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False Memories

Question:

Im very concerned I may have done something totally against my true character. I have OCD and a complex personality disorder. I have a huge problem of creating stuff in my head, stuff that feels so real, that I have a fear of touching people in an inappropriate way and even feeling sometimes as if I had. Thats how strong the creations are. What I’m struggling with now is that I’m having thoughts that I may have harmed someone and blocked it out for 2 years or so ago and that I may have done something that is disgusting to me. But, is it possible that, in a dissociative state, I could have done this and then blocked it out? The memory is now in step by step detail of what I think happened. HOW do I know if this awful thing really happened or I’m just creating it?

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Answer:

One of the classic features of OCD is doubt. Doubt is so strong that the person with OCD must question everything. Sometimes that questioning takes the form of repeatedly checking that something was really done, such as locking the car door or that the gas stove was turned off after cooking. Another form it often takes is the fear of touching someone. If you are incorrectly convinced that you touch is harmful to others then you live in fear that you could have injured or infected a loved one.

All of this is driven by huge amounts of anxiety and the wish to control and even eliminate that anxiety. It can get so bad that people with OCD can create all types of scenarios in their heads of disaster occurring as a result of something they fear they did or did not do. Basically, anxiety equals doubt.

Being plagued with doubt can also affect memory, just as you are experiencing. Did I remember that even correctly? Did I forget something I should have remembered?

It is true that certain types of dissociative states do include amnesia. One of them is what is referred to as a fugue state. Much like sleep walking, a in a fugue state people can do things that they later have no memory of. However, this is not true of most dissociative disorders. Therefore it is not likely you would have done something two years ago and not remembered it. 

However, in the hands of someone with OCD, a “little knowledge” can cause lots of problems because that knowledge feeds the doubt. If you believe or even suspect that you might be dissociative that could strongly enhance your tendencies to doubt whether you did something disgusting or embarrassing. It doesn’t mean you did it. It just means you think you Might have done it.

Please keep in mind that this type of anxiety disorder can and often does exist alongside personality disorders. By the way, personality disorders are complex.

We have a self help section, here at Mental Help Net that you can look at in order to learn techniques for lowering your levels of anxiety. There are also strategies for reducing the OCD problems.

I hope you are in psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavior therapy for the OCD as well as for the anxiety. Research shows that CBT is effective both.

Best of Luck

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