POCD, or Pedophile OCD, is a subtype of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder focused on the fear that one is, or will become, a pedophile. POCD sufferers do not experience genuine attraction to children, but experience fear founded in unwanted physical sensations and thoughts that are at odds with their expressed attractions and values.
POCD, or Pedophile OCD, is a subtype of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). People suffering with this manifestation of OCD experience unwanted and intrusive thoughts about whether they are or will be a pedophile. Intrusive thoughts and images can also be paired with physical sensations or personally incongruent urges that seem to reinforce one’s worst POCD fears. While all the various manifestations of OCD are painful in their own way, POCD often causes sufferers to experience especially deep pain and unnecessary shame.
POCD is nothing but OCD
OCD exists as a reinforced cycle of thoughts and feelings. It is important to remember that all thoughts, mental images, physical feelings, emotions, and urges are neutral. By themselves and without context they don’t mean anything. The OCD cycle begins with an awareness of a thought or something outside of ourselves, like seeing a child. OCD then produces a thought that tells a feared story about what the thought means or what our relationship is or will be with the child. A person without OCD would chalk this thought up to “nonsense” or “weird” then move on, however the POCD sufferer grabs on to it.
Compulsions are actions, internal or external, done in an attempt to regain a sense of comfort and security. The outcome of the feared story is unwanted and highly distressing, so understandably the POCD sufferer wants to get rid of the bad feeling, but more importantly get certainty that their thought is wrong, not a reflection of their true desires, and will never manifest in action. Once the compulsion is done there is a big sigh of relief, but only for a moment. Compulsions only produce a short-lived sense of reassurance. Furthermore, the amount of compulsive reassurance or avoidance needed to get this relief increases over time.
Symptoms of Pedophile OCD
Common Obsessions of POCD
- Thoughts like “What if I’m really a pedophile?”
- Uncomfortable thoughts like “That kid is cute”
- Questioning whether a groinal sensation occurring around a child is genuine arousal
- Unwanted sexually explicit mental images of children
- Anxiety when children are shown in TV shows or movies
- Hyperawareness of movement around children
Common Compulsions of POCD
- Avoiding physical contact with children, even your own
- Resisting bathing children without another adult present
- Avoiding being around children alone
- Mentally reviewing one’s actions around children
- Suppressing any thoughts or mental images about children
- Repeating phrases or mantras like “I’m not a pedophile”
- Recalling previous and current attractions to adults
- Re-reading articles about POCD and pedophilia
- Comparing one’s behaviors to that of pedophiles
- Questioning one’s intentions when thinking about or being around children
- Checking for sexual arousal to images of children
POCD, Pedophilia, and Shame
One of the most common struggles for those suffering with POCD is the repeated questioning about whether they are a genuine pedophile, or if their thoughts are the result of OCD. This thought process can take hours of their day and do not produce any lasting or meaningful results. In fact, most often compulsions result in more anxiety and a greater sense of shame.
A key difference between pedophiles and those with POCD is that pedophiles have a genuine and consistent attraction toward children. In contrast, people with POCD feel severe anxiety and uneasiness when having thoughts about children. Furthremore, people with POCD have a preoccupation with questions or doubts about their attraction toward children, which is not the same as genuine attraction. People with genuine Pedophilia do not experience doubt or questioning about their sexual attraction.
Unfortunately, a common trait among POCD sufferers is that they tend to emotionally punish themselves more than people experiencing other OCD manifestations. This self-imposed shame feels justified by the individual due to the commonly held negative opinions about and illegal status of pedophilia. However, one must remember that POCD is not pedophilia, but simply another manifestation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Treatment for Pedophile OCD
POCD, just like any other subtype of OCD, can be effectively treated using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and mindfulness based techniques like those found in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The purpose of therapy is to help clients realize they are not their thoughts, and that they can tolerate an increasing amount of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings without giving into compulsive behavior or avoiding the life they want to have.
A primary component of treatment for POCD is challenging the meaning of the feared story and developing a more rational understanding of what the thoughts, images, and urges actually mean. Once these obsessions are re-framed with more balance and understanding, they can be challenged and faced with ERP. The purpose of exposure therapy is to help the client face their fears head on and learn to accept and tolerate the anxiety until it naturally subsides. This natural process takes time; however, anxiety relief can be achieved through repeated and progressive exposure treatment. Throughout the treatment process, ACT is used to help clients accept their thoughts, feelings, and urges as they are in the moment. The end result of treatment is a reduced anxious response, greater confidence in encountering triggering events or thoughts, and a willingness to live one’s life despite the periodic presence of anxiety.
For more about POCD, or to schedule an assessment, please contact me here.
FearCast Podcast episodes about POCD:
The California OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center offers specialized therapy for Pedophile OCD (POCD) in its Fullerton offices. In addition to serving North Orange County, Los Angeles, and the Inland Empire, CalOCD offers online therapy, group therapy, and Intensive Out-Patient treatment.