People with OCD aren’t the only ones thinking the worst thoughts at the most inappropriate times. Everybody gets weird scary bad thoughts. One time while petting my dog Bella, I thought, “She’s so muscular; she’d make a good stew.” I was shocked! But, I wasn’t appalled. I said, “Okay, that was weird.” Everybody gets weird thoughts but not everybody experiences shame or guilt from those thoughts. Here are five mistakes people with OCD make when they have weird scary bad thoughts:
Mistake #1 Keep It a Secret
If Freddy Krueger was living in your basement would you keep it a secret? No! You would get someone to help you outwit Freddy Krueger! Would you feel ashamed that Freddy Krueger picked your house to hide out in? No! That wouldn’t even cross your mind. You’ve got this bad dude living in your mind and it’s not your fault! The only time you shouldn’t tell someone (e.g., therapist, parent, best friend, and family member) is if you’re just trying to get reassurance that you’re a good person.
If you have OCD then you know you’re not supposed to seek reassurance. If you have a bad thought, you can’t ask someone to reassure you and say, “It’s just OCD. You are not your thoughts. You’d never do that.” That’s ok if you’re newly diagnosed but if you’ve been dealing with OCD for a while, you need something more than relabeling OCD. Too much relabeling ends up turning into reassurance. And reassurance feeds OCD. It’s like alcohol to an alcoholic—there’s never enough.
But, you can get help to outwit OCD. In fact it’s great to get people to help you to boss it back: “Hey, I’m having a really bad thought about _______. I don’t want you to reassure me but can you remind me of something I have in my toolbox to help me boss it back?”
Mistake #3 Trying to Rationalize Why You’re Thinking What You’re Thinking
If you try to explain, excuse or justify your thoughts you’re spending way too much time on the thought. When I had the thought about chopping Bella up for stew, I didn’t try to figure out why I had that thought or what it meant. I shrugged and said, “Weird” and kept petting her belly. Get to the shrug as fast as possible. Say: “Whatever, So What, Who Cares.” As soon as you analyze the thought or associated feelings you’re inviting OCD to take you deeper into this obsession. OCD robs you of enough. Don’t go down the rabbit hole with OCD. It’s not worth it. If you’ve been down the rabbit hole you know it’s a very long horrible journey.
If you can’t shrug at the thought get help from someone who knows what’s in your “Boss it Back” toolbox. If you don’t have a “Boss it Back” toolbox be sure to read next week’s blog.
Mistake#4 Not Shrugging at the Thoughts
A shrug shows that you are committed to “let go or be dragged.” Shrugging is not avoiding. It’s not suppressing or hiding either. Shrugging is giving your brain a clear message that you don’t care about the thought or worry. Your brain’s alarm system (the amygdala) is misfiring and when you shrug, it stops firing.
It’s not easy to shrug if you’re already caught up in evaluating the thought or feelings. Shrugging is your first line of defense. If it isn’t the anxiety worsens and you’re going to start trying to avoid your triggers.
Mistake#5 Avoiding Triggers
If you don’t face whatever it is that is triggering the bad thoughts then the thoughts will become intense and frequent, and the anxiety will take over. You’ve got to get as close as you can to your triggers. That’s why exposure and response prevention is very effective in treating OCD. The more you face your triggers the more desensitized you become.
Never put your life on hold because of bad thoughts. Keep doing everything you want to do or need to do, even if the thoughts follow you. Better yet, go on the offensive and invite OCD to bother you when you know you are going to be around a trigger.
If you find yourself stressed out about bad thoughts, identify which mistake you’re making and take corrective action. Get someone to help you remember what’s in your Boss it Back Toolbox. If you don’t know what’s in your toolbox make sure you read next week’s blog.
If you want to comment or add to this list of mistakes please feel free to do so.