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Pure-O OCD Rituals: Starting Over, Resetting, & Undoing

OCD Starting Over, Resetting, & Undoing Rituals Compulsions

Some individuals with Pure-O OCD use “starting over”, “resetting”, or “undoing” compulsions to wipe the mental slate clean.

Question: It’s hard to describe this, but I feel like every few days I need to mentally “start over” by doing a variety of mental and behavioral rituals. I don’t want to live like this, but I’m afraid that if I undergo treatment and stop my OCD rituals, I won’t be the same person with the same drives.

Starting Over, Resetting, & Undoing Compulsions in OCD

First, please rest assured that you’re not alone in experiencing these symptoms. Many people with OCD (“Pure-O” or otherwise) refer to them as “starting over” compulsions, “resetting” compulsions, or “undoing” compulsions, which serve the function of returning to a clean mental slate. Sometimes these compulsions consist of particular movements, self-statements, mental activities, or complex rituals with both behavioral and mental components. They are not as common as other types of rituals (e.g., washing, re-arranging), but they’re more common than you might think, particularly in Pure-O OCD. Many people resist talking about them, because they fear that other people might not understand. Other rituals associated with Pure-O OCD are described here.

There are two other terms that might describe some of what you are experiencing: emotional contamination (also referred to as mental contamination) and scrupulosity.

Emotional Contamination (“Mental Contamination”) in OCD

Emotional contamination refers to the fear of being changed by direct or indirect contact with certain types of people, ideas, or situations. Emotional contamination might be the case if you feel more triggered when exposed to others who are less achievement-oriented than yourself. If you google emotional contamination, many of the stories you’ll find probably won’t perfectly describe your exact symptoms. However, the reason I mention it is because it sounds like your drive to be productive and live up to your potential sometimes gets thwarted by your own humanity (e.g., fatigue, inattention). Your rituals are then the process you use to reduce the resultant anxiety you feel when you can’t live up to your own high expectations. In a way, it might be a form of purging/neutralizing emotional contamination.

Scrupulosity in OCD

Scrupulosity also incorporates many of the moral elements of what you’re describing. In particular, I think the moral imperative you feel to live up to your potential, to maximize the usefulness of things, to avoid waste, to be a responsible person, and to avoid mistakes has a scrupulous quality. Please note that scrupulosity can be either religion- or morally-based. Many people with scrupulosity are religious (e.g., Catholic or Jewish individuals), but others consider themselves atheists or agnostics.

Treatment Ambivalence in OCD

As far as treatment is concerned, it sounds like you’re in a bit of a bind. I would encourage you to face this issue with the help of an ERP-trained psychologist, if you can, because I know many individuals who regret not doing so earlier in their lives. I would also ask you to think about both sides of the equation: both your fear of a possibility (that may never come to pass) as well as the very real and present distress you’re experiencing on a daily basis. From an outside perspective, it sounds like much of your happiness and mental energy is currently being lost to OCD.

However, ultimately, whether or not you pursue treatment for your OCD is a decision that only you can make.

Questions? Comments? Experiences with restarting, resetting, or undoing? Sound off below.

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  1. I think I have this emotional contamination ocd thing. I don’t exactly do cleansing rituals but I have developed these horrible embarassing twitches that I do everytime I feel like I’m “picking up” someone else’s traits. But if feels more like they’re trying to enter me. I’m not really afraid to touch them but it’s two people who I feel such resentment towards and I’m constantly afraid of being anything slightly like them at all. I’m really big into meditation and don’t want to be put on drugs and zombied out. Can this natural healing help?

    • Hi J,

      Based on your description, this does sound very much like emotional contamination.

      ERP was developed to specifically address symptoms of OCD, including mental contamination, and many research studies have documented its effectiveness. Most studies indicate that ERP is superior to medication alone, but many people find that they benefit significantly from combined treatment (medication + therapy).

      As far as medication is concerned, the goal of any medication is to help you obtain therapeutic benefit with minimal side effects. I know many people who are able to benefit from medications that are not overly sedating.

      One other thought…I assume your twitches are intentional behaviors to shake off unwanted traits. Some individuals with OCD also have tics, which can be addressed through other behavioral strategies like habit reversal training (HRT).

      Good luck with your recovery!

    • Sorry–I overlooked part of your question. For OCD, meditation is unlikely to be effective. The most effective treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP).

  2. Hi, my 15 year old son has Pure o symptoms. After some mdeication and therapy they seemed to be in fairly check until he started a new school. Now he describes himself as invisible. He does not know how to make friends or connections with kids his age. He has friends in the neighborhood and is fine around the house with family and cousins. But he has had this issue with school in 3th grade when he started a new school and again in 6th grade, and now in 9th. He was not diagnosed with OCD until last fall. Anyway, I have read lots about pure o, and recognize lots of traits, but have not seen much about becoming invisible. He is a people pleaser with adults, apologizes to us repeatedly when he thinks he upsets us etc. Are you familiar with this trait, becoming invisible? He even plays sports and rides home on the bus with an acquaintance, but now says the acquaintence and the other kids don’t talk to him. I think he pulls himself out of the conversation.

  3. Hello Dr. Seay
    Have you seen children (age 11) with OCD who (suddenly) can not tolerate being around a family member because the family member’s voice or image will get “stuck in their head?” There does not appear to be a fear of contamination or germs – but rather a fear that if the child sees the family member, he will be triggered or set off? The child will go to great lengths to avoid the family member – such as closing his eyes and ears and running upstairs to avoid the person, refusing to look at a picture of the person or hear his voice. This has been a constant for 3 months. There are other OCD traits – including fear of going to Hell and needing to walk in a certain path to make everything “just right,” but this particular aspect (inability to be around a family member) seems to be having the most negative impact. We’re doing exposure therapy but wondering if you’ve heard of this before?

    Thank you!

  4. Ive this starting over ritual since 7 years. Everyday i startover n if something goes wrong or wen anxiety strikes i let go. Tben i will have to wait till the next day to startover n be functional once again. I repeat all the things done in past evertime i startover be it movies,books,places i visited,household chores etc.

    • Hi there, I have the same problem. Have had this issue since I was 7 too and can’t escape it.

    • I have this same issue and I have NO IDEA how to stop. Whenever I mess up in some way (like if I embarrass myself or if I stumble over my words when trying to talk to someone) I feel this overwhelming and all-consuming need to restart. And this has been happening more and more frequently for genuinely no reason. Like, literally everything will be absolutely great (or fine at the very least) but then I’ll have this passing feeling of being tired or burnt out or I’ll feel sad (also for no reason) and then it’s like I GOTTA RESTART AGAIN. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember and it’s really starting to negatively impact my life because I can’t be productive IF I KEEP RESTARTING. I can’t even manage to make plans for more than a day in advance because then I’ll have to clear my schedule when I restart. So even my social life is suffering. I don’t know what to do. I feel so helpless because there’s no way that anyone I know would understand any of this because it’s not like it’s obvious that I do this, ya know? I just let go of everything and prepare myself for a restart the following day hoping every single time that I do it that it’ll be the last time. That I won’t keep wasting my life. But it never lasts. For example, I love reading, but I’ve been trying to get through the same book for so long now (bEcAuSe i kEeP rEsTaRtInG iT) that I’ve just given up on reading entirely because reading the same damn thing over and over is ANNOYING and it’s driving me beyond insane. Same thing for tv shows or literally anything else. It’s like, I can’t even do the things that I enjoy because I feel this need to restart all the time. And I have this irrational idea that I have to do everything in a specific order (like the clothes that I wear and the food that I eat), so I constantly end up wearing or eating the same thing because I can never get myself past the restart by more than a few days. It’s like, everything I do has to be perfect and as soon as it’s not, I have to restart. And I KNOW that this makes no sense. That this entire process is so fucked. That I should just stop restarting and it would solve all my problems. But I’ve tried to stop soooooo many times. The only result I get is this feeling of existential dread and then I end up extremely depressed and the only way I can dig myself out of that mindset is if I try to be the best version of me and restart again. So thus the perpetual cycle of hell continues.

  5. I said one of my bad thoughts out loud and I’m in extremely concerned over this..I never say them out loud and I fear something bad will happen

  6. This is me, in a nutshell, and this goes hand in hand with my HOCD. My fear is that, as one of the more conservative Christians (who thinks that the Bible lists homosexual sex as a sin), I will be “ideologically contaminated” by anyone who holds the prevailing view. And since that’s just about “everybody”…you can imagine how paranoid this makes me. I’m terrified that somehow they “will know” my views on the issue and then not associate with me once they “find out I’m a homophobe”. Especially if they find out about the HOCD as well, because then they’ll think I’m one of those “gays in denial”–learning about those only fueled my OCD even more. Another fear is making friends with a gay person/having a gay child, which would supposedly “force” me to agree with them. I’m terrified that because this is seen as a dichotomous issue nowadays (either you’re a homophobe or you’re a straight ally), I will not be able to just “agree to disagree”, which is the option I prefer.

    I keep thinking to myself that I will be “forced to agree” with them, and that they will “convert” me to their “pro-gay ideology”. Like I feel like I don’t get to make a decision on the issue–other people have “decided” what I am to think. And I don’t like being told what to think if it doesn’t make sense–yes, I can see the apparent irony with that and being a Christian. Except for me, being raised in the faith didn’t feel like involuntary brainwashing. Growing up I’ve found that my views significantly differ from the specific denomination I was raised in, so I do, in fact, have ideological freedom.

    I used to have this fear over becoming an atheist–like if I was thoroughly presented with arguments supporting the lack of a God, then I would “believe” them almost instantly. This has even worked with My Little Pony–I don’t want to watch the show because I’m scared that I will “become a brony” against my will! 😮 But this current bout of OCD has been really bad. Excessive fears related to the HOCD have led to “gay dreams” (I’ve heard that these are not indicative of homosexuality, and worrying about the issue makes sense for me to have a dream like that). You can imagine that this makes it all even worse.

    So as you can see this is just one example of my ideological contamination fears.

    I am going to see a therapist on this issue, but not in about a week or so. In the meantime, doctor, what can I do to alleviate these distressing fears of being “exposed and ostracized” for my views or being “ideologically contaminated”?

  7. Hello,Dr. I’m a 19 years old girl. 7 months ago i read some erotic stories on internet. Actually i did not know about of my friends told me about the stories.
    So, being curious i read some erotic stories.But after reading, i felt too much dirty about the characters in the story. Some vulgar images,according to the stories formed in my mind. Now,for the last 7 months i have been facing obsession with the characters and images.
    The characters and images often come into my mind and then i feel very much angry and distressed.Because the narrating style of the stories seemed too much vulgar to me, and i took the characters not to be human, they seem animal to me.
    So,my question is how can i do ERP with this vulgar images and characters? ERP will enhace my tolerance about them. But making myself tolerant about them, will not demoralize me?

  8. Hi Steven,

    Firstly, thank you so much for publishing this artilcle. I have battled with starting over and resetting rituals nearly all my life but I never knew what it was or if it was related to a specific mental condition. I didn’t think it was OCD related as I have never had any outward physical rituals e.g. hand washing etc. I am now 29 and I believe I have had this condition since I was very young, however, I never sought treatment for it as I never knew what it was, I didn’t know if and how it could be treated and if I’m honest I always just thought I was “a bit odd”. Thank you so much again for publishing this article and suggesting treatment methods on how to combat these awful rituals. If the ERP treatment works for me I will be eternally grateful to you.

    Kind regards,


  9. Omg I thought it was something wrong with me. Every time the smallest of the things go wrong or some relationship gets messed up, I need to reset my whole phone and clean my whole room and tear my diary and start fresh again telling myself that I’m starting a new life where I will have full control of what’s going on. But this repeats every few weeks and I have deleted around 11 Instagram accounts and created new ones. It feels so stupid but I really can’t help it. I wish someone really helped me.

    • Same here this has messed up my whole life i cant cope when anything goes wrong so i just start over hoping that everything will be perfect from now on but i mess up amd start over again and cycle continues. And sometimes everything would be fine but still I’ll get all depressed and have this strong urge to start over. This is so bad.

  10. Ive had this since my 9th birthday or possibly earlier I’m now 28 and I feel like I’ve wasted my whole life. My need for perfection and analysis of everything I do has become heavy on me, My rituals have got worse also, I have to delete everything, every account, picture, even buy new stuff and throw old things out, I’ve changed my phone and number countless times I had to stop giving it out. It’s caused me alot of debt. I spend most of my time now doing nothing because I can’t erase my negative thoughts, I have so many things I want to achieve but unable to do anything. I thought I was just Alone in this. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope.

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