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What is false memory OCD?

False memory OCD causes sufferers to think they remember events that never happened.

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September 21, 2022
4 min read

False memory OCD is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that causes sufferers to believe they remember events that never happened. It can cause people to become convinced they’ve done things they never did, spoken to people they've never met, or experienced events they didn't attend. These false memories may be triggered by things such as watching a film or reading a book, or even hearing someone talk about a similar experience—and they can be incredibly distressing.

Article breakdown

What is false memory OCD?

False memory OCD is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that involves having thoughts and feelings about events that never happened. These thoughts are usually related to situations involving harm or embarrassment. The person with false memory OCD believes their false memories are true, even when there’s evidence to the contrary.

People with this symptom of OCD may also have other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.

What causes false memory OCD?

The exact cause of false memory OCD is unknown, and it's still not part of the official OCD diagnosis, however researchers think that it relates to other common symptoms:

  • Self-doubt

    Someone with OCD might doubt their own memories, giving significance to an intrusive thought and forming a false one in its place.

  • Anxiety

    People with OCD suffer high-levels of anxiety, which make them more prone to forming false memories.

  • Alcohol abuse

    Alcohol abuse often co-exists with OCD, which can cause the sufferer to not remember things for a long period of time. This means their OCD may take over and false memories can circulate to fill the gaps.

  • Uncertainty

    Those with OCD may struggle with uncertainty. When they're uncertain about something, a false memory may be formed to create a sense of certainty.

False memory OCD examples

False memory OCD can be just as painful or even more painful than other symptoms of OCD because it involves strong emotional reactions, such as fear and shame.

Here are some examples of false memories that can cause anxiety, depression, and anger:

  • You remember getting into a car accident but it never happened.

  • You remember that your child was in a terrible accident but he or she is fine and healthy now.

  • You remember having committed a crime when you were younger but you did not commit this crime at all.

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How to overcome false memory OCD

If you think you might be struggling with false memories, or a friend or family member has suggested that could be the case, it's important to speak to someone who can help you work through them.

1. Talk to a medical professional

This is especially important if you are experiencing negative emotions as a result of these memories. If you think that this might be happening to you, it's important to seek help from a mental health professional who can guide you through the process of determining whether or not your memories are accurate.

If you're not able to talk with a doctor or nurse, find someone who can help you. They'll be able to give you some strategies for overcoming false memory OCD and help you learn how to manage your symptoms better in the long run.

2. Use CBT and ERP therapy tools

These are two types of therapy that have been shown to be very effective in treating anxiety disorders like this one. With cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the goal is for patients to change their negative thinking patterns by identifying their thoughts, feelings and behaviors and then challenging them when necessary so that new, healthier thought patterns can take hold instead; exposure response prevention involves gradually exposing yourself over time until the triggers become less intense or even disappear entirely

3. Talk to a friend

If you’re ever in doubt about whether or not something really happened, try asking someone else who was there at the time; they might have a different recollection of events than yours did.

4. Monitor your symptoms

Whatever OCD symptoms you experience, it’s important to keep track of them. This can help you identify what triggers them and also track your progress in therapy.


False memory OCD is a very real symptom of OCD that can be incredibly confusing and distressing. If you have this problem, it's important to seek help from a professional who can offer their expertise on how best to treat it.

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