top of page

False Memory OCD

False Memory OCD hinges on a real or imagined memory of a past transgression. Extreme and persistent doubt exist related to this 'memory' with the question being whether it truly happened. The more it is thought about, the more unclear it is and the harder it becomes to separate real and imagined elements. Mental and behavioral compulsions can be present with the most common being mental review or rethinking the memory. To further complicate matters, research has shown that the more we think about past memories, the more fabricated they become. 


The specific content of the obsessions can vary but it will always center around a transgression of some sort. It may start with a real memory, like being at a friend's house. This real memory paired with doubt from OCD leads to questioning whether something bad happened in that scenario. Did I leave without saying goodbye or thank you? When I told that joke in the group, did I say something racially offensive that I forgot? Did I get full consent before being intimate? What if I didn't pay the bill at the restaurant? 

These thoughts - or obsessions - create significant anxiety and lead to compulsions as a means of relief from the anxiety. 


  • checking in with the other person for reassurance that things are still good

  • self-reassurance that you are doing the right thing or are in the right place in life

  • reassurance-seeking from friends and family

  • internet research 

  • reading stories to compare your relationship with other's experiences

  • scrutinizing the behavior of the other person or pet for signs that confirm or disconfirm your belief or suspicion

  • relationship-testing

The Problem with Seeking Certainty

Recalling memories over and over in an effort to crystalize what truly happened is usually futile. As is mentioned above, research has shown that repeated recall of past memories functions like the old kid's telephone game where the original memory gets edited, revised and even unintentionally fabricated by the end. This process creates further doubt and uncertainty around the memory which fuels more frequent and intense compulsions to reach certainty. This is a classic example of the OCD cycle; there is no way out when compulsions are heavily relied on. The goal, instead, is to adjust to the notion that one may never know where a memory falls on the continuum from completely true to completely untrue. Follow-up work is around acceptance of that radical idea along with the guilt and shame that may accompany it.​

bottom of page