Episode 46: False Memory OCD

Episode 46

False Memory OCD

In this episode of Purely OCD, Lauren Rosen, LMFT and Kelley Franke, LMFT, discuss False Memory OCD.  To begin with, they cover common obsessions and compulsions as it relates to this subtype.  They also discuss the cross over between False Memory OCD and Real Event OCD.  They answer questions from viewers about a whole host of things, including how to make the choice to refrain from seeking reassurance and how to deal with “urges” and “commands”.

Kelley and Lauren send kindhearted greetings to their fellow humans with a Vulcan hand salute as they begin their discussion on False Memory OCD. 

11:37 Kelley begins with an explanation of False Memory OCD and provides a delineation between False Memory OCD and Real Event OCD. 

“The real event stuff is if there is an event in the past where you’ve actually done something, and you are ruminating over it, and you’re attaching a bunch of meaning to it, and, hence, the OC cycle begins. 

With false memory OCD, it’s going to be reviewing a memory that may or may not have happened.  For example, in the past, I think I had a memory of harming somebody.”

– Kelley Franke, LMFT 

2:52 Lauren adds,

“In addition to Harm OCD, I see this come up with POCD.  It can be in the recent past, as in, “Oh, my gosh, 5 seconds ago, did I do that?  And just blank out.  Or ten years ago “What if that happened?”

I said POCD because oftentimes it’s like, did I just touch somebody inappropriately and miss it, or a child inappropriately? It can be a fear that comes up.”

– Lauren Rosen, LMFT 

3:35 Kelley gives an example of this.

“It could be ten years ago when I was a nanny and I was changing diapers. I have a memory of changing the diaper. But did I touch them inappropriately? 

3:54 Lauren continues with this example,

“And now I have this image in my head that I touched them inappropriately. Is that a memory? What if that’s a memory? And there we go. Off to the races goes OCD.“

4:10 Kelley explains a False Memory that most people can relate to.

“I have to take heart medication two times a day. I take it so often that I forget. I used to set timers so that I would know and remember. But there’s so much memory in it that I’m like, did I take it or not? So that’s an example of how quickly you can lose track of memory. 

“I could quickly over attend to me like, let me remember every inch of it being in my hand. Let me remember the swallowing. Let me remember the sensation after. That’s not fun.”

– Kelley Franke, LMFT 

5:09 Lauren agrees,

“I think this is where Real Event OCD and False Memory can dovetail into one another: when we consistently review something in our minds. With real event OCD, you might continuously revisit a memory to try and get certainty about something that did happen.

On the other hand, with False Memory OCD, you find that you’re going back to this image or this thought that’s come in to the mind. You might continuously revisit that. 

They can mirror one another in that one constantly reviews this thing in the mind, whether it’s a real memory or a thing that you’re afraid that is a memory.” 

-Lauren Rosen, LMFT


10:02 Lauren continues on this theme.

“So with false memories, you may find yourself having these images, and it’s quite easy for the mind to convince you that it may have actually happened. 

But it could have, because if you start to look at it philosophically, there’s not a huge difference between a memory and a thought. 

So all of a sudden you’re having these images and thinking, “Oh my gosh, did that actually happen?” Which is really scary for people.” 

– Lauren Rosen, LMFT

Lauren have seen this in Harm OCD and POCD.  

10:55 Kelley has seen this in Checking and Contamination.

“If you’re worried about whether or not you’ve locked the door and you’re staring  at the doorknob and in the lock. Did I really lock the door? Did I actually feel the lock click? And then we have to redo it, because you want to feel it all the way and remember it. And that’s where the whole issue lies.  Now we can’t trust our own eyes. We can’t trust our own memory. OCD makes you doubt every single thing you do, say, and think, all of it.” 

– Kelley Franke, LMFT

A viewer mentioned something about the idea of taking pictures to try to remember, 

11:57 Kelley likens this to what she calls, 

“Memory Hoarding”.  This is photo hoarding, but it’s similar. You think you don’t see it or remember it, then you ask somebody else if they remember the thing. And now we’re moving on to photos or videos.  

Lauren adds,

It’s just a way of checking later. It’s sort of a backup.  I can’t trust my own memory, so I’ll go to this physical evidence at some later point.

Kelley ties this into the POCD story, 

“What if I touch them inappropriately? Checking if that person is responding to you in a way that’s friendly instead of like your a predator.”

13:05 Lauren agrees,

“And just for those watching, this is a really common compulsion, to check the way people are interacting with you.  

Not that that’s going to satisfy OCD, because nothing ever does, but the idea is that if I could just make sure that they’re not upset, or I haven’t harmed them in some way, by reading their response to me, then I’ll be okay. Then I’ll know that I didn’t do the thing. 

Of course, then the brain just goes, yeah, “But what if they’re lying? What if they’re internally in huge amounts of pain?” 

Kelley adds,

“Or they’re suppressing their memory.” 

14:15 Summing up the compulsions that people do around False Memory OCD. 

– Reviewing the memory. So going over and over and over it. 

– Checking your feelings in relation to “the memory”. 

– Checking other people to get reassurance. 

– Mental Review

– Physical checks:  Checking to see some of the physical evidence that might suggest that this thing did happen. 

15:20 Lauren illustrates Physical Checks,

“If you have an image in your mind of hitting a car. You might go back to try and see. This happens a lot in Hit and Run OCD. “I think I have hit the car.  I should probably go back and check to make sure that nobody’s car is there or that there’s no dent in that car or nobody’s laying on the road dead or maimed. 

They check to see if there are no ambulances, no news reports.  

Kelley says, False Memories are like a giant review.  Just to make sure that it didn’t happen or that it did happen, whatever the case may be.  

Lauren exaplains, with false memories, generally, all of the compulsions are geared towards, “I’m going to disprove that this thing happened so that I can make sure that I’m not a bad person.” 

17:24 Anxiety Josh just mentioned meshing itself with real events to stay relevant, which is an example of the overlap of Real Event and False Memory.  It can hook into real things.   “Oh, but maybe this also happened as a part of that.”.

Lauren gives an example of this,  

“I was with my niece and I was playing with her and she sort of ran into my hand, and her chest touched my hand, and I had an image in my mind of molesting her.  That’s where “Is this an actual memory?” 

18:37 Kelley continues, 

“Just like having those types of intrusive thoughts and then reviewing past events. Maybe you played doctor as a child, which is a normal developmental experience for a lot of people, but “Did I or did I not do that? Was it harmful? Did I hurt the other person?” 

19:00 Lauren agrees, 

“That’s really where it gets hooked into the real event stuff, because you might say, “Oh, maybe, because I do have a clear memory of playing doctor when I was a kid with some other kid, that proves somehow, in my mind, that maybe that means that I have this predilection toward pedophilia, and maybe that means that later on this other image that flashed into my mind is actually true. Maybe I did do it.”

22:10 A viewer asked a really good question, “How do you know if it’s an actual False Memory and not a Real One? 

Kelley responds,

 “We can’t figure it out. We can’t. And at the end of the day, does it really matter?  It may or may not. And that’s where the scary part is that you have to be willing to say maybe. And I’m going to choose to live my life not knowing until the police come and knock on my door. I have to keep moving through my life. 

– Kelley Franke, LMFT

Lauren elaborates, 

“We use a lot of imaginal exposure in the work that we do, because, obviously, you can’t manufacture a situation in which the police actually come to your door and you get triggered. All of the work that we do is around Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). By exposing people to the things that trigger their anxiety gives them a chance to get better at feeling those feelings of terror without doing all of these behaviors that interfere with life. 

With False Memory OCD., the fear is that somehow you’re going to get a surprise phone call from somebody saying, “You punched my dog in the face. How dare you punch my dog in the face.”  The fear is you’re going to be surprised and held responsible for something, because you didn’t catch it as an actual memory. 

The work is to say, as you were saying, Kelly, “I don’t know. It could have.” even if we have this strong image.  And looking at the facts like we talked about several weeks ago with Catherine Bernfield looking at it and saying, okay, is there any really strong objective evidence? Has somebody come to me already and told me that I punched their dog in the face? No. Is your hand broken? No.  Okay, well, then we’re going to have to accept uncertainty, because we can accept uncertainty and live our lives not knowing whether or not we punch the dog in the face, or we can become completely absorbed in trying to figure it out. And the worst part of that is, you still don’t figure it out.”  

– Lauren Rosen, LMFT

25:43 Kelley reads a question from another listener,  “How do you handle the feeling where you feel compelled to confess a false memory to someone? 

Lauren and Kelley exchange thoughts in answer to this question,

Lauren says, “You allow yourself to have it, is the short answer.” 

Kelley continues, “ I think we can become like victim to this feeling of: 

– “I must do it. If I don’t, this bad thing will happen?” 

– It’s like you want to have them sign the consent form that says, “I had these thoughts. They may or may not be true. Do you still want me to hang out with you?”

–  “Can you confirm that I didn’t do this thing?” 

– “Do you think someone else would think that was a bad thing, too?” 

– “If that happened, do you think that I can forgive myself?”   

26:53 Lauren adds,

“What it comes down to is being willing to feel that underlying feeling.  The drop of the stomach and the tensing in the chest, and all of those things that come along with this experience. If you can embrace those, then you don’t have to open your mouth and say the words. Limit the amount that you’re actually talking about the content, because that’s what’s going to support you in accepting uncertainty.” 

– Lauren Rosen, LMFT

Kelley continues, 

“Every step that you take where you’re not compulsing, you’re gaining a little more power and a little more strength every time.  You’re building more trust in yourself in the process. So just be patient. Be willing to feel that uncomfortableness. Even if it’s for five minutes, and you’ve delayed the compulsion. It’s better than just immediately reacting.  Anything is better than that. “

– Kelley Franke, LMFT

Lauren encourages, 

“As a first step, just press pause, and then at the end of it, if you’ve done it, if you’ve managed to refrain from asking.  Give yourself a freaking huge pat on the back. Yeah. Self high five all over the place. Self fives all over the place.  One of the things that’s important in recovery is acknowledging your wins so that you can build on them.” 

– Lauren Rosen, LMFT

30:41 A listener comments, “Thoughts can also sometimes feel like really strong urges and then followed by commands, which are so scary because it makes you doubt your intentions, and then it makes your thoughts feel even more real.” 

Kelley begins,

“This is not may be directly related to what we’re talking about, but I would say it kind of meshes with real event and false memory OCD, because it feels real now. That other thing in the past, I wasn’t even paying attention then. I’m paying attention now, because I’m dangerous now. What was I doing in the past when I was really like loosey goosey and not constantly reviewing?”  

– Kelley Franke, LMFT

31:48 Lauren addresses the “commands” portion of the question.

“I think that component of, “Oh, well, I’m being sort of told to do things now in my mind. What if I was historically:” 

This is where it can sort of overlap with mental health obsession. Fears about psychosis or schizophrenia come into play like, “Well, maybe I was experiencing command hallucinations (auditory hallucinations that instruct a patient to act in specific ways) at some point in the past, and I just don’t remember.” 

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

32:39 Lauren continues,

“Kelly and I are both currently living with that uncertainty, as is everyone else who’s watching this, because we can’t know everything. We cannot know what has happened historically with 100% certainty. We can’t know what will happen in the future either, for that matter. 

So the only thing is, for me, this particular obsession hasn’t hooked me right this moment. So I’m not particularly bothered by the fact that perhaps at some point in the future I hurt somebody secondary to having command hallucinations, and I’m actually psychotic and I don’t even know it. It just doesn’t have its hooks in me right now. But for somebody else, it absolutely could. And I think it’s important to recognize that we’re all tolerating that uncertainty all the time. It’s just some of us are more or less aware of that particular brand of uncertainty in any given moment.”

– Lauren Rosen, LMFT 

34:07 Kelley and Lauren do an homage to Feeling Real since it has come up.  Kelley talks about things “feeling real”

So people will say, “Oh, it feels so real”, or “It feels like I could just act on this.” This goes into the last podcast we did with Catherine Benfield about urges, “Urges and OCD”.  What it comes down to is that the feeling you feel is fear, because something can’t feel real, that’s not a feeling. (Sadness is a feeling. Fear is a feeling). You feel like if you don’t do this, something bad will happen if you don’t pay attention to this. It’s urgent. Like your brain is on fire and you must do it. 

So we want to use our restructuring there with thoughts and say things like, “Just because it feels real doesn’t make it true”. Because that’s emotional reasoning in the great world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. A common distortion, and it gets us into trouble. 

– Kelley Franke, LMFT

Lauren continues,

“The reality is that when you say it feels real, what you’re telling yourself is that it has a higher probability of being real, as opposed to saying, “I’m having the thought that it’s real, and it’s accompanied by a strong pressure in my chest and lifting in my stomach”. In fact, sometimes if we’re adding in sort of a mindfulness bent, I think that bypassing the discussion of what the name of the emotional experience is, like fear or anger or disgust, and just to look at, objectively, “This is the experience that I’m having in my body right now”. That there’s a little bit more space that people can make for that, versus fear.”

– Lauren Rosen, LMFT 

Kelley summarizes beautifully,

“My last thought is that I hope you all find peace and acceptance in living with these experiences and let go of that control, that need and desire to be like, “I have to figure this out”. It’s important, but I’m going to live my life in values.” 

They sign off, as they began with the Vulcan hand signal, and thank everyone for listening.  

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