Category Archives: How To Free Your Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, being afraid and unable to move or fight probably kept you out of harm’s way once when you were a child. But, now you’re more experienced and it’s safe 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:

How to Embrace Doubt and Attain True Faith

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.

Has Your Brain Been Hijacked by OCD?

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.

It’s not.

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.

Here are the results:

Poll Results

It is no coincidence that people suffering from OCD are self-loathing. Be as kind to yourself as you are to your best friend and you will notice a change. 

Commit to this and start today.

You are love. “Love can only love” a very wise 12 year old told me.

Talk to your OCD firmly, but with loving kindness. OCD is not a monster. Just a lonely, lost and confused child in the terrible two’s.

Are You Brewing Anxiety in Your Kitchen?

“The most important decisions that determine the brain’s health happen in the kitchen, not at the pharmacy.”

~ David Perlmutter, Author of Grain Brain

Last night I made a healthy soup for dinner. It was made of avocado, swiss chard, spinach, kale, cilantro, sweet potato and onions with vegetable broth. It was very tasty and when I make it again, I’ll probably add white organic beans. 

I was so sleepy after I ate it that I went to bed early. Very unlike me! I didn’t even make it through the weekly Voice results! I thought I was just tired from Tai Chi.

Today, I read the recipe (I don’t usually read recipes–I just throw stuff together) and discovered the soup is intended to be a sleep aid! It’s very high in chlorophyll. The recipe actually says this: “The fat in the soup aids the absorption of the minerals from the greens and aids in sleep.”

Wow! Good thing I didn’t eat that at lunch!!! If any of you have trouble falling asleep, or need to calm your nervous system, email me (tammy@bossitback.com) and I’ll send you the recipe. It seemed very soothing, but who knows, maybe it was a combination of factors.

While I was waiting for new brakes (ugh) to be put on my car today, I thought about the soup’s effect on me, and found the above quote by Dr. Perlmutter. 

I always ask my clients if they eat a lot of carbs and 7 out of 10 people confess, “I crave carbs and sugar and eat a lot of both.” Yup! Jackpot!

Sugar Doesn’t Make You Healthy

It’s no coincidence my clients have a lot of anxiety. These foods are addicting and hype up the nervous system. They cause inflammation, overstimulate neurons in the brain and destabilize blood sugar, all of which creates mood changes.

One key to managing anxiety is to eat foods that provide grounding energy and relax the nervous system. What does it mean to feel grounded? Have you hugged a tree lately? Isn’t it amazing!!! Certain foods can help you feel that way too!

No matter how healthy you eat, you’ll still be anxious. But, why not give yourself a fighting chance? Why eat something that increases the anxiety? Well, if you need to learn to accept anxiety, then let me tell you, eat a lot of carbs and sugar and practice gladly accepting how you feel. Eating carbs and sugar certainly create a great exposure exercise.

But, if you want to put your mental health first and make your two brains the best lean, mean, fighting machines they can be, then put these brain healthy ingredients into your diet! (Two brains? Yes! Don’t forget about your stomach! More on that later…)

Brain Health from the Kitchen

Matcha Green Tea is really great for focus because it’s high in theanine, which produces alpha brain waves and also offsets the caffeine in the tea. Focus is important because you’ve got to be able to focus on your values. Otherwise OCD will take you on a purpose-less driven life.

B vitamins are important for the production of serotonin. Get tested to see what your levels are and be sure to read this article about what to do.

Coconut water is an excellent source of B Vitamins. Mackerel too, but certain kinds must be avoided due to the high levels of mercury. Red meat is a good source of B12 as well as eggs, milk and cheese. But, many people don’t eat meat and dairy is known to cause inflammation. 

You might have to acquire a taste for this but Miso provides healthy bacteria which boosts GABA, a much needed neurotransmitter that especially hangs out in the gut. Besides the first paragraph of this article, which claims unwanted intrusive thoughts can be ended by GABA, (not true!) this is a post that explains GABA

 

The Guts of Anxiety

The gut has its own independent nervous system and it’s obvious that the gut plays a critical role in anxiety and other mood states. After all, 95% of of the body’s serotonin is manufactured in the 2nd brain–the gut!

So taking probiotics and eating fermented foods (healthy bacteria) is a must for brain health promotion! One of my favorites is Kimchi and of course adding Bragg’s Apple Cider vinegar to your water.

Having OCD is exhausting. You’ve got to be on top of your game all the time. It’s taxing to work so hard and you burn through your fuel before day’s end. So replenishing is critical and this can be done with food and exercise. For ideas about this go back to my blog, HERE.

Want to Make Your Kitchen Brain Healthy?

Get the Brain Warrior’s Way by Dr. Amen

I’ve only touched the surface about promoting brain health in the kitchen. I encourage you to do your own research and share anything you find helpful in the comments. And as always, look at benefits and side effects.

Basically eat foods that are grounding and stay away from foods that are stimulating. (Sugar and spice aren’t grounding!)

I had hoped to finish this post last night but I had more of that soup for dinner and once again I fell asleep early. So I don’t think it was Tai Chi. Definitely the soup. I don’t think I’m going to make that again! I ain’t got no time for sleep!!!

How to Control Anxiety: Should You?

The harder I tried to stop thinking about it…………..the faster I thought about it.

Don’t think about the pink elephant.

The harder I tried not to feel it….the stronger I felt it.

Don’t feel the couch on your back.

If you’ve been properly treated for OCD then you know the answer will never be to stop. You can’t stop thoughts. You can’t stop anxiety. And you shouldn’t try! What then should you be doing? 

Want the thoughts. Want the anxiety. The only way out is in, not out.

If someone is telling you to just “knock it off” send them this blog. If you’re telling yourself to knock if off…keep reading!

Let’s assume your OCD is a little you. A three or four year-old version of you. If this is true, and I think it is…telling such a young worrying child to “KNOCK it OFF” is not really teaching any kind of life lesson. 

A young boy is about to take the stage for the first time in his life and sing with the chorus. His brain is asking, “What’s wrong? How come my legs feel funny?” The brain MUST search for and provide an explanation. “Why are my legs wobbly???” The brain must explain. It’s human nature. If there’s an explanation there’s got to be a solution.

Searching for an explanation can occur below the threshold of consciousness. You don’t even know you’re doing it. The attempt to explain physiological sensations can be too subtle for the conscious mind.

Only one or two seconds have passed. Ah-Ha!!! The brain has found a reason for the wobbly legs!!!! “Mommy, what if I fall in front of everyone? I feel like I’m going to fall!”

What do you think most Mommies say? I hope you take the poll before reading any further! We’ll have lots of fun if you do!

 

The problem isn’t the wobbly legs. Agreed? The wobbly legs are a symptom of the problem. If we only talk about the wobbly legs, then we address the symptom but not the cause.

“You’re not going to fall. Your legs are very strong.” In this response the focus is on the legs. But, what’s causing the wobbly legs?  

“Here, drink some water and think about the pizza we’re eating after this.” The focus is on trying to stop worrying about the wobbly legs. Distract. Reassure. “You’ll be just fine.” Don’t think about the pink elephant. Don’t feel the couch against your back.

“The chances of you falling are very low. It’s possible but not probable. So far no one else on that stage has fallen. So you’re not likely to fall either. And I bet they’ve got wobbly legs too.”

Again, the focus is on the wobbly legs not being likely to cause a fall. Why won’t this work? Because that little brain of his quickly calculated that he could be the one and only kid that falls.


In this precious moment, this boy has an opportunity to learn a life lesson. This is the kind of lesson that will carry him through many rough times in his life.

The answer to his question, “Mommy, what if I fall” has the power to rewrite the script playing in his mind.

The way you answer your question also has the power to rewrite your inner thinking patterns. Even though your thought patterns are automatic due to practice and repetition you can retrain your brain.

Let’s talk about the little boy’s wobbly legs for a minute. We all agree that the problem isn’t his wobbly legs. Right? It’s his anxiety.

Anxiety is felt physically. In nerve endings. In muscles-tense or weak. Aches. Pains. Twitches. In breath-fast or slow. In the skin-clammy or itchy. The racing heart. Upset stomach. Tremors. Saliva.

There’s nerve endings everywhere so anxiety can be felt anywhere! 

The brain doesn’t like unexplained things. It will notice the physical sensation, create a story to explain the physical sensation, and it will build control mechanisms into the story.

When the brain explains the physical sensation, it won’t automatically consider that it’s just ANXIETY!!! And it certainly won’t conclude that the anxiety is okay. (That part has to be learned.)

Instead the brain will focus on finding a way to stop the discomfort. It will focus on the story, not the anxiety.

How can it be stopped. Hmmmmm, lets think of a story that has control mechanisms. How might this look for the little boy afraid to take the stage?

“If I skip three times and jump up once, I won’t fall.” Does that sound like OCD? The focus is on controlling the situation. The brain created a story that explains the physical sensation and now he has something he can do about it.

He probably won’t fall. So what will the brain conclude? “You didn’t fall because of that skip and jump thing you did. Good job buddy! See! Anytime your legs are wobbly, skip and jump and you won’t fall.” Liar, liar pants on fire!!!

The compulsion has been reinforced in the inner thinking-below the threshold of consciousness. And now the subconscious will run the show. This will easily grow into a habit and soon he won’t even remember why he does what he does.

This little boy has anxiety. Your OCD is young, like him. A three or four year-old part of your mind. It’s only a part of your mind. There are so many other beautiful parts to your mind. But, this part has the potential to run the entire show.

What is the life lesson this little boy has an opportunity to learn? What will make his brain a lean, mean fighting machine? Choose as many answers as you think will be most helpful:

 

The actionable steps for YOU to take are:

  1. Stay focused on the anxiety-not the story that is trying to control the anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t need to be fixed. Notice it, name it and move on. Steer away from the story and go towards the anxiety.
  2. Want the anxiety. Want the thoughts generating the anxiety. “Good, there you are. I need the practice.”
  3. Seek the anxiety. “Let’s see if I can make myself anxious right now and learn to experience it as something making me stronger.”

The anxiety comes from a very young part of you that truly doesn’t know very much about life at all. But, you have all these other beautiful parts of your brain that are very rationale and fun-loving.

Let those parts talk to the little you, who really shouldn’t be leading the way.  

I’ll lead the way now.

“I know you’re afraid and uncomfortable, but I know how to move forward. You can trust me.”

One other actionable step you can take:

To work on rewriting your inner thinking patterns, let’s rewire the messages that are exposed to the mind, but are too subtle for the conscious mind to know about.

Using post-it notes or reminders on your phone, or messages that flash on your computer while you work, write messages like these:

  • I can meet any challenge even though I’m anxious.
  • I’m ready for anything because I don’t mind anxiety.
  • I go after what I want in life even though I’m anxious.
  • Everyday my confidence grows stronger because I’m okay being anxious.

You don’t even have to read them. They’ll be picked up by your subconscious mind.

Why I Don’t Write Down Your Obsession

There are many OCD Facebook Groups. Quite often people will post about their therapy sessions.

They’ll share what the therapist said. And then they’ll post a question to the group, “Does this sound right to you? Should I continue with this therapist? She writes everything down. It’s intimidating. I don’t know what to do. Please advise.”

Hint: If your therapy session looks anything like this

you’re not in the right place!

I don’t write down a client’s obsession. Find out why.

But first, let’s talk about the goal of therapy. What is the purpose of therapy for OCD? Let’s take a poll and see what everybody thinks. Before you read this post any further, answer this poll first.

In last week’s blog post I asked what ya’ll thought about the questions asked during a therapy session. There were 14 questions and I asked which of the 14 questions had the best chance of helping this man break free from OCD.

Some people left comments on the blog, and others brought it up in their own therapy session with me.

Many people liked the questions that led the man to think about probability. What’s the probability that this or that will actually happen?

You’d think that once he realizes how slight the chances are of anything bad happening, he’ll come to his senses. But, that’s not how OCD works. OCD isn’t logical and will always exaggerate probability.

The problem with this “probability” thought process is that it focuses on the content of the obsession. (“If I don’t check this someone could get hurt.”) As if the OCD “story” is important. 

A few of the 14 questions helped the man see that his compulsions weren’t really as effective as he thought. His safety behaviors weren’t full proof or nearly comprehensive enough.

He was missing too many other safety hazards and was only fooling himself into thinking he was making the world a safer place.

While many of you thought it was very anxiety provoking to point out the futility of his efforts, you still felt it was a good way to get through to him. Once he saw how futile his efforts were he’d see no reason to continue these behaviors. 

But, that’s not how OCD works. It’s like a whack-a-mole. It’ll give you something else to worry about.

The problem with taking the time to reveal the futility of his safety behaviors is that it focuses heavily on the content of his obsession. The whole conversation focuses on the electrical cords. 

When it’s not at all about the electrical cords. It’s about not wanting to feel emotionally contaminated.

This is everyone’s OCD story. You might think you’re avoiding something to protect someone. You might think you’re performing a compulsion to prevent something bad from happening.

But, the only reason you’re really doing what you’re doing is to not feel emotionally contaminated with anxiety, guilt, depression, or fear…

These are just stories:

  • “I shower the second I get home even before I hug my baby. I don’t want to get my baby sick.”

Actually, you don’t want to feel the guilt of getting your baby sick. Your husband doesn’t shower when he comes home from work. He hugs the baby before he washes up.

“Well, that’s fine because if the baby gets sick, it will be his responsibility, not mine.”

  • “I circle back and check the road because I don’t want to leave the scene of a crime. If I hit someone, I should pay the consequences.”  

Actually, this isn’t about hitting someone at all. This is the story you tell. But, it’s really about not wanting to feel anxiety.

“I don’t want to be wondering all night if the sound I heard was me running over someone. If I check it out, it’s off my mind and I won’t be anxious.”

  • “I’m not afraid of anyone getting hurt. I do this hop, skip and jump until it feels right. I’m not worried about anybody getting hurt if I don’t do it right. I’m just doing it because it helps me feel calm.”

Right, you’re doing it to avoid feeling bad. You’re not willing to feel “just wrong” or ill at ease. Now this is everyone’s truth. This is not just a story.

The only content that matters, is the story about not wanting to feel uncomfortable. It’s not about germs, harming someone or the world being fake. It’s not about the unwanted, intrusive thought. 

You’ve got a sticky mind and the “stories” are just trying to explain why. There’s nothing to explain. You don’t like feeling uncomfortable. End of story. Nothing else matters.

The only story that matters is the one about not wanting to feel ill at ease. That’s the one story that can cause the “dis-ease.”

But, what if you see anxiety or discomfort as a challenge?

There are always two choices. Shrink from the discomfort and get caught up in a story that never ends…or seize the opportunity to practice your skills and become a lean mean fighting machine.

“Ah…there’s my worry. There’s my discomfort. Good. I want it. This is how I get stronger. It’s not about the story. It’s about my emotions. The content of my obsession is irrelevant. It’s always about being afraid of emotions.”

You can’t heal, what you won’t feel.

Maybe now you know why I don’t write down your obsession. I just don’t care what it is. It’s irrelevant.

Now, let’s take that poll again:

 

 

Who Else Feels Guilty About Their Thoughts?

Do You Feel Guilty for Having  Certain Thoughts?

Is this dog guilty for thinking what he’s thinking? Should he be experiencing shame?

We mostly agree that if I steal a banana I should probably pay a penalty of some sort, even if it’s just guilt and shame.

But what if I only think about stealing a banana? Should I pay a penalty for thinking? And what if I didn’t deliberately think about stealing banana. What if it just popped into my head out of nowhere?

I certainly won’t be arrested for thinking about stealing a banana, right? Okay, but what about an emotional penalty for thinking about it? I should pay penance with guilt and shame, right?

For how long should I pay this penance? A lifetime? For every next time I think about stealing a banana? Maybe I should give my banana away in an attempt to resolve my guilt feelings? Or should I just accept that since I thought about stealing a banana, I deserve to feel guilty

This kind of guilt doesn’t even come from mis-behaving. No action required. It was just a thought but shame on me. 

All I know is that I had a thought about doing something that would have violated my Code of Conduct. “Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” I wouldn’t want someone to steal my bananas. So it’s wrong for me to steal someone else’s.

But wait! I didn’t even steal anything! I didn’t actually do anything wrong! Why should I feel so guilty about something I didn’t even do???

Guilt Beyond Circumstance:                  A Different Kind of Guilt

Let’s talk about (Harm Avoidance) OCD; a kind of OCD that involves unwanted, intrusive thoughts about harming self or others.

Nobody’s lifted a finger. They’re just thoughts. They come with a punch in the stomach and a ton of guilt.

It’s guilt beyond circumstance. No event or circumstance has occurred other than in the mind.

You’re not walking on eggshells, you’re “thinking” on eggshells.

When you’re walking on eggshells you’re trying very hard to not upset someone who is hypersensitive and easily agitated.

When you’re “thinking” on eggshells you’re tiptoeing around your mind. Your mind is hyper-responsible. Hyper-aware. Hyper-sensitive. And easily agitated. You try to tiptoe around these thoughts. 

Thought Action Fusion: When Thinking Is Considered to be the Same as Doing.

A person with OCD gets confused. They falsely believe a thought is just as bad as an action. This is a cognitive error called, Thought Fusion Action. This cognitive error interrupts lives. 

If thoughts are felt to be equivalent to action then you can understand why people with (Harm Avoidance) OCD experience so much guilt. They haven’t done anything, but in their minds thinking about it is just as bad as doing it.

When it comes to a thought vs. an action, a person with OCD says there is no line in the sand. Thought = action = responsibility = guilt. The guilt is the emotional penalty for the wrongdoing of the mind.

People with OCD have an inflated sense of responsibility. Thought Action Fusion is a type of hyper-responsibility, of feeling responsible when you’re not.

The Emotional Penalty of Being Hyper-Responsible is Guilt and Shame

Another example of hyper-responsibility is to believe that you ought to be able to stop what you’re thinking.

The guilt is the emotional penalty for not controlling the mind. 

In a room full of 100 people, not many of them are worrying about why they can’t stop having certain thoughts. They don’t have OCD.

Geez, I don’t even know if it’s possible to “be” and not think? Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am.” In other words, “I know I exist when I am thinking.” 

To believe you ought to be able to control what you think about is a false belief. It’s a cognitive error that’s interrupting your life. If you had the power of mind control you’d be rich and famous. Because, you’d be the only one out of 7 billion people who have such control.

We all get weird taboo thoughts. This is a proven fact. You don’t have to have OCD to get weird thoughts. But, if you have OCD then you’re at risk for spending way too much time analyzing these thoughts.

I thought about not reporting that I underpaid for a banana. I didn’t violate my Code of Conduct. Whatever unwanted, intrusive thought you’re having is absolutely no different than my thought.

Nothing has meaning except the meaning you attach to it.

No thought has meaning except the meaning you attach to it.

Tips:

  1. Stand up for yourself. You can’t just let OCD push you around with cognitive errors.  Recognize them and bulldoze through them. 
  2. You don’t have to pay penance for thoughts unless you want to.
  3. Be as kind to yourself as you would to your best friend. (Code of Conduct: Don’t do to yourself what you wouldn’t do to others.)
  4. Trying to control your mind is impossible. If 7 billion other people can’t help what they’re thinking how can you?
  5. Notice your thoughts and do nothing to get rid of them. They mean nothing unless you attach meaning to them.

This publication is part of a series of posts about OCD and guilt. The next one will have to do with how guilt can cause compulsive behavior.

OCD and Guilt: Your Get Out of Jail Free Card

Breaking free from OCD can be quite troublesome when the obsession is accompanied with guilt or shame.

Hold on though…Not all guilt is bad. Right? Guilt causes people to fall in line and properly behave. We’re socialized to feel guilt so that we learn to control our behavior and emotions. If people feel guilt or shame they’ll be less likely to do anything wrong.

We’ve all experienced real or appropriate guilt.

Today at the grocery store I was using the self check-out. I’m proud to say I’ve memorized lots of produce codes. I entered the code 4011 for regular bananas. I was submitting my payment when it suddenly occurred to me that the bananas were organic and therefore I hadn’t paid enough.

I was in a hurry and shrugged, “Oh who cares. It’s 20 cents. Just go.” But then I thought, “No, if you don’t confess to your underpayment, you’ll get in a car accident.”

This is an example of how guilt stabilizes a society and prevents its citizens from wrongful behavior. If you do something bad then there will be a consequence.

Real or appropriate guilt happens when you’ve mis-behaved.  Guilt is the emotional penalty of misconduct.

The problem with OCD is that it generates inappropriate guilt. Nothing bad has to occur in order for you to be overwhelmed with guilt. Guilt adds a whole other dimension to OCD. 

When Should You Feel Guilt or Shame?

It’d be so much easier to break free from OCD if you weren’t dealing with so much inappropriate guilt.

When it comes to OCD, you’ve got to become defiant. OCD will tell you what rules to follow. These rules are not reasonable and will take you down the rabbit hole. You must disobey OCD.

To do that, it helps to have your own set of rules to follow no matter what OCD says.

To make it easier, what if there was a Code of Conduct for you to follow? No matter what OCD says, if you follow this Code of Conduct, you don’t pay the emotional penalty of guilt. Maybe it would be something like this:

(Draft Copy) Code of Conduct:
DO NO HARM
  • Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
  • Don’t destroy the environment upon which all life depends.
  • Don’t do to yourself what you wouldn’t do to others.
  • Don’t make decisions for people who can make their own.
  • Don’t manipulate and control others.
  • Don’t take care of others when they can take care of themselves.
DO GOOD
  • Do to others what you would like them to do to you.
  • Do practice gratitude and express thankfulness.
  • Do put the oxygen mask on yourself first; your mental health must come first.
  • Do help this needy world through acts of kindness, not fear.
  • Do respect a person’s right to self-determination. (A person controls their own life.)
What do you notice about this Code of Conduct
  • Is there a common theme?
  • Is there anything missing? Something you think people should pay the penalty of guilt for, but not mentioned here?
  • Is there something that doesn’t belong?
  • What do you notice about the transfer of responsibility? What are you essentially responsible for? What are other people responsible for?
  • If you stick to these rules would it be appropriate or necessary to still pay the emotional penalty of guilt or shame?

Please leave your answers, questions, and comments. As always I will post them anonymously.  

This publication is part of a series of posts about OCD and guilt. The next post will be “Guilt Beyond Circumstance: A Different Kind of Guilt.”

If you want me to address a certain question about guilt, be sure to leave me a message.

In addition to your other comments, please share what you hope this series of posts about guilt will accomplish.
Thank you for your comments. They mean so much to me and also help others!

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

“Can My OCD Get Worse With ERP? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not everybody can confront their fears that way. 

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

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

Growing Means Ouch

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

My Strangely Wrapped Gift

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

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

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

Doesn’t look or feel like a gift

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

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

It’s a mighty fine track record.

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

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

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

Stop Reassurance-Seeking and Break Free From OCD

A person with OCD seeks one thing.

160_f_65315155_7vwgyjigwiujdbsmawjy00devygrmqej  CERTAINTY 160_f_65315155_7vwgyjigwiujdbsmawjy00devygrmqej 

 It’s your kryptonite. 160_f_54907399_wuafmp2ourzuib6z6zirtarbdu54cduy

Trying to Get It Deprives You of All Your Power 

If you’ve got OCD then seeking certainty is how you’re wired. It’s your automatic solution for doubt and anxiety.

OCD lies: “Get certainty and you’ll feel much better.” Unless you’ve learned how to shrug  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ you’ll do whatever it takes to feel better. It’s odd, but actually shrugging feels better than seeking certainty. That’s because you’ll always end up empty handed.

The problem is, it can’t be gotten. Certainty isn’t possible. There’s a possibility you’ll (falsely) feel certain for a brief moment. But, in a matter of minutes or even seconds, the doubt and anxiety will return. It’s a vicious cycle.

The Most Frequent Way People Try to Get Certainty Is By Seeking Reassurance

Reassurance is your kryptonite. As long as you’re seeking reassurance you’ll be forever vulnerable. OCD will be your boss until you learn to shrug.

You’ll have no confidence in just about anything you do. Like an addict, you’ll be thinking about your next fix, and the next one, and the next one, all day long.

Reassurance can be sought in many ways:

It Starts With a Question and Then the Analyzing Begins

  • Am I okay? Is this okay?
  • What does this say about me? What does it mean?
  • Is this wrong? Is this bad? Am I a bad person?
  • What if I lose control? What if I make a mistake?
  • Am I going to act on this thought?
  • What if something bad happens? Won’t I be responsible? 
  • What if I get overwhelmed? What if I can’t relax?
  • Did I do something wrong? Am I making the right decision?
  • Is this OCD? It’s just my OCD. Right?

The Checking Begins and Never Ends

  • I don’t remember if I did that. Go back and check.
  • Do they know what I’m thinking? Let’s see if I can get them to smile. If they do, we must be okay.
  • Did I leave something behind? Look behind and check.
  • Did I touch that? Ask. Wash to be sure. 
  • Say it again. Make sure they heard it.
  • Give all the details one more time. Make sure they understand.
  • Do it one more time until it feels right.

Avoidance is Reassuring Too

  • The way to feel safe is to stay away. 
  • Don’t touch it. Don’t look at it. Then there’s no risk.
  • Don’t think about it. Then it can’t happen.
  • Replace that bad thought with a good thought.

You can spend hours reassuring yourself through compulsions and mental acts. You can involve others by asking for reassurance. But, it’s not going to lead to freedom. 

You can’t free your mind this way. There is no breaking free of OCD in seeking reassurance. Resisting reassurance will increase your level of anxiety and doubt. It’s not dangerous. It’s unpleasant. Be tenacious. Keep resisting. Shrug. Stick with it. Tolerate it. 

If you want to be set free, there is no other choice. You can start doing it now or do it years down the road. But, if you don’t start now…OCD will only rob you of more and more. 

Resisting reassurance is what you’re going to have to do eventually. Why not just get it over with? Lean in to the pain and break free.

Watch this cool video I made for you!