If you have OCD then you know it’s an enormous force to come up against. There are moments of clarity when you know it’s nothing more than a neurological condition. “I know that’s ridiculous” and you give OCD a disinterested shrug. But, then there’re times when you’re flooded with fear and you totally forget to boss it back. In these moments OCD seems like a merciless bully and you don’t dare assert yourself.
Chances are you have an equally difficult time asserting yourself with people. That’s because a person with OCD detects, perceives and labels situations as threatening when they aren’t. “If I tell this person what I want then I’ll sound mean.” So what? Work on your tone! Say what you mean but don’t say it mean. True, sometimes there really is danger, but not to the catastrophic degree that OCD has you believing. “If I say no to him I’ll be a lonely old maid the rest of my life.” The OCD brain impairs your ability to reason. It keeps you in fight, flight or freeze mode. So when you encounter a situation that requires you to be assertive, you either:
- Come on too strong to force the unpleasantries to stop
- Hide and avoid the unpleasant situation or person
- Freeze and regret not standing up for yourself
While most people have a hard time being assertive, a person with OCD has an even more difficult time. You have deeply embedded neurocircuitry that tells you to do the same thing over and over and over. This circuitry is deeply embedded but has no deep meaning. That’s where the tragedy lies; you think it does have deep meaning. Brain circuitry is nothing more than patterns like on a flannel shirt. Patterns develop based on usage. Your circuitry tells you to fight flight or freeze when there is uncertainty. Asserting yourself can result in any number of possibilities—that’s a lot of uncertainty! Fight flight or freeze is your default circuitry.
To be assertive you must step outside of your comfort zone, assume whatever risk you think is there and accept uncertainty. In order to become assertive you have to break the deeply embedded code in your neurocircuitry that wrongfully cries out: “Don’t Do It!” If you break this code and practice being assertive with people, you’ll be bossing your OCD around like a pro. You get good at what you practice.
Being assertive is stating what you want. It sounds like this: “I want…I need…It’s important to me.” Use a matter-of-fact tone of voice. There is no need for emotion and if you remain calm you will actually remove 70% of the other person’s urge be dramatic. You’re taking ownership of what you want, using direct eye contact and your posture is energetic, not slouched or aggressive. “I” statements work with OCD too. If you truly don’t want to be doing compulsions, then you have to stand up for what it is that you do want! “What’s important to me, OCD, is that I spend time with my family. Lying in bed all day—that’s not what I want.”
Repeat and Don’t Attack
After you communicate what you want you are likely to get a “yeah, but” response. You acknowledge the rebuttal (“hmmm that’s interesting…”) and then repeat your point of view again; what it is you want. Don’t attack back by trying to be logical. The same goes for OCD. Do not try to reason with OCD. Just repeat what it is you want. Don’t engage in any lengthy explaining or defensive argument.
Be Absurd and Over the Top
If a peer is being rude to you take it to an absurd level. If someone calls you an idiot because you made a mistake exaggerate your mistake to absurdity. “Oh you’re right this mistake is serious. I can’t seem to stop making mistakes. One of these days my mistake is going to end all mankind.” This by the way is exactly how to talk to OCD. Agree with it to the point of absurdity.
Rehearse Being Assertive
I’ve attached a video of 10 scenarios of people struggling with being assertive. Watch all 10 clips every day for 7-14 days. This is called a computer-aided exposure exercise. Studies show that people who experience Exposure Therapy vicariously improve more than someone who doesn’t.
Another way to break the code of fight flight freeze is to imagine being relaxed in uptight situations. Listen to this Assertive Meditation.
Finally, we have some good advice from Dr. Spock. He responded to most things with nothing more than curiosity and intrigue. Nothing kills a bully’s buzz more than fascination. Same goes with OCD. It’s hard to be afraid when you act fascinated.
Please consider sharing this post with anyone you know that needs to be more assertive. Also at the top of the post click on “Leave a Comment.” Feel free to ask questions, tell a short story or share an idea! We’re building a community of bossy pants!