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What Should I Do If I Am Struggling With OCD Anger?

You are angry – really angry. But why? Perhaps, your OCD symptoms are causing you to be mad at yourself and others, but most of all your condition. Why did you have to develop OCD? Why did you do wrong to deserve the living hell? What is causing you to feel so angry? And, how can you make it stop? 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition that involves a repetitive cycle of obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions may consist of intrusive thoughts, negative emotions, mental images, urges, doubts, and/or fears. While compulsions typically consist of rituals or routines involving organizing, checking, counting, cleaning or decontaminating, etc. 

Although many people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, it is possible to have one or the other. OCD can spark a wide range of emotions in people, including bouts of anger or rage. A 2011 study found that approximately 50% of OCD sufferers experience bouts of anger. So, it is fairly common to experience anger attacks when you struggle with OCD. 

You are probably wondering if anger is a sign or symptom of OCD. And, if so, what causes it and how can it be managed? Well, the truth is there are several reasons why a person with OCD may be feeling angry. With this article, you will learn about some possible causes of OCD anger and how it can be addressed, so it does not hold you back from becoming OCD-free.

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Is OCD Connected to Anger?

Yes, OCD is connected to anger.

The truth is OCD and anger are just two sides of the same coin. For instance, it is common for OCD sufferers to become angry and frustrated with having the condition. In this scenario, the anger stems from a lack of control. Obsessions and compulsions are controlling the lives of OCD sufferers, so it is logical that anger and even rage, in some cases, could arise. 

On the flip side, researchers suggest that people with anger issues have a higher risk of also developing OCD, primarily because of the way the brain functions in chronically angry people. Brain function in people, who are often angry and those, who have OCD resemble.

Is It Common for OCD Sufferers to Experience Anger?

Yes, it is very common for OCD sufferers to experience anger. 

Everyone experiences anger from time to time, you do not have to have OCD to experience anger or even rage. Anger is a normal human emotion. It is not attached to any condition or even personality type. 

However, some researchers suggest that anger is more common in people with OCD. For instance, a 2011 study found that OCD sufferers are more likely to exhibit anger in the following ways: yelling at, threatening to hurt, and/or acting aggressively towards others. Researchers also found that these individuals are more likely to threaten to leave loved ones and/or romantic partners and experience panic attacks, and severe depression, along with bouts of anger or rage. 

Similarly, a 2019 study found that approximately 31% of OCD sufferers have experienced at least one anger attack in the past week. And, a 2020 study found that people with OCD are angrier than people, who do not have this anxiety condition.

Do Children with OCD Have Anger Attacks?

Yes, they do!

According to a 2012 study, anger attacks are more common in pediatric OCD, between the ages of 6 and 16. These researchers also found that pediatric OCD sufferers, who have anger attacks tend to have more severe OCD symptoms. 

Likewise, a 2015 study suggests that children with OCD are more likely to experience intense bouts of anger, along with more severe OCD symptoms – than those, who do not have the condition. The researchers also found that this anger negatively affected their caregivers, leading to poor family dynamics.

What Causes OCD Anger?

Anger can pop up for various reasons – with or without OCD. Anger is a natural human emotion that can occur out of hurt or emotional distress, frustration, irritability, confusion, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, feelings of betrayal, illness or disability, etc. Thus, the cause of anger varies, regardless of if you have OCD or not. 

However, certain factors appear to contribute to OCD anger, such as:

  • Medication side-effects and complications
  • Friends, a partner, or family members, who refuse to enable or accommodate compulsive behaviors
  • OCD myths and misunderstandings
  • Constant intrusive thoughts, urges, doubts, uncertainties, mental images, and negative emotions
  • Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders (PANDAS) – a complication of streptococcal infections in children that can worsen OCD symptoms and cause mood swings and irritability
  • OCD jokes
  • Being “forced” to hide OCD symptoms and/or anger
  • Chronic stress and anxiety
  • Emotional distress and frustration at having the condition
  • Disrupted compulsions (rituals or routines) or incorrectly performed compulsions

Keep in mind that one of the main traits of OCD is a non-stop feeling of uncertainty. Compulsions are performed to ease the stress, anxiety, and emotional distress triggering the obsession. More specifically, the goal of the compulsion is to stop intrusive thoughts and any impending catastrophes. 

The problem is this respite is only temporary, creating an OCD cycle. Truth be told, experiencing frustration, confusion, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and anger is to be expected when dealing with OCD. You are probably feeling like you have little-to-no control over your thoughts and/or behavior. 

Moreover, you are likely feeling like something terrible is about to happen at every corner. That is a lot to deal with. These intrusive thoughts and negative emotions can create the perfect storm of anger or rage – one that not only affects the OCD sufferer, but also his or her friends and loved ones.

Understand that many OCD sufferers feel like something horrible will happen if they do not perform certain actions or engage in certain behaviors or if those actions and behaviors are not performed “perfectly.” Fear typically sparks when the compulsion is not going as the OCD sufferer wanted. When a compulsion is interrupted or halted for some reason, it can trigger an anger attack. This anger may be directed at the person or thing that caused the disruption, which could damage or destroy friendships, family dynamics, and/or romantic relationships. 

OCD anger may also arise if the person feels like they are not performing the ritual or routine the right way. Remember, some OCD sufferers are “perfectionists,” who expect everything to be “just right” all of the time. When something is “off” in the compulsion, it can cause an anger attack that could spiral into a full-blown rage – even if there is no known target. 

Truthfully, the relationship between OCD and anger is complex and multilayered. Being “forced” to live with the condition can make some people angry, primarily because OCD can be life-altering. Anger can also be a part of a person’s obsessions and/or compulsions. It is important to understand that just because you may experience intrusive thoughts or urges to do something, does not mean you have committed a crime or that you will act upon those thoughts or urges.

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What is It Like to Have OCD Anger?

Keep in mind that OCD anger varies from person to person.

Remember, OCD does not discriminate. OCD symptoms also vary in severity, frequency, and characteristics. So, what may be infuriating to one OCD sufferer may go unnoticed by another. Also, some people with OCD may express their anger in destructive ways (i.e., self-harm, starvation, or eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, overeating, or bingeing and purging). Others may internalize their OCD anger, leading to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-hatred or worthlessness, social isolation, and/or low self-esteem and self-confidence. Some OCD sufferers struggle with both. 

How Can I Figure Out How to Better Manage My OCD Anger?

Before you can effectively manage your OCD anger, you must first understand how OCD is connected to this raw emotion. Once, you have a solid grasp on the connection between OCD and anger, you can start to develop a plan to help you better manage your OCD anger. 

Listed below are some questions that can help you develop this plan:

  • When do I feel the most frustrated each day?
  • When do I feel least frustrated each day?
  • When was the last time I became angry with someone? What prompted this anger?
  • Are there any “signs” that alert me that I am becoming angry? If so, what are they and when do they typically arise?
  • Could my anger be a “mask” for something else like anger, anxiety, pain, depression, fear, emotional distress, stress, illness, boredom, frustration, loneliness, shame, guilt, or “the blues?”
  • Could my anger be connected to my thoughts and/or behaviors? If so, how?
  • What are some ways can I prevent my anger from consuming my thoughts and behaviors?

How Can I Better Manage My OCD Anger?

Researchers suggest that approximately 51% of OCD sufferers report a reduction in their OCD symptoms, which suggests that this condition can be effectively managed. Managing anger can be tricky for anyone, let alone someone with OCD. And, when an OCD sufferer becomes angry, regardless of the reason, it can be unnerving for the individual and his or her friends, romantic interests or partner, and family members. 

In some situations, intense anger can make loved ones feel “unsafe.” OCD anger attacks can include kicking, spitting, hollering, hitting, lashing out, crying, throwing things, biting, name-calling, cursing, bullying others, engaging in self-harm, and/or attacking others. So, while it may be possible to figure out what is causing the anger attacks, trying to figure out how to effectively manage your anger may be a bit more challenging.

According to researchers, when anger is linked to OCD it can be successfully managed with various OCD treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), along with other psychotherapies, such as individual counseling, couples or marriage counseling, grief counseling, addiction counseling, group therapy, family therapy, trauma therapy, hypnotherapy (hypnosis) can help you better manage your OCD symptoms and control your anger. 

The universal go-to treatment for OCD is ERP therapy. ERP therapy is beneficial for OCD anger because it helps OCD sufferers become more tolerant of their doubts and the uncertainty they feel. This is accomplished through “exposure” and “desensitization.” More specifically, an ERP therapist “exposes” people with OCD to their OCD triggers, especially the ones that are triggering bouts of anger or rage.

Medications, like SSRI antidepressants, are one of the go-to treatments for OCD. SNRIs, tricyclic antidepressants, MAOIs, beta-blockers, antipsychotics, and/or prescription antihistamines can also be used when SSRIs (i.e., Paxil, Prozac, or Zoloft) and OCD therapies fail to work. 

Neurosurgery (brain surgery) and neurosurgical procedures like capsulotomy, cingulotomy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), deep brain stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy can also be options when other OCD treatments have failed. Note: In 2018, the FDA approved TMS as a possible treatment for OCD.

Natural remedies and self-help tools like vitamins and minerals (magnesium, B vitamins, n-acetylcysteine, zinc, etc.), herbs (CBD, St. John’s Wort, kava, borage oil, milk thistle extract, valerian root, Ashwagandha, etc.), acupuncture, light therapy, probiotics, massages, regular exercise, proper sleep, a healthy diet, spending time with friends and family, journaling, practicing yoga and/or mindfulness meditation, music therapy, OCD books, workbooks, and/or apps, OCD forums and support groups, and/or online OCD treatment programs, like Impulse Therapy can be added to your formal OCD treatment plan or used alone. 

Once an OCD sufferer learns how to cope with the uncertainty of the condition, they may feel less frustrated, upset, and angry. And, as this individual learns healthy coping skills and strategies, they will become more resistant to the urges to engage in rituals or routines (compulsions). Once this person no longer experiences OCD urges and/or feels compelled to perform certain actions, they will be less likely to become angry. 

In other words, once you learn how to resist your impulse to engage in compulsive behaviors, you will be able to more effectively manage your OCD anger. Because you will no longer be engaging in rituals or routines to quell your stress and anxiety and quiet your intrusive thoughts, urges, doubts, uncertainty, mental images, negative emotions, etc. (obsession), you will no longer have the anger risk factor of disrupted or halted compulsions – a possible cause of anger attacks.

Listed below are other ways you can manage your OCD anger:

  • Challenge your thoughts and fears. 
  • Seek OCD help – your anger may dissipate once you have your OCD symptoms under control
  • Brainstorm to determine what could be causing your OCD anger.
  • Identify your OCD triggers and early warning signs so you can practice stress-management techniques before your anger gets out of control.
  • Make a list of ways your friends, partner, and loved ones can support you as you address your anger issues.
  • Take a “time-out” when you feel your anger escalating. Only emerge from “time-out” when you feel calmer and more collected. 
  • Sign-up for an anger management course at a local college.
  • Give yourself a break. In other words, be mindful that everyone experiences anger from time to time, it is a natural emotion. Living with OCD can be depressing, anxiety-provoking, exhausting, and overall difficult. 
  • Pay attention to your accomplishments (big or small), instead of dwelling on what you cannot do. 
  • Stop being mad at or ashamed of yourself because you have OCD
  • Regularly let someone you trust know how you are feeling and what you are experiencing.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other people – you are your own person. 
  • Set boundaries with friends, family members, and romantic interests. Also, do not allow work or social commitments to overwhelm you.
  • Set clearly-defined goals for reducing or eliminating your OCD anger
  • Be an advocate for yourself. In other words, identify what you need to feel safe.

When combined, these “tools” not only help you manage your OCD symptoms but also help you keep your anger in check. The good news is in most cases, once your OCD symptoms are under control, your anger will likely decline or disappear altogether.

References

  • Painuly, N. P., Grover, S., Mattoo, S. K., & Gupta, N. (2011). Anger attacks in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 20(2), 115–119. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.102501
  • Burchi, E., Hollander, E., & Pallanti, S. (2018). From treatment response to recovery: A realistic goal in OCD. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 21(11), 1007–1013. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyy079
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2018). FDA permits the marketing of transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-permits-marketing-transcranial-magnetic-stimulation-treatment-obsessive-compulsive-disorder
  • Painuly, N. P., Grover, S., Mattoo, S. K., & Gupta, N. (2011). Anger attacks in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 20(2), 115–119. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.102501
  • Cludius, B., Mannsfeld, A.K., Schmidt, A.F. et al. (2021). Anger and aggressiveness in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and the mediating role of responsibility, non-acceptance of emotions, and social desirability. Europe Archives Psychiatry Clinical Neuroscience, 271, 1179–1191. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00406-020-01199-8
  • Zhang, Y. Y., Gong, H. F., Zhang, X. L., Liu, W. J., Jin, H. Y., Fang, F., Schneider, S., Mcingvale, E., Zhang, C. C., Goodman, W. K., Sun, X. R., & Storch, E. A. (2019). Incidence and clinical correlates of anger attacks in Chinese patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Journal of Zhejiang University. Science, 20(4), 363–370. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1631/jzus.B1800450
  • Johnco, C., Salloum, A., De Nadai, A. S., McBride, N., Crawford, E. A., Lewin, A. B., & Storch, E. A. (2015). Incidence, clinical correlates and treatment effect of rage in anxious children. Psychiatry Research, 229(1-2), 63–69. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2015.07.071
  • Storch, E. A., Jones, A. M., Lack, C. W., Ale, C. M., Sulkowski, M. L., Lewin, A. B., De Nadai, A. S., & Murphy, T. K. (2012). Rage attacks in pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder: phenomenology and clinical correlates. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(6), 582–592. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2012.02.016
  • Kawakami, M., & Nakayama, K. (2016). Seishin shinkeigaku zasshi = Psychiatria et neurologia Japonica, 118(7), 484–500. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30620492/
  • Whiteside, S. P., & Abramowitz, J. S. (2005). The expression of anger and its relationship to symptoms and cognitions in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Depression and Anxiety, 21(3), 106–111. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20066

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Author

DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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