How can I tell if my bad thoughts are caused by OCD? This pounding unstoppable thought that something bad could happen—is that OCD or intuition? Could the bad thoughts be a reflection of who I am and OMG what I really want? These are questions I get asked a lot.
I listen to my clients and hear the sound of confusion. Even with a diagnosis of OCD people don’t believe their bad thoughts are just a bizarre side effect of a strange neurological condition. There is no sound worse than confusion. I’ll take nails on a chalkboard any day over the sound of confusion. I want to scream THIS IS SO OUTRAGEOUS! THIS IS RIDICULOUS! It’s so abundantly clear to me that it’s OCD. Hello!!! Captain Obvious! But someone with OCD has never met Captain Obvious.
But there are ways to put the thoughts to the test and find out if they’re just neurons misfiring, creating false alarms and causing you to be hyper-aware. Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) is the most effective way to do this. I won’t describe that therapy here—another post another time. Instead I want to share two ways to challenge your thoughts and name it OCD.
#1 Let’s Poll the Population
Let’s ask 50-100 people what they think and whatever the majority of them say—that’s how we determine if you’re having a reasonable thought or worry. If it’s not reasonable, we’re going with “It’s OCD.”
I’ve posted questions on Facebook to find out what the majority would worry about.
These are just some examples of what I’ve asked my Facebook friends: Would you still love a significant other if his or her stomach wasn’t flat.(Yes) Since toilet paper doesn’t come with instructions, what is the average # of wipes after a bowel movement.(3) Recently I asked when is it appropriate to ask a question at work regarding an assignment. (I’ll share these answers in another post—it’s lengthy!) Do you wash your hands after touching a doorknob?(No) Do you knock three times on the ceiling to keep a loved one from harm?(No) Are you hyper vigilant about touching your dog?(No)
Once I’ve collected answers the results are shared with clients who are obsessing about these topics. The majority rules and proves reasonable behavior/worries. If the behavior or worry proves to be unreasonable we call it OCD and boss it back.
Sometimes we can’t poll the population and we just imagine what 100 people would say. In a gymnasium of 100 people how many of them would be worried about being gay? Not the majority!
#2 Is Your Brain Super Focused?
Another way to tell if it’s OCD is to ask how long you’ve been focused on one particular thought or worry. How long have you been trying to get certainty? The brain normally has a very short attention span. The average brain can only focus intensely for about 5-10 minutes, and then it drifts.
So if you’re wondering if this thought or worry you’re having is OCD, ask yourself if the amount of time you’re focusing on it has increased or decreased. The brain does not naturally expand its capacity to focus! If you’re stuck on a thought and increasingly spending more and more time on it—you’re brain is not functioning normally and this is the very nature of OCD.
Even if you poll the population and discover you’re not behaving like the majority or if you discover your brain is spending an abnormal amount of time focusing on one specific thought—you’re probably still going to question, “Is this OCD or the real me?”
If you have OCD you have the doubting disease and there is no way to get certainty about why you’re having the thoughts you’re having. Your brain will try to keep pulling you into the abyss—a bottomless pit. You’ve got to be strong and say, “The majority of 100 people aren’t worrying about this so I’m not going to either. No matter how much doubt I have, I’m going to act like the majority. It could be risky but if other people aren’t thinking about this past 5 or 10 minutes, then neither am I.”
Leave a comment about your own success with these two tests. Have you tried either one?