Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Linked To Childhood Trauma

Researchers have found what I have long suspected… a link between obsessive compulsive disorder and childhood trauma.

OCD is expressed in ways that are curiously similar to how child abuse victims behave and feel:

washing_handsExcessive fear of being exposed to germs: For a victim of abuse, this could be rooted in a need to control any harm that might come to the body –control over their body.

  • Unwarranted feelings of being unclean: People who have a history of sexual abuse might feel dirty as a result of shame. They can have a compelling urge to clean the shame and guilt from their body. One OCD sufferer said she especially concentrated on scrubbing her genital areas with a violent action.
  • Anger and rage: These emotions don’t need any explanation with regards to child sexual abuse.
  • Fear of a punishing God: Children who were abused by a parent, step-parent, or religious authority will often have a mental association between God and their abuser. If a child grows up with a punishing parent, then a pattern of association with authority that punishes is established. God is the ultimate authority figure.
  • Sexual Dysfunction: Self-explanatory for sexual abuse survivors.
  • Personality Disorder: People diagnosed with a personality disorder were often sexually abused, and previous sexual abuse victims often display the symptoms of a personality disorder.
  • Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety is highly common in survivors of child sexual abuse, and linked to PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
  • Relentless and violent thoughts such as choking or stabbing someone close to them: Children who have been sexually violated, abused, and traumatized often grow up with terrible rage. If this is not dealt with in a healthy manner, then unhealthy or dangerous thoughts about the abuser, or anyone who reminds them of their abuser, can occur.
  • One OCD sufferer wrote that she sees tiny dots floating in front of her eyes: I experienced this problem in the weeks preceding the memories of being smacked in the face as a child. I was also choked as a child. The spots disappeared after working through those memories. Spots before the eyes can be experienced just before blacking out or becoming disoriented from being hit.
  • An obsession with things of a sexual nature and avoidance of situations associated with sex. This is consistent with sexual abuse.
  • Repeated checking of the stove, heaters, or electrical appliances; leaving home only to return in order to check doors or windows; repeatedly turning door knobs to make sure the door is shut properly: I used to have an obsessive problem in this area. It has since greatly diminished, but I do retain it to a small degree. I consider this ‘problem’ advantageous because it helps protect my home and family from harm. I also maintain a certain degree of hyper-vigilance which, in this world, keeps me safer. However, when it affects a person’s normal functioning, it can be a huge burden. These actions and fears are related to a need to control –a need to prevent something horrible from happening. The rituals are a way of trying to retain power over what might happen to themselves or people they care about.
  • Compulsive fear of harm or death coming to loved ones: Children who are sexually assaulted often live with the constant fear of death or tragedy being imminent. Perpetrators often threaten to harm pets or family members, or to kill the child if the child doesn’t do what they want, or if the child discloses the abuse. The fear can also be created when the child realizes they have no control over when and how their body will be violated.
  • OCD symptoms typically become worse under stress: People who were sexually abused, and who have moderate or severe PTSD, will over-react to stress.
  • Hypochondriac tendencies: Children who were sexually assaulted, or were threatened with death by an authority figure, could fear that any small problem with their body means they are going to die.
  • Jaw clenching: I clenched my teeth just before I remembered, and dealt with, the severity of being raped. With therapy, the origin was pinpointed. I clenched my teeth during the rape and also when trying to avoid my father’s penis being stuck in my mouth. These violations also produced tension inside me because I was not able to speak or scream. Tension can cause teeth and jaw clenching.
  • Guilt is a common problem with OCD: Guilt is a common sexual abuse symptom.


On an Internet message board for those suffering with OCD, one woman wrote: “I sometimes imagine that my father used to molest me, but I know he didn’t because I have no memories of this. I don’t have these thoughts constantly, but at least a couple of times a day.”

This woman’s OCD is most likely the result of having been an incest victim, and not that OCD was causing her to imagine her father had molested her. The woman may have repressed an incest experience, and it was subconsciously making itself known through her OCD symptoms and in her daily mental images.

One article, which debated the repressed memory controversy, stated that people who have experienced flashbacks of childhood abuse were later diagnosed with OCD. The patients were then told the flashbacks were not real but a part of the disease.

If mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists continue to suppress and repress previous victims of sexual abuse by assigning “disorders” to everyone, and not exploring the very real possibility of repressed childhood trauma, they will create more serious psychiatric disorders in their patients by suppressing, or denying sexual abuse and trauma out of ignorance, fear of stirring up childhood sexual abuse, or a desire to prescribe RX drugs instead of truly helping people.


Childhood trauma in obsessive-compulsive disorder, trichotillomania, and controls. Lochner C, du Toit PL, Zungu-Dirwayi N, Marais A, van Kradenburg J, Seedat S, Niehaus DJ, Stein DJ Depress Anxiety 2002; 15(2):66-8, Compulsive features in the eating disorders: a role for trauma? Lockwood R, Lawson R, Waller G.,
J Nerv Ment Dis. 2004 Mar; 192(3):247-9. Other source: Dissociative experiences in obsessive-compulsive disorder and trichotillomania: Clinical and genetic findings.
Lochner C, Seedat S, Hemmings SM, Kinnear CJ, Corfield VA, Niehaus DJ, Moolman-Smook JC, Stein DJ. Compr Psychiatry 2004 Sep-Oct; 45(5):384-91.
Debate of Memory Repression of Childhood Sexual Abuse Myra Maple
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2 Responses to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Linked To Childhood Trauma

  1. KevinF says:

    Excellent article, Alethea. To me, these ‘nervous’, obsessive traits and habits would very likely indicate someone with repressed trauma of some kind. The body has to express it’s pain in some way and when pain is denied, repressed or has no conscious outlet, it will often manifest like this.

    I was a jaw clencher and teeth grinder (especially in my sleep) as a child to such an extent that the enamel on my teeth became severely worn down. Repressed anger. As an adult, I wore a mouthguard for a few years when sleeping to help the enamel recover. I tend to notice quite a few people from day to day with worn down tooth enamel and always wonder if they’re carrying repressed trauma, like I did for years.

    • Alethea says:

      When I was dealing with rape memories, I clenched my teeth so hard in my sleep that I had to have a root canal.

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