Category Archives: Boss it Back

ERP With a Different Twist

Compulsions Are Nothing More Than a Coping Skill Gone Rogue

If you use avoidance behaviors or mental neutralizing rituals to manage anxiety and obsessional thoughts, then you’ve selected compulsions as a coping mechanism. You believe compulsions have value. Naturally, if a coping skill seems useful, you’ll use it often. The more you use a coping skill, the more mindless or automatic the use of it becomes.

Bossy-Pants OCD
A Compulsion Is a Coping Skill in Excess

Your brain perceives a threat or senses something unpleasant, your body reacts, and your brain selects a coping mechanism—and in your case, it’s often a compulsion. You employ a repetitive and well-oiled skill that has helped you cope in the past. You can employ this skill mindlessly—with no concern for consequences.

Ta-Da…You’ve mastered a coping skill!

Just because you’ve mastered a coping skill doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

Even when you think it’s a healthy coping skill because an authority or role model told you to do it—it can be a compulsion.

Have you ever been taught this coping skill: “A thought is just a thought.”

If you’ve read Brain Lock or talked with a therapist who doesn’t use ERP, then no doubt you’ve been reassured, “Just because you think it doesn’t mean you want it.” Many people have become proficient at repeating, “It’s just OCD, it’s not me. I am not my thoughts.” 

Yeesh! It’s a coping skill gone compulsive!

Compulsions aren’t spontaneous. They’re learned. Through trial and error, and reinforcement a compulsion is born.

It’s true; you are not your thoughts. You are your compulsions.

Compulsions form your loss of identity—and your lack of sense of self. I wish I had a nickel every time a client said to me, “I don’t know who I am without my compulsions.”

You and your compulsions are joined at the hip. Two peas in a pod. But, let’s get this straight…if you are engaging in compulsions you CAN’T know who you are. Drop the compulsions, and you WILL find yourself again!

Coping skills are employed for a reason—to achieve a goal. When you employ a compulsion, what is your goal?

Maybe you’re saying, “Tammy, I use compulsions to stop something bad from happening.” ~or~ “I use compulsions to try and figure out something important. I’m trying to answer a question that is gnawing at me.”

Ummmm, nope. That’s nothing but a hoax. Compulsions have no effect on anything but the quality of your life. Trick. deception. Fraud. Scam. I know you won’t argue that compulsions are all of that and more. Nevertheless, it’s how you cope.

Peel off the many layers of why you profess to engage in compulsions. You will discover you perform compulsions as a way to cope. You use compulsions to fire up or extinguish a feeling.

If you were willing to experience any feeling—all feelings—what would life be like for you? You’d be compulsion-free!

If you agreed to coexist with your feelings and obsessional thoughts, there would be no need to neutralize an intrusive thought. No more mental acts. No more trying to get to the bottom of who you are. No more rewinding, replaying, or forecasting. No more fixing. No more controlling what you can’t. No more hypervigilance. 

If you were willing to experience uneasiness the quality of your life would significantly improve. I’m not saying you have to enjoy anxiety or fear. I’m just saying you’d be compulsion-free if you agreed to coexist with your thoughts and feelings.

Tired of compulsions? Then apply the principles of Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP).

But hold on!!! If you decide to engage in ERP, the reason you’re doing it is critical. What is your goal? What do you hope to achieve through confronting OCD and resisting compulsions?

Are you engaging in ERP to stop thoughts? Bzzzzz. Wrong. Are you participating in ERP to avoid feeling unsettled or anxious? Bzzzzz. Wrong. Are you employing ERP to get rid of OCD? Wrong! Are you engaging in ERP to fire up anxiety or an uneasy uncertain feeling? Ding ding ding. RIGHT!

How else can you learn to tolerate an unpleasant emotion unless you hunt down ways to feel it?

You can’t heal what you won’t feel!

Now I want to give you, the reader, a peek at a therapy session:

Let’s say that for an exposure exercise you put a big piece of spinach in your teeth and talk to people all day.

ERP With a Different Twist

Predicting what will happen if you do this exposure is not new to the practice of ERP. The different twist is to make sure you lay it on thick. Don’t make little of what could happen. Be vivid. Go beyond saying you’ll “be laughed at” or people “will stare.” 

What do you predict will happen? Think about your worst fears. Go for it! Don’t just predict someone will think “less” of you. Use your words! Use foul distasteful adjectives! Amplify, magnify, go into detail and elaborate what you fear could happen.

Okay, I predict this will happen: People will be disgusted with my poor hygiene. They’ll accuse me of not bathing too. They’ll think I’m of low intelligence. I’ll be accused of never brushing my teeth. Someone will hand me floss and say, “Here, floss. Your teeth are disgusting.” Because of that spinach in my teeth, people will call me, a big fat pig! Oink Oink.

Now that we have gone hog wild and been thoroughly descriptive with your predictions, it’s time to put the spinach in your teeth.

ERP With a Different Twist

Make sure it’s noticeable. You might think, “Maybe we should start with a small piece.” Not really. You can if you want. That’s traditional ERP; slowly working your way up to a higher level of anxiety. But then you’re not fairly testing out your hypothesis. We need to see if your predictions come true!

We need to make sure the spinach is in plain sight! We need to find out what happens! Uh-oh…you’re losing your nerve, aren’t you? What are you having a hard time believing? Are you worried you can’t handle this experiment?

I’m worried I will be looked down upon. I’m going to fret all day long if that spinach is in my teeth. I’ll be demoralized and just want to die.

Do you feel like the anxiety is too much to tolerate?

YES!!! A thousand times yes! This is a horrible idea!

Okay, so that’s another prediction you’re making…”I can’t handle the anxiety if I do this.”

Let’s regroup for a minute. Do you want to live well with OCD?

Yes.

Well, then we need to test out your hypothesis! 

Be willing to find out what happens, and you can live well with OCD.

Before you put the spinach in your teeth, I just want to point out that it’s important to engage in ERP for the experience, not the outcome.

Be willing to find out what happens when you put your hypothesis to the test. In summary, what is your hypothesis?

I predict

People will think I’m a disgusting pig. I’ll be cast aside. I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.

I predict 

I can’t handle all of this anxiety. I’ll have a panic attack and never recover.

It’s been two weeks since our appointment. How’d you do?

Surprisingly, great!

Awesome! Despite your predictions, you feel great about your efforts! 

So, did your prediction turn out to be factual?

No one even seemed to care about the spinach in my teeth. There’s no way they missed it, but nobody seemed grossed out. Eventually, somebody pointed out I had spinach in my teeth, but it was no big deal. We laughed.

Your predictions were false. There was no catastrophe. Nothing bad happened. Nobody called you a pig or accused you of not bathing. And, you’re happy about your discovery!

The purpose of the exercise was to poke holes in your prediction. Did it work?

Yes.

But, if someone had called you a pig, would that be factual or an opinion?

An opinion. I can’t be a pig. I’m a human.

And by the way, only a person who is in pain would call you a name for having spinach in your teeth. A happy or caring person would have no need to bring you down. If someone calls you a name, we must have compassion for that person who must be hurting.

Alright, but there’s more to ERP than trying to disprove a hypothesis.

What if your fear cannot be readily disproven? Maybe you fear something that could happen months or even years from now. Or, what if you fear something where the outcome can never be known? Lesson #1 will be of little help to you.

ERP With a Different Twist

When does the exposure end? Hint: It doesn’t end when your anxiety comes down.

It’s not so bad to look foolish, be stared at, ignored, or called names. It’s unpleasant but not dangerous. The purpose of exposure exercises is to discover you’re more capable of tolerating anxiety and unpleasant events than you thought.

I didn’t think I could walk around with spinach in my teeth, but I did it! I didn’t panic! 

Did you keep the spinach in your teeth until your anxiety came down, or did you stay in the situation until your brain got an update about your ability to cope with the discomfort?

I ended the exposure when my anxiety came down. It came down when I realized my predictions were false.

How will this help you for obsessions that can’t be disproven? 

The lessening of anxiety because you recognized a discrepancy between what is predicted and what occurs is nice and all…but it’s not enough. There are many obsessional thoughts you can’t disprove. And many obsessions consist of questions that simply can’t be answered.

But, I could probably do that spinach experiment again now that I know my anxiety will lessen.

Yes, but will that be true at a later time or in a different context? Let’s not care so much about your anxiety lessening. If we place emphasis on reducing the anxiety, what kind of mixed message is that? That’s teaching you that you should be able to control your anxiety. And isn’t that what compulsions do?

Anxiety is inevitable, a part of life and it can be tolerable. Accepting this as the truth is how you can live well with OCD.

It’s important to stay with an exposure until you discover it’s okay to be anxious and have weird thoughts. Instead of trying to fix your anxiety through exposures, learn to be with or experience your anxiety.

If I ask you, “what surprised you about this experiment” and you answer, “I was surprised by how well I tolerated the fear” then hurray mission accomplished! But, if you answered, “I was surprised nothing bad happened,” that’s probably not going to translate into long-term benefits. Nor will it be applicable for every obsessional thought.

It’s about the lesson, not the lessening.

It doesn’t matter if your anxiety comes down. It’s all about the experience, tolerating it and discovering it’s okay to step out of your comfort zone. 

ERP With a Different Twist

The exposure ends not when your anxiety comes down, but when these objectives are met:

  • You realize anxiety is unpleasant, not dangerous.
  • You’re surprised by how well you handled the anxiety without a compulsion.
  • You accept it’s important to coexist with unpleasant feelings and obsessional thoughts.
  • You exceed your expectations about being able to continue an exposure even while feeling anxious and having obsessions.

If you’ve achieved those objectives even though your anxiety is still high, the exposure is considered completed.

Focus on the anxiety being tolerable; not the anxiety being fixed or controlled.

ERP With a Different Twist

You don’t even have to rate your anxiety. Instead, pay attention to your ability to withstand and tolerate anxiety and obsessional thoughts.

I end the exposure when I learn that I can stand uncertainty and anxiety. I tolerate experiencing these feelings and admit the feelings are unpleasant, not dangerous. And third, I must reinforce my strength and courage by admitting how surprised I am. Only then do I stop the exposure?

Exactly. 

Wait, that last objective . . . How do I exceed my expectations about being able to continue an exposure?

Step outside your comfort zone even more. Demand the anxiety become worse.

Not only put spinach in your teeth but also part your hair differently. Talk to someone really important with spinach in your teeth. Adding a bit more discomfort to the situation, and the fact that you survived it, would have even surprised you more! You would have exceeded your expectations.

One more time, what do you mean by “coexist” with my anxiety and obsessional thinking?

Be a person not willing to be overcome by anxiety or obsessions. Accept that anxiety and weird thoughts will be a part of your life and that you must live with this fact and tolerate it. Do not try to eradicate or influence thoughts or anxiety. Despite your anxiety and obsessions, agree to live together.

Remember, the practice of ERP is about the lessons, not the lessening!

ERP is more effective than any other intervention. AND, research continues to find ways to improve the short and long-term benefits of stepping outside of the comfort zone. Incorporate all three lessons into your daily life and you can live well with OCD.

The Little Boy and His Crickets

Let’s talk about ERP.  The initials of ERP stand for Exposure & Response Prevention (preventing the response anxiety is telling you to take) or otherwise known as Exposure and Ritual Prevention.

ERP is the most highly recommended type of therapy used to treat OCD. It’s what’s called an evidenced-based intervention. Evidence from studies has proven ERP is very effective. Basically, you expose yourself to something that makes you uncomfortable and you do nothing to alleviate the discomfort.

160_F_100424984_bJ1ZAQ1ILMccEmbvbMXlDMoMlNI6fJe6First, you build a hierarchy of people, places, things or situations that trigger your anxiety or discomfort. You place them on the hierarchy (ladder) in terms of easiest to hardest to face. “If you were going to face this fear would this be easier to face than this?” Then you make a plan to gradually climb the hierarchy from easiest to hardest. You’ll know it’s time to move to another step when you’ve become bored or desensitized with the step you’re on.

160_F_71319414_7iyMT49HLM3sGxpXsyIwfB413Hv0AU88

I once knew a boy who was afraid of crickets. He couldn’t go outside because he was terrified that a cricket would land on him and bite him. He designed a hierarchy of gradually exposing himself to being near crickets. It started with being in a room with crickets living in a secure container. He ran into the room counted to 10 and ran out of the room as fast as he could. Gradually he increased the amount of time to 2 minutes. Eventually, he was quite comfortable being in a room with crickets in a secure container. He could even hold the closed container in his lap. The next phase was to open the lid of the container, and through similar incremental steps, he worked his way up to place his hand in the container.

The response he had to prevent during these exercises was to not reassure himself that crickets were harmless or couldn’t get out of the container. He had to accept the possibility of escape and being bitten. He talked like this to prevent himself from neutralizing his anxiety. This is Response Prevention. He tolerated the discomfort and in fact, I encouraged him to say he wanted the anxiety. He said, “I hope I’m anxious. I don’t care anymore. I want to be able to go outside and play with my friends. So go ahead. Make me anxious.”

At the top of his hierarchy was a plan to go outside where there were crickets freely living in a garden. But before he did that, he said he would need to take his shirt off and allow crickets to climb all over his body. Yikes! First, he did this with his shirt on and then eventually he took his shirt off. Crickets were crawling and hopping all over him. He was pretty tense at first, but suddenly he started to giggle, “It tickles.”

Every now and then I think I hear one of his crickets chirping in my office. I’m reminded of his courage and determination. He makes me smile. I know the bravest people in the world.

Does Your Mind Feel Like Space Junk? What To Do When You Don’t Feel Like Yourself

Has OCD Made You Forget Who You Are?The thing about OCD is that it comes and goes. It rolls in from the sea and eventually goes back out. When the storm arrives though, it’s brutal. You forget who you are. And it feels permanent.

It’s such a desperate feeling and can easily make you forget about everything else that matters. You become disconnected from the core of who you are. Your sense of self is ruptured. The only thing you feel attached to is your worst fear.

In an OCD storm, you can’t stop thinking about something very troubling. The thought can’t be controlled, and yet, with all your might you try with compulsions or by avoiding. This only turns the storm into several hurricanes.

You lose sight of the “big picture.” You’ve lost your compass and can’t see your way out. There’s more to this storm than what meets the eye. But the eye of the storm has swallowed you up.

Without the “big picture” view, you forget that it gets better. Your mind can’t seem to hold on to anything other than fear. Everything else in your mind is space junk. It feels like you’ve regressed to the mind of a child.

Your inner voice becomes catastrophic and self-critical. You know the compulsions are useless, but you can’t seem to resist. You know that avoiding isn’t going to change anything, but you do it anyway.

You’re so frustrated with yourself. The choices you keep making over and over don’t reflect your wisdom and life experience. It feels like your brain’s been hijacked by a younger version of you.

You hold your head in your hand…exhausted. Overwhelmed. And you whisper, “I just don’t know who I am anymore.”

You feel disconnected. Hyper-alert. Terrified. Ready to run. Ready to freeze. Angry with no will to fight. Hopeless. Helpless. Shameful. Compulsive.

You Can find Yourself By Letting Go of Old Ways of Coping

All of these feelings and behaviors helped you survive something in the past. We must honor the fact that they served you well once upon a time. A time when you were younger and less experienced.

For example, when you were a child being afraid and freezing-up probably kept someone you know or even someone on TV out of harm’s way. This might not even be a memory you can recall. But, now you’re more experienced and know to assert yourself and take action.

Maybe you experienced a traumatic event in your younger years and felt guilty about it. It was a useful feeling then because it kept you out of a deep depression. But, now you’re older and wiser and guilt is no longer age-appropriate. But, because you used it so much when you were younger, you’re still using it now.

We honor these feelings that helped your younger self-survive difficult times. But they’re holding you back now. These emotions aren’t congruent with who you are today. You’re an adult with life experience. Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn. Everything you face opens up a possibility for you to find your higher self.

You Can Find Yourself By Letting the Older Part of You Take Charge

Since then you’ve grown older and wiser. You’ve gained a lot of life experience. It’s no longer age-appropriate to handle anxiety the way you did as a child. In your heart of hearts, you know this and that’s why you don’t feel like yourself.

Can you bring the older, wiser part of you forward to deal with the anxiety and weird thoughts?

We can’t let a child drive the boat through this storm. There’s an older, more experienced version of you who knows a lot more about riding the waves and maneuvering all the twists and turns. Let’s get the right “wo/man” behind the wheel. After all, which part of you is better equipped for the job?

Can you bring that older part of you forward–that part that has dealt with real-life problems before? You know, the part of you that holds it together while everyone else is drowning. (I know you have a memory like this because people with OCD actually handle real-life problems better than most people. It’s the problems of the imagination that are utterly challenging.)

You Can Find Yourself By Setting Limits With Your Younger Self

Remember a time or situation when you were in charge, taking care of business like a pro. What did that feel like? What are the positive thoughts that go with that part of you? What does that feel like in your body? How are you standing? Where are your arms? Is your head up during these times you are most proud? 

How can this part of you take the wheel away from the child? What would you say to the child? “I know that you’re afraid, but you can’t drive this boat. You’re still in diapers and have no life skills.”

How would you set limits? “I know you want what you want when you want it, but you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Get out of the driver’s seat.”

What happens to the child when you take the wheel? Naturally, the child stays on the boat. No part of you can be disowned or thrown overboard. Remember, this is a child who doesn’t even know how to doggie paddle yet.

Kindly, but firmly take the child under your wing. “I know how to move us forward. Sit back there. Watch and learn. And if you get too noisy, I’m going to tickle you until you pee in your diaper.” No, wait. That’s firm, but not very kind. 😉

How about, “I know you’re afraid so you’ll probably get noisy. I’ll hear you, but I can’t reassure you. I’ll be busy. I know you’ll get upset that I won’t let you steer the boat. You’ve had your way for awhile so I completely understand that you won’t like this and will probably have a temper tantrum.”

Two Ways to Visualize Your Older Self Taking Charge.
  • Look at your hands. In one of your hands is the terrified, inexperienced child. Imagine how this child feels. Small, terrified, vulnerable, lost. In your other hand is your older, wiser stronger self. Feel how much bigger and stronger this hand is? Bring the older wiser hand over the younger hand. Hold that child. Let the child feel surrounded by your strength and wisdom. Tell the child you’ve got this. “I’ve got this. I’m driving now.”
  • Name all the other parts to you besides OCD. Using props (such as ducks), put these parts in the order you want them to be. Who’s in charge most of the time to least of the time? Here in this picture, we see there is a loving part taking the lead. Then we see a wise part and an all-around good guy, who likes to help others, sharing the leadership role. Not far behind is a curious part who likes to learn and grow. In the back is OCD. Lots of people would keep OCD away from the rest of the Team. But, he’s too young to be on his own. That’ll only scare him more if you try to get rid of him. The Team keeps him close by and kindly but firmly says, “I know you’re afraid, but, I’ve got this.”

Keep Your Eye on the Big Picture, Not the Storm

The “big picture” older version of you says life is bigger than this storm. Big picture thinking allows you to be hazy and uncertain around the edges. It’s a growth mindset. “I’m willing to find out what this storm makes possible for me.”

Whatever is causing the storm, whatever the storm is about–doesn’t matter. If you were truly at sea and you suddenly found yourself in the middle of a storm, would you be trying to figure out what it means? What caused it? Why it’s happening? Did you do something wrong? Did you overlook something?

No! You’d be focused on doing your best to weather the storm–how to withstand it. You’d be focused on outlasting the storm. And, the child would not be allowed to steer the boat. Do you want a scared child steering in a storm or an experienced, wise “sailor” who has ridden huge waves before?

An OCD storm comes down to one thing: The storm will be an experience you can draw from in the future.

No matter how bad it feels, an OCD storm comes down to one thing. It’s about the opportunity and challenge of weathering the anxiety and resisting the young child’s urge to avoid or do a compulsion.

An OCD storm is a strangely wrapped gift. It doesn’t look or feel like a gift but give permission to learn from the storm and you’ll soon discover something amazing about yourself.  The next storm will be easier because you’ve gained experience from the last one.

If you liked this post, you might also like a cheat sheet for quick reference. It’s only one page–quick read! Click on the image below to get your printable cheat sheet:

Don’t Be Surprised by This #1 OCD Trick

If you’re new at learning how to defy OCD, there’s one thing you’ve got to be ready for. It’s important that you not be surprised when this happens. Expect it and be ready.

It was a very early Saturday morning. There were maybe 10 cars in the entire parking lot of Home Depot. I felt relaxed and excited about my day. I had just spent over an hour selecting vegetables 160_F_34387394_tRnDXP4WcjmxZwtK6U1IyqlZfDXLKpU3and flowers for my gardens. I was carefully loading the tomato plants into my car when a huge truck appeared. This changed everything.

A Dodge Ram pulled into the parking spot next to me and the guy behind the wheel laid on his horn. He yelled for me to close my car door so that he could park next to me. I looked around and saw 100’s of empty parking spots. Why’s this guy gotta park here? I motion to him “one minute” and continued to unload. He nudged his truck closer and now I’m pinned between his bumper and my open car door.

He said, “I told you to move” and called me some unspeakable vulgar names. I said “OMG, fine! Back up and I’ll move.” I noticed the woman sitting next to him had a black eye. He backed up just enough for me to move the cart and close the door. I went to the other side of my car and he pulled into the space he was so determined to get. He got out of the truck and started calling me more names. Nothing I care to repeat. I was steaming mad and said, “Come and say that to my face.”

Great idea Tammy. He stormed right over to me and grabbed both my arms and shook me like a rag doll. He called me every name in 160_F_92645826_5THmi1et1t0fr3tWdZy1yR5h7xSuX0pSthe book and my face was covered in his spit. He let go and said, “Go ahead and call the police.” He walked into Home Depot and the woman with the black eye stayed in the truck. I looked at her and said, “Let me guess how you got that black eye.”

I was shaking so badly I could barely call 911. “I’ve just been grabbed at Home Depot.” They thought I meant I’d been kidnapped and sent what seemed to be the entire police force. I walked towards the first police car that arrived but the guy was coming out of the store and reached the police officer first. The two of them talked and I was told to stand off to the side and wait. Meanwhile many other police cars and motorcycles arrived. No one spoke to me. I was puzzled. Who is this guy? I’m the one that called 911 and no one wants my side of the story?

The police officer finally told the guy to wait in his truck and he came over to me. He said, “This guy says you chased him all over the parking lot. He said you were screaming at him and jumping on his back.” I tried telling the officer what happened and he shook his head, “There’s a witness in his truck. Apparently she saw what you did.” I asked if he noticed her black eye. “The only thing I did that was confrontational was dare him to say what he was 160_F_103770101_KX5ARiV1KNfTl5roy2NecgOqJQXy1AKBsaying to my face.” The officer replied, “Well right now he’s thinking about pressing charges against you.”

An officer listening nearby got off his motorcycle and came up to us. He looked at the other officer and said, “Don’t you see the bruises on her arm from where he grabbed her?” I looked at my arms and was shocked at the black and blue ring around both of my arms. The officer who had been on the motorcycle took over the investigation.

I’ve got the names of the the guy who shook me like a rag doll and the name of the first officer who sided with him. It turns out they’re related and their names are OCD.

Just like OCD:

Neither one of them cared about the evidence. The first officer came to a conclusion without any facts. Just a story. The guy told a story based on nothing but thoughts and feelings. No facts. Thoughts and feelings aren’t facts. But, just like the two of them, OCD treats thoughts and feelings like facts.

The guy and the first officer made me feel in the wrong. The first officer did not uphold my fundamental human rights and give me equal respect. They both made me feel small—like I had no voice of my own. Just like the two of them, OCD is overbearing and “always right.”

My freedom was taken from me—exactly what OCD does. I was pinned and restrained. I was told when to move, how to move and where I was allowed to stand. OCD is all about imprisonment.

The guy only became more aggressive when I confronted him. OCD is a big force to reckon with and you better believe that when you start to boss it back, it’s only going to get louder and more intense. (Don’t be surprised by this #1 OCD trick!)

The guy and the first officer wasted a lot of my time. My plans were side tracked. I was so excited about planting my garden and suddenly I’m caught up in a mess. Just like the two of them, OCD has the power to rob you of living your life.

The first officer was biased and one-sided. The officer did not pablo-110serve with fairness or impartiality. Neither does OCD. The problem with OCD is that it can’t look at something from all angles. It can’t reason. Just like the two of them, OCD wears blinders.

OCD has only one viewpoint and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous and outrageous that perspective is. The guy that assaulted me was in excellent shape, muscles protruding everywhere and he towered over me by at least a foot. Yet, the first officer actually believed that I was the aggressor. Ridiculous! But, just like OCD, the officer could only see it one way.

OCD is nothing but a liar and can’t even recognize the truth. Just like the guy who lied and said I was the aggressor. I was telling the truth but the officer didn’t believe me. OCD doesn’t believe the truth either. You can tell it the truth until you’re blue in the face and it won’t believe you. Think of all the reassurance you’ve gotten by other people that “it’s not you, it’s just OCD”—and OCD just doesn’t buy it.

OCD is not based on evidence. It’s based on thoughts and feelings. Which aren’t facts.

OCD tells you the opposite of what is true. That’s the nature of the disorder.

OCD makes you a prisoner and chips away at your confidence and self-worth.

You can’t reason with OCD and shouldn’t even try.  It’ll just take you down the rabbit hole and so much time will be wasted.

Don’t be Surprised by this #1 OCD Trick: If you decide to boss it back get ready for OCD to push harder. Don’t give in. Be patient. It’s how you’ll win. At first it feels overwhelming and intense. But, stay steady on the course and it’ll get easier. The main point is not to be surprised when it happens.

If you can think of other ways the guy (his real name was Guy, by the way) or the first officer resemble OCD please leave an anonymous comment! I’m sure I’ve missed a few!

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:

https://www.playbuzz.com/tammylabrake10/take-the-reassurance-quiz

Why You Should Stop Letting OCD Lie to You

160_F_22448988_AeAszQACa4W74iTlgpGB0SdgLVAAykJzI just can’t believe what a liar OCD is and how much it gets away with. Listen to these lies that OCD has people believing:

It’d be better to be sedated and drooling if it means stopping these horrible thoughts. 

Use this cancer-causing hand sanitizer excessively and get rid of all the good bacteria. At least you’ll feel clean and safe right now (for a few seconds.)

Starvation is better. Seriously. You might look sick and frail but at least people won’t be thinking you’re overweight.

Skip your five year old’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s so that you don’t get sick. When he gets home he can immediately take a shower and put his clothes in the trash. Then you can hug him and ask him about his party.

Stay at work 16 hours to triple check your work. You’ll miss your niece’s play if that’s what you have to do. You’ll have to go into the dark parking lot and hopefully not get mugged. But you can’t leave work until you’re 100% sure there’s no mistakes.

Do this over and over until it feels just right. Miss your son’s wedding if you have to. But, if you don’t do this until it feels just right, something bad will happen to him.

It’s better to fail every class. Don’t touch that backpack with books in it from that filthy school. It’d be better to fail than to get sick.

Even if you have to sell your house to pay for all the medically unnecessary emergency room visits it’s better to be safe than sorry. Take your chances of getting cancer from all the X-rays. It’s better to get some relief and be able to sleep tonight. Get another X-ray or you’ll be up all night worrying.

Jump down these stairs and skip nine steps. You could break a leg but it’s the only way to keep something bad from happening to your Mom.

Do you see what all of these stories have in common? They’re all lies, yes. OCD really knows how to pull the wool over eyes. But, there’s something worse about these lies. It’s the terrible risks being taken as a result of the lies. The reason you should stop letting OCD lie to you is that the lies are actually dangerous!

No matter what the obsession is—it all boils down to one thing. Risk. Whatever you’re afraid of is not nearly as risky as the path OCD wants you to take. It may feel less risky to be led by OCD but clearly by reading the above lies, it’s dangerous to follow OCD.

There are two paths. One is overgrown and hard to get through. 160_F_83290911_WoWhtSPYFpifOypCXA6fLq1Jry0yLcmi160_F_85759585_cjg5y6wODUTDtcQycIopZH7AH9ccFYohYou’ll need a machete and you’ll have to work hard. The other path is clear and well-traveled by you. It’s easier to be on the path you travel most often. But, the best path is not necessarily the one most traveled or the one that feels familiar. 

OCD has a crooked little finger enticing you to take the path that feels better. The relief is only temporary and meanwhile you’ve done something harmful to yourself or someone else. Sometimes you’ve just got to get mad at OCD and say enough of the lies. It’s time for truth. The truth is that OCD is always causing harm in some way.

If you have OCD you’re being lied to. Don’t let the wool be pulled over your eyes. Say, “I know you OCD. I see you. The risk I’m going to take is the same risk I see other people taking. I don’t need to take special precautions.”

Today I’m not picturing OCD (as I often do) as the two year old just asking a lot of nonsense questions. Today I’m taking punches at the liar.  

Jab, jab, RIGHT HOOK. Are you with me?

One Way Repetitive Behavior Actually Defies OCD

Early this week at 6:30am I noticed high school students were parking on my lawn. This has never happened before and I had no idea what was going on. I live in a quiet neighborhood where there is very little traffic. These students were about to turn my lawn into a parking lot. I spent the morning making students move their car. 

Long row of cars parked on city centre road

I approached one student as he was exiting his BMW convertible. In a very matter-of-fact tone I said, “You can’t park here.” He continued to get his backpack out of the car seat. I repeated, “You can’t park here.” He demanded, “Says who?” I shrugged and said, “You need to move your car.” He slung his backpack over his shoulder and said, “What’s your problem? This street is on the list.” I thought, “What list? What’s he talking about?” I began to doubt myself. But, I calmly repeated, “You can’t park here.” He looked exasperated and glared at me. A few explicit words escaped his mouth. My affect remained flat or unfazed. “You need to move your car.” He threw his backpack in his car, flipped me the bird, and squealed away.

I called the high school and was told that students were no longer allowed to park on the street they’d been parking on all year. She said, “I knew it. I predicted they would go to your street. They’re cutting through people’s lawns to access the back of the school. These kids are bad news. They’ll trash your lawn. Call the police.” I asked about “The List.” She said there is no list. “You better call the police. These kids will make your life miserable.”

I called the police and an officer came to hear my complaint. He told me school was almost out for the year. “Be patient, it’ll only be for a couple more weeks.” He warned me, “They might get nasty. There could be vandalism.” I shrugged. “Vandalism could happen anytime. I’ve been through it before. It was unpleasant but I got through it.” I told him that if I let them park on the street the risk would be far worse than vandalism. “Clearly a fire engine would not be able to get through if these students park here.” He looked down the street and saw no car was impeding a fire engine’s passage. (I wanted to argue: That’s because I made them all move! But, I resisted getting into a back and forth exchange with him.) He said, “I don’t see an issue here.” I repeated, “I’m not going to let them park here. I value the safe passageway of a fire engine too much. I also value the solitude of my neighborhood.”

He glared at me. Once again I told the officer I had no intention of letting them park on the street today, tomorrow or next year. He tried to appease me, “Just allow this for two more weeks. We’ll have no-parking signs next year.” I repeated, “I’m not going to allow them to park here. I will tell them to move.” He looked exasperated, “You have no authority. One foot of your property belongs to the town. Technically they can have their wheels on one foot of your property.” I repeated, “I will not allow them to park on this street. I will be here every morning at 6:30am. I invite you to join me.”

I have all the names of the students and even the police officer. I’m going to post their names in this blog right now for all to see. Their names are…OCD.

OCD can act like a know-it-all and zap you of all your power. Like the student who challenged, “Says who?”

It can make you think you’re in the wrong or that you don’t know enough to make a good decision. OCD lies all the time! Like the student who said there was a LIST I didn’t know about. 

OCD can be intimidating and forceful. Like the student and the officer that glared at me.

Before you know it, you’re second guessing yourself. OCD can convince you, “Just this one time. Just do this compulsion for now. You won’t always have to do this. But to be safe, do it for now.” Like the officer who threatened there could be vandalism if I didn’t do as he said.

OCD can talk you into ignoring your values or convince you to take a bigger risk just to avoid a minimal risk. Like the officer who tried to get me to believe vandalism would be worse than a house burning down.

My strategy is the same strategy to use with OCD:

1. I mostly repeated myself over and over. No matter what I was asked or told, I sounded like a broken record. In essence it was as if I was saying, “It’s not up for discussion. This is what I’m doing no matter what you say. End of discussion.”

2. I shrugged a lot. Even though I was nervous and angry, I kept a matter-of-fact tone of voice. I offered no explanations.

3. The only time I did anything other than repeat myself was when I told the officer I would not compromise my values and if the going got rough as he warned, it’d be unpleasant but I’d handle it.

4. I invited the officer to come along as I faced each morning. Instead of always being surprised by OCD, invite it to show up.

Use this same strategy with OCD. There is no better way to respond to OCD.

As I promised, every day of this week I’ve been in my front yard from 6:30am-8:00am. Students drove down my street, slowed as if ready to park, and saw me. I acknowledged them with a nod and they quietly moved on. The police showed up a couple of times but had no interaction with me other than to ask if I saw which way a car went. Actually today not one student even drove down my street.

Finally, I want to say that when facing hardship ask “What does this make possible?” What did this parking fiasco make possible for me? At first I considered charging students $35 a day to park on my lawn. LOL! I could’ve made at least $280 a day! But, what it truly made possible is that I got a lot of yard work done! 

OCD loves to get you to rewind and replay. It can trick you into analyzing something for hours. When resisting a compulsion or repetitive mental act tell OCD “NO. End of discussion.”

Have you told OCD it’s not up for discussion? Do you sound like a broken record?

Defy OCD: Never Forget How Again

After you’ve been tricked by OCD have you ever said, “I forgot to use my tools. I forgot I even had tools!” Well, never forget again! Here’s an amazing “To DO List” to help you remember what to do! 

Diverse Hands Holding the Words To Do List

Be Super Better Every Day
When you wake up in the morning, do you have a plan? Make sure you set a daily goal to DEFY OCD. Everyday is April Fool’s Day with OCD. You must be prepared for the tricks! You can’t afford to drift. As soon as your feet hit the floor know what you’ll do today to defy OCD. 

Don’t Have to Feel Determined to Be Determined
It’s hard work to get better every day. How will you muster all your effort? Put one foot in front of the other whether you want to or not. Get mad at OCD if you have to. Enough is enough!!! Be strong, motivated and optimistic even when facing obstacles. Stick to the plan no matter what! The quality of your life is only as good as your stick-to-it-ive-ness.

 Keep Score
How are you doing with Exposures? Are you resisting compulsions? Keep track of your progress. Are you building momentum and taking on harder challenges each day? Who’s getting the most points: You or OCD? Tally up the score at the end of the day. You don’t have to win every battle but you do have to win the day.

Positivity & Gratitude
Are you doing a good job of managing your emotions from negative to positive? In the face of adversity, ask “What does this make possible?” This means focusing on blessings and appreciating others. Gratitude is the great sanitizer!

Fuel and Fitness
Are you making your brain a lean mean fighting machine through exercise, rest and healthy eating? Are you pushing yourself but making sure you properly recharge? Sleeping too much is too much recovery. Always seek a balance between chaos and rigidity when it comes to eating, sleeping and exercising.

Focus is a Choice
What are you paying attention to? Are you laser focused on what you’re fighting for or what you’re afraid of? Are you exercising your focus muscles with meditation or mindfulness exercises? Have you tried juggling, playing an instrument or coloring?

Are you driven by your values?
What are you fighting for? How do you remind yourself of why you’re working so hard to defy OCD. Have you made a collage or written a script that reflects your hopes and dreams? Are you going to let OCD rob you of “first times?” What’s more important—family or OCD? What is it that you value and let those values drive your behavior.

Yield
Do you accept the anxiety and agree the goal is to tolerate anxiety not get rid of it? When you’re triggered and getting anxious do you say, “Good. There’s my anxiety. I want this so I can practice tolerating it.” -OR- When you get triggered do you start analyzing the content until you’re blue in the face? Let go or be dragged.

Put OCD in the Corner!
Don’t have a back-n-forth conversation with OCD. Don’t answer one more question. As soon as you ask “WHY” or “WHAT” STOP!!! You’re about to go down the rabbit hole. “What if…” “What does this thought mean?” “What if I’m a bad person?” “Why does this feel like…” IT’S OCD! Don’t converse with it! The first question you answer will lead to months of never-ending questions. You’ll get stuck in the hamster wheel. Say, “It’s not up for discussion!” “End of discussion OCD!” “You’re in the corner. I see you but I’m not discussing this with you!”

Here and Now
There are three doors: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Which door does your thought belong behind? Rewinding and replaying memories belong in yesterday’s door. Whatever happened has already happened. There’s nothing to do about it today. If it’s a worry about what could happen, it hasn’t happened yet so it goes behind tomorrow’s door. When tomorrow comes, ask again what door does that worry go behind. The only thought that needs your attention is a thought that requires action in the next 30-60 minutes. Action meaning tasks to be completed. Tasks that are constructive and healthy.

Stop Wishing and Cancel the Pity Party
“It’s not fair. Why me?” “Nobody understands.” “I’m different.” “I wish I didn’t have OCD.” “I just wish I could be normal—like everybody else.” The more you wish the more you suffer.

Stay connected
The smaller your world becomes the bigger OCD gets. Don’t isolate. Don’t call in sick. Don’t cancel plans with friends. Keep on keeping on. Create plenty of space between you and OCD. Alone in your home is very close quarters for you and OCD. Take OCD out into the world with you—invite it to join you! But, be in the world.

Don’t give up your power ever again. Use this “To DO List” on a daily basis to be proactive and stay one step ahead of OCD.  It truly is possible to outwit, outsmart and outplay OCD. Stay alert and use this “To DO List!”

How to Stop Drifting and Start Defying OCD

160_F_104942289_OG15RaCiY8rHeyNh8qFqcIh99VDa1cMFWithout a plan to defy OCD you’re operating on automatic pilot. Which means you’re not paying attention to what you really want in life and going for it. You might be getting through the day—but barely.

If you have unwanted intrusive thoughts and you’re on automatic pilot, then you’re spending a lot of time in your head trying to analyze whether or not you’re a good person or bad person. You’re seeking reassurance asking people over and over, “Is this really OCD?” You’re spending a lot of time doing “magical” compulsions. Living your life with joy and purpose is difficult because you’re so hyper-vigilant, looking for signs of danger.

If you’re on automatic pilot and have contamination fears, then your day centers around avoiding people, objects, surfaces. Almost every move you make requires a scan of the environment. You’re seeking a lot of reassurance, “is this safe?” or getting people to touch things for you. Living your life with joy and purpose is difficult because you’re having to be so hyper-vigilant.

If you’re on automatic pilot and have “just right” OCD then you’re spending a lot of time thinking and doing repeated compulsions until you feel just right. Your life is driven by feelings not values. You’re constantly trying to fix a bad feeling. People around you are affected because all activity must stop until you feel just right. Living your life with joy and purpose is difficult because you can’t do much of anything until you feel right.

If you have no plan to defy OCD you’re drifting. And if you’re drifting you’re going nowhere fast. It’s a life of desperation filled with guilt and avoidance. OCD is in charge and it’s running you ragged. Without a plan all your hopes and dream pass you by.

You can beat and defy OCD if you take yourself off automatic pilot. Make a plan. Stick to the plan no matter what. If you stick to the plan you’ll have a life of joy and purpose.

During the month of April I’ve posted on my blog every day about the sort of plan you need to defy OCD. The plan consists of four proven components that spell out the word DEFY:

Determination
Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP)
Fitness: Mental & Physical
Yielding with a shrug

While it was sometimes challenging to find the time to do it, I’ve enjoyed writing about all of these components for the last 30 days. Thank you to all of you who have posted comments. Those were my favorite part of this challenge!

If you haven’t had the time to read them, please do because all of them will be removed from “Blog it Back” by May 4th.

Defying OCD: What It Takes Isn’t What You Think

If you really want to defy OCD, and need to do it because it’s interfering with your life, and you have the skills to do it—is that enough? Will you be able to defy OCD if you’ve got all three working in harmony? No! It’s not enough.

160_F_52458581_bMraFW1UsGWpQoXwZkZ6Q9SODWb7kClC

My sister who’s in her 50’s entered an Ironman last summer at Lake Placid. On this enormous day she had a stomach bug and blisters on her feet. An runner’s worst fears. Being a spectator at the Ironman is very stressful. You see people quit throughout the day because of blisters or cramping. As a spectator, hours pass between checkpoints so you have no idea how your loved one is doing. There’s an app that tells us when a mile marker has been crossed. But that doesn’t tell us much. Only that she’s behind. We were worried most of the 16 hours. My sister swam, bicycled and ran for a total of 16 hours that day. At different check points we cheered her on. Early in the day she looked like she wasn’t going to make it. Later in the day she didn’t even notice us at the check points. She was in some kind of trance, repeating the word “BELIEVE” over and over. With just minutes to spare, around 11:45pm she crossed the finish line. 

It only took a couple of days to get the Ironman tattoo
It only took a couple of days to get the Ironman tattoo

I asked her how she worked 16 straight hours like that with a stomach bug and blisters. She told me that she yielded and shrugged a lot. “This having to stop at the Porta Potty all the timeis not fun. It’s destroying my time. <shrug> So what, nobody said this would be fun.” “I’m so tired. <shrug> Well, who isn’t?” “I’ve got blisters on my feet. <shrug> So what’s new?” She wasn’t thinking like a victim, feeling like a victim or acting like a victim. She shrugged at every possible obstacle.

Here’s why I know determination is a mindset. I asked her if she felt determined to finish no matter what. She replied, “No I didn’t feel determined but I was determined.” You don’t have to feel determined to be determined. I told her I noticed she kept repeating the word, “believe” and asked her what she meant by it. She said, “I don’t know I just kept saying it. I was having a hard time believing I was going to finish. I just kept repeating it to stay focused.”

My sister wanted to complete this Ironman badly, she needed the success because she didn’t want to train for another, and she had the skill to do it since she trained for over one year. Her body was a lean mean fighting machine. But, focused attention and determination is what made my sister an Ironman. All the training certainly helped and the desire and need helped to motivate. But, what got her to cross the finish line was shrugging at anything that tried to steal her attention away from being determined.

This is day 28 of a 30 day challenge. Now that you’ve looked at your wants, needs and skills do you think it’s enough? Is it all you need to defy OCD? Can you accept the challenge to work on focusing your attention on defying OCD. Staying so focused that nothing distracts you from being determined? Let us know what you decide!