Is There a Link Between Childhood Trauma And OCD? | What Studies Say…

Last Update on April 6, 2023 : Published on April 6, 2023
Childhood Trauma And OCD

Mental health disorders occur with a cause and more often than not, the cause of those disorders lies in our experiences. If we talk about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a common mental health disorder, then it is speculated that experiences such as childhood trauma can be significant triggers in children and adults.

While the causes of OCD are not yet proven, researchers have conducted studies where OCD and childhood trauma were linked with each other. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder often experience obsessions such as unwanted or intrusive thoughts and compulsions such as repetitive behaviors to curb the intrusive thoughts.

OCD is a treatable condition and, in this article, we’ll be exploring the treatment options for the disorder as well as the link between trauma and OCD.

Also, keep reading to get the answer to the question; Can childhood trauma cause OCD?

OCD And Childhood Trauma: Can Childhood Trauma Cause OCD

Answering a specific question when it comes to mental health disorders is like searching the haystack for a needle. The field of mental health disorders is enormous – like an ocean – and practically unconquerable. So, it’d be fair to say that there’s a lot we are unaware of when it comes to OCD. For example, the causes of OCD.

Psychologists and researchers believe that our genetics might play a role and some believe that personality traits such as neuroticism can also contribute to the onset of OCD.

Despite all these speculations, we can’t ignore the situational factors. If you’re already at risk of developing obsessive-compulsive disorders, then external factors are more likely to trigger the onset of OCD. Such triggers can include factors such as;

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Pregnancy
  • Viral or other infection
  • Chronic stress
  • Traumatic experiences

Yes, traumatic experiences you’ve had in your life can also trigger OCD. Please note that here, childhood trauma isn’t listed as the cause of OCD but as a trigger for OCD. More research is needed to determine if childhood trauma or trauma as an adult can trigger OCD. Childhood trauma may not only trigger OCD but it can also be a detrimental factor that can worsen the existing symptoms of the disorder.

In a 2011 study, it was found that childhood trauma can increase the severity of the obsessive-compulsive disorder in children who are already struggling with emotional and attachment issues.

In a later study, it was found that specific kinds of childhood trauma such as emotional neglect, and verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse, can all contribute to the worsening of OCD symptoms. In another study from 2021, it was stated that adults who experienced mistreatment in their childhood were more likely to develop OCD and depressive symptoms.

If we talk about OCD and PTSD, then it is possible to experience both at the same time. If you have trauma-related OCD, then you can also experience post-traumatic stress disorder. In a 2014 study, many similarities were pointed out between OCD and PTSD. For one, they can both be responses to traumatic experiences, both can involve intrusive thoughts, and both can include compulsions to get rid of the same.

Whether you have OCD or PTSD or any other trauma-related condition, only a professional mental healthcare provider can diagnose and determine the truth of the disorder. If you fear that you or someone you know are struggling with OCD, PTSD, or other trauma-related conditions, then it is recommended that you speak to a professional for a proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

Early Warning Signs of OCD to Know

No timeline can determine when you develop OCD after trauma or whether you develop signs of OCD. According to statistics, 8 in 10 people develop OCD before they turn legal adults. OCD symptoms begin developing during one’s childhood. Even toddlers can exhibit symptoms of OCD.

Here are some early warning signs of OCD that you should know;

  • Asking for constant reassurance
  • Displaying repetitive behaviors (such as checking, counting, repeating words, etc.)
  • Being a perfectionist about certain things and situations
  • Getting irritated or angry when they can’t carry out their compulsive actions
  • Having difficulty concentrating or carrying out certain tasks
  • Taking more than usual to complete certain tasks
  • Avoiding using certain things or engaging in certain activities
  • Being preoccupied with order or symmetry

Can We Treat OCD?

Yes, OCD is a treatable condition and, in most cases, talk therapy is recommended. If the symptoms are severe and need additional attention, then a physician may prescribe your child some medications to help ease the symptoms.

One of the most common talk therapy approaches many psychologists to take to treat OCD can include;

CBT, as studies suggest, can help reduce OCD symptoms by 40-60% in children. Exposure and response prevention therapy include exposing your child to their fears but preventing them from carrying out the compulsions. This therapy is said to help weaken the anxiety that comes with OCD and teach the child how to cope without needing to engage in their compulsions.


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Family therapy, on the other hand, can also be used to treat OCD in children. In this therapy, parents or siblings of the child with OCD will be taught about their condition which can then allow the parents or siblings to support the child.

In some cases, support groups can also help people with OCD cope with their condition and symptoms. If you suspect that your child has OCD, then it is recommended that you speak to a professional or reach out to child-specific OCD support groups for more resources.


While there are no certain causes of OCD yet determined, it is heavily speculated that stress and trauma (specifically childhood trauma) can play an influential role in triggering OCD signs and symptoms or even worsen the existing OCD symptoms.

If you or your loved one has had a traumatic past – without the symptoms of OCD on display – reaching out to a professional for a diagnosis and treatment can be helpful. The right therapy can help you learn how to process the trauma and how to cope with it, effectively.

I hope this article helped you understand the link between OCD and childhood trauma, what triggers OCD, and how to get help for the same. For more, you can write to us at or DM us on social media. You can also leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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