The following post is from a Guest Blogger who is new to living with OCD. He’s confronting three whopping obsessions, all at the same time and is using ERP to do it. Here’s his triumphant story:
At 27 there were many things I expected to be happening at this point in my life… engagement, getting a dog, planning the next vacation, enjoying life in a brand-new city… the list goes on.
The reality of it has been much different, thanks to my OCD diagnosis. Instead of what I had envisioned, I found myself doing things I never would’ve imagined to confront my fears and obsessive thinking.
Growing up with two older sisters I was used to being dressed up. However, that was over 20 years ago. I didn’t think I’d be playing dress up at 27, trying on my mom’s dresses and jewelry while “I am woman” plays on YouTube. I wish I was kidding but my therapist focuses on Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (E&RP) and this was one of the first exercises she assigned to me.
At first, it was terrifying but it ended up being very entertaining and my parents got a good laugh and some pictures to blackmail me with for the rest of my life. At least I know if I end up trans I can rock the s%&t out of a nice dress.
Another exposure exercise my therapist has me do is a bit more intense… Imagine having to hold a knife to your wrist and gut while having thoughts of killing/stabbing yourself play in your head.
When completing an exposure you’re not allowed to self-talk or re-assure that nothing is going to happen. To make the exposure even more intense my therapist has me say bloody and dark statements as I hold the knife… this definitely gets the anxiety pumping.
I’ve also had to hold the knife to strangers throats in group therapy and also to my parents. If you ever are looking for a way to spice up your weekday nights give it a try… but in all seriousness confronting these fears has been incredibly difficult.
Finally, in a group therapy setting, I came out as “gay” to a bunch of strangers who don’t know anything about me… hitting all three of my fears.
To others reading this post it may not seem like a big deal but to me all of these experiences were terrifying. I always get self-conscious when completing exposures because on top of the anxiety I feel ridiculous and embarrassed I’m having these obsessive thoughts.
But in the end, I can’t worry about it… I must continue to face my fears and continue to be a guinea pig to my therapist’s crazy science experiments because, in the end, it does appear to be working.
My anxiety and compulsions are improving… I still have thoughts but they don’t have the same amount of power over me as they used to and they aren’t as frequent. A lot of trust goes into my relationship with my therapist… I wouldn’t dress up as a woman for just anyone.
In the end, maybe one of these fears/obsessive thoughts will become reality but I can’t continue to live in fear and not attain my hopes and dreams. I will continue to embrace any exposure exercise that comes my way and hope that one day I can look back at it and have a good laugh. In a weird way, this is helping me become more comfortable in my own skin… an unforeseen perk of OCD.
Living With OCD
This young man’s account of the lengths he must take to break free from OCD is astounding. He is brave and strong, with a huge funny bone and an ever-growing mindset. He is determined not to be held hostage by fear. There is nothing he won’t do to #bossitback.
He is a blogger and openly shares his journey at Millennials for Mental Health. He’s candid about the many twists and turns he has encountered along the way. It’s not been easy for him and there are times he still gets tricked by OCD. Visit his blog and he’ll tell you how he stays strong and focused.
You can leave a comment here to help celebrate his victories!
To cope with bossy-pants OCD, you might have gotten the idea it’s necessary to perform compulsions to feel “just right” or prevent bad things from happening. Performing compulsions or mental acts might be what you’ve been doing for years. In your mind, it’s what you’re supposed to do or what you’ve got to do. At least, that’s what Bossy-Pants tells you.
Hallelujah, there are times you defy OCD! Somehow you pull it together, and you say, “NO!!! I’m not going to do that ridiculous compulsion.” In this precious moment, you have gained clarity and recognize that OCD is nothing more than a BFL (big fat liar). You resist the compulsion.
The anxiety rises. You ride it out. You use self-talk like, “Maybe it’s true OCD. Maybe it’s not. Time will tell.” Strangely your prediction doesn’t come true. It’s not the end of the world. Nothing bad happens. You tolerate the anxiety better than predicted. The discomfort dissipates. All by itself. No compulsion was needed.
To your surprise, you don’t feel particularly anxious. But, alas you don’t feel amazing either. You don’t even take the time to pump your fist in the air and say, “Take that bossy-pants OCD!!! KAPOW!”
When you win the battle and outlast OCD are you reminded of your strength and courage? Do you feel blessed to have what it takes to be tricky enough to outwit OCD?
Bossy-Pants OCD Hates Gratitude
Developing the skill to break free of OCD involves much more than Exposure & Response Prevention. Without self-appreciation and gratitude, you will only end up white-knuckling your way through most of it.
Whenever you resist a compulsion be sure to savor the victory. If you have OCD then celebrating victories might not occur to you. Patting yourself on the back doesn’t come naturally to you.
Not honoring your achievements is a problem that needs your attention!
Don’t wait for OCD or anybody else to say, “Good job.” You must take time out to be thankful for all that you are doing to break free from OCD. Each success that you experience is a reason to be thankful.
Your ability to #bossitback means that you are developing a hard-earned skill. Give thanks for the ability to say no to OCD. Even if it’s only once in a while or some of the time–give thanks. Don’t ever, EVER minimize your ability to defy OCD.
Stay in the winning mode and keep your skills sharp by giving thanks. The more time you spend recognizing your victories, the higher the likelihood of beating OCD the next time, and the next time, and the next time.
If someone wants to give you a high five don’t deny; fortify!!!
Accept compliments. Put your hand on your heart and say, “thank you that means a lot to me.” Welcome the support you get from loved ones who are honoring your quest to break free from OCD. Their emotional support and encouragement will help you face the next fear. Recognize the gift your family and friends give to you when they applaud your efforts. Don’t deny or pooh-pooh their praise.
Truly appreciate when others point out your victories. Don’t take for granted people’s acknowledgment of your successes. Give much thought to their praise. Let the sun shine inside your mind and heart. Be happy to hear their kind words.
When someone tells you how happy they are that you resisted a compulsion, allow yourself to feel inspired and you will endure again.
When you say, “thanks that means a lot to me” it readies your mind to repeat the success. Embrace the positive feeling of being appreciated. Accept recognition from others. They too are being positively impacted by your hard work.
Even when others forget to recognize all your hard work know that the impact of resisting a compulsion is still just as significant. Other people don’t live in your mind. They don’t know what you’re up against. So if they fail to acknowledge your victories, don’t use it as an excuse to downplay your achievements. Minimizing your success will only cripple you.
It’s quite simple. There are negative consequences if you don’t celebrate your victories.
It is an astounding blessing to be able to accept challenges and bulldoze your way through OCD. Whenever you feel your hope and determination waning, take a moment to recount all of your successes. Don’t drift away from recognizing even the tiniest step forward. If you make light of your victories, you’re leaving the door wide open for OCD to close you out of future triumphs.
Be grateful for each time you overcome OCD’s senseless demands. Be proud and give thanks when you resist a compulsion. Let the gratitude wash over you. Savor the moment of your victory. Basking in your achievements will rewire your brain!
Be thankful for each opportunity to learn and grow. Find the silver lining.
When you #bossitback how do you celebrate your victory? Eating a special treat? Listening to your favorite song?
How do you savor the moment of a triumph and anchor it in your mind? Do you do a happy dance? Clap your hands? High five somebody?
How often do you express gratitude for all your hard work? Not often? How’s that working out for you?
Do you say ‘thanks’ to others when they compliment you?
Can you feel the gratitude of others even if they don’t thank you? If they don’t acknowledge your hard work does that mean they don’t notice it? Maybe in the past, you’ve shown discomfort when they spoke about your accomplishments.
Are you treated differently by others when you pooh-pooh their praise? Do they become less verbal about your triumphs?
What moves you forward: Putting yourself down or picking yourself up?
This is an open letter to those of you who are loving someone with OCD.
I can’t imagine how frightened you were when your loved one was first hijacked by OCD. Everything was suddenly turned upside down. I’m sure you were terrified that things would never be the same.
In the beginning, you tried to do whatever made your loved one less anxious. It hurt so much to see your child or family member in such agony. So you tried to end the horror as best you could.
Enabling and Reassuring Doesn’t Work
You offered constant reassurance and tried over and over to use common sense and logic to get rid of your loved one’s fear and worry. But that part of the brain didn’t seem to be functioning properly. (There’s no logic in OCD!) So you ended up talking and talking until you were blue in the face.
You complied and met every OCD demand because it just seemed easier. You even joined in on some of the rituals like saying “I love you” five times or washing your hands when they weren’t even dirty.
You kept the environment free of triggers and censored people’s words to keep them from triggering your child or family member. People stopped visiting because they didn’t want to make the situation worse.
You lost a lot of sleep and resorted to lecturing and giving the cold shoulder. You lost your cool many times. You thought, “This is so ridiculous. Just stop it!”
I hope you know that you were coming from a place of love, not doubt, when you cried. And a place of fear, not hate, when you yelled or walked away in frustration.
Your loved one has a problem with self-compassion. I don’t have to meet you to know you have the same problem. Maybe you weren’t always resourceful but you were always doing your best. Always.
In desperation or out of convenience, you kept enabling and reassuring. But, the relief was only temporary. OCD seemed to just get bigger and bigger. It robbed all of you of everyday pleasures and new experiences. The world got smaller with every passing day.
You thought all the reassurance would help ease the anxiety but it actually made it worse. The demands were getting more intense and frequent. Accommodating wasn’t helping anything other than providing one very brief moment of relief.
And then your prayers were answered. You found out that giving in was actually feeding OCD.
Gradually Stop Accommodating
You knew that if you stopped feeding OCD your loved one would protest. Things were going to get worse before they got better. You worried: What if we’re biting off more than we can chew?
But, you believed that in order to get a better outcome, the approach needed to change.
You stopped giving in and your loved one cried, “Don’t you love me? Why aren’t you helping me?” Talk about being stabbed in the heart—ouch.
You got tougher and your loved one accused you of not understanding, “You just don’t get it! I’m all alone now.” Ouch, that hurt too.
You stopped enabling but your loved one put you to the test, and said, “Fine, “I’ll go without.” Oh no! So afraid. What if things get worse now?
Support Your Loved One, Not OCD
You validated your loved one’s feelings, “I know this is hard. I can tell this is causing you a lot of pain.” Validate. Acknowledge. But, don’t take away the pain. Soften into the pain. It’s hard to be anxious when you want to be anxious.
You also showed how much faith you had in your loved one’s ability to overcome, “You’re stronger than you think. I know that you can do this. It’s hard, I know. You’ve done hard before. You’re not alone. I’m going to help you boss it back. I’m not going to feed OCD anymore, but I will help you defeat it.”
As time passed you remained patient. You stayed the course and your loved one began to understand there would be no more avoidance. Your message was loud and clear: THE FEAR HAD TO BE CONFRONTED.
Your loved one had no other way out—but in. No more avoiding.
OCD said, “Leave.” Nope, everybody stayed.
OCD said, “Don’t go.” Everybody left.
OCD said, “Avoid.” Everybody leaned in.
OCD asked, “What if?” Everybody shrugged and said, “Whatever.”
Your loved one sought reassurance, “Could this happen?” You put it back on them, “I don’t know.”
“Will it be okay?” You shrugged, “We’ll deal with it. Whatever happens, happens.”
OCD warned, “You’re getting too anxious. You can’t handle it. Do something.” You all said, “Good. We want that anxiety. We need to practice handling it.”
It wasn’t easy to Boss it Back. But feeding OCD wasn’t easy either. It was scary bossing it back, but feeding it was scary too. Both seemed like poison.
You picked the right poison. Which ended up being the antidote—the healing potion.
The catastrophes have ended. Life has returned. No more tiptoeing. Your loved one still has weird thoughts. But, they’re fewer and fewer.
There are still triggers but nothing a good shrug or “yup” can’t fix. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Honestly, I’m really happy today because I’ve learned that a number of kids, near and dear to me, have returned to school this week with nothing more than a tiny little hiccup. (I’m thankful for the hiccups because they will only build more skills and cause more mastery.)
What About Those Who Are Still Being Accommodated?
I’m thinking now of those who haven’t been set free. Family members who continue to accommodate and reassure. There’s not a lot of bossing it back going on but, there’s a lot of tension. It feels like a hostage situation, I know.
Perhaps you have OCD and are reading this, realizing the ways YOU are being accommodated and enabled. Whether you’re requiring your family to accommodate you, or just passively allowing it—how’s it working out? Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Go get it!
If you are a family member who is enabling, write down all the ways you are doing this—feeding OCD. Rate each one in terms of which ones you think would have the least impact on your loved one’s life if you stopped doing it.
Discuss the list and your ratings with your loved one. Then ask him or her to rate the same list and to “feel free to add to the list” any missed accommodations. Compare the two lists and acknowledge all the difficulties your loved one faces.
The next step shouldn’t be done unless you’re prepared to follow through. I recommend you do this with the help of a therapist who specializes in OCD. An OCD therapist will tell you that accommodation has been tied to poor treatment outcomes. A nonOCD specialist is likely to get caught in the trap of reassuring your loved one a lot.
You can also find expert help and guidance in several books. There are numerous books to guide you through the process too.
Loving Someone With OCD
There are some people with OCD who will threaten harm to self or others if they are not enabled. Do not be held hostage with this threat. If your loved one makes such a threat or goes on a hunger strike, take your loved one to the emergency room or call 911 immediately. Don’t mess around!
But, in many cases, your loved one will (begrudgingly) go along with this plan. They don’t want to live like this either! A 25-year-old feeding OCD for almost 10 years now, was asked by someone else’s parent, “What do you wish your parents had done differently?” He answered, “Not accommodate me.” WOW!!! High Five!
Explain Why Things Have to Change
Explain to your loved one the current method of accommodating isn’t working. “There’s only temporary relief and that’s not good enough! At this rate, we’re all just hamsters in a wheel.” Try to gain permission to stop the enabling. It can be done gradually by withdrawing some of the easier accommodations.
If you don’t get permission to stop, that’s okay. Your loved one will probably be overwhelmed by this conversation but in their heart, they know it’s what’s best.
You’ll be tested. Mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. Explain if they don’t want to participate in the planning you’ll be picking the accommodations that will be stopping yourself. Look at the calendar with your loved one and write down the day you are going to stop each accommodation.
An Example of An Accommodation
Let’s use the example of contamination fears. Are you opening doors for your loved one so that s/he can avoid germs? This is an example of YOU feeding OCD. It’s one thing if your loved one, unfortunately, chooses to feed OCD, but why are you? Your loved one might still feed OCD by using a Kleenex to open the door but at least you’re no longer reinforcing the fear!
What If You’re the One with OCD?
If you’re the one with OCD being accommodated, do yourself a favor! Get your life back by telling people who love you to stop enabling you! With calendar in hand, sit down with your enablers and say, “This is the day you’re going to stop this accommodation. I’ll need your encouragement but please stop feeding my OCD.”
Accommodating someone with OCD and offering plenty of reassurance is usually the mistake everybody makes in the beginning. If you conduct a cost/benefit analysis on accommodating you’ll discover the costs outweigh the benefits.
Hopefully, you’ll continue to get more informed about how enabling someone with OCD is actually…disabling. Just start with gradual changes and you’ll make good progress.
Bonus: If you want a Quick Guide for 6 kind and gentle ways to stop accommodating your child, Click HERE. It’s great for the fridge! Once you click, just check your email.
By the way, the Quick Guide? It’s good advice for adults with OCD too.
As always, your comments are welcome and really make my day. But, in addition to commenting, if you know someone who’s coping with OCD share this post with them!
This year at the OCD Conference I spent all of my time at the Exhibition Hall. I was exhibiting, “ERP in a BOX“™ and as a result, hundreds of people told me about their challenges with OCD. I’ve never talked with so many people at once about ERP and it was energizing.
People from all over the world stopped by and shared their stories. We had a lot of laughs with two women from Japan and had a thought-provoking conversation with a young man from Germany who is working hard for the USA on climate change.
I was especially concerned about a couple who stated there is no therapist in India to help them learn about Exposure and Response Prevention. I encouraged them to come back to the USA, rent an apartment and attend an intensive outpatient program like Rogers Behavioral Health.
I met a Mom and Dad who told me how their son had been hijacked by OCD. Thankfully, he broke free and their story brought me to tears. I told them I wanted to meet their son and they introduced me to him later on. His eyes were bright and he grinned from ear to ear. As soon as I laid eyes on him I said, “up top” and we shared a “high-five.” I know how hard he had to work to get free.
What Happened at the OCD Conference
I met two of the girls that were in the movie UNSTUCK. (Which, by the way, should have won an Oscar Award for Documentary Feature.) It was an incredibly moving experience to watch hundreds and hundreds of people thank these kids and their parents for raising awareness about OCD and ERP.
A very energetic and brilliant doctor introduced herself to me. I wish she saw patients because she reminded me of an OCD whisperer!!!! Instead, she is devoting her time to very important research for the OCD Genetic Study @SUNY Downstate Medical Center. She’s hunting down the OCD gene.
One of the most unique exhibits was a nonprofit organization called pickingme.org. It wasn’t uncommon to see people at this table with stickers on their face and arms. (It’s better to pick at the stickers than the skin.)
Well-known for his treatment of skin picking, the famous Fred Penzel stopped by our exhibit and chatted with us for a while. He’s quite the history buff in addition to being a leading OCD specialist. The doctor who usually treats celebrities with addiction, Dr. Drew, was in the house as a keynote speaker. He only breezed through the Exhibit Hall so we didn’t get to chat.
I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter “A Penny For Your Intrusive Thoughts” and met one of the founders of this movement. It can be a triggering site for people with OCD. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Right??? It’s an opportunity to practice using #bossitback skills!
This is something I am asked about all the time: Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This is a noninvasive brain treatment and its FDA application for the treatment of OCD is pending. The doctor at this exhibit approached me inquiring about my availability to help with this research. Yeesh…I don’t know how but I’d certainly try to find the time. TMS and ERP combined to reduce the volume of white matter…KAPOW!
Near our exhibit, an OCD Foundation affiliate out of Jacksonville Florida had a table displaying very cool FEARLESS swag from Natural Life. If you’re looking for gifts to give people with OCD this is a meaningful place to check out.
One of my favorite moments was being able to hug people I’ve only known through Facebook or through this blog. (I’m so glad you came by to say hello!!!) And finally one of the highlights of the weekend was to see an OCD thriver break out with dance and song at karaoke! She was belting it out! Now that’s a healthy coping skill!
Each year I attend the conference it’s apparent that OCD awareness is reaching new and brighter heights. It was validating to hear so many people say that “ERP in a Box” is brilliant. But, it was invigorating to meet so many OCD thrivers because of ERP! You know what I say, “Nobody is healed until everybody is healed!” I’m not going to stop thinking of ways to beat OCD.
This and so much more happened at the OCD Conference! Save the date. The next one will be 7/19-21 in Austin Texas.
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.
First, 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.
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.
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?
It’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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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?
Sam: 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?
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!~
Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) Is Not Enough
I’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.
In 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.
Look, 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
Tell 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 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?
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!
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
W= 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!
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 YBOCSand 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.