Should I Say My Obsessions Out Loud?

The other day I was reading a Q & A Website where people with OCD post their questions. Here’s one that was very popular and had several hundred views:

160_F_63199233_ThCX9qqGz550zQt6Onbfq8uMAnkyQUEj“Hello I was wondering if it’s normal for someone with OCD to have to say some of their intrusive thoughts out loud for them to go away?”

In April I wrote a blog post every day and my favorite part was not writing the blog (although I enjoyed it very much). It was reading everybody’s comments and cultivating an ongoing discussion. Since I miss that part, for today I decided to post the above question and encourage ya’ll to comment and check back through the week to keep the discussion going. 

I’d like to do this every once in awhile so if you have a question you want me to ask in a future post tell me!

I’m looking forward to hearing from you! As always I’ll make sure your response is anonymous!

Hi! Last week I posted the above question. We had some great comments. Please be sure to read them! Today, I replied to each comment for this week’s post. I also included a “Reassurance Quiz” below:

19 thoughts on “Should I Say My Obsessions Out Loud?”

  1. I never thought of that! It might work… it seems similar to writing down your “To Do” list so you can get it out of your head.
    Saying obsessions out loud would be more immediate than writing them down – no writing implements needed.

    1. Yes, a great exposure exercise is to create a hierarchy of trigger words. Fill up an entire page of paper with the unwanted, intrusive thoughts, worries, or fears. Just write trigger words over and over. Put the words to music. Draw cartoons. Translate them into other languages. Change all passwords to trigger words. Stick post-it notes around the house. Look up definitions. Find words that rhyme with trigger words.

  2. Yes I think saying it outloud is helpful. Like a sentence or less. Purely talking about it (an hour in therapy every few days) with no exposure therapy however, made it worse for me. It’s like giving a bully too much attention.

    1. You’re right, talk therapy is the equivalent of the hamster wheel. I have had clients who just want to lie down on the couch and talk about it. They won’t admit the only reason they come to therapy is to try to get their weekly fix of reassurance. This of course results in a discharge because I’m not interested in feeding OCD!

  3. I think it’s dependent on the individual. Aside from in therapy, I try to limit talking about obsessions with others because it just makes me more upset. My mind hears me talking and thus will put more emphasis on my obsessions.

    1. You’re right, you don’t want to give the thoughts the time of day unless it’s for an exposure exercise. As an OCD therapist I hear a lot of obsessive thoughts all week long. To me, all obsessions are the same. They’re all about having trouble tolerating uncertainty. There’s usually an inflated sense of responsibility behind the worry, an overestimation of threat, and the thoughts are falsely weighing in as important and needing attention. Whether it’s a fear of harm, contamination, or an aversion towards feeling uncomfortable or immoral–take away the story and it all boils down to the exact same cognitive errors.

  4. I think it should be talked about as long as its reaching the goal of bossing it back but not in a way to get reassurance or feed OCD! Being specific with obsessions can help pin point a better attack plan.

    1. Right! Talking about the obsession as a way to confront the fear is the only reason to discuss obsessions. Talk about it to purposely spike anxiety and the byproduct of doing that is becoming desensitized and bored with the thoughts.

  5. Depending on what the obsessive thought is it can be very helpful for me to talk to someone else. It is normalizing for me to get this stuff, at least partially, out of my head. Also sometimes I am worrying about something that is actually legitimate, that most people would worry about. But maybe I am worrying about it more than most people would. It can also help me to process these sorts of more legitimate concerns with someone I trust.

    1. It’s true that when you get it out of your head you can gain a better perspective. The concern here is that checking with someone about whether your worry is legitimate may prevent you from developing confidence in yourself. You might also be getting reassurance. It may be more helpful to try and deal with the worry by using the “100 people” Reasonable Test. Instead of asking someone you’d guess: “In a room full of 100 people, how many of them are worrying about this and how many of them would be checking to see if it’s normal.” If the guess is “not many” then you have your answer that you should let go or be dragged.

  6. I don’t think it’s bad to say intrusive thoughts out loud in order for them to go away (although if you fear harming people, you may not want to say that out loud in a public place). I talk to myself a lot, although it’s mostly in my head. (The neighbors may worry if I’m outside talking to myself…) I don’t think this question is the right one to ask, though – the ending specifically: “…for them to go away.” I have quite a few different obsessions, and while they may “go away” for a while, they sometimes come back. For example, this week I’ve had an obsession come back where I’m afraid I’ll overheat. Initially, I was discouraged and thought to myself, “Okay, how can I get rid of this? I don’t want to think like this!” But that’s the wrong way to look at it, in my opinion.

    I’ve since changed the way I think about it. Now, when I talk to my obsessive thoughts in my head, I say “Okay, I see you’re back, and if you want to stick around for a bit, I really don’t care. I may overheat and pass out or die or whatever, but stick around if you’d like.” I’m not going to try too hard to get the thoughts to “go away.”

    I think a good strategy is just to shrug, maybe talk to the thought a bit, and let it stay. The funny thing is that the less I try to make the thought go away, the easier it is for me to deal with it, and the more likely it is for it to go away on its own.

    1. An edit: And if someone has to say their obsessive thoughts out loud in order to get them to go away, that seems to me to be a compulsion. I read the quote incorrectly the first time.

      1. Exactly! Consider the intention behind telling someone your obsession. To be reassured that all is well and it’s just your imagination or to say it out loud to grab it by the horns and confront it?

    2. Right, thoughts you resist will persist! If you accept the thoughts and pull them in rather than push them out, you’re more likely to have those thoughts surprise attacking you less and less. But, if you share your thoughts so that someone replies, “You are not your thoughts” then you’re back to square one because your brain didn’t get updated. It didn’t learn anything!

  7. Sometimes I just feel I need to say an obsession out loud because I’m so stuck in my head and not present with my surroundings… So I will say to someone I trust, “I am worried that…” then its like I got it off my chest and can start releasing it. Like someone mentioned above though, I have to be sure I’m doing it with the right intentions: to release vs seeking reassurance.

    1. You have good insight into this dilemma. When you say it out loud it sounds different than when it’s stuck in your head. It’s like letting the air out of a balloon. If you repeat it over and over for an exposure exercise, you could even become desensitized. But, you’re right, if you tell someone you’re worried so that they can reassure you that everything is going to be okay, then that’s reassurance and your brain didn’t learn anything new.

  8. I don’t think you should talk about your obsessions unless you are being proactive on how to deal with them. I think this would just feed OCD more and everytime you express a thought to someone you’re reliving it over and over again.

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