Why are some obsessions more upsetting than others?
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Little is known about why certain obsessional thoughts are more upsetting than others for people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Obsessional thought content often seems arbitrary to sufferers. The current study examined three possible reasons why particular thoughts would be especially upsetting for individuals, based on suggestions put forth by cognitive theories of obsessional thoughts. Twenty-eight individuals with a principal diagnosis of OCD completed questionnaires and interviews at two different periods of time on (1) their most upsetting current obsession and (2) their least upsetting current obsession. Results suggested that more upsetting obsessions were evaluated as more meaningful or significant than less upsetting obsessions, and more upsetting obsessions contradicted valued aspects of the self to a greater degree. All examples of current obsessions, both most and least upsetting, arose in the context of life concerns or issues. Results support cognitive theories in that the strength and nature of appraisal appears to be linked with the distress associated with a thought, and more upsetting thoughts are those that have implications for a person's sense of self.
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