Sometimes, obsessions in Harm OCD do not even make sense. It may be difficult to arrive from point A to point B in the thinking by someone who is not affected by Harm OCD. But, in the mind of the sufferer, the path may exist, even if not clearly defined. Whenever we have a cause and effect in mind, it is important to make sure that the relationship we assume in the mind is logical enough to be understood by other people and even if point A is known to them, they can arrive at point B through the application of common knowledge, simple logic and the use of the phrase ‘so what’ to probe further. For example, if I say that I am scared of a snake, the fear is understandable. To the question, ‘why are you afraid of a snake?’ the exercise would be as follows:
Why are you afraid of snakes?
Because snakes are venomous.
So, what if snakes are venomous?
I may get bitten by one.
So, what if you are bitten by one?
I may die.
In this example, the journey from point A (I am afraid of snakes) to point B (I will die) is made up of a series of logical steps. However, sometimes in Harm OCD, the logic is unclear. Such obsessions have been referred to as magical thinking. For example, if someone says that if he does not brush his hair four times, his father may die. Even if we apply common knowledge, simple logic and the ‘so what’ technique, what logical steps can we arrive at? Let us try it out.
Why do you brush your hair four times?
Because I get a negative thought and brushing four times makes the thought go away.
So, what if you get a negative thought?
If I think of something hard enough, it may come true.
What thought may come true?
That my father will die.
We see that this obsession is strong because of the thought-action fusion, which we have seen earlier. Thinking about something seems equal to it coming true in this case to the person. There is no logic to this thought. Clearly, unless this reason is explained, no one may understand how one event leads to the other. And even after it is explained, it is not empirically verifiable or replicable. Hence, it is magical thinking.
Sometimes, the fear may be logical but the extent of damage assumed may be magical in nature. Let us see one such example. Let us say that the person says, “If I don’t wash my hands well, my children may die.” How does this happen in his mind?
Why do you wash your hands so much?
Because they may be contaminated
So, what if they are contaminated?
I might end up contaminating food.
So, what if the food is contaminated?
My children may die.
Here, even though the fear of food poisoning through dirty hands is logical, as you can see, the potential harm caused by that goes beyond the bounds of reasonableness and hence can be considered magical thinking. Remember that the devil is in the details. The more you probe your fears, the more you may be able to pull out the irrationality. In this example, let us get into the details. For the fear to come true, the following have to necessarily happen.
The hand washing for a reasonable time is not enough to get rid of the germs.
The hand will necessarily come in contact with food.
The germs will necessarily pass into the food.
The germs will not die even in the food.
The germs will necessarily pass into the plates of the children.
The children’s immune system is necessarily weak to not be able to handle the germs.
The germs have to necessarily cause more than a mild stomach infection.
The infection has to be necessarily untreatable.
If any of the above steps do not happen, the fear is not going to come true. So, to assume that not washing hands excessively means children will die, is excessive and hence magical thinking, even if it is possible. Other examples of magical thinking are:
If I step on cracks of tiles, my dog will die
If I do not turn the light on and off six times, I will turn into an evil person.
If I do not pray exactly at 7 am, my father will die in an accident.
If you understand the difference between logical fears and magical fears, you may be able to accept the irrationality of the magical fears better and be able to face them with more courage.