Episode 14: Sensorimotor OCD

Episode 14

Sensorimotor OCD

In this episode of Purely OCD, Lauren and Kelley discuss Sensorimotor OCD. In this form of OCD, the obsessions involve concerns about being aware of a sensory experience forever. This subtype can also involve concerns about always having a thought or feeling. This is similar to having a song stuck in your head and fearing it will never go away. Since there isn’t anything inherently scary about the sensory experiences that pop up in this subtype, sensorimotor obsessions are considered “neutral” .  

Sensorimotor OCD can attack any kind of sensory experience like: 

  • Breathing
  • Swallowing
  • Blinking.  

Kelley shares her personal experience related to obsessions around swallowing when falling asleep:

Lauren: Swallowing tends to come up a lot when you’re falling asleep.

Kelley: God, I hate that one. I’ve had it on and off my whole life. It just drives me bananas. For hours. For the next three hours I’ll be swallowing. That’s what I’ll be doing.

Lauren: If anyone wonders I will not be sleeping. I will however be swallowing.

Lauren: One of the interventions that can be most helpful with the –

Kelley: Is not breathing

Lauren: (SARCASTICALLY!!!!): That’s the primary intervention guys. That does take away OCD as a matter of fact but it also takes away everything else

Later, Lauren and Kelley discuss the difference between distraction and refocusing.

In short:

  • Distraction involves trying to get rid of a thought or feeling.
  • Refocusing involves accepting the presence of a thought or feeling and placing the majority of your attention on something that is more meaningful to you.

Also, those who have Sensorimotor obsessions about breath, might find traditional meditation focused on the breath to be triggering. Ultimately, therefore, meditation can be ab opportunity for exposure.

Kelley and Lauren also talk about compulsions in Sensorimotor OCD, like:

            Thought Suppression/Trying to ignore the sensory stimuli (your breath, your nose)


            Reassurance seeking (Do you have this as well? Did take long for it to go away?) 

Kelley and Lauren discuss how reassessing expectations of life can inform recovery.

They talk about an article by the one and only Dr. Jonathan Grayson (which you can read here). In the article, he talks about being in a movie theater and being able to hear the audio from the theater next door. You will only get 70% enjoyment out of the experience because it is imperfect. That said, if you leave, you’ll get 0% enjoyment. And if you focus on the fact that you can hear the soundtrack the whole time, you’ll only get 30% enjoyment.

The idea, as Kelley summarizes, is that it makes sense to get 70% enjoyment out of life.  Lauren notes that the concept of getting 100% enjoyment out of life is a lie. The expectation that we should be able to attain 100% robs us of the joy that we could have.

Acceptance of awareness and the possibility that the awareness could last is the key to recovery in this subtype.

Passive exposure opportunities are everywhere. Anything that makes you aware of the sensory experience is a trigger and an exposure. You can augment this with reminders to think about your obsession. Then when you become aware of your breath, nose, blinking, etc. you can embrace the thought, the feelings that accompany the thought and any awareness you might have is the answer. 

“Don’t be so impressed with your thoughts or your OCD”

Jon Hershfield, LMFT

Also, in our ever growing Venn diagram, Sensorimotor OCD ties into Health Anxiety and can tie into Eating Disorders.

Sensorimotor OCD can overlap with Health Anxiety as well as Eating Disorders.


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Disclaimer: This information is meant to be general information not unique to any individual. Before following any guidance or advice found on this site or in the Purely OCD Podcast a visitor or listener should always consult with their own licensed healthcare practitioner. The Purely OCD Podcast and Website are not therapy or intended as a replacement for therapy. They are for educational purposes only.

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