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Responsibility OCD: The Lesser Known Bane

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Exclusive | Shaun Britton offers an insight into the mental health reality of those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. A world of which many of us know very little about.

Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy

Whilst most people are aware of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (or OCD), in which the sufferer deals with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours, it is often less known that there are a variety of types, or sub-strains of OCD that are commonly experienced.

These types are commonly referred to as Checking, Intrusive Thoughts, Contamination, Hoarding, Mental Contamination and Ruminations. However, there is another sub-strain of OCD that is less discussed, and many sufferers may even be unaware that the sub-strain exists.

Whilst hyper responsibility can be an element of any experience of OCD, sometimes it can feature so prominently as to be worthy of its own classification.

The Lesser Known Bane

The Made of Millions Foundation describes Responsibility OCD in the following way:

“Responsibility OCD is a subset of OCD centred around anxiety and guilt. Sufferers are less concerned about their own welfare, and more concerned with the repercussions of their actions or non-actions.

They worry endlessly about accidentally hurting others, and often times take responsibility for things that are not their fault.”

Responsibility OCD, as with all other strains of OCD, is an exhausting and debilitating condition, but thankfully one that can be transformed with knowledge, help and the right treatments.

So, what is it like to have responsibility OCD, and why is it less commonly known?

The Madness of Doubt

To understand Responsibility OCD, it is useful to understand OCD overall.

The French used to term OCD as ‘Folie du Doute’ : (The Madness of Doubt), which is a sound way to understand the internal world of an OCD sufferer. In a fascinating article, 17 people were asked to describe what it was like having OCD:

“OCD is like having a bully stuck inside your head and nobody else can see it.”


“It means constantly questioning whether what I’m thinking or feeling is me or the OCD. The decision is usually a crap shoot. And then you question the decision over, and over, and over, and over and over, trying to come up with the ‘right’ answer.”

Matthew Codde, found of Restored Minds, gave an example in an online video of someone with Responsibility OCD. This person walked past realtor signs, put in the ground with spikes and became deeply concerned someone might tamper with them and hurt themselves.

This person decided it was his responsibility and moral obligation to pick them up and remove them. Codde also describes a young girl that would have to count up to every number she saw in order to protect people she cared about. Whilst many OCD sufferers may be aware of the ‘unreality’ of their thought process, the experience of being hostage to the machinery of thoughts, a presence in the mind of genuine danger, means that playing it safe, and seeking to avoid anxiety and guilt via the compulsions suggested by that same thought process, strengthen the process itself.

Turning The Tide

A 2019 study found that intense feelings of responsibility can result in developing OCD though there are other factors such as childhood trauma that can create an onset.

So how is OCD treated?

There are various approaches, including Exposure Response Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which through a healthcare professional can liberate oneself from a deeply constricting, upsetting and debilitating condition.

It is worth remembering, as with any mental health condition, that is most definitely something one can be free of, and with so many mental health conditions, the first step is reaching out, speaking to a trusted person, doctor, professional or trusted person. The help is out there.

To finish this article on a curious, old school and somewhat left-field but hopefully very apt quote from the character Master Splinter:

“Some say that the path from inner turmoil begins with a friendly ear”


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