We talk a lot about intrusive, unwanted thoughts that come with having OCD, but OCD is more than that. While everyone in the world has intrusive thoughts, individuals with OCD attach meaning to these thoughts which then evokes distressing emotions such as guilt, shame, disgust, anxiety, etc. Of course compulsive behaviors are also part of the equation, but we want to focus on the feelings that come with intrusive thoughts and how to cope effectively with them.

  1. Notice the intrusive thought
  2. Name the emotion(s)
  3. Label it as OCD/intrusive feeling(s) and remember feelings are not facts so we don’t get to make meaning out of them
  4. Notice where you feel that emotion in your body and try to put that felt sense into words (you can even get creative with this like if this emotion had a color/texture what would it be, does this emotion make my body want to move in any certain way)
    • *The purpose of this step is to lean into the emotion, get to know it, sit with it instead of pushing it away/trying to get rid of it. The key with this step is not doing it perfectly or for too long- if you’re not sure where you feel it in your body, let yourself not be sure instead of trying to perfectly describe it. Get curious about what it feels like to have that emotion for a limited amount of time (otherwise we can get swept away in it). This is practicing the middle ground of emotional experiencing; stay away from extremes of suppressing emotions and over-identifying with emotions:

                      Emotional Suppression                           Middle Ground/Gray Area                           Emotional Over-Identification

      5. Identify what this emotion makes you want to do (action urge) and do the opposite (or simply return your attention to what you were            doing before the emotion came up)

    • When emotions are intrusive/caused by OCD, we do not want to act on them! Acting on them is what is considered compulsive.

      6. Allow your emotional experience to change. Don’t hold on to these emotions because they provide some form of reassurance or                  “prove” that your fear isn’t true/wanted (this causes suffering). You are allowed to feel disgust and fear from an intrusive thought                   and feel joy with your friends/family at the same time (or whatever you feel). The one doesn’t negate the other.

Practice, practice, practice to change your relationship with emotions evoked by intrusive thoughts. They don’t have to control you.

Stay Brave! -The OCD MN Team


Want more information on the feelings that come with OCD? Check out this blog by Kevin Foss, MFT:


“But OCD is not a thought problem — it’s a feeling problem. In other words, if the thought did not have the accompanying painful feeling, you would ignore the thought, call it “weird,” and simply move on without compulsions or a second thought.”