Although anger is not a core symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it is a common experience in people with OCD.

OCD involves intrusive thoughts and feelings, and a person uses compulsive behaviors to relieve them temporarily.

These intrusive feelings often involve anxiety about harm befalling themselves or others. However, anger is a common emotion among people with OCD, and some people have intrusive, angry thoughts.

For example, a person might feel chronically overwhelmed by feelings of anger at someone who harmed them or angry at themselves for having OCD. People with OCD may feel their angry thoughts are especially threatening or upsetting, making their compulsion to relieve these thoughts even stronger.

Read on to learn more about OCD and anger.

person talkingShare on Pinterest
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

People with OCD may have difficulties with anger. For example, a 2022 paper found that adolescents with OCD commonly have difficulty with anger and feelings of vengeance.

Intrusive thoughts are a hallmark of OCD. These thoughts may take many forms, but they manifest as anger for some. This anger can feel overpowering and threatening.

What is OCD?

OCD has two key features: obsessive thoughts, such as anger or a fear of contamination, and compulsive behaviors. People with OCD engage in compulsive behaviors to manage obsessive thoughts.

For example, a person who feels anger might compulsively pray, count things, or do specific tasks to alleviate their anger. This can work temporarily, but the compulsions may dominate a person’s life over time.

Learn more about OCD.

OCD anger feels like other forms of anger but can be more intrusive and more difficult to manage or suppress.

Some symptoms of OCD anger include:

  • experiencing intrusive, unwanted, angry thoughts
  • thoughts of revenge
  • feeling overwhelmed by angry thoughts
  • feeling like one cannot control one’s thoughts
  • an irresistible impulse to engage in compulsive behaviors to reduce angry thoughts

Importantly, anger does not necessarily mean aggression or violence, and a person who has intrusive thoughts does not have to act on them.

A person should contact a doctor if:

  • they experience obsessions or compulsions
  • their OCD treatment stops working
  • their OCD symptoms get worse
  • they are afraid they might harm someone else or themselves

Clinicians diagnose OCD based on a person’s symptoms. A doctor may ask about a person’s history of obsessive thoughts, as well as their family mental health history. They may also inquire about other emotions to screen for conditions, such as depression.

A mental health clinician may use a validated survey to assess a person’s symptoms and give a formal diagnosis. The Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) is one of the most common tools for evaluating OCD.

OCD treatments generally include a combination of therapy and medication.

Therapy can help a person better manage their thoughts and behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on understanding and managing the connection between thoughts and behavior, can be particularly helpful.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help with intrusive thoughts. Sometimes, doctors prescribe other drugs, such as antipsychotics, or newer therapies, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS).

A person should discuss each potential treatment’s risks and benefits and tell a clinician about the side effects that affect them. This can help a person find the right dosage and treatment.

Treating OCD may help a person better manage their anger. A person can also try self-care strategies to manage their thoughts. Therapists often teach specific interventions in CBT to help a person redirect their thoughts or feel less upset about them.

Some research suggests that trying to suppress intrusive thoughts may make them more intense and more upsetting.

Instead, a person might allow themselves to experience the thoughts without feeling guilt or shame, then move on to the next thought. Reminding oneself that thoughts are not actions and do not necessarily reflect desires may be more helpful than trying to suppress intrusive thoughts.

OCD can be a lifelong chronic illness, and a person may experience periods of remission or relapse, during which symptoms get better or worse, respectively. OCD does not typically go away on its own. With treatment, though, symptoms can improve.

Between 25% and 40% of people with OCD do not see improvement in their symptoms when using CBT or SSRIs. Of those who do see improvement with treatment, about 50% continue to have some symptoms.

Some people find help from a support group. Support groups assure people they are not alone and that their anger does not make them bad or dangerous. They can also offer advice on finding clinicians and advocating for treatment.

The International OCD Foundation offers resources, including local support groups, conferences, and educational materials.

People in the United States who need urgent help or access to resources can dial 988.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health condition that can cause a range of unpleasant and intrusive emotions, including anger. People with OCD may experience guilt or shame about their anger or worry their angry thoughts make them aggressive or dangerous.

OCD treatment can help. People should also know their angry thoughts do not have to translate into angry actions and that all people experience anger occasionally. With the right support, these thoughts do not have to dominate a person’s thoughts or life.