impossible.

Compulsions may look like superstitions or rituals. They can include:

  • repeating a mantra (verbally or mentally)
  • repeating an action
  • checking items
  • looking for reassurance
  • other actions

It might seem like compulsions will help you feel relieved or safer, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Irrational thoughts are thoughts that aren’t based on logic or reality.

People with OCD and other mental illnesses are often prone to cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are habitual thinking patterns that are incorrect or biased — often negatively. As a result, some of your thoughts might be irrational.

The following cognitive distortions are common among people with OCD:

  • Catastrophizing. Catastrophic thinking is when you assume that the very worst will happen.
  • Inflation of responsibility. This is the idea that you need to fix or control things that you’re not responsible for and that you’re to blame for negative outcomes.
  • Magical thinking. Magical thinking is the idea that your thoughts determine reality.
  • Over-importance of thoughts. Also known as thought-action fusion, this is the idea that thinking about doing something is morally the same as doing it.
  • Perfectionism. This is the idea that you must be perfect and never do anything wrong.

You might also find that the compulsions don’t logically connect to your obsessions. For example, you might have an obsessive fear of hurting yourself. Your compulsion might be to pace a certain number of steps.

You might believe, on some level, that this compulsion will bring you relief or prevent your fear from manifesting, but there’s no logical reason why pacing would help with that.

You might find that irrational thoughts underlie your obsessions and compulsions. Here are some examples of irrational thoughts in OCD:

Example 1

Obsession: Images and thoughts of you hurting your pet.

Compulsion: Knocking on wood whenever you have this thought to prevent it from actually happening.

Why it’s irrational: This is an example of the over-importance of thoughts and magical thinking. Thinking about hurting your pet does not mean that you will actually hurt your pet. Additionally, knocking on wood will do nothing to prevent it.

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Example 2

Obsession: The idea that you might cause a car accident.

Compulsion: Repeatedly saying a mantra before you get into your car to prevent it from manifesting, even if it makes you late for work.

Why it’s irrational: This is also an example of magical thinking. Imagining a car accident doesn’t mean it will automatically happen, and a mantra will not actually prevent an accident.

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Example 3

Obsession: Images and thoughts of becoming very sick and dying due to an infection.

Compulsion: Washing your hands, body, and house excessively to “eliminate” germs.

Why it’s irrational: This is an example of catastrophizing. Not all germs lead to infections, and not all infections will lead to a terrible illness or death.

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Some OCD-related obsessions and compulsions don’t seem very irrational. For example, you might have obsessive fears about your house burning down, and your compulsion might be to check for fire hazards five times before you leave the house. But even “logical” obsessions and compulsions can be distressing and time-consuming.

Whether your OCD seems logical, you can still seek help and be successfully treated.

1. Learn to cope with them

Irrational thoughts can be upsetting, so your first instinct might be to ignore or suppress the thought. However, this seldom works.

Instead, you might benefit from learning to cope with irrational thoughts. Whether you have OCD or not, talk therapy might help you identify irrational thoughts and address them.

2. Talk therapy

The most common OCD treatment is talk therapy. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a particularly common therapy for OCD, but other types of talk therapy might also be helpful.

3. Self-care strategies

Certain self-care strategies might also help you manage your OCD symptoms. Stress can worsen symptoms, so stress management techniques — like exercise, meditation, and journaling — might be helpful.

4. Medication

In some cases, a mental health professional may prescribe medication for OCD.

5. Peer support

Relationships can also make a positive difference in your life. Try to connect and spend time with supportive loved ones. You might also benefit from joining online or in-person OCD support groups.

We all have irrational thoughts from time to time. Often, they are harmless.

But sometimes, they can be distressing. These thoughts can also perpetuate symptoms of mental illnesses, especially OCD. You might find that your obsessions and compulsions are based on irrational thoughts.

While there is no cure for OCD, treatment allows people to better manage and cope with their symptoms.

If you find that you’re experiencing distressing irrational thoughts, you might benefit from therapy, whether you have OCD or not.

You might benefit from the following resources:

Support groups:


Help to find a therapist: