Aggression and Self-Harm as OCD Symptoms

November 12, 2012

Aggression and Self-Harm as OCD Symptoms

Obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD is a very complex yet treatable mental illness. There seems to be as many OCD symptoms as there are OCD patients. These include being burdened by unwanted thoughts or fears that if they do not perform a certain task that a tragedy will occur. Some patients show scary OCD symptoms such as self-mutilation or obsessing on thoughts of committing violence. Not every person with OCD will show these startling OCD symptoms.

Generally, patients with obsessive compulsive disorder are not dangerous to others. Any danger would to others is often very passive, such as refusing to drive a car, even if a family member is sick and needs to go to a doctor. The patient may go to great lengths and expense to hire a taxi for the ill family member. This can be time consuming, which may be seen as “harm” by the sick person but not to the mental health profession.

Aggression to Self to Stop Aggression to Other

Horrifying thoughts that suddenly pop into one’s head is one of the most normal of OCD symptoms. These thoughts can be of the person harming others violently or sexually. The obsessive compulsive disorder patient may then worry that because he had these thoughts that he is at risk of acting on these thoughts. Harming others usually horrifies the average OCD patient. So the patient begins harming himself in order to feel reassured that he would not act on his violent thoughts.

This self-aggression can manifest in many forms. The patient may self-mutilate or hit himself, but he may also deny himself food or other creature comforts as a form of punishment for having thoughts of harming others. The patient may devise rituals that are self-harming in that most of the patient’s waking time is spent doing the rituals and not much else.


Self-mutilation or self-harm can appear in OCD patients that do not have thoughts of harming others. This self-harm can be as common as chewing on fingernails or as dangerous as slashing one’s limbs with razors. Other forms of self-harm include pulling out hairs on the head or other parts of the body, purposefully sleeping in cold rooms and refusing blankets or refusing to eat.

Getting tattoos and body piercings are not considered OCD symptoms. Usually getting a tattoo or a body piercing is a sign that a person is happy enough with their bodies to invest in the time and money for body art. Some societies consider body art as self-mutilation, but other societies encourage its use.

Suicide Attempts

The most extreme form of self-harm is attempting to commit suicide. Some studies indicate that OCD patients are anywhere from 5 to 25% more likely to try and kill themselves than people without OCD. This risk goes up if the OCD patient abuses drugs or alcohol. Alcohol and many street drugs act as a depressant, intensifying an already dangerous mental battlefield.

Signs that a person is considering suicide include:

  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Giving away all possessions
  • A sudden weight loss or gain
  • Talking about death more often than usual.


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