Real Event OCD, Cancel Culture, and Reassurance

This episode tackles the very real, and very troubling, OCD subtype known as Real Event, or Real Life, OCD. I discuss this subtype, including its common obsessions, compulsions, and treatment. Additionally, I discuss how this subtype can and is being influenced by the existence of “cancel culture.”

Thank you to everyone who listened to this episode. This was, oddly, the most anxiety producing episode for me to record. I hope you are able to learn a little about this subtype and are able to apply some of the tools to your own recovery.


  1. Of course you dislike cancel culture – people in power don’t like to be held accountable for their actions. You, as a white man, stand to benefit from the way our society is structured – from the decades of white supremacy and patriarchy our society has been birthed out of and embodied for hundreds of years. How can you possibly look at the crimes of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. and say “well, everybody makes mistakes?” How can you ignore the voices of minority groups and blatant injustice of our society and argue against those in power being held accountable for their actions?

    I understand that as a therapist, you learn to treat people non-judgmentally, and that each person makes mistakes and has justifications for their actions. But where do you draw the line between ignorance and malice? You’re telling me that the people who murdered Breonna Taylor “just made a mistake?” That people who cheat on their partners just “accidentally” slept with another person? That hundreds of undocumented immigrants were locked up and separated from their children because their captors had goodness in their hearts?

    As respectfully as I can, Dr. Foss, I disagree. It’s one thing to do something bad on accident, or to do things that become culturally rejected later on, or to be 18 years old and stupid – but it’s another to benefit white supremacy, to strangle black people to “protect and serve,” or to be blatantly racist. Or sexist. Or do anything that deliberately hurts another person. Arguing against holding people accountable online only benefit those who deliberately harm others and hide under a disguise of “haha, sorry, everybody makes mistakes!”

    Imagine going to court, being accused of murder, and your only defense is “well I don’t know if it really happened!” Or saying “everyone makes mistakes, I’m a different person now!” You would get thrown in jail. Because if you were innocent, you would have arguments for your innocence. People with me with memory-based and real-event OCD are only seeking to protect themselves from the accusations within our minds.

    For me, my brain calls me a cheater. I realized I did some things and said some things I shouldn’t have because they were in the grey area of cheating. So, I pay for that mistake by making sure that my boyfriend is okay, asking if he thought it was cheating, and going over what I did and said to make sure I didn’t have bad intentions. I made my boyfriend read thousands of messages – reading them myself too – to make sure it’s okay.

    It’s been about a year since I realized what I did and about two years since I did those things – and I am still paying for it. I have to make sure that what I did wasn’t cheating, because if it was, I need to break up with my partner. And I need to make sure I examine my actions fully to clear my name. It’s only the right thing to do! What kind of honest person would say “welp, I don’t know if I’m a cheater!” That’s self-serving, and only seeking to hide wrongdoing. So I investigate. I go back and ask. I make sure. Not because I’m crazy, but because I’m honest, and because I hold myself accountable for my actions.

    I resent my diagnosis because it’s just an excuse. “I only think about cheating all the time because I have this disease!” No! It’s because of risk. I wear dark lipstick every day and wipe it on my hand and take a picture because it’s proof that I haven’t made out with anyone. And because I’m not sure, I need proof. Sure, call me crazy, call me OCD all you want, but if you weren’t sure if you were a cheater, and if you had the moral conviction that I do, you would probably do the same thing.

    Those are my thoughts.

    • Hi Rhiannon,

      Thanks for listening to the episode, and for providing your feedback.

      Perhaps I should clarify. I am in favor of accountability for one’s actions, while I am also against “cancel culture.” Yes, someone should take responsibility for their actions, but not all infractions deserve a life sentence of guilt and penance.

      Those suffering with Real-Event OCD generally magnify the significance of their wrongdoing despite the reassurances and consensus of friends and family. Additionally, they struggle with tolerating the guilty feelings when think they are not morally, relationally, or cosmically pure. The constant effort to feel “OK” causes daily pain, and often causes more destruction. Accepting responsibility for ones actual actions, receiving an appropriate consequence, and moving on with one’s life is the only way to move on with one’s life in a meaningful and values-driven way. This begins with self compassion.

      I understand people will disagree with me. My objective is to help people live happier, freer lives the best way I know how. Thank you again for your feedback.

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