Obsessing About Obsessing

I have OCD

Pure O

Then it became a compulsion–how to let thoughts go. I made up a motto, “Don’t go there!” Meaning, don’t think about fixing thoughts. Sounds healthy right? It wasn’t. It became a compulsion. I had to say, “Don’t Go There.” 

I constantly have doubt after one of my thoughts. First, the doubt comes in: “Maybe I’m not good enough.” Then I start thinking about how I thought years ago. Would I have had that doubt back then? Rewind. How did I handle it back then? Should I try that strategy now? Down the rabbit hole, I go. 

Then I’ll come up with strategies of what I can do the next time a thought like that comes in my head. I go through times where I try to turn these “doubt thoughts” into positive thoughts. Then I go through days where my strategy is to agree with the doubt, but then I constantly turnaround and change the strategy as I believe that way wasn’t working. 

Pure O
There’s got to be a way out of this.

I’ve been doing this for so long. When I got a “doubt thought” years ago I would challenge it or turn into a positive, but now I get a “doubt thought” and it’s like I freeze—like I hit a brick wall.  Because, I’m not sure if I should challenge the thought, turn it into a positive thought, agree with the thought or do nothing about the thought. 

I spend hours trying to figure out how to let thoughts go. I just wish I could think normal without trying to change my thoughts. 

The doubt thoughts are not scary. It doesn’t scare me to think I’m inadequate. Like I’ll send a message to a friend, then doubt rushes over me: “Maybe I sent the wrong message.” That’s not what bothers me. I’m scared of what to do to boss it back–to let the thought go. I’m scared I won’t use the right strategy.

This happens after every kind of thought.

I’ve tried medication but nothing ever was like wow! And I can’t up the dosage enough anyway. 

If the “let the thoughts go” didn’t hit me so hard with so much energy behind it, it would be ok but it’s so strong. I keep thinking if I turn it into a positive it’s wrong. No matter what I do it’s going to be wrong.

I’ve read so many articles on google I over think and over read. I’m just constantly trying to think a certain way to beat this OCD.  I did read something that sounded similar, when OCD goes meta, obsessing about obsessing. Maybe that information will lead to a good strategy. 

I Have OCD

This person with OCD, (we’ll call Sam) learned some time ago that’s he’s supposed to let go of unwanted, intrusive thoughts. But, he became tangled up in figuring out how to let go. Choosing the best strategy to “let go” is a decision that sends him into a tailspin. He spends hours researching and analyzing what to do. 

Sometimes he builds a sense of certainty about a specific strategy. “It worked for others maybe it will work for me!” He receives temporary relief. But in no time at all, that strategy stops working. The doubt seeps in: “How do I let go of these thoughts the next time?” And the research and analyzing begin again. He’s trying to engineer the perfect plan.

I imagine a therapist would begin like this:

Therapist: Let the thoughts of inadequacy be there. Allow these thoughts. 

Sam: Okay. So don’t try to fix the thoughts of inadequacy?

Therapist: We’re all inadequate so who cares?

Sam: So agree with the thoughts? Just say, “Yup, OCD, I’m inadequate like everybody else?”

Therapist: Go further than that. Tease OCD. “You know what, OCD? I’m more inadequate than other people. I haven’t climbed Mt. Everest and others have. How’s that for insufficiency, OCD? A 75-year-old completed the Ironman, and I haven’t. How’s that for inadequacy, OCD?”

Sam: Okay, so not only agree with OCD’s worry that I’m inadequate but one-up OCD by flooding?

Therapist: Sure. You could even punch it out like this, “How do you like that OCD! I haven’t even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Take that for big headline news, OCD!”

Sam: Okay, so I could even say things like this: “Talk about inadequacy, OCD I forgot to pay my friend for lunch yesterday.  Make sure you write about it, OCD! Put it in the headlines for all to read, OCD! I’m going to shout out my inadequacy from the rooftop! It’s good to tell the world!” Could I punch it out like that?

Therapist: It sounds like sarcasm and a lot of sass. It seems like you’re in a boxing match and you’re winning by taking jabs at OCD. It’s like you’re saying, “Come and get me, OCD.”

Sam: Yeah. I like it. Okay. I’m going to agree with OCD by poking fun at it and flooding. That’s how I … can … let… the … thoughts … go.

Bam! He Just Hit a Wall. A GREAT BIG WALL.

Therapist: Is that your goal? To let go of thoughts?

Sam: Yes, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?

Therapist: No.

Pure OSam: What??? Am I not trying to let go of thoughts? That doesn’t make sense. All I’ve ever learned is to figure out a way to let go, let go, let go.

Therapist: I’m saying it’s not your goal…to let go of thoughts. The opposite of letting go is to fetch, detain, embrace, engage, keep up, pull in. Do the opposite of letting go.

Sam: But, I’ve been trying to let go of thoughts all these years. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do!

Therapist: Not if it’s a compulsion.

Sam: If I have an unwanted, intrusive thought I’m supposed to let it be. If I think I’m inadequate, I’m supposed to let that thought be. Just let it go. And you just said I could let it go by agreeing with the thought, poking fun at OCD and going to the extreme by flooding. Now you’re saying not to do that because it’s compulsive. I’m confused.

Therapist: It’s not uncommon for OCD to turn what you’re “supposed” to do, into what you “better do.” Whatever you view as crucial, sacred or precious, OCD will hyper-focus on it and break it down into some nitty-gritty mission to control and keep safe.

Sam: (Heavy sigh.) Okay, tell me please what I’m supposed to do. How should I “boss it back?” I don’t care if I’m inadequate. I want to respond to the thought in the right way. What’s the right way to let go?

Bam! He Just Hit a Wall. A GREAT BIG WALL.

Therapist: I’m not sure the goal to “let go in the right way” is of much help to you. It seems to be leading you into compulsive behavior. Is it time for you to let go of letting go?

Sam: What does that mean?

Therapist: The opposite of letting go is to fetch, detain, embrace, engage, keep up, pull in. 

Sam: What am I fetching? Opportunities to practice being inadequate?

Therapist: If inadequacy bothers you, fetch opportunities to be inadequate. But you’ve said incompetence doesn’t bother you. It seems like your core fear is not being able to let go of thoughts. 

Sam: How do I let go of letting go?

Therapist: The more important question has to do with your motivation. Why do you want to learn a strategy for letting go? What is your reason? What do you hope to achieve by letting go of letting go?

Will He Hit a Wall or Breakthrough Here?

Sam: I just wish I could think normal without trying to change my thoughts. 

Therapist: If your goal is to stop trying to change your thoughts you might want to think about having more of those thoughts. OCD is an opposites game. When you feel like you should think it less, think it more. 

Sam: I don’t want to think more though! I want to think less!

Bam! He Just Hit a Wall. A GREAT BIG WALL.

Therapist: I suspect that has been your goal for many many years–to think less. How has that been working out?

Sam: It’s not! I can’t stop thinking. I want to stop thinking!

Therapist: What do you think would happen if you tried to think more? Fetch, detain and pull in more of these thoughts of not being able to let go.  Upon hearing this how does it make you feel?

Sam: Anxious.

Therapist: Good. Then we’re on to something.

Sam: I’m not sure I understand what to do. It makes me anxious.

Therapist: Good. You want the anxiety. It’s not bad. It’s good. Do you know the thought you need to have more of not less of? 

Take the poll and I’ll respond soon! ~Stay tuned!~

Pure O

6 thoughts on “Obsessing About Obsessing”

  1. “Sam” sure sounds a lot like me, and I suspect many others reading this. I’ve actually always LOVED to think, just not to have THOSE thoughts, and that’s the problem.

    “I don’t want to think more though! I want to think less!”

    This is the heart of the issue. A thought pops in my head: “Oh no! I don’t want to think that! Get out!” This may be the wrong response (most likely). As you’ve said many times, the only way out is in. This is all about not wanting to feel anxiety. The thought makes me anxious (or panicky), so I don’t want it. A better alternative, I think, is to be able to think whatever I want and deal with any anxiety that comes up. Obsessive thought pops in? Oh well, it’s there. Think it some more on purpose and feel the anxiety.

  2. “Sam” also sounds a lot like me!
    I know Tammy and I have had this same conversation or one very similar. I am always trying to boss ocd back the “right way.” I became very frustrated, thinking that if I just did what I learned that month that my ocd thoughts and anxiety would be less….

    I am still learning to embrace the anxiety, and this post was an eye-opener for me.!!

  3. I’m also trying to learn to embrace anxiety, and trying to teach my toddler the same. Its a new world. thanks for the post, this is greatly valuable guidance and motivation.

    1. People often ask me, “What if my child has OCD or anxiety?” I always respond, “Well then you child will be in good hands.”

      1. Agreed! I use a lot of the techniques I’m learning, with my 4yo son… It feels great to help him like this; my parents didn’t even know I had OCD until I told them a few months ago, in my late-30’s! If my son turns out to have OCD, at least he is starting his treatment 30+ years earlier than I did!! I’m grateful for that.

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