I’m on a mission to help you live well with OCD. And, I’ve got more than one idea of how to make it happen. In a series of posts over the next few weeks, I’ll share a variety of ways for you to manage OCD.
First, let me say that my clinical experience to date indicates there’s more to living with OCD than just white-knuckling your way through life.
A person with OCD often wishes out loud, “If only I could just trust myself again.” An Exposure & Response Prevention(ERP) therapist, such as myself, might say, “Well, OCD isn’t going to let you trust yourself. You have the doubting disease. There are things you will never know for sure.”
So, we discuss what must be done despite lacking faith in oneself. Employing ERP is at the top of the to-do list: Gradually confront what you avoid and do nothing to neutralize the anxiety. Endure the discomfort and resist compulsions. Accept the doubt.
And you know what? People with OCD can do it: They can go about their day, lacking confidence, having no sense of certainty or ease of mind. They are the least assured person walking the face of the earth, and yet people with OCD can accomplish anything. Anything. At. All. Including confronting their fears with little to no trust in who they are or what will happen.
But…is there more than tightening the jaw and fist, and pushing through the pain?
Does It Have To Be This Awful?
Exposure & Response Prevention continues to be the most widely regarded treatment for OCD. If I could wave a magic wand, every
client would use ERP to manage their OCD.
But, here’s a question: For those who do awful exposures, should we say, “Congratulations! You forced yourself through that horrible exposure and tolerated all that discomfort! Good for you!”
Instinctively, these are the faces people make as they deal with obsessional thoughts and exposures:
People with OCD can white-knuckle their way through one trigger after another. But is that all there is?
Is it enough to white-knuckle your way through triggers? Is there more to it than saying, “Whew, thank God that’s over with. I hope I never have to deal with that again.” Is it possible to feel better about going head-to-head with OCD?
YES!!! There’s more to ERP than forcing yourself to face your fears. Not only is there more to ERP, but there’s also more than ERP.
Gratitude: The Great OCD Sanitizer (How to Turn Off Your Inner Critic)
Can gratitude sanitize OCD? You betcha! Count your blessings and discover how the words of gratitude come to be a feeling that warmly washes over you. Sound too good to be true? The benefits of gratitude are scientifically proven!
The voice of OCD always sounds like a critic: “You can’t handle it. You’re not good enough. You should be doing [this], and you should be doing [that]. You’re going to make a bad decision and mess everything up. If you’re not careful something horrible will happen. What did you do to cause this? It’s all your fault.”
OCD continually questions your motives and intentions. “Why do you have such [weird] thoughts? What do they mean? How come you didn’t use to think like this and now you do? What are you up to? You should feel guilty for thinking like this. Shame on you.”
Practicing gratitude is highly effective if you want to turn off your inner critic.
Decontaminate OCD’s sharp tongue by finding the silver lining. When you speak gratitude, you get energized and gain the courage to face anything OCD throws at you.
With an OCD sideshow running all the time, practicing gratitude isn’t easy to do. Once you get the hang of it though, in just a few minutes you can disinfect the negativity.By reflecting on your abundance and shifting your focus away from what you lack, you’ll soar above your worst worries!
Once you’ve worked gratitude into your daily routine, you’ll start to notice that your inner critic is much less stressed.
When you have finally let it sink into your subconscious mind that you have many blessings, your stress will start to slip away. OCD loses its grip on you.
12 Fantastic Ways to Express Gratitude With Your Words
I feel grateful for everything I receive today. No matter what occurs find the silver lining. If you end up with a challenge on your hands ask, “What does this make possible?”
Be grateful for all that you have and shift your focus away from thinking about what you lack. Don’t bother comparing and contrasting how much better off someone seems to be. In a split second, all of that can change. “In this moment I have not needed to start a gofundme.com account. For this I am thankful.”
I am grateful for all the activities of daily living I am able to perform. I scan my body and am grateful for the parts that function and help me throughout the day.
I am continually amazed that my circumstances don’t stop me from giving love! No matter what is going on inside my mind or world, I am always capable of showing love.
I overcome, I grow, and I prosper all the time. My abundant blessings, as well as my difficulties, make me better, stronger, and more alive. There is no destination. I choose to grow as I take this journey.
I am so grateful that I GET to take out the garbage. I GET to go to work. I GET to go to school. I GET to have life experiences.
I appreciate and show my sincerest gratitude to my loved ones. Once a day I tell at least one person how they are loved, unique and important.
The universe is looking out for me. There may be trials and tribulations, but I am never alone.
OCD is a strangely wrapped gift. For [this], I am exceptionally thankful.
I am so amazed by the tiniest of creations. Just look at how this little inchworm moves or how this tiny ant carries a heavy leaf.
I give thanks for all the abundance that is yet to be revealed to my friends and family. I wish them the strength to endure and the courage to explore.
I am grateful for the experience that caused me to forgive someone.
Spending some time expressing gratitude is one of the most natural “stress relief drugs” you’ll ever take. Gratitude comes with no ill side effects, and it’s free. Giving thanks is user-friendly. It’s also portable–it goes wherever you go.
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.
Do you bounce back-n-forth between feeling either wired or tired? Many people with OCD find it very difficult to have a “moderate” or “ordinary” energy level. It’s quite unsettling because it seems like there is rarely a happy medium; energy is either blocked or excessive.
When you’re feeling wired, you tend to burn off your excess energy with unfounded fears. You can literally feel your brain buzzing. If your energy is blocked you’re here, but not here. Some of you describe it as feeling empty, foggy or “out to lunch.”
Wired or tired; you’re ungrounded. It’s the perfect opportunity for OCD to chatter away because when you’re ungrounded, there’s an imbalance of power. OCD knows you’ve only got “one foot on the ground,” and that’s not a stable position.
When you’re ungrounded, you lose control of your focus and become hyper-fixated on nonessentials. OCD wreaks havoc on your sense of reality. You begin to imagine all kinds of things. Everything OCD says seems real. Which leads to compulsive behaviors and useless in-depth analysis.
However, when you’re grounded your energy feels balanced, and you think logically and look upon each day with clarity.
How can you get grounded?
Many people exercise to release excess energy. Exercising provides a grounding effect, especially if you exercise outdoors.
However, exercising isn’t an option for everyone due to physical limitations, time constraints or it’s just not enjoyable.
How can you get grounded if exercise isn’t an option?
The disconnection from the earth is an often overlooked contribution to the imbalance of power—too much anxiety or too much depression.
Connecting the Body to the Earth
Many of you know I highly recommend hugging trees or laying down on the grass or digging into a garden to get grounded. Think of it this way: Direct contact with anything from the ground provides you with “electrical” nutrition. You can find plenty of research about this in the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever. Numerous studies are showing that grounding can reduce inflammation, which has been tied to symptoms of OCD.
So…this leads me to rock out this summer!
My latest fascination with grounding techniques involves rocks! Can you believe it! Even rocks provide electrical nutrition!
Rock Out This Summer With These Activities!
Even hunting for rocks is nutritional! You will feel balanced and grounded simply looking for rocks–much like walking on the beach looking for shells. Read what one person wrote about his love for rocks:
They are pure magic!
I love when you pick up a boring grey stone and then it sparkles in the sunlight. I love the amazing patterns. I love the geometry of crystals.
I love that crystals can make a radio work. I love that rocks and stones are millions of years old in a world of 2-minute attention spans. I love all the colors.
I love that a stone will look different when it gets wet. I have even been known to lick a stone to see that, but I prefer dribbling some water from my H2O bottle on it.
I love that the Ancient Greeks were able to carve stone and make it look like sheer fabric.
I love the feel of a smooth river stone in your hand.
I love that they hold clues to other worlds. Images of dinosaurs and coral, plants and insects made millions of years before the invention of cameras and Flickr. And I love that some of them have traveled all the way from Mars and beyond, despite the fact that they can’t move on their own.
I love that some can be melted to make glass and that some can, counter-intuitively, float.
I love skipping stones on glass-like water.
I love that people build houses from them that last thousands of years.
I love that I can cross a creek without getting my feet wet by stepping from rock to rock and finding the “best” way across.
I love that I can turn a rock over with my kids and discover a bunch of hidden animals. Salamanders, millipedes, worms, beetles, ants.
I love that all children love to collect pretty rocks and line them up on the porch railing.
I’m pretty sure this person doesn’t have contamination fears! Might as well do an exposure exercise while you’re grounding!
I came upon a Rock Cairn one day in my travels, and it piqued my curiosity. I Googled rock stacking and soon discovered it’s used for directional purposes AND a brilliant grounding activity.
Initially, you might lack confidence. “I don’t think I can find a way to make them balance.” Build it anyway. It’s very rare that people feel confident about trying something new. Confidence is something that is developed AFTER trying something new.
This picture of a rock cairn was sent to me by a client who was on a hike. The top stone is a “beak” or a “duckie” and it’s pointing the direction of the path.
I first became fascinated when I learned of a Facebook Group called Grand Rapid Rocks. They paint stones and then leave them in public places for people to find. What a great idea! It’s a beautiful way to practice random acts of kindness. And, it’s also a fantastic grounding technique.
I’m not crafty at all but, I decided to try painting a stone. I found lots of ideas on Pinterest and selected a bee as my first attempt. (I saved the pin if you want to see the directions.)
Considering my bug phobia, I thought painting an insect was a kooky choice. I was ill-equipped with only one too-large paintbrush. So at first, I was self-critical of my crooked lines but then I reminded myself it doesn’t matter! Who cares!
Then I let my inner child out and had some fun.
I hope you ROCK OUT this summer!
Connect with the earth and get nourished!
The more grounded you are the more power you have to beat OCD.
p.s. If you have children, rock painting is an excellent grounding activity for the whole family. Just google Stone Activities for the Backyard.
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!~
“The Last Time I Tried Resisting Compulsions I Came Undone. How Can I Do This Without Such Debilitating Anxiety?”
Especially important for you to know is that anxiety is nothing more than a physiological sensation. It doesn’t have to be debilitating. It’s not the anxiety itself, but your appraisal of the anxiety that’s causing all the ruckus.
This TENS Unit causes pain to relieve pain. I use one to help heal my elbow injury from racquetball. It uses a low voltage electric current to stimulate the nerve endings. If turned up to the highest level, it packs quite a punch! It’s intense but effective.
I turn the TENS Unit up high and go about my day. I lean into the sensation. If I cringe or resist I’m only creating more tension. I actually forget all about it during the 20 minutes it’s electrocuting me. (It’s not really electrocuting me! Hmmm…at least I don’t think so?)
Whenever possible, instead of avoiding anxiety lean into the discomfort. This doesn’t mean white-knuckle your way through. It just means be willing to experience the discomfort and learn how to handle it. Don’t resist the sensation. Soften into it.
It doesn’t mean you have to like to feel uncomfortable. It means you have to allow the discomfort. Bring some love to yourself for allowing the discomfort.
And as always, be thankful for the opportunity to practice being anxious. Practice makes progress! “I’m anxious. Good. I need the practice.”
How to Practice Just Noticing the Anxiety
This is important: The content of your thought is irrelevant. I know you think thoughts might mean something. You worry if these thoughts are not thwarted somehow they’ll become reality. News Flash: Just because you have a thought doesn’t make it true.
So you avoid triggers and try to push thoughts away. You worry your thoughts define who you are. Compulsions are used to prevent or reverse bad things from happening.
This is what puts the “D” in OCD. It’s what causes the disorder. As one client puts it: It’s placing an emphasis on something (thoughts) that’s not even tangible. Have you ever said, “But, the thoughts feel real?” Think for a minute…How do you feel whether or not a thought is real? How do you feel truth?
You Can’t Feel a Thought
If you have a worry or an unwanted, intrusive thought what you feel is anxiety. You’re not feeling the thought, you’re feeling the anxiety. News Flash: Just because you have anxiety doesn’t mean something is wrong.
When you engage in a compulsion, you feel (temporary) relief from anxiety. Let this sink in: You haven’t “compulsed” your way into truth or certainty. You’ve “compulsed” your way into the absence of a sensation that was there and now gone…gone for only a brief moment.
When you focus on that which is intangible (thought) you’re placing emphasis on something that cannot be defined or understood. You can’t get to the bottom of a thought but you can get to the bottom of anxiety.
Anxiety is tangible and can be located and defined. Notice where you feel the anxiety in your body. Is your stomach queasy? Do any of your muscles twitch? Is your heart racing? Does your skin perspire or ears buzz? What feels tight–shoulders, throat?
Get Curious About What You Are Feeling Not Thinking
Be curious about the way your body is trying to adapt. “Oh, that’s interesting. In response to my anxiety, I must be releasing adrenaline right now. My body obviously knows I’m distressed and is really going overboard and working very hard to find a balance.”
Don’t focus on why you’re upset and anxious. Focus on the sensation. How does your body produce this sensation? Fascinating. Not why are you anxious. How?
Breathe in the suffering. Exhale compassion. You might think you should do the reverse because it’s instinctive to resist and avoid pain and suffering. But, by intentionally breathing in the discomfort and exhaling compassion you are ending the pattern of resistance. Resistance only perpetuates more suffering.
OCD is child-like with no life experience
Have empathy for your OCD. “May you be filled with loving kindness.” (Remember OCD is a young version of you. Offer your compassion and guidance, not hate.) Put your hand on your heart and say the words: Love. Love. Love. Not that you have to love having OCD. But, bring some love to yourself for allowing whatever it is you are feeling and thinking.
Relax your belly and brow. Don’t rock or rub. Soften into the tension. If you resist the tension, you’re only making the sensation tighter.
Hold your hands with palms up and let the energy flow from your body. Crossing your arms or making fists keeps it locked in. It’s energy that doesn’t like being bottled up. Let it out.
Feel the sensations in your body. Don’t judge. Notice and allow. Say the words: Allow. Allow. Allow.
Don’t evaluate the thoughts. Don’t dig deep. Just notice how your body reacts.
Surrender to the experience without trying to understand it. Don’t head down the rabbit hole trying to figure out what it all means. It only means one thing: You’re anxious.
Be present and like a good neighbor observe the physicality of your anxiety.
Especially relevant and noteworthy is how hard it is to be anxious when you are curious and fascinated. Get curious about the physicality of anxiety!
Anxiety Is Tangible, Thoughts Aren’t
Do thoughts smell? Do they have a flavor that you can taste? Do thoughts have a texture? Think about a chocolate cake. Can you taste it by thinking about it? Smell it? Feel it in your mouth? Hear it? Thoughts aren’t tangible! It’s impossible to feel a thought.
It’s not the thoughts you’re feeling. It’s the anxiety.
Wouldn’t you prefer something more concrete to deal with? Would you rather have a live person to be friends with or someone on Facebook? Do you prefer to eat something that is recognizable through your senses? Or do you want to eat something you can’t smell, touch, taste, or see?
Your anxiety is physical and clear-cut. Thoughts are nothing more than bubbles.
I know, I know…You are drawn and compelled to focus on the story. (Your obsession.) Focusing on your anxiety is much more tangible. You can actually get something accomplished by learning to experience your anxiety.
It will take some practice! Practice makes……..progress! You don’t have to want the anxiety…want the practice of experiencing anxiety. In addition to Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP), this is another way to stop compulsive behavior.
Remember, you get good at what you practice.
The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:
Practice experiencing the physicality of anxiety. It’s a drill that develops a skill.
Compulsions: Do They Really Save Lives?
If you have questions about how to resist compulsions be sure to add them to the comment section on this post. I’ll be sure to address your questions and give you…
Has OCD Made You Forget Who You Are?The thing about OCD is that it comes and goes. It rolls in from the sea and eventually goes back out. When the storm arrives though, it’s brutal. You forget who you are. And it feels permanent.
It’s such a desperate feeling and can easily make you forget about everything else that matters. You become disconnected from the core of who you are. Your sense of self is ruptured. The only thing you feel attached to is your worst fear.
In an OCD storm, you can’t stop thinking about something very troubling. The thought can’t be controlled, and yet, with all your might you try with compulsions or by avoiding. This only turns the storm into several hurricanes.
You lose sight of the “big picture.” You’ve lost your compass and can’t see your way out. There’s more to this storm than what meets the eye. But the eye of the storm has swallowed you up.
Without the “big picture” view, you forget that it gets better. Your mind can’t seem to hold on to anything other than fear. Everything else in your mind is space junk. It feels like you’ve regressed to the mind of a child.
Your inner voice becomes catastrophic and self-critical. You know the compulsions are useless, but you can’t seem to resist. You know that avoiding isn’t going to change anything, but you do it anyway.
You’re so frustrated with yourself. The choices you keep making over and over don’t reflect your wisdom and life experience. It feels like your brain’s been hijacked by a younger version of you.
You hold your head in your hand…exhausted. Overwhelmed. And you whisper, “I just don’t know who I am anymore.”
You feel disconnected. Hyper-alert. Terrified. Ready to run. Ready to freeze. Angry with no will to fight. Hopeless. Helpless. Shameful. Compulsive.
You Can find Yourself By Letting Go of Old Ways of Coping
All of these feelings and behaviors helped you survive something in the past. We must honor the fact that they served you well once upon a time. A time when you were younger and less experienced.
For example, when you were a child being afraid and freezing-up probably kept someone you know or even someone on TV out of harm’s way. This might not even be a memory you can recall. But, now you’re more experienced and know to assert yourself and take action.
Maybe you experienced a traumatic event in your younger years and felt guilty about it. It was a useful feeling then because it kept you out of a deep depression. But, now you’re older and wiser and guilt is no longer age-appropriate. But, because you used it so much when you were younger, you’re still using it now.
We honor these feelings that helped your younger self-survive difficult times. But they’re holding you back now. These emotions aren’t congruent with who you are today. You’re an adult with life experience. Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn. Everything you face opens up a possibility for you to find your higher self.
You Can Find Yourself By Letting the Older Part of You Take Charge
Since then you’ve grown older and wiser. You’ve gained a lot of life experience. It’s no longer age-appropriate to handle anxiety the way you did as a child. In your heart of hearts, you know this and that’s why you don’t feel like yourself.
Can you bring the older, wiser part of you forward to deal with the anxiety and weird thoughts?
We can’t let a child drive the boat through this storm. There’s an older, more experienced version of you who knows a lot more about riding the waves and maneuvering all the twists and turns. Let’s get the right “wo/man” behind the wheel. After all, which part of you is better equipped for the job?
Can you bring that older part of you forward–that part that has dealt with real-life problems before? You know, the part of you that holds it together while everyone else is drowning. (I know you have a memory like this because people with OCD actually handle real-life problems better than most people. It’s the problems of the imagination that are utterly challenging.)
You Can Find Yourself By Setting Limits With Your Younger Self
Remember a time or situation when you were in charge, taking care of business like a pro. What did that feel like? What are the positive thoughts that go with that part of you? What does that feel like in your body? How are you standing? Where are your arms? Is your head up during these times you are most proud?
How can this part of you take the wheel away from the child? What would you say to the child? “I know that you’re afraid, but you can’t drive this boat. You’re still in diapers and have no life skills.”
How would you set limits? “I know you want what you want when you want it, but you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Get out of the driver’s seat.”
What happens to the child when you take the wheel? Naturally, the child stays on the boat. No part of you can be disowned or thrown overboard. Remember, this is a child who doesn’t even know how to doggie paddle yet.
Kindly, but firmly take the child under your wing. “I know how to move us forward. Sit back there. Watch and learn. And if you get too noisy, I’m going to tickle you until you pee in your diaper.” No, wait. That’s firm, but not very kind. 😉
How about, “I know you’re afraid so you’ll probably get noisy. I’ll hear you, but I can’t reassure you. I’ll be busy. I know you’ll get upset that I won’t let you steer the boat. You’ve had your way for awhile so I completely understand that you won’t like this and will probably have a temper tantrum.”
Two Ways to Visualize Your Older Self Taking Charge.
Look at your hands. In one of your hands is the terrified, inexperienced child. Imagine how this child feels. Small, terrified, vulnerable, lost. In your other hand is your older, wiser stronger self. Feel how much bigger and stronger this hand is? Bring the older wiser hand over the younger hand. Hold that child. Let the child feel surrounded by your strength and wisdom. Tell the child you’ve got this. “I’ve got this. I’m driving now.”
Name all the other parts to you besides OCD. Using props (such as ducks), put these parts in the order you want them to be. Who’s in charge most of the time to least of the time? Here in this picture, we see there is a loving part taking the lead. Then we see a wise part and an all-around good guy, who likes to help others, sharing the leadership role. Not far behind is a curious part who likes to learn and grow. In the back is OCD. Lots of people would keep OCD away from the rest of the Team. But, he’s too young to be on his own. That’ll only scare him more if you try to get rid of him. The Team keeps him close by and kindly but firmly says, “I know you’re afraid, but, I’ve got this.”
Keep Your Eye on the Big Picture, Not the Storm
The “big picture” older version of you says life is bigger than this storm. Big picture thinking allows you to be hazy and uncertain around the edges. It’s a growth mindset. “I’m willing to find out what this storm makes possible for me.”
Whatever is causing the storm, whatever the storm is about–doesn’t matter. If you were truly at sea and you suddenly found yourself in the middle of a storm, would you be trying to figure out what it means? What caused it? Why it’s happening? Did you do something wrong? Did you overlook something?
No! You’d be focused on doing your best to weather the storm–how to withstand it. You’d be focused on outlasting the storm. And, the child would not be allowed to steer the boat. Do you want a scared child steering in a storm or an experienced, wise “sailor” who has ridden huge waves before?
An OCD storm comes down to one thing: The storm will be an experience you can draw from in the future.
No matter how bad it feels, an OCD storm comes down to one thing. It’s about the opportunity and challenge of weathering the anxiety and resisting the young child’s urge to avoid or do a compulsion.
An OCD storm is a strangely wrapped gift. It doesn’t look or feel like a gift but give permission to learn from the storm and you’ll soon discover something amazing about yourself. The next storm will be easier because you’ve gained experience from the last one.
If you liked this post, you might also like a cheat sheet for quick reference. It’s only one page–quick read! Click on the image below to get your printable cheat sheet:
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. ~Matthew 17:20
Faith as small as a mustard seed…If you have the smallest or weakest of faith, you can perform even the most difficult undertaking. The greatest and most seemingly impossible difficulty can be overcome by the tiniest bit of faith.
When I ask my clients if I could wave a magic wand that could not take away OCD, but could give them something, what would they want…many many clients will say, “faith.” Faith in God. Faith in themselves.
I need to have faith that I turned the stove off. I don’t want to keep checking. I need to have more faith in myself.
I feel frightened by this thought. I need to have faith that I am not my thoughts.
When I pray I don’t feel anything. How do I have a relationship with God if I can’t feel it? I shouldn’t have these doubts. My faith needs to be stronger.
Facebook is depressing. I read all these posts from people who have such a strong faith. They know without a doubt that their foundation is unshakable. I need that kind of faith.
I just have to have faith that nothing bad will happen.
I need to have faith that this is OCD.
It’s not really faith they’re looking for. Because faith happens mostly in a swamp of uncertainty. People with OCD are not looking for a swamp of sticky icky doubt, unless they’ve had really good therapy.
Most people resisting OCD desire a sense of peacefulness to flow through their veins. This is what they think of when they define “faith.” In their opinion, faith is free of doubt. It’s knowing something with such certainty that you can just feel it.
That’s Not Faith
Faith has nothing to do with peacefulness or a sense of certainty.
Faith is not a physical sensation. This is very hard for people with OCD to grasp. If you have OCD you believe a certain feeling can convert you from the doubt.
Faith doesn’t involve a physical sense. We can’t touch it. Can’t hear it. Can’t smell it. Can’t taste it. Can’t see it. Can’t feel it.
You can’t be converted from doubt. And you don’t need to be in order to have true faith.
By embracing doubt you will attain true faith. And when you have truth faith, you end up surrendering.
Faith is a POWER that results in surrendering.
What if I’m on the wrong path?
What if I do something that is unpleasing or harmful?
What if I didn’t protect or prevent harm when I could have?
What if I regress and can’t handle it?
What if this is permanent?
What if I’m never truly happy again?
Time Will Tell
Be willing to find out. This is surrendering. This is the power of true faith.
You don’t need to be completely willing to find out. That would be experiencing a doubt-free journey. That’s not what we’re going for! We’re not looking for a sense of certainty. It can’t be found!
Your willingness to find out what happens only needs to be the size of a mustard seed. Because like any seed…it will grow.
What is faith?
Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.~ Hebrews 11:1
Hope for the best but embrace the doubt.
Live with it. Take action despite the doubt.
Hope for the best. Time will tell.
Be willing to find out what happens.
This is true faith. Surrender and you can move mountains.
OCD infiltrates. It worms its way into the brain and hijacks it. You begin to forget who you are. This makes OCD sound like a monster.
There is not a shred of evidence that OCD is a monster out to get you. It feels that way, but there really isn’t some kind of wicked creature persecuting you. When you say, “I hate OCD.” You’re hating on yourself.
There is no scientific study that shows there is an organism eating your brain.
There is however, plenty of evidence that cells are still growing and neuroplasticity can happen… with skills & drills.
Translation: You can teach an OCD brain new tricks.
There is also a lot of evidence that self-loathing is detrimental and never brings about positive change. When you hate OCD you only hate yourself.
It feels like OCD is out to get you because the brain is misfiring messages and the central nervous system is responding with body parts. It’s a physiological experience complicated by thoughts.
The key to managing OCD is to stop thinking of OCD as a monster. Think of OCD with empathy. Compassion. And, you’re on your way to freedom.
A young boy was anxious just before his first concert. He was worried he might fall on the stage. What could be said to him that would help the most? What should he do? I took a poll to see what people thought.