When I'm around children I get this intense feeling of paranoia and fear

I'm a male in my early 20s. Lately, my paranoia about being around kids is causing me too breathe heavy and sweat a lot. I then start to act weird because I'm trying to fight my paranoia. This leads to people starring at me because they don't know that I'm suffering from panic attacks and paranoia. They just notice me acting scared around kids and they think I'm a threat because of it.

I'm not a pervert or predator. I would never hurt a kid. I like kids and don't know why I'm so scared to be around them.

I don't understand why I feel like this. Am I a bad person? How do I make this stop?

Martin Hsia, Psy.D.
Martin Hsia, Psy.D.
OCD, Anxiety, and Insomnia Specialist

In our practice, many people we see have unwanted thoughts of doing harm to children - physically or sexually. As you said, these are intrusive and unwanted thoughts - not genuine desires to harm them. This is a form of OCD we often call Harm or Pedophilic OCD. What you are describing here as "paranoia" sounds similar to this, and is so demoralizing because you are dealing both with the distress of these unwanted thoughts and feelings, as well as the fear and uncertainty about your own character as a good person.

If this is really what is going on (further assessment by the right professional would determine this), the current gold standard approach to addressing OCD is Exposure with Response Prevention - in this case, confronting the feared situations, thoughts or images on purpose, rather than avoiding them, until they lose the fear and shame associated with them.

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