Do I Like to Torture People Who Have OCD?

If the symptoms of OCD are so painful, why do I want clients to lean into the pain? Tolerate the pain. 160_F_112124725_IAgJplCgrO5mVYTISlvJNNeDama7gUhoDo nothing to get rid of the pain. In fact, seek pain. It sure sounds as if I like to torture people! 

I’m an OCD specialist. My private practice is dedicated to helping people with OCD. So my entire day is spent figuring out ways to make people anxious by confronting fear.

  • “Really, you think that’s contaminated? Oh good. Let’s touch it.”
  • “Hmmmm. You think you might hurt someone? Prove it. Hold this knife to my stomach.”
  • “Oh no! Did you just run somebody over? It sure sounded like it to me!”
  • “I don’t know if you have OCD. Maybe it’s something else.”

If you’re not familiar with Exposure & Response Prevention(ERP) then you’ve got to be thinking I’m into torture. My clients would laugh about this and in jest nod their heads at one another…like uh huh. They’ve heard me say many times, “Oh! That makes you anxious? Good! We want that!” ? They reply, “Oh no. Why did I ever tell you I’m afraid of that. Oh no.”  

A few clients over the years have dropped out of therapy looking for a gentler approach. While visiting a friend the other day, I saw a former client who was stuck in his driveway, taking the same steps over and over. Sweat was dripping down his face. He’d been stuck awhile. I helped him get unstuck and asked how it was going with his new therapist. He replied, “She’s not as tough as you.”

Be Set Free
Be Set Free

I’m tough because I see the potential in my clients. I want them to be the best they can be. I know there’s a way to be set free. If a client is not open to ERP, I ask “well, how’s your way working out?” Everybody always answers, “not well.”

Once someone told me my “take no prisoner” approach was unpleasant. I wasn’t sure what “take no prisoners” meant so I researched it. If I’m guilty of a “take no prisoner” approach then it means I’m determined and could care less about people’s feelings. I really gave this some thought.

It’s true to say that I’m determined. If you tell me you want to beat OCD then you better believe I’m going to give 110% to help you do it. I’m one of the most laser-focused committed therapists you’ll ever meet. Tell me you want to defy OCD and I’m going to make sure you get what you want.

So yes, to call me determined is an accurate description. But, sometimes my asset is my liability. There are times I start fighting harder than my client and that’s a problem. I work too long with people who don’t fight as hard as me. Who never do any work at all. And yet, I keep trying.

Meanwhile there are people on a waiting list to see me. People who want to do the work. Sometimes my “take no prisoner” determination keeps others from getting my help. I struggle with saying, “I’ve got to give up for now.” There’s a quote, “Do not try my patience I have perilously little of it.” Actually, I have dangerously too much of it.

The other description of “take no prisoners” would mean that I don’t care about feelings. It’s not true that I don’t care about people’s feelings. When I see the pain and agony my client is going through I am deeply affected. In fact, I’m at high risk for becoming preoccupied with someone’s suffering.160_F_7006618_aw6IDdObEjQMy7uY5EuAK9N830oawK3M

This is called, compassion fatigue and like many therapists, I have to take care of myself so I don’t become fatigued. I love rubbing my dog’s belly, watching good vs. evil movies (where the good guy always wins), gardening, competing (hard) in racquetball, cooking without recipes, playing board games, and blowing off steam at karaoke (see video below). These activities help me stay strong and healthy so that I can help someone do the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

I’m also comforted by knowing that my client who is in pain will one day be set free by all their hard work. I’ve witnessed 100’s and 100’s of people get better when they thought they never could.  I rely on this knowledge to help me be strong and stay the course.

ERP works but it doesn’t always provide immediate relief. Anxiety is high and the urge to do a compulsion is strong. When a client does an exposure exercise I don’t get stressed when I see the fear in their eyes. Not because I’m into torture! Because I know ERP is like insulin to a diabetic. 

It’s when they won’t do ERP and play mental Kung Fu–those are the times I’m stressed and at risk for burn out. OCD manipulates people into avoidance and even paralysis. It’s only weapon is to make you focus on obtaining a certain feeling. Like the young man stuck in his drive way. I helped him “just wrong it.” Who cares you don’t feel complete or “just right!” Is this how you want to live? Do what you want to do.

Some people will do anything to not be uncomfortable when that is the only thing they need to do! Be uncomfortable! It’s not dangerous, it’s unpleasant! SO WHAT!!!! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Perhaps the confusion about whether or not I care about people’s feelings comes from telling clients thoughts and feelings aren’t facts. Just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean there really is 160_F_90271366_AWiT1etcHqY7nKFyqF8W8oeIPsiUYNWYdanger. People with OCD will spend hours trying to get a certain feeling. This is why I tell them feelings aren’t the solution, they’re the problem.

I’m rephrasing a Martin Luther King quote here a bit: “We will wear <OCD> down by our capacity to suffer, to face suffering, and do what’s necessary to make the change.”

I’m not into torturing. I’m into wearing OCD down with a willingness to be uncomfortable.

ERP will feel like torture if you don’t do it enough. You’ve got to hit it hard with repetition and frequency. Don’t swing to miss. Swing to hit.

You can wear down OCD.  My motto: Find a way when there seems to be no way.

I’d love to hear from you in the comment section. Have you discovered it takes twice as much energy to swing and miss as it does to swing and hit? Or that the only way out is in? 

Here’s the video I promised of me blowing off steam. As you can see, I’ve got a lot of it.

12 thoughts on “Do I Like to Torture People Who Have OCD?”

  1. Yes the only way out is to face your fears and lean into them–do things that make you uncomfortable. When I say you I mean ME (haha). So thankful for you and the help you give day and day out with your laser focus to people who need that help, such as myself. You have an IMMENSE amount of compassion for your clients–it’s the OCD that you don’t have compassion for–and this is as it should be! Good to see you blowing off some steam with some awesome karaoke!

  2. You’re a Ninga Blues Singer in disguise, Tammy! Keep taking no prisoners. I know that your methods have helped me. Thank you for showing me the way. It’s not always pretty, but it gets me to my destination intact and stronger than before. 🙂

    1. Thank you for such kind words. You work very hard at Bossing it Back. I know I tell you that often, but you are so dedicated. I very much appreciate your commitment.

  3. I remember when I first started seeing you and I was having difficulty with … well, everything. I almost never left the house except for doctors appointments or out of necessity. You said something to the effect of, “This isn’t supposed to be torture,” and I either thought or said “Well what else could it be?” What I’ve realized since then is that it doesn’t have to be torture! There was a big obsession for me at the time, call it ‘Obsession A,’ that no longer bothers me very much, and when it does, it’s easy to deal with. How did I deal with it? Through repeated exposures, the proper reactions to deal with my intrusive thoughts, as well as some determination.

    There’s a rather large obsession that I have now (and I have had for quite some time, call it ‘Obsession B’) that often causes me to think “There’s no way I can get through this. This particular door will not open.” Why, however, should the obsession make a difference? The obsession itself doesn’t matter, but I still doubt myself. I think the reason is that OCD doesn’t only go by “obsessive-compulsive disorder,” but could also be called “often causing doubts” or “one crafty deceiver.” One part of my brain is lying to me, and no matter how long it takes, I will find a way to beat this. It is true that the only way out is in, and I’ll find a way through the door. Much like I can’t get through a door by thinking alone, it takes ACTION to conquer OCD. You’ve given me the tools, and it’s up to me to use them.

  4. I have really appreciated the insight you have given me about bringing on the anxiety— it really does help to face the bully no matter what. The bully is tricky and conniving, he makes you think he has gone away and then BAM he jumps right back in so its important to bring on the anxiety or at least attempt (sometimes it just won’t come) even when you are in a good place— that’s what I need to work on. The Karaoke was awesome to watch!

  5. Hi. I am newer to trying to tackling OCD. I have been a checker for years but I have been ok with it because I have never felt that it has had any significant negative impact on my life.
    However more recently I have been plagued by unwanted thoughts pertaining to my complexion. My skin isn’t great and it isn’t getting better. Upon very close inspection I can see an increasing number of imperfections that are not necessarily visible to someone at a conversational distance from me. Still I now obsess about how “bad” my skin is, how it is getting worse, how the dermatologist has said that there is nothing that can really be done. In recent weeks this has caused me such great anxiety and robbed me of confidence and quality of life.
    Can I boss this back? Since I have OCD is this yet another manifestation of it? Another way it presents?

    1. You write: “Upon very close inspection I can see an increasing number of imperfections that are not necessarily visible to someone at a conversational distance from me.”

  6. TORTURE was life before “the universe” brought Tammy LaBrake into my life. I was a very co-dependent person and could not do anything on my own. When I first started seeing Tammy I brought her a huge list of all the things I could not do. I wanted to share all the things I can now do because of Tammy’s dedication to improving my quality of life. I was taken out of work because my OCD was so debilitating. I never thought that I would be able to work again. Well I am currently working and I get compliments from my co-workers and customers about my job performance. I used to not be able to read books expecially self-help books. I read a self-help book from beginning to end and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and I would recommend it to anybody. I never used to do anything that involved technology without the help of others. Now I do things on my phone if it breaks so what I’ll buy another one, I Google things that I don’t understand, I even made an animated cartoon and posted it on YouTube. I also did my taxes all by myself on my computer this year. I used to not be able to go anywhere in my car if I didn’t know how to get there I would have somebody take me and do a test run before the actual appointment and now I just plug in the address into GPS and I’m on my way. I still have a lot of work to do but I have come so far from where I was. Tammy has been compassionate when she needs to be and tough when she needs to be. There were plenty of times where I needed her to be tough and light a fire under my butt to get me motivated because she was working harder than I was. I have never met a therapist who wanted to help her clients as badly as Tammy does!!!!!!

    1. Your kind words mean so much to me. Thank you for being so giving. You are the hero. You’ve worked hard on mental Kung Fu!

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