What Is “Pure O”?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and its sibling disorder, known casually as Pure O, both involve persistent, intrusive thoughts. However, it’s at this point that the similarity ends. While OCD is far easier to diagnose, its occurrence is not necessarily more frequent than purely obsessional Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The article below examines this lesser-known disorder to provide a clearer understanding of its features.

No Action Entailed

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder pairs intrusive thoughts with a command to action so intense that it is difficult for an individual to resist. The obsessive, persistent idea of burglary prods the person suffering from the disorder to repeatedly check that a door is firmly locked. While in some instances this may result in ritualistic locking and unlocking of the door, this is not necessarily a concrete feature of OCD.

Similarly, intrusive thoughts about bacteria and viruses or particulates may prompt some repetitive cleansing rituals, whether of the self or personal surroundings. But unlike this easily verifiable disorder, Pure O never requires an action. The intrusive, repetitious thoughts are present. The person’s daily routine and train of thought are often interrupted by the intensity and persistence of the obsession. However, they may find these thoughts and images upsetting or repellent. They would never consciously act upon the obsession. This aversion is what truly differentiates the disorders from one another, although they are often paired.

Distinctive Categories

According to an article published by Psychology Today, the thoughts spurred by purely obsessional Obsessive Compulsive Disorder tend to fall into four categories. What is important to recall is that the intrusive imaginings are upsetting and disruptive, which is perhaps what gives them power over the individual.

The first category is sacrilegious. Anything that mocks or implies mortal impurity to religious figures, ceremonies, or icons may fall into this group, although it shares some commonality with inappropriate or graphic sexual intrusive thought. Having sex in a sacred space out of context, placing a god figure or person of religious significance in a compromising sexual position, or even swapping the genitalia of a revered sacred figure are some examples. The important aspect of these thoughts is the shame or guilt they evoke.

Two other categories that are closely related are thoughts of a personally shameful sexual nature or those that might be outright disgusting and culturally prohibited as dirty. In the former, intrusive thoughts do not arouse, but elicit strong shame or embarrassment, and often manifest as otherwise unexpressed homosexuality. In the latter, these may involve excrement, garbage, or social and sexual behaviors that are labeled as unsanitary. In either case, there is often strong social condemnation associated with the thoughts.

The final category is that of violent intrusive imaginings. While the person in question would never consciously act out these fantasies, they persistently intrude upon daily routines and are incredibly disruptive. Individuals who experience these obsessional fantasies report a strong aversion to them, whether they involve an intimate acquaintance or family member or play out with a stranger during a chance encounter.

While there is no instantly recognizable action closely associated to the obsessional thoughts of this sister disorder, it is disruptive and distressing to anyone who experiences it. It can, in time, prompt them to take an action they feel will alleviate the intrusive fantasies, which may include self-harm in the most extreme cases. Pure O is just as impactful to emotional and psychological health as is OCD, but as with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, there are behavioral therapy approaches that can ameliorate the distressing symptoms of these disorders.