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:
- 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.”
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.”
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.