13 Bad Questions to Ask About an Obsession

In this conversation with a man who has OCD, 14 questions are asked.

It’s not that 13 of them are really bad to ask. Most of them are just kind of pointless.

Let’s hear from this man with OCD:

He visits the local Home Depot every morning to check all of the standing lamps that are for sale.

  1. I ask, “Why are you checking them?”

He replies, “I want to make sure none of the electrical cords are frayed.”

2. “How come?” I ask.

“Well, if someone buys a lamp with a defective electrical cord, their house could catch fire and people could die in the fire.”

He’s doing what he’s doing so that he can feel at peace. He’s been tricked into thinking that if he checks the electrical cords, his anxiety will lessen.

3. I ask him about this. “How would it feel to skip checking the electrical cords one day?”

“The guilt would weigh on my mind. It would nag at me. If I heard about a house fire on the news, the first thing I’d feel is guilt. The second thing I’d feel is a desperate need to know what caused the fire.

I’d be on the Internet trying to learn about the fire. I’d call the Fire Chief as many times as it took to get an answer. I’d want to know if the fire was caused by a lamp bought at this Home Depot. I wouldn’t be able to rest until I knew if it was my fault.

So I keep checking these cords so that I can have peace of mind. Otherwise every fire I hear about, I’m going to feel guilty. I’m going to wonder if I could have prevented that fire.”

4. “So once you’ve checked the cords and you’re done for the day, you experience a peacefulness and your anxiety is gone?”

“Nah. It’ doesn’t work out like that. I’m always worried that I didn’t check every lamp thoroughly.”

He’s getting tripped up on the degree of influence he thinks he has. He’s not tuned into probability. He’s focused on the pivotal role he thinks he plays as to whether something happens or not.

5. I’m curious. “How do you make sure the cords aren’t defective?”

“I run my hands up and down every cord. I’m looking for splits.”

6. I challenge him a bit. “Hmmmm, could the cord still be defective after you check it?”

“What do you mean? I run my hand up and down each cord three times. I doubt it.”

7. “Couldn’t the cord be defective not on the outside but in the inside? Not visible to the eye and not detected by touch?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

8. “So then why do you bother with checking? Your method doesn’t sound foolproof.”

“I don’t know it just makes me feel better. I feel relieved and when I leave the store I feel I’ve made the world a safer place.”

9. “The world or just Home Depot?”

“Okay, well Home Depot anyway.”

He has no sense of responsibility to check any other potential fire hazard. He only feels responsible for this one aisle of lamps in this one store. 

10. “Are you doing what you’re doing to make Home Depot a safer place or to reduce your anxiety and guilt feelings?”

“I just don’t want the feeling of responsibility if something happens. I don’t want to have to be checking the news and calling the Fire Chief all the time.”

11. “So when you do hear about a fire, you don’t think it’s something you failed to do?”

“Yeah, as long as I went to the store and checked those cords, I don’t think it’s my fault. I don’t feel guilty. Weird, I know.”

12. “Hmmm…what about all the other cords in Home Depot? Cords attached to appliances, vacuums and tools for example. Do you check those too? And, aren’t there several Home Depots around? Shouldn’t you be doing this in all of the stores?”

“No, that would take too long.”

“So I’m beginning to think Home Depot isn’t as safe as you think. I’m thinking you can’t possibly do enough to protect the people who shop at Home Depot.”

13. “Is it necessary to check the same cords every single day?”

14. “What do you suppose can happen to them in 24 hours?”

He replies, “Probably nothing, but it’s safer to make sure.”

Even when the likelihood of something happening is statistically unlikely, the potential for harm is still terribly exaggerated in his mind.

This has been a lot of conversation with a man, who is worried that if he doesn’t check certain electrical cords, he’ll be plagued with guilt feelings, and perhaps be indirectly responsible for causing harm.

A lot of the questions challenge his automatic thinking process and try to help him see the holes in his theory.

But only 1 of the 14 questions is brilliant. 

Out of all the questions he was asked, only one question leads to a life changing solution.

Which question do you think could begin to interrupt his way of thinking?

8 thoughts on “13 Bad Questions to Ask About an Obsession”

    1. hmmmm…it does seem brilliant yes? But, alas…that brings us to the starfish story.

      A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

      She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

      The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

      The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

      In this case, we’ll all be meeting at various Home Depots at 7am tomorrow!!!

  1. Lol, to bring to focus the real reason behind the ritual. The compulsion isn’t really about the fire or safety it’s about avoiding feeling uncertain and uncomfortable. The question helps bring awareness to the real reason he’s checking.

    1. Your choice and explanation is interesting! I wonder if this will be a popular choice? It seems so off the path of disproving OCD. Let’s see…

  2. I think it’s the first question about “why.” I was just thinking about this a little bit ago. I want to take on this project, and I actually stopped thinking about the “what” and started to think about the “why.” I learned somewhere that it doesn’t matter what you have to do- it’s the why behind it. If you have a strong enough why, you can handle the what. So if the fella asked himself why he is doing all that checking and was honest with himself, maybe it would be the first step in changing his behavior.
    When I go to check the gate (one of my issues), I try to stop and say, “oh come on – it’s locked- it’s not gonna fly open.” Then I know why I’m checking- to make myself feel better. Not cause it’s going to fly open!

  3. 1) Are you doing what you’re doing to make Home Depot a safer place or 2) to reduce your anxiety and guilt feelings?

    I believe it’s this one. I’ve convinced myself (partly) that reason number one is the reason I do what I do in order to make Home Depot safer. However, the real reason I’m checking the electrical cords at Home Depot is PROBABLY the second reason, to reduce my own anxiety and guilt feelings – basically, I’ve tricked myself. My obsessions are telling me it’s reason number one, when in reality it’s most likely reason number two. I perform the compulsion of checking the cords in order to reduce my own anxiety and feelings of guilt in case something were to go wrong, and of course something can always go wrong. What if I had long nails, and in checking the cords, I accidentally made a small cut in one of them? I’ve now made the situation worse!

    This question reminds me of a quote by Richard Feynman: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” Of course, as we know, every day with OCD is April Fool’s Day…

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