What is theft related OCD?
|Burglary/theft fears in OCD are characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts about being robbed or about stealing from others. This can involve obsessive fears about whether one has “accidentally” stolen an item or forgotten to pay for something. This may also manifest as excessive fear that you have not locked up your personal items effectively. These thoughts may be triggered when you leave your house or car, and may increase upon traveling or in certain situations where you feel vulnerable to theft. Retail stores may trigger these fears as well. |
Individuals who experience this subtype of OCD do not want to rob others or steal from places. Rather, they fear they could rob or steal. They are no more likely than the general population to commit burglary or to be a victim of theft. These individuals may actually be less likely to steal from others due to their hyper-awareness of this behavior and due to the great distress and anxiety that these thoughts bring to them.
Someone who is experiencing burglary/theft related OCD experiences unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, doubts, or urges that cause them significant distress and anxiety, called obsessions. In an effort to rid themselves of these uncomfortable feelings, people with OCD will often perform compulsions. Compulsions are actions, either mental or physical, that serve to neutralize uncertainty or worry, or prevent a feared outcome.
People with this form of OCD may check their locks on doors frequently, making sure they correctly locked up all the windows and doors. They may engage in excessive photo taking to provide proof that items were not stolen, should they forget later on what was present previously. They may avoid shopping alone for fear that they may take something without paying. They may keep all of their receipts for long periods of time as proof just in case they are ever doubtful about how they obtained an item. They may watch the news or read articles related to recent break-ins or thefts in an attempt to convince themselves of their innocence. They may check their houses or vehicles upon arrival to ensure nothing is missing, often repeating this several times until it feels safe.
Theft related OCD – Common obsessions
- Fear of being robbed or burglarized
- Fear of accidentally stealing or robbing someone else or a store
- Fear of purposefully stealing or robbing someone else or a store
- Fear that one has stolen something in the past without knowing or remembering
- Rumination on memories of having taken something from someone else
- Fear of being involved in taking something that isn’t truly yours
- Fear of accepting items that could have potentially been stolen
People with burglary/theft OCD fears may be triggered by situations involving leaving their home, other residences, stores, or anywhere where people have access to their belongings or where the individual with OCD has access to other people’s items. Triggers may include locking doors or windows, being alone, watching news shows, or reading articles about theft or burglary. People with OCD tend to avoid situations in which they feel intrusive thoughts are triggered or may be triggered.
For example, consider these possible scenarios in which someone with burglary/theft OCD fears may be triggered:
- Trevor is shopping with friends when they walk away and leave him unattended, and he isn’t sure whether he may have inadvertently picked something up and pocketed it. He repeatedly checks his pockets in an attempt to rid himself of his anxiety and to feel certain.
- Cassie is doing yard work when she sees something shimmery on the ground, it is a necklace. She has no idea who it belongs to and takes it inside. She can’t seem to shake the feeling that she has taken something that isn’t hers and feels intense guilt, posting on message boards in her area and online to find its owner.
- Juan is home alone and repeatedly checks each window and door to ensure that no one can gain entry. He attempts to fall asleep but can’t shake that nagging feeling that if he doesn’t check one more time someone could break in and steal his family’s belongings.
- Renee is parking her car in a parking lot but wants to ensure that she remembers everything she has in her car. She takes several photos of her car, the inside, and all of the items stored in it. She does this so that later upon her return she can check and be certain that nothing is missing.
How can I tell if it’s OCD fear of theft OCD, and not just anxiety, stress, and cautiousness?
This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.
The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; 3) compulsions performed to relieve the distress and anxiety brought on by the intrusive thoughts, images or urges. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to know something immediately and with certainty, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.
Intrusive thoughts can and do happen to everyone. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily. However, people with OCD struggle to do this. They often believe that if they think something, it must mean something. This is where OCD holds its power. The ability to make a person question who they are and what they are capable of. Intrusive thoughts that occur with OCD are ego-dystonic, meaning that they go against values, intents, or beliefs of the person with OCD, and as such it can be difficult to accept uncertainty about them.
When people with burglary/theft themes in OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may start to engage in compulsions. Compulsions can look different for every individual. Compulsions are behaviors or mental acts that one does to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts. Compulsions may provide the sufferer with temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions from returning again and again. Performing compulsions often inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears, reinforcing the idea that obsessions posed an actual threat or danger.
Here are some examples of common compulsions for people with burglary/theft related OCD:
- Repeatedly checking locks on doors and windows
- Avoidance of being home alone
- Avoidance of going places alone
- Taking photos of areas before leaving them to ensure later you can check that nothing is missing
- Keeping receipts so you can remind yourself later that an item was indeed purchased
- Asking others for reassurance that you did pay for an item
- Confessing just in case you did accidentally take something without paying
- Avoidance of receiving things for free
- Mentally reviewing everything you touched while at a store to ensure you didn’t take something
How to treat fear of theft
|Burglary/theft related OCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can find freedom from the OCD cycle. |
ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average. With ERP, you will be able to teach your brain that your intrusive thoughts don’t have any real meaning; they’re just thoughts.
In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger intrusive thoughts and anxiety. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will learn how to resist the urge to respond to feelings of discomfort and anxiety with compulsions. By doing this over time, you learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety and you will feel more confident in your ability to sit with uncertainty and discomfort.
Examples of possible exposures done to treat theft related OCD include:
- Reducing amount of times you check a door or window lock
- Going shopping alone
- Obtaining free samples
- Borrowing someone’s item (with their permission)
- Watching videos or reading about recent area break-ins
If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.
We look forward to working with you.