What Is Existential OCD?

Washing your hands a lot does not mean you have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It also doesn’t mean there is only one stereotypical way that OCD will manifest. The variances of obsessions and compulsions are quite wide. For example, there is something called Existential OCD. Also called Philosophical OCD, this version of OCD involves repetitive and intrusive questions about life.

Quite often, these obsessions center around the meaning of life and yes, one’s very own existence. Since many folks are prone to philosophical contemplations, it is not always easy to recognize this as something dysfunctional. So, why not take a closer look at a very misunderstood condition?

Signs of Existential OCD

  • Feeling overwhelmed by philosophical questions
  • Unwilling and unable to endure uncertainty 
  • Indecisiveness 
  • Thinking and research make you unable to fulfill daily responsibilities 
  • Overthinking
  • Black-and-white thinking 

Like all forms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, of course, it involves obsessions and compulsions. For example:

Sample Existential OCD Obsessions

  • What is my purpose?
  • Does life have a meaning?
  • How vast is the universe? 
  • Is there a God?
  • Is there life after death?
  • What if I’m not really here?

Existential OCD presents itself with relentless questions like this. These are more than casual musings. They dominate a person’s thought patterns and can severely disrupt their daily functioning. 

Existential OCD Compulsions 

The compulsions will relate to finding answers and securing reassurance, e.g. 

  • Convincing yourself that your questions are legitimate and valid
  • Finding “proof” through non-stop research 
  • Asking existential questions of the people in your life
  • Talking to experts (clergy, scientists, and even family members) to feel reassured that you’re on the right track and have made important discoveries 
  • Most importantly: Getting enough answers to eliminate the doubt you feel

Unfortunately, eliminating doubt is easier said than done. More and more time is assigned to these quests — even when the person is aware that such questions typically defy neat answers or conclusions.

Misdiagnosis or No Diagnosis = Common

Everyone has existential thoughts from time to time. At first, therefore, all the asking and seeking is not viewed as a red flag. Even if the people in your life recognize that you are more “philosophical” than most, it’s not automatically seen as anything worse than “weird.” Even mental health professionals could mistake Existential OCD for something like Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Depression. It all begins with finding a therapist who understands Existential OCD and can recognize it when they see it.

Treatment for Existential OCD

As with most other forms of OCD, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy has been proven to be effective. ERP is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is viewed as the gold standard in such cases.

You can picture ERP as a method of voluntarily exposing yourself to whatever causes fear, anxiety, and obsession. But not avoiding the distress, you can build tolerance for it. So, let’s say there’s a particular question that leads you to rush off in a desperate search for answers. It is okay to ask that question. Your ERP therapist will guide you to start resisting the compulsions it may provoke.

You may, at first, delay the ritual. From there, you can aim to modify the compulsion so it is less extreme and/or time-consuming. Little by little, you can get to a point at which the question no longer feels as if it must be met with answers.

Do You Think Existential OCD Might Be Impacting Your Life?

If so, needless to say, you will need to speak with someone who understands. Let’s get that process started with a free and confidential consultation. I invite you to reach out today for OCD Treatment or Anxiety Therapy.

Creative Arts Therapy Source offers in-person therapy on Long Island. Online therapy is available across New York & New Jersey.