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Beat OCD: The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions

There’s More to Being Compulsion-Free Than Just Stopping

How to stop excessive hand washing.
I’ll be done soon…

Have you ever been in the middle of a compulsion and someone said: “Just knock it off!” And you replied, “If it was that easy don’t you think I would just stop?” The best advice on how to resist compulsions doesn’t include to, “just knock it off.”

Very, very few people with OCD can go cold turkey and “just knock it off.” So many times people have said to me, “I’m just going to stop all of it. Right now. No more compulsions.” They mean it with all their heart. And then they walk to their car performing compulsions.

Going Cold Turkey Has Little to Do With Staying Compulsion-Free

If you want to know what it feels like to just knock it off and go cold turkey, it’s like dumping all kinds of poison in a sess pool and sitting in it. Taking your hands and putting the slop all over your face and body. Breathing it in and doing nothing to save yourself.

If you sat there long enough, believe it or not, you’d become desensitized. But, just like any kind of sobriety, the urge will return. You’ll still want to perform a compulsion. 

There’s more to being compulsion-free than just stopping.

The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions

Put an end to your compulsions by applying these seven principles:

  1. It’s “whatever” therapy! Talk to your OCD in a nonargumentative manner. “Yup, maybe that will happen. Time will tell.”  Don’t reassure OCD. Instead, shrug and say “This could be unpleasant. I’ll just have to find out.” It’s all about the “whatever.”  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  If you can trick your brain into thinking you’re smiling with a pen sideways in your mouth, you can trick your brain into thinking “whatever” with a shrug!
  2. Build a hierarchy. Resist the easiest compulsion first and keep resisting until it no longer bothers you to resist. Then, like climbing a ladder, resist the next hardest compulsion and the next hardest and so forth.
  3. Set your intentions to provoke OCD. Confront a trigger you’ve been avoiding. While confronting the trigger refuse to do a compulsion. Talk to OCD as described in #1. Once this trigger no longer bothers you, move onto the next more difficult trigger. 
    Apply These Principles to End Compulsions
  4. Easiest first, then hard. If you give in and perform a compulsion, go back and confront the same trigger again and again until there is no compulsive behavior. If you’re stuck, maybe there’s an easier trigger that you skipped or need to go back to.
  5. Don’t stop ’til you reach the top. Build momentum. Keep moving up the ladder of challenges. When it gets easier, ask yourself, “How can I make this harder?” Remember, climb the ladder while always refusing to do a compulsion. 
  6. Shift into challenge mode. Wishing you did not have OCD or have certain thoughts is of no use to you. Wishing causes more suffering. It’s important to see your anxiety and thoughts as a challenge–an opportunity to practice your skills. This is no time to play the role of a victim. You don’t have to like anxiety but you do have to want it.
  7. Accept responsibility. If you give into a compulsive behavior, admit what you are doing. No excuses. Own it. Name it. Keep away from the “story” of why your OCD tells you to do the compulsion. “I’m choosing to feed my OCD right now. I know this will make OCD stronger. I’m avoiding discomfort and that’s the only reason why I’m choosing to do this compulsion.” Get this message to your brain every single time you do a compulsion!
Resist compulsions
Creating new pathways takes time

Applying these principles will keep you compulsion-free. It’s a slow and difficult place to start, but once you pick up some momentum it gets easier and therefore, goes faster. Rather than shocking your brain, you are rewiring it. This takes time!

It takes time because you are training your brain how to experience anxiety.

I don’t tell my clients to “knock it off!”  And, I hope those who love someone with OCD don’t say it either! There’s more to beating OCD than just “knocking it off.”

Resist Compulsions by Making Little Changes Over Time

People with OCD benefit from the very effective systematic method of resisting compulsions. Set reachable goals and make little changes over a period of time. With each success, you will grow more confident and more tolerant of anxiety.

It may take time and patience, (click for video) but it’s how you win the battle. At the suggestion of resisting compulsions, do you take a big gulp and say, “I’m getting anxious just thinking about it.” My response to more anxiety? “Great! You need the practice!”

It’s time to learn how to experience anxiety without a compulsion.

You can get started today! The first step, of course, is to identify each compulsion. You’ve got to know what you’re resisting, in order to resist!

Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:

For a long-term effect, commit to a systematic plan to stop compulsions. Include all of the above seven principles in your plan. Going cold turkey has little to do with staying compulsion-free. 

Check back for the next post which will explain the difference between an observable compulsion and a mental compulsion. It’s important to know the difference because mental compulsions can be very sneaky!

Resisting compulsions
Everything you ever wanted to know about how to resist compulsions

The next several posts on resisting compulsions will include:

  • What Is a Compulsion?
  • The True Purpose of a Compulsion
  • If a Compulsion Makes Me Feel Better, Why Would I Stop?
  • I Already Tried Resisting and It Didn’t Help
  • Can You Promise If I Resist It Will Help?
  • I’ve Got Way Too Much Anxiety to Resist Compulsions
  • It’s Too Risky to Stop My Compulsions, Someone Else Could Be Hurt
  • Is it Okay If I Use Distraction to Resist Compulsions?
  • Resisting Compulsions Just Doesn’t Feel Right
  • My Compulsions Are Out of Habit Not Fear
  • If I Stop One Compulsion Another One Will Just Pop Up
  • How Do I Find the Strength and Willpower to Resist Compulsions When I Don’t Have the Energy?
  • A Case Study on Someone Who Tried to Resist Compulsions
Resisting compulsions
Questions? I can help!

If you have questions about how to resist compulsions be sure to add them to the comment section on this post. In addition to the topics mentioned above, I’ll be sure to address your questions and give you…

The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions

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!

 

Is Anger Making Your OCD Worse or Better?

What Role Does Anger Play in the Symptoms of OCD?

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

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

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

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

Anger As a Defense Mechanism

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

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

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

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

Compulsions Are Used to Alleviate Anxiety and/or Anger. 

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

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

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

Why Does it Matter?

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

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

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

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

What to Do About Anger?

 

Practice Mindfulness Exercises

Notice anger the same way anxiety is noticed. 

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

Talk to anger with loving attention.160_f_118764193_rvbtrzf2f0wveh4bctpacdsnzevmd9hv

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

Feeling and Acting Are Not the Same

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn towards the anger and practice mindfulness exercises.

5 Mistakes People Make When Having Bad OCD Thoughts

dreamPeople with OCD aren’t the only ones thinking the worst thoughts at the most inappropriate times. Everybody gets weird scary bad thoughts. One time while petting my dog Bella, I thought, “She’s so muscular; she’d make a good stew.” I was shocked! But, I wasn’t appalled. I said, “Okay, that was weird.” Everybody gets weird thoughts but not everybody experiences shame or guilt from those thoughts. Here are five mistakes people with OCD make when they have weird scary bad thoughts:

Mistake #1 Keep It a Secret

freddykIf Freddy Krueger was living in your basement would you keep it a secret? No! You would get someone to help you outwit Freddy Krueger! Would you feel ashamed that Freddy Krueger picked your house to hide out in? No! That wouldn’t even cross your mind. You’ve got this bad dude living in your mind and it’s not your fault! The only time you shouldn’t tell someone (e.g., therapist, parent, best friend, and family member) is if you’re just trying to get reassurance that you’re a good person.

Mistake #2 Getting Reassurance ok

If you have OCD then you know you’re not supposed to seek reassurance. If you have a bad thought, you can’t ask someone to reassure you and say, “It’s just OCD. You are not your thoughts. You’d never do that.” That’s ok if you’re newly diagnosed but if you’ve been dealing with OCD for a while, you need something more than relabeling OCD. Too much relabeling ends up turning into reassurance. And reassurance feeds OCD. It’s like alcohol to an alcoholic—there’s never enough. junkie

But, you can get help to outwit OCD. In fact it’s great to get people to help you to boss it back: “Hey, I’m having a really bad thought about _______. I don’t want you to reassure me but can you remind me of something I have in my toolbox to help me boss it back?”

Mistake #3 Trying to Rationalize Why You’re Thinking What You’re Thinking

If you try to explain, excuse or justify your thoughts you’re spending way too much time on the thought. When I had the thought about chopping Bella up for stew, I didn’t try to figure out why I had that thought or what it meant. I shrugged and said, “Weird” and kept petting her belly. Get to the shrug as fast as possible. Say: “Whatever, So What, Who Cares.” As soon as you analyze the thought or associated feelings you’re inviting OCD to take you deeper into this obsession. OCD robs you of enough. Don’t go down the rabbit hole with OCD. It’s not worth it. If you’ve been down the rabbit hole you know it’s a very long horrible journey.

If you can’t shrug at the thought get help from someone who knows what’s in your “Boss it Back” toolbox. If you don’t have a “Boss it Back” toolbox be sure to read next week’s blog.

Mistake#4 Not Shrugging at the Thoughts

A shrug shows that you are committed to “let go or be dragged.” Shrugging is not avoiding. It’s not suppressing or hiding either. Shrugging is giving your brain a clear message that you don’t care about the thought or worry. Your brain’s alarm system (the amygdala) is misfiring and when you shrug, it stops firing. shrug

It’s not easy to shrug if you’re already caught up in evaluating the thought or feelings. Shrugging is your first line of defense. If it isn’t the anxiety worsens and you’re going to start trying to avoid your triggers.

Mistake#5 Avoiding Triggers

If you don’t face whatever it is that is triggering the bad thoughts then the thoughts will become intense and frequent, and the anxiety will take over. You’ve got to get as close as you can to your triggers. That’s why exposure and response prevention is very effective in treating OCD. The more you face your triggers the more desensitized you become.

Never put your life on hold because of bad thoughts. Keep doing everything you want to do or need to do, even if the thoughts follow you. Better yet, go on the offensive and invite OCD to bother you when you know you are going to be around a trigger.

If you find yourself stressed out about bad thoughts, identify which mistake you’re making and take corrective action. Get someone to help you remember what’s in your Boss it Back Toolbox. toolboxIf you don’t know what’s in your toolbox make sure you read next week’s blog.

If you want to comment or add to this list of mistakes please feel free to do so.