There are no OCD sub types or themes. Only OCD (and llamas).

It’s very popular in OCD patient communities, and in mental health communities in general, to get stuck on labeling superficial symptoms. But it becomes just another way to practice the judging and categorizing and discriminating that can fuel so many compulsions. A more effective approach to support recovery from OCD is to understand (and eliminate) the compulsive patterns of thinking and behaving beneath any symptom.

This might be easier to understand by looking at the sub type of OCD that is, without a doubt, the most horrific to deal with: LOCD. LOCD is the subtype of OCD that includes all of the compulsions related to the fear that you’re a llama. Common compulsions include:

  • Looking at pictures of llamas to test whether you get aroused.
  • Ruminating on “false” memories about experiences where you might have spent too much time near grass. You liked how it smelled. Maybe you wanted to eat it (because you’re actually a llama).
  • Avoiding romantic relationships because if somebody actually knew you were a llama, they could never love you.
  • Pulling out your photo ID to check if it’s a human or a llama in the picture.
  • Telling people you have Pure O.
  • Praying repeatedly to get those images of dromedary genitals out of your mind. Praying repeatedly is a compulsion but keep telling people you have Pure O. Confusion is human.
  • Confessing to your partner that you’re actually a llama.
  • Cooking meat until it’s like rubber because you’re afraid of getting listeriosis. It’s quite prevalent amongst llamas.
  • Constantly checking that weird feeling in your stomach and Googling symptoms online because that feeling is probably listeriosis.
  • Checking in mirrors repeatedly to confirm whether you’re a human or a llama.
  • Only eating specific foods that llamas don’t eat (like baked Alaska) so you can consistently reassure yourself that you’re a human.
  • Weighing yourself after every meal to make sure you’re not getting close to 375 lbs (the average weight of a llama).
  • Avoiding social events because you’re afraid you might spit in somebody’s face or defecate in front of your friends.
  • Tapping your fingers against each other and counting them. You have to start over if you get a thought about being a llama. You’re not sure why you began doing this but at least you don’t have hooves.
  • Rereading work emails to check if you confessed to being a llama. You don’t want to get fired for being a llama.
  • Ruminating about how you’re going to explain to your family and friends that you’re a llama. What if they never talk to you again?!
  • Panicking when you hear a police siren go by because you’re sure they’re coming to take you away to a petting zoo and lock you up forever.
  • Not getting into elevators with children because you’re a llama and you might bite them.
  • Making sure you touch your right and left side evenly when you’re scratching yourself or bump against something. This actually makes you worried because it seems like something a llama might do.
  • Checking whether you actually love your partner and feel “right” in your relationship. Maybe you’re not feeling what you should feel because you’re a llama. Llamas don’t feel love towards humans.
  • Retracing your steps around your neighbourhood to check whether you kicked anybody with your back hooves. Search “llama attack” on YouTube. It’s no joke. You don’t want to do that to somebody.
  • Wondering if that guy you’re messaging on an online dating site is taking a really long time to respond because he’s actually figured out you’re a llama and he doesn’t want to speak to you anymore.
  • Questioning the meaning of existence. What does it all matter if we’re just llamas anyway?

I might have missed some. Please share your experiences with LOCD in the comments below.

Here’s the thing: You can just take out the word “llama” or any of the llama behaviors and swap in your particular fear or compulsion. That’s because OCD is about patterns. OCD is in the things a person does, inside or outside of their head, as a reaction to a fear or uncertainty or feeling they don’t like. It’s those patterns of reactions that need to change.

A big problem that people often run into is only wanting to make changes related to a particular topic that’s bothering them–their “type” of OCD. When somebody is talking about their type of OCD, it’s often just the symptoms that are bothering them the most. It’s a tiny part of OCD. If they only tackle that topic, but they keep engaging in the same compulsive patterns in other areas of their lives that don’t bother them, OCD continues.

OCD doesn’t have to be chronic, but if you only play whack-a-mole with the topics that bother you, then it’ll keep going for as long as you can think up things to worry about. The problem is the whack-a-mole machine, not the moles popping up.

And watch out for those llamas.

23 comments On There are no OCD sub types or themes. Only OCD (and llamas).

  • Some of these are hilarious hahaha, good job Mark – you added humour to what is a relatively serious topic which may help people to stop seeing their thoughts as serious threats. Keep up the work!

  • But what if I really am a llama and it’s my OCD that’s making me question if I’m human when I really am a llama?

    • With OCD, we often need to practice trusting ourselves. When our brains throw intrusive thoughts at us like, “What if you’re a human?!” then we can practice trusting ourselves and doing the llama things that we value. I can accept that I might be a human or I might not be a human but I trust myself to handle whatever will happen and right now I’m going to graze on some grass for a few hours.

  • really helfull post 🙂 At the beginning i was really worried that my ocd was somehow “special and different” and therefore thinking i may not be able to get help on this and that the stuff ocd throws at me is “true and real” when it’s really not, it’s ocd. Now i understand this much better 🙂 I also red an ocd story when someone could not stop thinking about one particular thing they saw and stuff like that just cant be categorised.

  • I think that those people I met last week might think I’m a Llama. I am worried that I behaved like a Llama. With each passing day my memory about it gets hazier and I become more convinced that I did something Llama-esque. I must try very hard to get those details back. If I cannot I will ask my partner the following on repeat “Did I behave like a Llama?” “Do you think they think I’m a Llama?”, “Do you think they will tell other people I know about my Llama behaviour?”, what was the most Llama like thing I did?”……

  • I’ve been worried a lot lately. I have so many different “themes” that it just gets overwhelming. I don’t know how to battle them all at once.
    I’m worried I’m bpd.
    I’m worried I’m schizophrenic.
    I’m worried my boyfriend’s gonna get tired of me and leave me.
    I’m worried I’m a zoophile and I’m gonna rape my cats.
    And if I rape my cats I’m worried I’m cheating on my boyfriend.
    I’m worried I’m relapsing into a deep depression that I’ll never escape from.
    I’m worried I’ll lose all motivation in life.
    I’m worried I’m an abusive girlfriend.
    I’m worried I’m boring.
    I’m worried even reading these blogs are a form of reassurance seeking.
    I’m worried everything I do is reassurance seeking or a symptom of something like bpd or schizophrenia.

    It’s all too much.

    • I would approach those all as a single “theme”. You’re worried something will happen that you don’t want to happen. It’s very helpful to approach any compulsion at that very fundamental level. They’re the same patterns repeated over and over again. So tackling those patterns helps immensely. You can accept whatever your brain throws up and, instead of reacting to it with compulsions, do things you value.

  • I can’t get over the fact that my partner once dated a llama. I have intrusive images of him stroking her woolly head and admiring her long neck. I question him incessantly about every detail of their relationship, even though it ended 5 years ago and she’s now dating a camel. I cry myself to sleep feeling like our relationship is meaningless because at heart, he’ll always love that llama better than me.

  • Hi Mark,

    Thanks for this site! I had OCD 18 months ago, but thankfully, I was added to an OCD support group on FB and was encouraged to start medication. I had religious OCD so it was very hard for me to trust that it was just OCD and not a valid spiritual emergency.

    I have completely recovered and I am an admin of the FB group now. I really love your humor and the way you explain things (like in this article) and have shared of your videos in the group. My question though is how does someone actually stop the wack-a-mole machine, instead of just tackling each mole?

    Thanks!
    Laura

    • Thanks for sharing my videos with the group!

      When it comes to stopping that machine, I find it’s most useful to tackle beliefs and patterns of thinking. For example, if somebody believes it’s very bad to be judged by others, they might develop a compulsion around checking that there aren’t any strange stains on their clothes because they’re afraid that people will think they’re dirty or they’ve soiled themselves, etc. So they might think they have a clothes checking compulsion. They might also feel that they have social anxiety issues, and they’ve noticed that they avoid social events or get very nervous when speaking to crowds or new people. They might also notice that they often lie about things they like or dislike to avoid conflict and get other people to like them. And when they start to cut out those compulsions, they might notice that new compulsions pop up. Maybe they suddenly notice that they’re rereading emails they’ve sent because they want to be certain they didn’t say something offensive that would make people hate them or that they would get publicly shamed for. But all of those compulsions are rooted in the belief that being judged by people is bad and will have negative consequences. As long as they hold onto that belief, it’s totally natural and logical that their brain will keep trying to find ways that their fears about being judged might come true. We often think of the whack-a-mole machine as this negative symptom of an illness. But it’s actually our brains just trying to be helpful. If that person is afraid of being judged by others, shouldn’t their brain worry about all of the ways they could be judged by others? It’s watching out for danger. So it helped me to recognize that if I wanted to get my brain to stop throwing intrusive thoughts at me, I had to stop the compulsions while practicing acceptance with the consequences of my fears so I could rewrite those unhelpful beliefs.

      • Hi Mark.
        Thank you for the post. When you say at the end of your response here “while practicing acceptance with the consequences of my fears so I could rewrite those unhelpful beliefs”, could you expand on that. I have religious/existentialist ocd (well, I have ocd and now I have these two themes circling). I think my core belief is I’ll either lose my mind or my faith and then nothing will mean anything to me anymore and anyway I’ll go to hell. (I’m a religious person). Well, how can I accept really that I will go to hell? Accepting the consequences of that fear? That doesn’t leave much hope to live for. Am I really supposed to be ok with being a faithless person? Am I missing what you are really saying?
        Thanks.

        • There are a couple of different things I’d look at: 1) Do you want to get over this? You can spend the rest of your life worrying about hell and trying to control god, or you can spend your life acting in line with your values and your faith and you can stop trying to control god and eternity. 2) It sounds like you’re engaging with these worries that your brain throws up. It can help to recognize that the stuff our brains throw up are just things we experience, like a random person shouting in the street. If you react to that person shouting, he’ll shout more things at you. This is how the brain works. So I found it very useful not to listen to my brain. You don’t have to engage with any of these things it shouts. 3) I’m not sure why accepting the consequences would make you faithless. Faith is about embracing uncertainty and committing to practices and values. You’re in control of your actions. You can commit to actions you value and follow through on those actions in each moment. You can have faith. To me, it would seem that chasing these certainties about hell is the lack of faith. Why do you need to chase these certainties if you have faith?

          • Thank you so much for your answer. That’s exactly the dilemma I fell into – what you mention in #3. Once I started thinking about these things, questioning suffering etc. I scared myself that I don’t have faith. So now I’m seeking certainty by trying to answer the questions (he’ll etc) that I have faith. I understand you can’t judge someone if they have faith or not, and I’m not asking you to do that. However, when you say “to me, chasing these certainties about hell is the lack of faith. why do you need to chase these certainties if you have faith?” is exactly my issue. You just said it means I don’t have faith, that’s what I got stuck on and am trying to resolve anyway. So how does that help? Isn’t this always the case with ocd? The more we chase the less we are certain. And now, not to put the responsibility on you, but I’m understanding that you are saying seeking the certainty shows my lack of faith. That is my fear to begin with.

          • But I think you’re missing the first part of #3: it’s a practice. It’s something we’re in control of. Faith isn’t something that magically falls from the sky. It’s something that people must do. So if you want to do that, you can. When you notice some uncertainty popping up, you can let the uncertainty be there. That will be difficult at first but the more you practice, the easier it will get.

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  • Hi Mark,
    This post has helped me to stop creating more “Themes”. I saw in one of your videos “5 ERP Tips for Anxiety: #5 Always Punch Hard”, that you mentioned an example about judging peoples physical flaws, I have constant intrusive thoughts about my GF about certain “physical flaws”. I cannot tell if these are symptoms, or a way of me checking to see how attracted I feel to her. Or what the underlying problem could be. I have noticed though that I have judged people about these flaws in the past, as well as myself especially (throughout my life). Would this be a matter of not judging people and seeing them at base value as beautiful, rather than cast judgement? What would ERP look like for this?

    Thanks

    • What I find really helpful is shifting the focus to actions and how we want to build the relationship. I wouldn’t even try to get caught up in trying to see the other person as beautiful because then we’re still getting into this way of thinking with our brains that we have to stick labels on people and judge them and then that decides how we act. Instead, it’s about the relationship and how I build a healthy relationship and what I want to give to the relationship. And that gets at the ERP exercise: we don’t engage in the compulsion to judge and avoid or control based on that but we instead accept the uncertainty pulling at our brains and focus instead on the actions we actually value engaging in. While doing that, I found it really useful to make my brain squirm about its fears. If I’m anxious about being with the “wrong” person, then I might tell my brain they are the wrong person and I’ll never know until it’s too late, and then I’ll do something fun for the relationship, like plan a really great date.

  • Hi Mark.
    Thank you for the insight (I couldn’t reply to your reply) for some reason). It’s interesting.

  • Mark — my first reaction to your article was to get offended at your obscene insensitivity to OCD sufferers. But actually by the end of the article I was laughing. I think not everyone would find this funny, but I eventually got your point. 🙂 I would still differ to a degree, as I do see some usefulness in subcategorizing OCD. People can have a very difficult time allowing themselves to believe that they have a “disorder” like OCD and may continue to work out their compulsions because they simply cannot admit or see themselves as having a disorder. The helpfulness of categorization is that is helps people to connect with others who have obsessions and compulsions very very similar to theirs, and can help them to realize that they do have “something” that needs to be treated. I definitely support your point that subcategorizing OCD does not mean there are different “types” of OCD, but it seems to me that the categorization can help people in the process of figuring out that pattern you refer to. Anyways, very provocative and interesting article with many good points. Thank you!

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