top of page

Emotional Contamination OCD

Emotional Contamination is a cluster of symptoms associated with OCD that involves fear that contact with a person or place will contaminate or endanger the OCD sufferer. The feared contamination can be taking on unwanted mental or physical traits of the person. It could also be related to the belief that contact with the contaminated person or place will lead to harm, either vague or specific. Worsening of this cluster of symptoms is common if left untreated. For example, what was once a triggering situation to read about blindness may grow to reading anything related to eyes and vision and eventually reading is avoided altogether.


  • intrusive thoughts about contamination or endangerment 

  • fear that unwanted traits of another person can be acquired through physical contact, shared air space or even thinking about the person

  • worries that danger or harm can come through mental or physical exposure to the contaminated person or place


  • avoidance of people and places that are associated with the contaminated person(s)

  • avoidance of media associated with the contaminant

  • neutralizing the contamination by undoing it or doing the opposite action

  • controlling others' use of contaminated words and phrases

  • engaging in a contaminated act but holding a "good" or opposite thought when doing so

  • holding one's breath or covering the mouth to avoid breathing in contamination

Additional Symptoms

  • significant impairment as a result of these beliefs and relief-seeking routines 

  • magical thinking which connects two things together with logic that is not grounded in science

  • superstitious thinking

  • coincidences are taken as factual proof

The Problem with Seeking Certainty

OCD comes with urges to engage in compulsions, either mental or behavioral. These compulsions are in pursuit of 100% certainty that the feared outcome will not happen. Emotional contamination is impossible to prove or disprove. From a logical standpoint, this would force you to live in uncertainty. However, someone who experiences obsessions consistent with emotional contamination is saddled with intense and unrelenting anxiety when faced with uncertainty. Efforts to reach certainty, which in this case means conclusive proof that the contamination or danger will not come to fruition, are undertaken even when these efforts defy sound reasoning. Constant pursuit of certainty and relief perpetuates the cycle of OCD with the finish line of certainty drifting further away with each episode.

bottom of page