What is False Memory OCD?

discussion about false memory OCD

Memory is a fickle thing. We only sometimes remember everything perfectly. It is normal for our memories of particular events to become slightly distorted as the years pass. This naturally leads us to occasionally have concerns about whether or not we’re accurately remembering something.

In some people, these concerns about the reliability of their memories can grow exponentially and become all-consuming, preoccupying the majority of their time and energy. Left unchecked, this preoccupation with memories can start to affect someone’s ability to function normally and take a toll on their mental and physical health.

Disconcerting feelings and concerns about a memory that may or may not have happened is a subset of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) known as false memory OCD. Intrusive, obsessive thoughts such as having offended someone, cheating on a partner, or causing harm are the main theme of false memories experienced by people suffering from false memory OCD.

At our treatment center, we offer teen obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment for those dealing with moderate to severe OCD.

What Are the Components of False Memory OCD?

False memory OCD can be deconstructed into three main components. These components are:

The event: This is the event that triggers the onset of intrusive thoughts and obsessions.  For example, a person wonders whether they actually paid the bill before leaving a restaurant.

The obsession: These are the repercussions a person becomes concerned about. For example, the aforementioned person will never return to the restaurant, no matter what, for fear of being labeled as a thief and being arrested.

The compulsions: These are the behaviors one utilizes to reduce the distress caused by the obsession. For example, the person continually confesses to his friends, family, and coworkers wanting to know if they thought she or she is a thief.

What Are the Symptoms of False Memory OCD?

People experiencing false memory OCD often exhibit other symptoms related to the broader range of OCDs, particularly feelings of a need for perfection and uneasiness. A person may wrestle with vague feelings of having done something wrong in the past or harbor doubts about the veracity of the event they’re obsessing over. This can lead a person to perform compulsive behaviors in an attempt to squash their negative feelings.

False memory OCD symptoms may include:

  • Obsessive needs to remember or know about a past event
  • Continual mental play-back of an event to attain certainty
  • Intensely guilty feelings about a supposed past event
  • Seeking affirmation from others about whether an even actually happened
  • Doubt and concerns about memories of the past not being real
  • Invasive thoughts of false memories
  • Avoiding contacting people or visiting places in the false memories

What Causes False Memory OCD?

It is probably a safe bet that everyone on Earth experiences false memories to some degree. These could be from simple things like which color shirt you wore at your 3rd birthday party to more complex things like if you remembered to declare that pair of socks on your tax returns. It is even common for two people who witnessed the same event to have wildly and completely different memories about its details.

OCD causes a person to interlace their memories of an event with false details to determine if it was their fault a negative occurrence happened. OCD is not the only contributor to false memories. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other events that cause dissociation can also act as a catalyst for false memories.

Factors that can lead to false memories can be:

  • Doubting oneself
  • Mistrusting oneself or lack of faith in one’s memory accuracy
  • Triggers from certain sounds or stimulation of other senses
  • Erroneous emotions brought on by contorted perceptions
  • Misattribution of other events
  • Exaggerated responses triggered by PTSD or other disorders
  • Sleep deprivation
  • High suggestibility within a person
  • Trauma
  • Cognitive biases

What Are Some Examples of False Memory OCD?

Obsessions brought about by false memory OCD can give rise to feelings of guilt, anxiety, or feelings of responsibility. A person’s sense of morality leads them to continually seek assurance from others as well as other compunctions. Various factors, such as the type of event causing the obsession, can change how these behaviors are displayed.

These are the most common obsessions in false memory OCD:

Harm OCD: This is the fear that a person experiences that they may have purposefully or accidentally caused mental, physical, or emotional damage to others.

Existential OCD: This refers to the fear of causing psychic harm by projecting obsessive thoughts out into the universe.

Sexual OCD: This stems from fears of having sexually assaulted, molested, or raped another person. This could also include fears of having watched underage pornography, made inappropriate remarks to someone, or otherwise sexually aroused someone unknowingly.

Moral perfectionism: Concerns of unintentional offense caused to another person, cheating on a test, or making false claims on a tax return form.

Scrupulosity OCD: Worries about past sins committed leading a person to excessively and compulsively confess to their priest.

Is Overcoming False Memory OCD Possible?

In short, yes. A proper diagnosis of false memory OCD can be carried out by a medical professional who specializes in OCD treatment. Following a diagnosis, a person may then be referred to an institution that specializes in ICD care and be put on a personalized psychotherapy program.

How Is False Memory OCD Diagnosed?

The Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale Symptom Checklist is the common assessment used to test for OCD. Due to OCD being considered the “doubting disease,” any symptom can initiate a false memory and prompt the need to compulsively check.

Which Treatments Are Available for Overcoming False Memory OCD?

ocd therapy

Psychotherapy is at the top of the list of recommended psychological approaches to treat false memory OCD. Self-compassion, stress management, and mindfulness are other strategies used alongside psychotherapy to assist with managing this disorder.

The three most common psychotherapeutic therapy modalities used to treat false memory OCD are:

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP)

As with all types of OCD ERP is recommended as the best line of treatment for false memory OCD. The effectiveness rate of ERP is a whopping 80%, making it the gold standard when it comes to therapeutic approaches. 12-25 sessions is how long it has taken for most patients on record to see results.

ERP is a type of behavior therapy that teaches people to accept that their feared memory was possibly an actual occurrence and how to live with uncertainty. ERP also teaches a person methods of moving forward in life in the possibility the event did occur.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

Our CBT program for teens and young adults is an optional approach to therapy for OCD. Other methods may also be used as a part of a person’s treatment. Finding the correct therapist whose specialty is in the field of OCD is important to receive experienced and effective treatment.

CBT for OCD helps people restructure their cognitive disorders by questioning their illogical beliefs. CBT allows the opportunity to perform role-plays about the destructive results as if they did happen.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT):

ACT is a subform of CBT that focuses on staying in the existing moment, accepting thoughts and feelings, and action taking. ACT helps increase people’s mental flexibility, teaching them to become less affected by thoughts, sensations, and emotions associated with OCD.

Are there medications for treating false memory OCD?

OCD treatment medications typically include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as well as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Atypical antipsychotics can also be prescribed to enrich the effects of SSRIs or SNRIs.

What Are Some Tips for Dealing With False Memory OCD?

Managing false memory OCD is challenging because it is like an unscratchable itch. A person should, however, fight the urge to “scratch” by conducting compulsive checking. The itchy feeling will fade away on its own if it’s allowed to run its course. Continual practice will allow a person to experience reduced urgency and distress.

A person could add some beneficial coping mechanisms to help deal with the accompanying young adult depression or anxiety with false memory OCD.

Some of these coping mechanisms are:

Grounding techniques: Focusing on your surroundings is how grounding techniques help you remain in the present moment. You could practice this by feeling the breeze crossing your skin, the lights filtering through your eyelids, or the impact of your footsteps on the floor.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the art of focusing on the present by using any of your five senses to convey what they can observe. Mindfulness also emphasizes letting go of things over which you have no control.

Stress-management skills: Stress management may include engaging in physical exercise, getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, or having a wellness lifestyle.

Healthy distractions: Hoppies, arts and crafts, and other activities are great ways to keep busy and occupy the body and mind from focusing on intrusive thoughts.

Thought reframing: You could feel a lot better by trying to exaggerate the details of the outcome of the event and finding humor in it.

Find Help at Paradigm

ocd recovery

Paradigm Treatment brings a special focus to providing treatment for mental health issues, such as OCD, for young adults and teenagers. Treatment plans are always undertaken with a tailored approach, providing one-on-one care for each person. No two people are alike, and no two treatment structures are the same.

Paradigm treatment approaches OCD with the patient’s particular compulsions, triggers, and past experiences in mind. Our residential treatment modalities almost always combine progressive strategies with traditional ones to address all of the behavioral and mental aspects of the illness.

False memory OCD can make someone feel an overwhelming and impending sense of doom. If you feel that you or a loved one may be experiencing false memory OCD, contact us at Paradigm Treatment today to schedule a campus visit, plan for a consultation, or ask any questions for clarification. Let our young adult residential treatment program help your teen on their road toward reclaiming their mental health and living a healthy life.

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What is False Memory OCD?

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Lucy Nguyen

Lucy Nguyen, LMFT
Medical Reviewer

Lucy Nguyen is the Executive Director at Paradigm Treatment, overseeing all clinical treatment programs across the organization's southwestern region. Her extensive experience includes working with young adults in private practice, serving as a therapist for children and teens with emotional and behavioral needs, and acting as a behavior interventionist for teens with developmental disorders. Lucy integrates cognitive-behavioral approaches with mindfulness and compassion in her work, and she is also EMDR-trained. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling from California State University, Fullerton, and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine.

discussion about false memory OCD

Memory is a fickle thing. We only sometimes remember everything perfectly. It is normal for our memories of particular events to become slightly distorted as the years pass. This naturally leads us to occasionally have concerns about whether or not we’re accurately remembering something.

In some people, these concerns about the reliability of their memories can grow exponentially and become all-consuming, preoccupying the majority of their time and energy. Left unchecked, this preoccupation with memories can start to affect someone's ability to function normally and take a toll on their mental and physical health.

Disconcerting feelings and concerns about a memory that may or may not have happened is a subset of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) known as false memory OCD. Intrusive, obsessive thoughts such as having offended someone, cheating on a partner, or causing harm are the main theme of false memories experienced by people suffering from false memory OCD.

At our treatment center, we offer teen obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment for those dealing with moderate to severe OCD.

What Are the Components of False Memory OCD?

False memory OCD can be deconstructed into three main components. These components are:

The event: This is the event that triggers the onset of intrusive thoughts and obsessions.  For example, a person wonders whether they actually paid the bill before leaving a restaurant.

The obsession: These are the repercussions a person becomes concerned about. For example, the aforementioned person will never return to the restaurant, no matter what, for fear of being labeled as a thief and being arrested.

The compulsions: These are the behaviors one utilizes to reduce the distress caused by the obsession. For example, the person continually confesses to his friends, family, and coworkers wanting to know if they thought she or she is a thief.

What Are the Symptoms of False Memory OCD?

People experiencing false memory OCD often exhibit other symptoms related to the broader range of OCDs, particularly feelings of a need for perfection and uneasiness. A person may wrestle with vague feelings of having done something wrong in the past or harbor doubts about the veracity of the event they’re obsessing over. This can lead a person to perform compulsive behaviors in an attempt to squash their negative feelings.

False memory OCD symptoms may include:

  • Obsessive needs to remember or know about a past event
  • Continual mental play-back of an event to attain certainty
  • Intensely guilty feelings about a supposed past event
  • Seeking affirmation from others about whether an even actually happened
  • Doubt and concerns about memories of the past not being real
  • Invasive thoughts of false memories
  • Avoiding contacting people or visiting places in the false memories

What Causes False Memory OCD?

It is probably a safe bet that everyone on Earth experiences false memories to some degree. These could be from simple things like which color shirt you wore at your 3rd birthday party to more complex things like if you remembered to declare that pair of socks on your tax returns. It is even common for two people who witnessed the same event to have wildly and completely different memories about its details.

OCD causes a person to interlace their memories of an event with false details to determine if it was their fault a negative occurrence happened. OCD is not the only contributor to false memories. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other events that cause dissociation can also act as a catalyst for false memories.

Factors that can lead to false memories can be:

  • Doubting oneself
  • Mistrusting oneself or lack of faith in one’s memory accuracy
  • Triggers from certain sounds or stimulation of other senses
  • Erroneous emotions brought on by contorted perceptions
  • Misattribution of other events
  • Exaggerated responses triggered by PTSD or other disorders
  • Sleep deprivation
  • High suggestibility within a person
  • Trauma
  • Cognitive biases

What Are Some Examples of False Memory OCD?

Obsessions brought about by false memory OCD can give rise to feelings of guilt, anxiety, or feelings of responsibility. A person’s sense of morality leads them to continually seek assurance from others as well as other compunctions. Various factors, such as the type of event causing the obsession, can change how these behaviors are displayed.

These are the most common obsessions in false memory OCD:

Harm OCD: This is the fear that a person experiences that they may have purposefully or accidentally caused mental, physical, or emotional damage to others.

Existential OCD: This refers to the fear of causing psychic harm by projecting obsessive thoughts out into the universe.

Sexual OCD: This stems from fears of having sexually assaulted, molested, or raped another person. This could also include fears of having watched underage pornography, made inappropriate remarks to someone, or otherwise sexually aroused someone unknowingly.

Moral perfectionism: Concerns of unintentional offense caused to another person, cheating on a test, or making false claims on a tax return form.

Scrupulosity OCD: Worries about past sins committed leading a person to excessively and compulsively confess to their priest.

Is Overcoming False Memory OCD Possible?

In short, yes. A proper diagnosis of false memory OCD can be carried out by a medical professional who specializes in OCD treatment. Following a diagnosis, a person may then be referred to an institution that specializes in ICD care and be put on a personalized psychotherapy program.

How Is False Memory OCD Diagnosed?

The Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale Symptom Checklist is the common assessment used to test for OCD. Due to OCD being considered the “doubting disease,” any symptom can initiate a false memory and prompt the need to compulsively check.

Which Treatments Are Available for Overcoming False Memory OCD?

ocd therapy

Psychotherapy is at the top of the list of recommended psychological approaches to treat false memory OCD. Self-compassion, stress management, and mindfulness are other strategies used alongside psychotherapy to assist with managing this disorder.

The three most common psychotherapeutic therapy modalities used to treat false memory OCD are:

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP)

As with all types of OCD ERP is recommended as the best line of treatment for false memory OCD. The effectiveness rate of ERP is a whopping 80%, making it the gold standard when it comes to therapeutic approaches. 12-25 sessions is how long it has taken for most patients on record to see results.


ERP is a type of behavior therapy that teaches people to accept that their feared memory was possibly an actual occurrence and how to live with uncertainty. ERP also teaches a person methods of moving forward in life in the possibility the event did occur.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

Our CBT program for teens and young adults is an optional approach to therapy for OCD. Other methods may also be used as a part of a person’s treatment. Finding the correct therapist whose specialty is in the field of OCD is important to receive experienced and effective treatment.


CBT for OCD helps people restructure their cognitive disorders by questioning their illogical beliefs. CBT allows the opportunity to perform role-plays about the destructive results as if they did happen.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT):

ACT is a subform of CBT that focuses on staying in the existing moment, accepting thoughts and feelings, and action taking. ACT helps increase people’s mental flexibility, teaching them to become less affected by thoughts, sensations, and emotions associated with OCD.

Are there medications for treating false memory OCD?

OCD treatment medications typically include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as well as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Atypical antipsychotics can also be prescribed to enrich the effects of SSRIs or SNRIs.

What Are Some Tips for Dealing With False Memory OCD?

Managing false memory OCD is challenging because it is like an unscratchable itch. A person should, however, fight the urge to “scratch” by conducting compulsive checking. The itchy feeling will fade away on its own if it’s allowed to run its course. Continual practice will allow a person to experience reduced urgency and distress.

A person could add some beneficial coping mechanisms to help deal with the accompanying young adult depression or anxiety with false memory OCD.

Some of these coping mechanisms are:

Grounding techniques: Focusing on your surroundings is how grounding techniques help you remain in the present moment. You could practice this by feeling the breeze crossing your skin, the lights filtering through your eyelids, or the impact of your footsteps on the floor.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the art of focusing on the present by using any of your five senses to convey what they can observe. Mindfulness also emphasizes letting go of things over which you have no control.

Stress-management skills: Stress management may include engaging in physical exercise, getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, or having a wellness lifestyle.

Healthy distractions: Hoppies, arts and crafts, and other activities are great ways to keep busy and occupy the body and mind from focusing on intrusive thoughts.

Thought reframing: You could feel a lot better by trying to exaggerate the details of the outcome of the event and finding humor in it.

Find Help at Paradigm

ocd recovery

Paradigm Treatment brings a special focus to providing treatment for mental health issues, such as OCD, for young adults and teenagers. Treatment plans are always undertaken with a tailored approach, providing one-on-one care for each person. No two people are alike, and no two treatment structures are the same.

Paradigm treatment approaches OCD with the patient’s particular compulsions, triggers, and past experiences in mind. Our residential treatment modalities almost always combine progressive strategies with traditional ones to address all of the behavioral and mental aspects of the illness.

False memory OCD can make someone feel an overwhelming and impending sense of doom. If you feel that you or a loved one may be experiencing false memory OCD, contact us at Paradigm Treatment today to schedule a campus visit, plan for a consultation, or ask any questions for clarification. Let our young adult residential treatment program help your teen on their road toward reclaiming their mental health and living a healthy life.

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