Category Archives: Exposure & Response Prevention

Using Mental Kung Fu To Combat OCD

Thanks to OCD, is your mind stuck like glue? Do you have a thought or two, or three or more that haunt you? Have you figured out how to break free from OCD?

break free from OCDIt’s not fun to have a sticky mind. Many people with OCD will do whatever compulsion it takes to try and get unstuck. But the release from the stickiness is only temporary.

What’s the best way to handle unwanted intrusive thoughts? 

To begin with, calling them unwanted and intrusive is the first mistake. Think about the message this gives the Fear Center in your brain. You’re telling your brain to be on alert because this thought means something bad is about to go down.

It’s better to call these difficult thought patterns “wanted” and “appreciated.” I know that sounds ludicrous but that’s how you beat OCD. It’s mental Kung Fu–a unique style of combat fought in the mind. break free from OCD

Want the thoughts and the Fear Center feels no threat. Appreciate the thoughts and you develop a growth mindset–an opportunity to use the thoughts to practice your skills.

Break Free From OCD by Using Mental Kung Fu

What is mental Kung Fu? It means accepting a thought with minimal resistance and yet getting maximum effect.

This is how to use mental Kung Fu:

  • Fetch it. Bring the thought in. Summon the thought. “I’m going to trigger the thought on purpose as often as I can.”
  • Pull it in. Take hold of the thought with a force like you are twisting its arm. “I’m going to exaggerate this thought to make it even worse.” 
  • Detain it. Keep it from leaving. “Hey, where do you think you’re going? Oh no, you don’t. You stay right here.”

Here are the results of a poll taken from the last blog post:

poll-results-10012482

As you can see, “I hope I think like this all day long” received the most votes. Good! That goes along with DETAINING the thought. “Good there’s my thought. I want it to last.” It’s not easy to say that about an OCD thought but it’s how to play mental Kung Fu.

The answer that received the second highest number of votes, “I have no idea and never will” is another example of DETAINING the thought. You are prepared to live your life with this thought for the rest of your life.

Thankfully, the answer with zero votes was, “Stay positive there’s an answer to this.” Trying to get to the bottom of an obsession is pointless. OCD cannot be satisfied for very long at all. Just when you think you’ve removed all doubt, another tantalizing question arises.

The fact that “there’s an answer to this” received ZERO votes shows the readers of this blog are well-informed of WHAT NOT TO DO. People with OCD know that trying to get to the bottom of a “what-if” question or trying to get clarity on a “what to do next” decision only leads down the rabbit hole.

Inside the rabbit hole is more confusion than can be imagined. A person with OCD has spent a lot of time in a rabbit hole so they know they don’t want to go down one. So the plan is to accept uncertainty and to NOT seek out answers or try to get relief from all the doubt.

But Wait!!!!!!! Zero votes, and yet seeking answers is the technique most frequently employed by people with OCD. The plan is to NOT SEEK ANSWERS but the feeling of discomfort interferes with that plan.

Mental Kung Fu is sticking with the plan and not letting feelings interfere. No matter how terrible it feels stick with the plan: Fetch it, pull it in and detain it.

It’s also not very effective to label a thought as “just OCD.” Upon first being diagnosed it’s part of the educational process to label thoughts as OCD or part of the doubting disease. But eventually (the sooner the better) it’s crucial to stop labeling thoughts as “just OCD.”

Relabeling your thoughts as “just OCD” won’t work for very long because it doesn’t FEEL like OCD. It feels real. 

The response, “I am inadequate and so what” is a good way to shrug off OCD. What is there to be anxious about if you don’t care? Except, having harmful thoughts can be hard to shrug off. It can be done but for some people, if the thought is so abhorrent it’s hard to say “so what” and mean it!

The response “Yup, I might never think normal” is certainly showing a strong, radical force of acceptance. It’s the complete opposite of trying to wriggle your way out of a thought. But, for many people, radical acceptance is a hard line to walk without becoming self-loathing or despondent.

To PULL IT IN means to agree wholeheartedly with OCD by exaggerating. “My teeth are so large I’m going to trip over them one of these days.” That’s an outstanding way to shrug off OCD! If you have a creative imagination and a dry sense of humor, this approach will be right up your alley. 

Break free from OCD

Break Free From OCD by Using Mental Kung Fu

FETCHING the thought is Mental Kung Fu at its finest. It is an impressive way to employ minimal resistance to get maximum effect. For example, if you obsess that your teeth are too large then go fetch a costume pair of very large teeth and wear them in public. Take that OCD!!! 

FETCH, PULL IT IN and DETAIN OCD! This is known as Exposure & Response Prevention, widely known as the most effective way to break free form OCD. Confront your fears and do nothing to relieve the anxiety caused by the trigger.

Minimal resistance and maximum effect.

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

Dem Bones, Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again

Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) Is Not Enough

Beat OCDI’m a big believer in ERP. But why stop there? Did you know you can beat OCD with your bones! I know, I know you keep hearing ERP is the way to go. Confronting fears changes lives. You even hear it from me. It’ll probably be on my tombstone. “The only way out is in.” But over the years I’ve learned there’s more to beating OCD than just confronting fears and resisting compulsions.

ERP is a slow method of facing fears by taking tiny little baby steps. It takes time to climb a hierarchy and become desensitized. It’s true ERP helps you build skills and gain confidence. But, unless you’re committed and determined it can take too long. Recovery can be spotty–two steps forward and five steps backward.

It’s not good enough to confront fears just so you can white-knuckle your way through life. It’s a complicated therapeutic process because in addition to confronting fears, you have to develop a very specific mindset–Mental Kung fu.

  • You have to embrace doubt and hunt down anxiety. “I want this anxiety and I want it to be intense.” That’s easier said than done, Tammy.
  • You have to see everything as a challenge and an opportunity to grow. Developing a growth mindset takes time and diligence but also a willingness to fail. That’s a tough pill to swallow, Tammy.

The effects of ERP and Mental Kung-Fu are not immediate. Many people get frustrated and quit. It’s hard to do this kind of therapy when the fear seems real and believable. It’s just easier to avoid and give in to compulsions.

Beat OCDIn the heat of the moment, it’s so hard to remember what to do. You know what the treatment principles are but when push comes to shove they don’t come to mind.

Are you feeling stuck? Do you keep forgetting to use your tools? Then you’re going to like this simple answer.

Your Bones Have the Answer

People who are anxious have tense muscles. They are constricted all of the time. If you can rely on your bones your muscles will relax. If your muscles relax then your frontal lobe goes back online. You gain clarity and insight to the point where your weird thoughts are just that…weird.

The Limbic System Needs to Be Offline

If your muscles are tight your limbic system is online. This is your default system. It’s the part of your brain that sounds alarms…especially false ones. It’s where you live day in and day out. You perceive danger when there is none.

Danger! Danger! Danger! That’s the message tight muscles give to your brain. This puts your limbic system in a frenzy. What kind of day does this give you? Fight, Flight or Freeze. You’re doing whatever you can to avoid pain and get certainty.

The Frontal Lobe Needs to Be Online

Your frontal lobe has to be functioning in order to beat OCD. Why? Because it’s the rational, logical part of your brain. If it’s functioning you will make good choices. You’ll choose to live your life and not feed OCD.

When your frontal lobe is offline your limbic system goes online. You’ll easily fall for OCD’s tricks. All the cool stuff you ever learned goes out the window. No frontal lobe…no choice. You will automatically feed OCD.

Your Bones Can Get Your Frontal Lobe Online

From now on put your trust in your bones. What bones? The video below offers a bit of humor but it’s also shared to remind you of all the bones you have in your body. Nevermind the joints. Look at the bones.

How To Beat OCD With Your Bones

You can beat OCD by being in a relaxed body. A relaxed body keeps your frontal lobe online. How do you get into a relaxed body? By letting your bones do all the work.

This is NOT relaxation therapy. Relaxation therapy is something you set aside time to do. It’s guided imagery and tightening and releasing muscles. Relaxation therapy doesn’t teach you to self-regulate anxiety. 

This is NOT meditation. Meditation is something you set aside time to practice. It also requires frontal lobe functioning. Many people with OCD have a terrible time meditating. That’s because the limbic system is online which makes you too hypervigilant to meditate. 

Using your bones will automatically put you in a “relaxed body.” The effect is immediate. Using your bones is done in real time. It’s not something you stop to do or set aside time to practice. Using your bones is done “on the go.” You do it the same time you are conversing or performing activities of daily living. 

This isn’t relaxation therapy, mindfulness or meditation. It’s not any kind of therapy. Learning to rely on your bones is part of normal human development.

I think anxiety exists to help you self-regulate and choose a path that leads you to your higher self. But, seeing one’s anxiety as helpful is a hard sell. Release your muscles and rely on your bones. It can only help to add this to your toolbox.

“But, Tammy this is very unlike you to talk about relaxing. Whenever I tell you I’m anxious you always say, “Good. You need the practice. You’re always telling me to go find ways to be anxious.” True. But how many of you agree with me? How many of you want to practice being anxious and hunt down triggers?

I’m not opposed to anything if it sets you free and changes your life for the better! A person who knows everything learns nothing. I’m not going to stop learning how to beat OCD. I will spend my life offering you hope. Besides, using your bones isn’t about relaxing. It’s simply about letting your bones do all the work. 

skill for OCDLook, you either see anxiety as a perpetrator or a friend. If you see anxiety as a friend then you use KAPOW. If you see anxiety as a perpetrator then I need to ask you something.

“How much longer do you want this perpetrator in your body?”

Have you had enough??? If you’ve suffered enough you’ll start using your bones. It’s simple. Every single time you use your bones the quality of your life improves. It’s impossible to experience stress when you use bones instead of muscles.

Every time you use your bones you’re restoring frontal lobe functioning. You immediately gain confidence and insight. If you see anxiety as a perpetrator then why wouldn’t you use your bones to eject it from your body? You can’t possibly be suffering enough to NOT try this!

How to Beat OCD With Your Bones

All you have to do is set your intentions to rely on your bones, not your muscles. It’s simple but hard. It’s hard because over the years you’ve put all of your weight and all of your stress on your muscles. It’s time to interrupt your default system. Let’s give your bones the job of carrying the burden, not your muscles. 

How to Do It

Beat OCDTell yourself, “My muscles aren’t needed. My bones do the work.” Find your “sit” bones. Place your hands, palm up on your bottom and rock side to side until you find your sit bones. (Once you’ve found them you won’t need to keep touching them. You’ve created an anchor in your memory.)

Whether you are standing or sitting imagine that your “sit” bones are holding you up. If you’re standing your knees might get wobbly. It’s ok just adjust a little. If you’re sitting you might feel a bit floppy–like a wet noodle. It’s okay just adjust a little.

Do this in real time. While you are listening or talking to someone put all your weight on your sit bones. Whatever activity you’re engaged in trust your bones not your muscles to help you complete the task.

But, Tammy doesn’t this require frontal lobe functioning? How will I remember to do this if my frontal lobe is offline? This takes no more than 5 seconds each time you do it. There’s not a lot of thought put into using your bones. In fact, there’s just enough space between a trigger and your response to remembering to use your bones. This does not require deep thinking or full body attention. 

Trigger   <<Space>>  Response (no compulsion)

In the space shift your weight to your bones. Even if you forget after you’re triggered, you’ll probably notice how tight you feel. Do it then…shift responsibility to your bones.

It’s also possible to use your bones in the space before a trigger.

<<Space>>  Trigger  <<Space>>  Response (no compulsion)

But, Tammy if I use my bones before or after a trigger, which interrupts the anxiety, am I not neutralizing the anxiety which you always tell us not to do? If you’re not confronting your fears and not embracing anxiety AND still avoiding and using compulsions AND white-knuckling your way through it’s because YOU’RE MAKING YOUR MUSCLES DO ALL THE WORK.

Soldiers with PTSD tried Exposure Therapy with terrible effect. When they learned to trust their bones and release the muscles from such a heavy burden…they got better!

I’m not telling you to use your bones to neutralize anxiety. This is just normal human development. It’s what the rest of the population without an anxiety disorder does! You can be on the same playing field as everybody else!

I’m still telling you to confront your fears. I’m still telling you not to feel sorry for yourself because you have unwanted intrusive thoughts. I’m still telling you to not argue with OCD. I still don’t think OCD or anxiety is a perpetrator…But, I think you do.

Even if you use your bones you’ll still have weird thoughts. You can’t control what you think. You can’t control what triggers you. But, you can put your attention and energy where you do have control…You can shift your weight to your bones. This is something you control! Take control all day long!

  • It’s simple.
  • It takes no more than 5 seconds.
  • It’s done in real time, on the go.
  • Every time you do it your life improves. So do it all day!
  • The effect is immediate.

Dem bones, Dem bones…Are you going to use them and rise up?

The Skillset Every Person With OCD Needs

Every person with OCD needs this skillset.

It’s called, KAPOW!!! 

Many people say they forget what to do when their anxiety is high or the OCD thoughts seem so real.

All you have to do is remember KAPOW! It’s an acronym you need to memorize. In the heat of the moment, use it!skill for OCD

K= Kooky. The quickest remedy for OCD is to respond to its strange thoughts with silliness. Get Kooky!

OCD: What if (that terrible thing happens?)

Kooky: Not only could that possibly happen, but this might too! Go over the top. Be outlandish. To make it even kookier, say it with an accent!

Getting Kooky is a way to tease OCD. “Oh yeah, OCD? You think that bothers me? Hah! Watch this!!!”

Be paradoxical. Lean in when OCD says lean out. If you’re having trouble getting unstuck from a thought or worry, look for a way to get Kooky.

You know what helps in a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious way? Get somebody else to be Kooky with you.

A= Agree. strategy for OCD

OCD: Oh no, this means [some bad thing] is going to happen.

Agree: Maybe. Time will tell. 

Don’t waste your time disagreeing with OCD. If you have OCD or are helping someone with OCD, it’s better to not argue with OCD. Nod your head and pretend to agree. “I hear you OCD. You might be right. Time will tell.”

Accepting uncertainty is vital. OCD will always have an opportunity to lead you astray if you don’t play along and say, “Maybe” to OCD.

Trying to ignore OCD does not work! OCD is like a telemarketer that won’t stop calling until you pick up! It’s just that when you pick up say, KAPOW!

This is no time to slump

P=Punch.

OCD: You’re too tired. You don’t have what it takes today.

Punch: I am tired. Let’s see what 10 jumping jacks can do.

Check your body language. Get into a competitive stance. Sit up. Stand up. Use your anxiety as energy to move onward…not downward. 

I’m not suggesting that you punch OCD in the face. I haven’t found that hating OCD is very helpful. I’m suggesting that you see your exhaustion as a challenge. Besides, even friends spar in a boxing ring. 

Every person with OCD needs Kapow!

O= Onward.  

OCD strategies
Convert anxiety into energy

OCD: This day is dreadful and best approached with avoidance.

Onward: There’s an action I need to take and I’m taking it.

Think of your anxiety as a Global Positioning System (GPS). Most everyone uses a GPS to reach an unfamiliar destination. You enter the address and the GPS tells you when to turn. If you don’t take the recommended turns your GPS will recalculate.

When your internal GPS recalculates it sends you a signal that feels like anxiety. It’s simply telling you that you’re not taking the path you’re supposed to take. The anxiety is used to get your attention and help you move onward.

Your GPS will keep recalculating until you take the path you’re supposed to take.

If you have anxiety consider which of the following messages it’s trying to give you:  

  1. Are you avoiding or neglecting something? Your GPS is sending you a signal to attend to a need or confront a fear. Until you take the necessary action you’re GPS is going to keep recalculating.
  2. Do you feel vulnerable? Your body knows when you don’t have enough energy to deal with everything on your plate. The anxiety is reminding you to stay in the here and now, take one priority at a time and replenish your fuel throughout the day.
  3. Are you tackling something that is above your “pay grade?” Are you trying to do something you don’t know how to do? It’s time to get coached and sharpen your skills. Reach out! Your GPS is telling you to stop and get directions!
  4. If you’re hiding something then you’ll feel guilty which is just adding to your stress. I’m not talking about the guilt you feel from your OCD thoughts. That’s just straightforward inappropriate guilt because nobody can help what they think. I’m talking about guilt caused by a non-OCD thought or event. Are you keeping secrets from your accountability partner? Your GPS will keep recalculating until you tell the truth. 
  5. Your attitude needs a front-end alignment. Perhaps you’re having a pity party. “Why is this happening to me? This isn’t fair.” Self-pity sits in the middle of your soul and eats everything nearby, except itself. Your GPS is telling you that whatever you are experiencing it’s a challenge and an opportunity to grow. Remember, it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you react to what happens that counts. Make this your motto: Change, learn and grow!
  6. Does your lifestyle need a change? If you’re eating sugar, nightshade plants, or drinking too much caffeine, your GPS will signal toxicity and try to flush it out of your system with anxiety pushing through your veins. Ever experience an increase in urinary frequency when anxious? Now you know why. Your GPS is trying to rid you of toxins. 
  7. You’re not hanging up on the conversation fast enough. OCD is like a robocall telemarketer. If you don’t answer, it keeps calling.  Answer the phone, say something KOOKY with an accent and HANG UP! No more discussion! When you start conversing with OCD you’re headed for a wrong turn and your GPS is yelling at you to find the nearest U-turn!

Think of anxiety as your friend. Your negative evaluation of anxiety is getting in your way. Anxiety is trying to steer you in the right direction.

OCD strategiesW= WW__D? What would (the most reasonable person you know) do?  Copy them! It’s hard to know for sure whether a thought or worry is OCD. Ask yourself what your BFF would do.

OCD: I don’t think you should do that.

WWTD: OCD, you have zero life experience. Everything scares you. I don’t have to do or avoid anything that ________ (the most reasonable person you know) doesn’t.

If you have OCD, say KAPOW!

Want some help facing uncertainty? Add this book to your toolbox!

If It Looks Like a Duck, Swims Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck

Is It OCD? 

How do you know if you have OCD? Many people call upon me for my help because of their online research. They Googled their symptoms and discovered they sound a lot like someone with OCD. They’ve never been officially diagnosed, and when they find out there’s a name for what is going on in their mind, they are relieved and curious about treatment.

People Who Are Misdiagnosed

Then there are the people who have been misdiagnosed. They Googled their symptoms and thought they sounded like someone with OCD. Indeed, they do have OCD but are told they don’t. The doctor claims it’s not OCD because you “don’t excessively wash your hands.” ~or~ “That’s not OCD, because, everybody does that.” ~or~ “Everybody has a little OCD.” ~or~ “You’re not organized and tidy enough to have OCD.”

I apologize on behalf of all these practitioners. Just when I think the word is getting out and doctors and therapists are becoming more aware, I meet someone who has been suffering a long time because they’ve been in psychoanalysis forever. We have to keep educating, especially through OCD Awareness Week and showing films like Unstuck.

People Who Aren’t Certain It’s OCD

Then there are people who have been diagnosed with OCD by other practitioners, but this fact is not shared with me. The only reason they are seeking a meeting with me is for reassurance. “Maybe I didn’t tell the practitioner everything they needed to know to make the right diagnosis.”

They’ve been properly diagnosed with OCD. But, they need to keep hearing it. Similar to those who keep getting tested for HIV. The lab report is negative but they get tested repeatedly.  I don’t usually see these people again because they aren’t seeking treatment. Just reassurance.

Authors of books on OCD often get contacted for this same reason. Even my own clients will ask me, “Are you sure this isn’t something else? How do you know it’s OCD.” This is reassurance-seeking and so all I can do is shrug and say, “Maybe you don’t have OCD.”

What I really want to say to them is this:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck…then
…it probably is a duck!!!!!!!

It’s better not to try and get certainty. Worrying whether you have OCD is just another obsession. The way to handle any obsession is to respond with, “Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.” Then move on. Live your life.

A life of certainty is a life not lived. 

For those who cannot access the necessary services to get an official diagnosis, don’t spend all your time Googling trying to get to the bottom of it. You might end up in a rabbit hole.

How do you know if you have OCD?

If it’s important to you, then you probably won’t be able to know. OCD makes you doubt whatever is precious and sacred to you. But here are a couple of good ways to understand more about your symptoms:

Complete the most widely used screening tool for OCD, the YBOCS and bring the results to your practitioner who hasn’t yet realized you have OCD. Ask your practitioner or insurance company for a referral to a CBT therapist who uses Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) as part of the treatment plan. 

For those with no help or support, I also recommend a Facebook Group called “Friends with OCD.” Fortunately, there are people with OCD in this group that will lead you in the right direction. Don’t use this group for reassurance. Use it for education and support. 

The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsions Can Backfire

I tried to resist compulsions before, and it didn’t work. I felt worse! Why should I try again?

resist compulsive behavior
You can’t choose your thoughts but you can choose your reaction.

Resisting compulsive behavior and mental acts is a long process. The process has a beginning, middle and no end. At any time during the process you can:

  • expect to have setbacks
  • anticipate having POLS (Persistent, On-fire, Lasting, Sinking- feelings)
  • doubt resisting is worth the pain and agony
  • continue to have unwanted, intrusive thoughts even though you’re resisting compulsions

Contemplate this truth: Resisting compulsions is going to be the worst and best thing you’ve ever done.

In the beginning, more times than not you will think, “Resisting compulsions isn’t working.” If you think it’s not working, does that make it real? Does it mean you’re not getting better if you don’t feel better?

Does it mean you’re getting better only if you feel better? Such as when you’re performing a mental act or compulsion. Upon completion, you probably have some relief.  It’s only temporary, but let’s admit it, briefly, you feel better. Does that mean you’re getting better because you’re feeling better?

Not at all. To get better, you’re not going to feel better at first. Is that okay with you? Will you commit to resisting compulsions even though you’re going to have POLS? Besides, when you’re performing compulsions, you still have POLS.

Do this now: Put your hand on your heart and vow to do whatever it takes to get healthy. 

“That’s easier said than done.”

Of course! You’ve performed your rituals and mental acts to the point of automation. In other words, you’ve habituated to your compulsions. You’ve gotten used to them. Breaking a habit is hard! Does that mean you shouldn’t break it?

There is an excellent technique for this kind of automatic compulsive behavior. I call it “recontaminating the scene of the crime.” The crime is the compulsion. So whatever the compulsion “fixed,” your job is to unfix it. Recontaminate the scene by reintroducing the anxiety. For example, if you:

  • counted car door handles before you pulled out of a parking space, pull back into the spot and this time back out without looking at the car door handles.
  • sanitized after touching a doorknob, go back and touch the doorknob and resist washing.
  • rewound and replayed a conversation you had earlier to see if you said something bad, go ahead and say something bad.
  • scanned the environment to see if you dropped identifying information about yourself, drop part of your social security number in the parking lot and walk away.
  • checked the faucet too many times, turn the faucet back on and let it drip. Walk away. Don’t check.

The most critical part of recontaminating the scene is what you say to OCD while you’re doing it. Your words must be tough. Like this, “Oh yeah OCD? You think something bad is going to happen now that I recontaminated? OK OCD. Whatever happens, happens. Time will tell.”

Resisting compulsions is going to be the worst thing you’ve ever done. It’s also going to be the best thing you’ve ever done.

The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire

#1   Did you resist compulsions for the right reason?

The reason to resist compulsions is not to get rid of unwanted thoughts or anxiety. That can be the prize but never the goal. Put your nose to the grindstone—focus heavily on the work not the bonus.

The right reason to resist compulsions is to learn how to be incredibly strong, perceptive and empathic. It’s the exercise of learning that is life-changing. Resist compulsions because you like working hard to learn how to be grateful and optimistic in dark times. Value the challenge, not the reward. 

#2   Did you think Control was all you needed?

“I can control my thoughts” is the same thing as saying “I can control my compulsions.” The name of the game is not CONTROL. Trying to control is what got you into this mess. It’s about surrender. Read on.

Don’t expect to control: Frantic Effort to Avoid Reality

#3   Did you put in an honest day’s work?

You need a strong work ethic. What is a strong work ethic? Stop asking others to help feed OCD with reassurance or safety behaviors. Be more cooperative with your team. Just because you don’t like what they’re telling you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear them out. 

Compulsive behavior
Dive in. This is no time to wait.

If you don’t put in the time, then the work won’t get done. Get a lot of therapy done each day. Be productive. This is no time to avoid—or be idle. You’re in the fight of your life. Climb your exposure hierarchy with a vengeance. Get to it!

Even after you’ve climbed your hierarchy go back and climb it again. Find some other fears to face. It’s how you keep your brain sharp and your OCD dull. This is a life-style, not a one shot fix.

People who have a strong work ethic are led by values—not fear. They are distinguished from others by their dedication, integrity, and self-discipline. Put your nose to the grindstone and focus heavily on your therapy. Let nothing get in your way of an honest day’s work.

Are you: Finding Excuses And Reasons?

The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire

#4     Was there a pity party goin’ on? 

If you think it’s unfair that you have OCD then your ability to power up and find strength will be quite limited. The sooner you accept you have this neurological condition and do something about it—the sooner you will do something about it!

Asking, “why is this happening to me” is not going to get you anywhere but deeper into the hole. When you’re resisting compulsions, you have to talk tough. “Oh yeah, OCD? You think if I don’t do this compulsion something bad will happen? Well, time will tell. Whatever happens, I’ll deal with it. I’d rather take the risk than live like this.”

You’re in the fight of your life. Stop wishing you weren’t. It is what it is. If you think like a victim, you will feel like a victim and then act like a victim. Wipe “I wish” from your vocabulary. Stop saying “I can’t.” Yes, you can.

Watch out for: Failure Expected And Received

#5   Did you enter the combat zone unwillingly or hesitantly?

Did you enter your OCD recovery program with boots on the ground? If you knew your loved one in the military didn’t go into combat yelling “BOOYAH” and instead was pleading, “No please…” you’d question his or her readiness. Can you afford to have OCD question your readiness?

compulsive behavior
Booyah! Let’s go! Now!

The moment your eyes open—your feet hit the floor, you are in COMBAT.  YOU NEED TO HIT THE FLOOR RUNNING. Resist compulsions and stick to the plan. Feelings don’t matter in combat. Second guessing your mission won’t save your life.

To help you remember BOOTS on the GROUND put a pair of old unused boots near your bed. Look at them when you wake up and remember you’re entering a combat zone. Until you master the skill of resisting compulsions, you’re in the fight of your life.

Drills develop skills. You’ll get good at whatever you practice. You can’t build skills on the run. Stay and fight.

Don’t: Forget Everything [you’ve learned] And Run!

#6   You didn’t surrender during the combat.

Resisting compulsions is not the traditional combat zone. Your combat is different. For you to outwit and outplay OCD, you need to proudly fly a white flag that reveals you’re surrendering.  

resist compulsive behavior
This is not how to resist! OCD is just as stubborn as the donkey!

Whatever OCD says might happen if you resist a compulsion, nod your head and agree. “Yes, maybe that is so. Time will tell. Whatever happens, happens. I will deal with it. It will be horrible, but I will handle it.”

After all, this ain’t your first rodeo. You’ve been through plenty of real-life situations. And you probably dealt with them better than most.

You’re really good in an actual crisis. It’s the things in your imagination that creep you out. But when push comes to shove, you’re the one who holds your head above water while others are drowning.

YOU ‘RE SO FREAKIN’ STRONG! BOOYAH!

Do: Face Everything And Rise!

The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire

#7    Did you stay in the moment?

OCD is the most significant force you will ever be up against. It knows what you fear. It will work very hard to keep you from ever having to feel that fear. OCD is not your enemy. It’s trying to protect you from feeling afraid.

Just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean something is wrong. But, OCD doesn’t know this! Just because you’re startled or anxious—it doesn’t mean stop.

If it’s not happening, now…it’s not happening. Stay in the moment. Live one moment to the next. OCD has no clue what this means. Do you?

“In this moment, right here, right now I’m pretty okay.”

Did you: Forget Everything’s [Actually] All Right?

Contemplate this truth until you understand it clearly: OCD doesn’t get the meaning of anxiety or weird thoughts. It can’t differentiate reality from imagination. You can’t count on OCD to lead the way.

#8   Did you give up too soon?

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will
When the road you’re trodding seems all uphill
When care is pressing you down a bit
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit
Oh, no, don’t you quit
Whoa, no

Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint on the clouds of doubt
But you never can tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems so far, ooh
Gotta stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit
And when things go wrong, oh, you must not quit
Oh, no, don’t you quit

You got to stick to the fight
When you’re hardest hit
And when things go wrong
No, oh, no, don’t you quit

Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up
You better not give up the fight
Don’t give up
Oh, no, no
  ~Caron Wheeler “Don’t Quit”

No Matter What, Stick To It

It takes a lot of patience, intention, and mindfulness. Arm yourself with inspirational stories of people who persevered and carried on even in the face of difficulty or adversity.

Think of all the famous stories we know about people who had stick-to-it-ness. Your story is no different.

  • Even after failing to land a role and being called too ugly, most Academy Award nominations, Meryl Streep never gave up on acting.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by the USA film school three times.
  • After his first performance, Elvis Presley was told, “You ought to go back to driving a truck.”
  • Dr. Seuss was turned down by over 25 different publishers.
  • At age 30, Steve Jobs was fired from the company he founded.
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven’s music teacher said he was hopeless.
  • Oprah Winfrey was told she “wasn’t fit for television.”
The ingredients for success
Inspiration, opportunity, creativity, patience, resilience, vision…All of this equals results.

The Day You Quit Is The Day You Were Going to Win!

  • Thomas Edison’s teacher told him he couldn’t learn anything.
  • Colonel Sanders became a world-known figure by marketing his “finger lickin good” Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). His recipe was rejected over 1,000 times before it was given a chance.
  • Before winning six NBA championships and receiving five Most Valuable Player awards, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. 
  • The Beatles were rejected by a recording studio that said, “They have no future in show business.” 
  • And Albert Einstein’s parents and teachers said he would never amount to much.

The secret ingredient all of the above people had is stick-to-it-ness. This ingredient is available to you too.

Contemplate this truth: A setback is a setup for a breakthrough.

Yes, Face Everything And Rejoice!
Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:

If you’re struggling with resisting compulsions, review the above 8 principles and see which ones need improvement. Don’t quit. Keep at it. Resisting compulsions is a marathon comprised of a series of sprints. 

resist compulsions
The storm clears eventually.

You are the blue sky. It may seem cloudy and the thunder may roll, but the blue sky always, always comes back.

This post concludes the series, “The Best Advice on How to Resist Compulsions.” Let me know which one(s) helped you the most. If I overlooked a topic that you have questions about please ltell me in the comment section! Other topics covered in this series:
Forget Compulsions Try This Instead

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?

What if Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) Makes Me Worse?

“Can My OCD Get Worse With ERP? 

On Facebook and in my own practice, that question gets asked a lot. It sounds very similar to the question children ask before getting an injection, “Is this going to hurt?”

The doctor tells the truth, “Yes, it’s going to hurt! But, not for long.”

Engaging in ERP is not something your brain will immediately register as a good thing. You’re going out of your comfort zone and all the bells and whistles in your amygdala will be sounding off! “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!”

That’s why many people choose not to do ERP. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel good. Your brain will tell you to turn back.

It’s hard to find a pace that is “just enough.” It’s scary to move forward with exposure exercises. You won’t want to provoke your anxiety. You’ll worry it’s too much.

But, how else can you become desensitized? How else can you disprove OCD and throw it under the bus for being such a liar?

“Just enough” is the sweet spot. Some people flood and go for the big guns. “Let’s just get this over with” and they take on their worst nightmare. For them, that’s “just enough.”

Not everybody can confront their fears that way. 

Find a pace that challenges you and then build momentum. Do one thing that scares you and hit it with repetition. Then do something else that scares you, “just enough” and repeat, repeat, repeat. Keep building.

You’ll discover you can tolerate a lot more than you thought you could. And…your confidence will grow.

Growing Means Ouch

In 1979, Open Heart surgery was practically barbaric. The scar I have is 100 times wider and longer than people who have the surgery nowadays. Sometimes I feel like Frankenstein.

I’ll never forget that tube down my throat and having to be suctioned. The tears rolled down my face the first few times. Then I got used to it. Nowadays people have the breathing tube removed and leave ICU within 18 to 24 hours of surgery. I was kept on life support for over 72 hours.

 

I was in my late teens and didn’t want the surgery. At first I denied I had the problem and tried to negotiate with my doctor. But, he told me I had a hole in my heart the size of a quarter. The surgery had to be done or I’d be dead before age 40.

My life depended on this barbaric surgery. They sawed through my bones and wired them back together.

After the first day of surgery I refused pain medicine. I leaned into the pain. I wanted to get out of that hell hole. Every time I so much as sneezed, I thought I was tearing the stitches that held my heart repair together.

I mustered through. I wanted out of that place. I wanted to live my life. Within 10 days of surgery I was playing tennis.

My Strangely Wrapped Gift

A few months after surgery I went on a date with a young man who came highly recommended by my co-workers. He picked me up at the store and my co-workers said, “have fun!”

Against my wishes he drove me to his house. His parents weren’t home. He brought out an astrology book and told me the stars indicated we would make good sexual partners. I told him no. He said yes.

I thought quickly. I told him I just had open heart surgery. He saw the red, swollen scar. I told him I would die if I was traumatized. He was angry. “You should have told me about this.” He brought me back to the store. I was safe.

Doesn’t look or feel like a gift

In so many ways, open heart surgery was my strangely wrapped gift. 

Just because something hurts or scares you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. When deciding whether or not to do ERP, consider the track record of people who have done it.

It’s a mighty fine track record.

And, I hope those of you who have done it will leave a comment and encourage those who are on the fence about it. There are people who need to hear from you. How bad was it before ERP? How terrifying was ERP? How’d you make out? Please leave your anonymous comment.

Remember this, wherever you are, it’s where you’re supposed to be. We will always be given opportunities to grow and learn. Lean into it.

OCD is a strangely wrapped gift. It doesn’t feel like it at first. Neither did open heart surgery. 

I Used to Be Afraid of Elevators. I Took Steps to Overcome It.

“I took steps to overcome my fear of elevators.” Ha-Ha funny play on words. But, what does it mean?

qtq80-c1aLyO

You took action steps to work towards being able to ride elevators? Or, you’re being sarcastic and you “overcame” your fear by avoiding elevators and taking the stairs?

Which is true?
  1. Your life will be better if you take action on the things you avoid.
  2. Your life will be better if you avoid unpleasant and seemingly dangerous things.

Are you picturing Captain Obvious right now?captainobviouschooseoption

There’s no way avoidance can make life better. Right? Hmmm…then why do so many people avoid unpleasant things? Why do people procrastinate? Why do people avoid triggers that cause anxiety?

Avoidance must make life better! Otherwise, why do people do it?

I searched the Internet for evidence that avoidance makes life better. It’s what people do so there’s got to be value in doing it. Right?

I Googled: “How Does Avoidance Makes Life Better.” Here are just 6 of the 28,000,000 results. They all say the same thing:

Avoidance Causes Anxiety to Snowball

The More You Avoid, the More Likely You Will Keep Avoiding

Avoidance Simply Produces More Anxiety

The Price You Pay for Temporary Relief

Avoidance Prevents You From Learning the Situations You Fear Aren’t Even Dangerous or Nearly As Unpleasant As You Think

Avoidance Solves One Problem But Creates Another

The list goes on and on. But, I could not find any bit of research to prove avoidance makes life better.

Every shred of evidence pointed to the fact that it makes life worse. Not the anxiety, the avoidance. The avoidance makes life worse.

So what to do? Become AWARE of the truth! 

I saw this acronym for AWARE at Uncommonhelp.me:

Accept the anxiety. It’s here to stay. Live your life with anxiety.

Watch the anxiety. Don’t evaluate it as good or bad. It just is. It’s not dangerous. Only your reaction to anxiety can be dangerous.

Act normally. Act as if you don’t have anxiety.

Repeat the above steps!

Expect to handle whatever. Whatever happens, happens. You’ll handle it.

160_f_54867862_hlxe0hmehr89ftlthjyx5yfp6n4jh6fpI know what you’re thinking. It’s easier to avoid than confront. It’s too hard to “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.”

 

If you’ve been avoiding for awhile, of course it seems easier to avoid than confront. Hello Captain Obvious!

But, if you could remember the first days you avoided, it was hell. You beat yourself up. You lost sleep over it. You were torn up over what to do. It was so hard to get it perfected. It was hell!

Try this challenge:

Walk through your house for 72 hours touching nothing and nobody. Nobody can be be in the same room you’re in at the same time. Be very careful not to brush up against anything. If you think you brushed up against anything, go back out of the room and come back in. Don’t sit down. You can only squat. You can only eat Cheerios using chopsticks. When you sleep the only way you can be in bed is if you first wash the bottom of your feet while sitting on the edge of your bed. And you can only sleep, no matter how cold you are, on top of the covers looking up at the ceiling, with your hands folded behind your head.

The first 24 hours you do this, you’ll be agitated and stressed. The second day, it’ll still be hard but you’re getting better at it. By the third day, everyone around you is properly trained to stay away. You’ve figured out a few tricks to make it easier to avoid. You’re tolerating this kind of life better than you were the first 24 hours. Imagine in two weeks how much easier it will be.

Avoiding is only easy because it’s what you’ve been doing. It didn’t used to be this easy! You’re tolerating avoidance better now, than you did in the beginning. 

The same can be said about confronting. At first it’s anxiety provoking. You’ll feel indecisive and lose sleep. But, in time, it’ll get easier and you’ll tolerate the anxiety. 

You get good at what you practice. You can teach yourself to tolerate anything over time.

Don’t say, “Confronting my fears is easier said than done.” Once upon a time avoiding was hard. But you did it anyway. 

Your Life Will Be Better If You Take Action on the Things You Avoid 

Is Anger Making Your OCD Worse or Better?

What Role Does Anger Play in the Symptoms of OCD?

160_f_121600541_s7oznmb25f5zvuhyjaojxxwtqhzxsb7b

As a therapist who specializes in the treatment of OCD, I notice a trend. Clients struggle with feelings of anger. The anger is directed outward and/or inward. 

If the anger is directed outwards there could be verbal outbursts and even aggression towards property or people. There are heated arguments at home, holes punched in walls and sometimes the police are called.

Anger directed inwards is usually manifested by self-loathing and depression. People hit themselves and/or say horrible things about themselves. They often say, “I don’t deserve this kindness, or to feel good or be loved.”

For some the anger only surfaces when compulsions are being resisted. If they increase their compulsions, their anger significantly decreases. If compulsions are prevented, anger rises.

Anger As a Defense Mechanism

Initially, having OCD can result in the development of maladaptive defense mechanisms. A common one is to detach emotionally. This is a common reaction to repeated trauma, which is exactly what an untreated OCD can be. Trauma and torture.

Having OCD can be very traumatic. The anxiety can be overwhelming. To be protected from the unbearable fear and pounding negativity the brain fragments, compartmentalizes and encodes in a way that causes emotional numbness.

Feelings are essentially sealed off. However, one emotion presides. ANGER. That’s because anger creates heat where there is no life. When a client is detached from their feelings, they don’t even experience anxiety during exposure exercises. They get mad, but not anxious. I say, “Thank goodness you’re alive and kicking!”

Being detached from all emotion except anger can be very disconcerting to someone with OCD who has intrusive thoughts of harm. “Why am I having these horrible thoughts without anxiety. I’m angry. What does this mean? I’m having violent thoughts but I have no remorse. What’s wrong with me. Am I going to act on these thoughts?”

Compulsions Are Used to Alleviate Anxiety and/or Anger. 

When a ritual is interrupted a person with OCD will react with either anxiety or anger. If they’re anxious, they’ll likely be drawn to some form of reassurance. If they’re angry over the ritual being interrupted, they might yell. A door might be slammed. “Thanks a lot. Now I have to start this all over again.”

A person with OCD manages their anxiety with compulsions. There might be a story attached to the compulsion. “I shower like this to protect my child from getting sick.” But, that’s just the story behind the compulsion. The real reason for the compulsion is to alleviate anxiety.

Likewise, a person with OCD manages their anger with compulsions. Anger doesn’t seem like an acceptable, or safe emotion to have. There might be a story attached to the compulsion. “I stay away from knives to protect my family.” But, that’s just the story behind the compulsion. The real reason for the compulsion is to alleviate anger.  

Why Does it Matter?

What difference does it make if compulsions are done to alleviate anxiety or anger? In either case compulsions have to be resisted in order to be set free. So what does it matter if there’s anxiety or anger underneath the compulsion.

Everybody aways talks about the anxiety attached to OCD. “I do this ritual because I’m afraid something bad will happen.” “I do this because I won’t sleep if I don’t do it.” This is just talking in code. What’s really being said is, “I do what I do to alleviate anxiety.” 

In this case, I would help the person with OCD learn to tolerate anxiety. Much of my blog is about this. Can the same be said for anger? Should anger be tolerated?

Experiencing anxiety is not a health hazard. But, resisting anxiety is. Resisting anxiety is detrimental to one’s heart, immune and digestive system, and hormone production. Resisting only causes stress levels to rise. The same can be said about anger. 

What to Do About Anger?

 

Practice Mindfulness Exercises

Notice anger the same way anxiety is noticed. 

  • Notice the angry thoughts without judging.
  • What is the speed of your thoughts?
  • What is the anger saying?
  • What is the anger seeing?
  • How does the anger feel?
  • Do I feel hot or cold?
  • What body sensations am I feeling?
  • What is the speed of my heart?
  • Am I experiencing any muscle tightness? 
  • What is my breath like?
  • What position are my eyes in?
  • What is my facial expression?

Talk to anger with loving attention.160_f_118764193_rvbtrzf2f0wveh4bctpacdsnzevmd9hv

  • “Wow, that feels like anger. OK, I can handle it. This is a good opportunity to practice noticing without judging or acting.”
  • Ask, “Do I have a desire to remain angry?”
  • “What are my options?”
  • “Can I assert myself with kindness?”
  • “If I engage in a compulsion to alleviate this anger, will it be conducive to my well-being?”
  • “I wish to take responsibility for my actions rather than blame others.”
  • “I accept that life is unfair and bad things happen. It’s ok. I can handle it.”
  • “I have a right to be angry. It’s okay. I can work through it in a healthy way.” 

Feeling and Acting Are Not the Same

160_f_117123901_l3wbln8gaasor1gcaaclumz22wiczfhaThere is a difference between accepting anxiety and acting anxious. Feeling anxious must be accepted.

Acting anxious is engaging in compulsive behavior and/or mental rituals. Acting anxious looks like avoidance and reassurance-seeking. Acting anxious, like rocking back-n-forth, or rubbing hands feeds anxiety. It’s okay to feel anxious, but it’s of no benefit to act anxious.

There is a difference between accepting anger and acting angry. Having OCD is not an excuse for lashing out or mistreating self or others. You can say what you mean, but you don’t have to say it mean.

Fueling anger triggers the amygdala and kicks you into “danger” mode. Fueling anger can shut down logic and cloud judgment which leads to irrational and unreasonable thinking, which leads to regret and hurtful decisions. Anger is an acceptable emotion but fueling it is of no benefit to a brain that is already sounding false alarms.

Be aware when you’re experiencing anger. If you don’t pay attention to it, you’re building a fire. The anger is uncomfortable and you’re naturally going to worry about it or want to get rid of it.

Instead of channeling your energy towards avoiding or getting rid of anger, acknowledge it. Notice it. Recognize your urge to do a compulsion is an effort to alleviate anger.

Turn towards the anger and practice mindfulness exercises.