Episode 18: Emotional Contamination

Episode 18

Emotional Contamination

In this episode of Purely OCD, show hosts Lauren and Kelley talk about Health Anxiety and Health OCD. They cover obsessions and compulsions and also talk about treatment – Exposure and Response Prevention (or ERP for short). They explore ideas related to this subtype and take questions from viewers at the end.

ALSO – This Episode of Purely OCD was sponsored by NOCD.

Emotional Contamination can dip into lots of subtypes.

People with different subtypes feel their obsessions and anxiety “contaminate” certain places, objects, etc. Different stimuli become connected to obsessions and anxiety, leading people to have the experience of emotional contamination.

The Venn diagram would look like a petal-heavy flower with this subtype.

Random thoughts on Emotional Contatmination:

  • the urge to avoid is STRONG with this theme.

  • Some people with this subtype have fears that they will turn into other people or catch their personality traits. In fact, Magical Thinking comes up a lot with Emotional Contamination Obsessions.
  • Memories can be emotionally contaminated. For instance, if you get into a fight with your spouse while wearing something, you might not wear that article of clothing for fear that the clothing will be contaminated with the memory.
  • One issue that can come up with this subtype is that a person’s therapist can become “contaminated.” Needless to say, this can interfere with treatment

Common Compulsions in Emotional Contamination include:

  • Avoidance
  • Mental rituals
    • Replacing good thoughts with bad thoughts
    • Replaying scenarios
    • Redoing behaviors
    • Neutralizing

Exposure and response prevention can involve:

  • Facing triggers head on (especially those that you actively avoid)
  • Imaginal exposures (including short form imaginals like one word reminders)
  • Comingling contaminants
  • Delaying compulsions when someone’s not willing to flat out stopping them.

Kelley and Lauren talk about the fact that exposures can become compulsive. 

“That’s where the aim of ERP becomes so central… because if you’re thinking “I’m going to do ERP so that I stop feeling so anxious about this” then you are going to do ERP compulsively”

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

“The goal is to present a trigger without doing ritualization.”

Kelley Franke, LMFT

The most crucial part of Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is Response Prevention (RP).

You can make great strides in recovery just by doing response prevention. That said, the “bring it on” quality of exposures leads to a sense of confidence that can help with passive exposures.

Some Questions from the Q&A include:

Question: Can you talk about how to deal with negative or toxic people at work and feeling like their energy brings you down by the end of meetings?

Kelley notes that this experience is not necessarily reflective of OCD.

Lauren and Kelley also talk about terms like “empath” or “highly sensitive person” and how people can become identified with these labels. If this identity becomes important to someone, they might be unwilling to drop rumination about someone else’s emotional experience and how they perceived it. This is the case even when thinking incessantly about someone else’s emotional vibe is leading the person to suffer.

On a side note, Kelley notes that boundaries can be helpful with interpersonal challenges

Question: What are ERP options for happy memories or objects or places that you don’t want to get contaminated?

When you want to avoid contaminating something, contaminating the objects or places or memories on purpose is the work of ERP.

Lauren and Kelley round out this episode by talking about the more invisible forms of OCD and how they still involve compulsions


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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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