False memories: Obsessing over things that didn’t happen

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Please note: Articles on lived experiences can be a trigger for those with tics, OCD and anxiety disorders. Articles are intended to show we aren’t alone, and that help can improve quality of life.

If you find yourself constantly reminiscing about an event that didn’t happen, you aren’t alone. False memories are very common for people with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

This is an example of how false memories can feel so real, we have a hard time telling fact from fiction.

I was on a road trip with my friends. We were driving between San Antonio and Dallas, much of it was at night. 

We were sober, I wan’t to state that. But we were getting tired as the sun was setting.

Probably half-way between Austin and Dallas, we hit a bump. It was nothing. We were familiar with potholes and dips in the roads around Texas, and this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

But my brain started having weird thoughts. What if we hit someone? Like, what stops this being a possibility? 

False memories are common in OCD. An intrusive thought can spark an obsession with an event that didn’t actually take place. This thought is often traumatic.

OCD Clinic Brisbane describes a difficulty accepting uncertainty when it comes to false memories. 

These thoughts and memories feel real, even though they may be completely false. While it is normal to reflect on past events, people with OCD are unable to move past these thoughts or memories. They lack confidence in their memory, become convinced that they’re guilty of doing something they haven’t done and find it difficult to accept the uncertainty that comes with these thoughts/memories.

Dealing with uncertainty

Uncertainty can have its perks. It is better to assume a rustle of leaves is a snake than to assume it is just the wind. Uncertainty can keep us out of harms way.

With OCD, uncertainty can convince us the worst case scenario is true, to the point it affects our daily lives. 

I started having weird thoughts. What if we hit someone? Like, what stops this being a possibility? 

I immediately shrugged it off, but for some reason the thought didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to seem insane, so I kept the thought to myself.

The thought got worse. Every time I questioned it, it cemented itself deep into my consciousness and it was now the only thing I could think of.

These thoughts are more common than we think

Keeping intrusive thoughts a secret is pretty normal. What if we are judged, or not taken seriously?

By staying silent however, it is hard to see how common these thoughts are.

This study found that approximately 94% of people surveyed had an intrusive thought in the past three months. The majority of these thoughts were ‘doubting intrusions’.

The belief that someone was hit by a car can be classed as a doubting intrusion, as it involves doubting the reality experienced at the time.

Because I didn’t look behind the car afterwards, music was blaring and we were talking, I do not have that visual that we didn’t hit a person.

Reassurance

Excessive reassurance seeking is the need to check in with someone over and over again to make sure everything is OK with respect to a particular worry or obsession. While responding may seem supportive, it only serves to perpetuate OCD behaviors and thoughts.

Very Well Mind states that checking can perpetuate OCD behaviours.

A similar article about the common problem of OCD whilst driving describes how checking compulsions can turn a simple drive into a traumatic experience.

Checking may feel like a valid solution. In reality, checking compulsions may be relied upon more and more over time.

If you are struggling with false memories and OCD, know that you are not alone. 

False memories can vary wildly from person to person, often adapting to a persons unique set of fears and phobias. 

Professional help can be a great way to help ease the doubts and understand the mechanisms to heal.

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DISCLAIMER: Articles contain lived experiences, but cannot be used to diagnose. Medical advice can only come from trained professionals. 

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Dealing with Disorder was created by a sufferer, struggling to find information to help manage the conditions.