OCD and Honesty

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Janet Singer's son Dan suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) so severe he could not even eat. What followed was a journey from seven therapists to ...Read More

What is the Link Between OCD and Lying?

OCD may lead to lying or the appearance of lying as individuals with the disorder may feel compelled to conceal their symptoms or engage in behaviors to alleviate anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts or fears of judgment.[1] 

Some of the main reasons people with OCD may be dishonest include:

  • To hide their symptoms or conceal their OCD behaviors

  • To avoid anxiety or triggering situations

  • To avoid perceived moral transgressions that are inconsistent with their own moral compass

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by persistent, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) aimed at reducing distress or preventing perceived harm.[2],[3] 

OCD can significantly impact behavior by causing individuals to experience intense anxiety and fear associated with their obsessions, leading to the performance of compulsive rituals or avoidance behaviors in an attempt to alleviate distress.[2],[3]


This article, we will explore the nuanced relationship between OCD and lying, examining how people with OCD may engage in lying behaviors as a coping mechanism to manage their symptoms or navigate the challenges associated with living with the disorder. By delving into the complexities of OCD and its potential impact on truthfulness and honesty, this article seeks to foster understanding and awareness of the experiences of individuals living with OCD and the factors that may contribute to lying behaviors in this population.

Understanding OCD

Obsessions are intrusive and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that cause distress or anxiety. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that individuals feel driven to perform in response to their obsessions, aimed at reducing distress or preventing a feared event.[2],[3]

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The diagnostic criteria for OCD, according to the DSM-5, include:[2]

  • Recurrent, intrusive thoughts, urges, or images that cause distress or anxiety.
  • The individual attempts to ignore or suppress these thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralize them with another thought or action.
  • The obsessions are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems.
  • Repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rigid rules.
  • The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing a feared event or situation.
  • The compulsions are not connected in a realistic way with what they are meant to neutralize or prevent, or they are clearly excessive.
  • The obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming or cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Professional diagnosis and treatment are essential for individuals experiencing symptoms of OCD. A mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis, develop a tailored treatment plan, and offer support and guidance throughout the recovery process. 

Early intervention and access to evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication, can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for individuals living with OCD.[3]

Why People with OCD May Lie

Assuming all people with OCD lie can be very stigmatizing, leading to harm and distress. Just like people without mental disorders, people vary considerably. However, the reasons individuals with OCD may lie are unique to their condition. The reasons include:

  • Avoidance of anxiety: Individuals with OCD may engage in lying as a means of avoiding anxiety triggered by their obsessions or intrusive thoughts. Lying may serve as a temporary relief from the distress caused by obsessive fears or worries.
  • The compulsion to tell the truth: Paradoxically, individuals with OCD may also experience a compulsion to tell the truth excessively or to confess their perceived wrongdoings. This compulsion stems from an intense need for certainty and a fear of the consequences of dishonesty.
  • Fear of judgment: Fear of judgment and criticism can also drive lying behaviors in individuals with OCD. They may lie to avoid negative evaluations from others or to maintain a favorable image, especially if their obsessions involve themes related to morality or social acceptance.

On the other hand, people with OCD may also have compulsive honesty, in which they feel compelled to provide excessive details or confess even minor transgressions due to a fear of being perceived as deceitful or morally flawed. Some loved ones of a person with compulsive honesty may perceive them to be lying because of the irrelevant small details they provide. 

Along the same lines, moral scrupulosity involves rigid adherence to strict moral standards and and intense fear of committing moral transgressions. People with OCD may experience intrusive thoughts or doubts about their moral integrity, leading them to engage in compulsive behaviors like confessing perceived wrongdoings or seeking reassurance to alleviate their distress.

One Mother’s Personal Story

My son Dan was an honest child; an unusually upfront, truthful boy, who as far as I know, never lied to me. Teachers and relatives would comment on his honesty as well, saying things such as, “If we want to know what really happened, we ask Dan.”

Enter OCD. Now Dan is telling us he doesn’t realize his fingerprints are all over the walls. He said he’d recently eaten, so that’s why he wasn’t hungry at dinner time. He couldn’t go here or there because he was too tired. These were all lies (which worked) to cover up his obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even after he was officially diagnosed and his secret was out, he’d still lie. He always said he was “fine,” despite the fact that he was obviously so not fine. He lied about his feelings, he lied about taking his meds, and he lied about his thoughts. And not just to his family. My hunch is he lied to the first few doctors he saw, or at the very least, wasn’t completely honest with them regarding the symptoms of his illness. Like so many others with OCD, he was embarrassed and scared. What would people think of him, or what would become of him, if others knew what horrible thoughts were going on in his mind?

And so OCD often turns sufferers into liars. Whether it’s due to the fears mentioned above, or some other reason (related to stigma perhaps, or even commanded by OCD?) those with obsessive-compulsive disorder often do whatever they can to cover their tracks. They become sneaky and deceptive, courtesy of OCD.

What I find ironic is that many of these same sufferers deal with honesty issues as part of their disorder. For example, some people with OCD are so afraid of lying they might have to review their entire day in their minds to make sure everything they said was true. Or they might always answer “I don’t know,” or “Maybe” to questions because if they answer “Yes” or “No” and then change their minds, they would have lied. Others might even confess to “bad things” they never did, but how do they know for sure they didn’t do them, so the right thing to do is to own up to the wrongdoing. Concerns that revolve around hyper-responsibility often involve being honest and doing the right thing to keep loved ones, or maybe even the whole world, safe. And of course, scrupulosity is all about upstanding moral behavior, which involves telling the truth. Being truthful is very important to many with obsessive-compulsive disorder, except when it comes to covering up their illness.

So once again we see the disconnect between what sufferers strive for and what OCD delivers. Those who value truth and honesty become deceitful. They struggle to be certain all is well, but OCD, being the insidious disorder that it is, goes ahead and makes sure the opposite happens. All is far from well, and in fact, lives can be destroyed.

While OCD has the capacity to target what is most important to us, and sabotage our lives, we don’t have to let it. If you have OCD, please be truly honest about your disorder and seek help. Don’t let OCD win. Fight back with Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy and regain control of your values and your life.


  1. Morein-Zamir, S., Papmeyer, M., Gillan, C. M., Crockett, M. J., Fineberg, N. A., Sahakian, B. J., … & Robbins, T. W. (2014). Punishment promotes response control deficits in obsessive-compulsive disorder: evidence from a motivational go/no-go task. Psychological Medicine, 44(5), 1081-1090.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
  3. National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml
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