What Are The Symptoms of POCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 1(OCD) is an extremely debilitating anxiety disorder involving repetitive, intrusive, and often distressing thoughts (obsessions) and uncontrollable, borderline ritualistic behavior 2(compulsions). 

Often, people with OCD engage in these compulsive behaviors to temporarily soothe their obsessions. But there are some types of obsessions that are much too taboo or unspeakable to even admit, let alone seek treatment. 

One such type of OCD is Pedophilia OCD (POCD). Unfortunately, people with POCD 3feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and self-condemnation for ever having these intrusive and unwanted thoughts about children. Consequently, they might go their entire lives without seeking the treatment they need. 

However, having POCD does not make one a pedophile4. In fact, it is the exact opposite. 

What is POCD? 

Pedophilia Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (POCD) is a type of OCD in which the sufferer’s intrusive thoughts and urges revolve around pedophilia, thus triggering a lot of fear, anxiety, and doubts about self-identity. 

The point about fear and anxiety 5is an important one, denoting that a person with POCD doesn’t actually want to have such inappropriate thoughts about children, nor do they act on these urges. 

Side note: all intrusive thoughts resulting from OCD are unwanted, unintentional, and uncontrollable.  

Hence, people with POCD aren’t pedophiles. If anything, POCD is a fear of becoming a pedophile. 

Think about it: would a pedophile ever express shame about their thoughts? Would they ever over-analyze whether they behaved inappropriately around a minor? Would they ever go out of their way to ensure that they don’t ever unintentionally harm children?

No, they’d do the exact opposite. 

In stark contrast, a person with POCD is constantly hyper-aware of their behavior around children, leading to compulsive self-checking behaviors to ensure they don’t cross any boundaries. 

Take, for example, a new mother who is devoted, caring, and all-around benevolent. One day, as she’s changing her child’s diaper, a sexual thought pops into her head out of the blue. She knows she isn’t sexually attracted to her child, but this one terrifying intrusive thought causes her to question her own intentions. 

From here on, she will stop changing her baby’s diapers altogether. Furthermore, she might even stop holding or playing with her child out of sheer terror of her own thoughts. 

5 Symptoms of POCD

Here are the five overarching symptoms of POCD. 

  1. Immense fear and guilt

In many ways, POCD is a phobia of turning into a pedophile. As such, people with POCD will experience constant anxiety regarding their intrusive thoughts and a paralyzing fear of potentially acting out on them. 

Similarly, these people will scrutinize every harmless interaction they have with children and question whether it was really harmless. Consequently, they will experience overwhelming guilt over something that they didn’t even do. 

Some examples of such fearful and guilt-ridden thoughts include: 

  • “I was a victim of sexual abuse in my childhood, so I will naturally become a pedophile.” 
  • “My intrusive thoughts about children make me a bad person.” 
  • “I deserve to be locked up, so I don’t harm children.” 
  • “I don’t deserve to be a parent.” 
  1. Doubting one’s intentions

Notably, people with POCD despise pedophilic behavior; they don’t actually feel sexual attraction towards children, nor do they ever have the urge to act out on them. 

However, their immense fear and anxiety around potentially turning into a pedophile cause them to doubt their own intentions. It’s a constant grapple between the part of their brain that knows they aren’t sexually attracted to children and the part that constantly stirs up unsettling thoughts about children. Hence, these people doubt and distrust their intentions— intentions that are essentially harmless.

For example, you might catch yourself thinking the following: 

  • “I feel overwhelming love for my children. Does that mean I am sexually attracted to them?” 
  • “If I want to dress my children pretty, am I grooming them?”
  • “If I compliment a child on how pretty their dress is, is that creepy?” 
  • “My route to work takes me by a children’s park, so I need to change my route.” 
  1. False memory

People with POCD may start doubting their intentions so much that they may develop false memories. False memories are memories that are objectively incorrect but in which the person strongly believes. 

Hence, you might start developing false memories about sexually abusing a child even if you never did. You convince yourself of their soundness because of the ever-present intrusive thoughts, images, and urges plaguing your mind. 

  1. Avoiding non-sexual intimacy with children

Intimacy isn’t only sexual in nature, and everyone, including children, needs intimacy for proper emotional, social, and psychological development6

Some examples of developing intimacy with children involve: 

  • Brushing their hair
  • Reading them a bedtime story
  • Cuddling with them until they fall asleep
  • Playing with them or arranging playdates for them
  • Encouraging them to talk about their problems 
  • Teaching them new skills 
  • Giving piggy-back rides

When you engage with children this way, it helps develop trust, attachment, and companionship. While these behaviors can sometimes have malicious intentions behind them, they are naturally innocent and harmless. 

But since a person with POCD doesn’t trust their intentions, they will avoid engaging in any of these behaviors. 

  1. Seeking Reassurance

People with POCD will constantly seek reassurance that their behavior isn’t inappropriate. Simply knowing their intentions were harmless isn’t enough, nor can they ask other people due to the taboo nature of their obsessions and compulsions. 

Instead, they might compulsively perform the following rituals: 

  • Mentally reviewing all their intentions and behavior around children
  • Seek reassurance from other people, in a roundabout way, whether a certain behavior was inappropriate. 
  • Obsessively researching about pedophilia, especially to ascertain that they aren’t pedophiles. 
  • Repeating certain behaviors (such as cradling a child) in an exaggeratedly non-sexual way to prove your good intentions to others. 
  • Checking children for any signs of sexual abuse you think you may have inflicted on them. 

Conclusion

POCD is an extremely debilitating form of OCD in which the sufferer fears becoming a pedophile. Consequently, they overthink, overcompensate, and over-rationalize every thought and interaction they have revolving around children. 

However, it is important to note that you are not your intrusive thoughts. If anything, people with POCD have an intense phobia of becoming pedophiles, even when they know they aren’t sexually attracted to children. 

Hence, you shouldn’t feel any guilt or shame, nor should you stop yourself from seeking treatment.  

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Icy Health
  1. Guzick, Andrew G., et al. “Obsessive–compulsive disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review.” Current psychiatry reports 23 (2021): 1-10. ↩︎
  2. Demaria, Francesco, et al. “Hand Washing: When Ritual Behavior Protects! Obsessive–Compulsive Symptoms in Young People during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Narrative Review.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 11.11 (2022): 3191. ↩︎
  3. Yang, Xiao, et al. “Identification of individuals at risk for postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD).” Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders 15 (2022): 17562864221114356. ↩︎
  4. Blalock, Jessica R., and Michael L. Bourke. “A content analysis of pedophile manuals.” Aggression and violent behavior 64 (2022): 101482. ↩︎
  5. Chellappa, Sarah L., and Daniel Aeschbach. “Sleep and anxiety: From mechanisms to interventions.” Sleep medicine reviews 61 (2022): 101583. ↩︎
  6. Roberts, Steven O., et al. “Racial inequality in psychological research: Trends of the past and recommendations for the future.” Perspectives on psychological science 15.6 (2020): 1295-1309. ↩︎

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Icy Health Editorial Team

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