Tag Archives: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

ERP With a Different Twist

Compulsions Are Nothing More Than a Coping Skill Gone Rogue

If you use avoidance behaviors or mental neutralizing rituals to manage anxiety and obsessional thoughts, then you’ve selected compulsions as a coping mechanism. You believe compulsions have value. Naturally, if a coping skill seems useful, you’ll use it often. The more you use a coping skill, the more mindless or automatic the use of it becomes.

Bossy-Pants OCD
A Compulsion Is a Coping Skill in Excess

Your brain perceives a threat or senses something unpleasant, your body reacts, and your brain selects a coping mechanism—and in your case, it’s often a compulsion. You employ a repetitive and well-oiled skill that has helped you cope in the past. You can employ this skill mindlessly—with no concern for consequences.

Ta-Da…You’ve mastered a coping skill!

Just because you’ve mastered a coping skill doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

Even when you think it’s a healthy coping skill because an authority or role model told you to do it—it can be a compulsion.

Have you ever been taught this coping skill: “A thought is just a thought.”

If you’ve read Brain Lock or talked with a therapist who doesn’t use ERP, then no doubt you’ve been reassured, “Just because you think it doesn’t mean you want it.” Many people have become proficient at repeating, “It’s just OCD, it’s not me. I am not my thoughts.” 

Yeesh! It’s a coping skill gone compulsive!

Compulsions aren’t spontaneous. They’re learned. Through trial and error, and reinforcement a compulsion is born.

It’s true; you are not your thoughts. You are your compulsions.

Compulsions form your loss of identity—and your lack of sense of self. I wish I had a nickel every time a client said to me, “I don’t know who I am without my compulsions.”

You and your compulsions are joined at the hip. Two peas in a pod. But, let’s get this straight…if you are engaging in compulsions you CAN’T know who you are. Drop the compulsions, and you WILL find yourself again!

Coping skills are employed for a reason—to achieve a goal. When you employ a compulsion, what is your goal?

Maybe you’re saying, “Tammy, I use compulsions to stop something bad from happening.” ~or~ “I use compulsions to try and figure out something important. I’m trying to answer a question that is gnawing at me.”

Ummmm, nope. That’s nothing but a hoax. Compulsions have no effect on anything but the quality of your life. Trick. deception. Fraud. Scam. I know you won’t argue that compulsions are all of that and more. Nevertheless, it’s how you cope.

Peel off the many layers of why you profess to engage in compulsions. You will discover you perform compulsions as a way to cope. You use compulsions to fire up or extinguish a feeling.

If you were willing to experience any feeling—all feelings—what would life be like for you? You’d be compulsion-free!

If you agreed to coexist with your feelings and obsessional thoughts, there would be no need to neutralize an intrusive thought. No more mental acts. No more trying to get to the bottom of who you are. No more rewinding, replaying, or forecasting. No more fixing. No more controlling what you can’t. No more hypervigilance. 

If you were willing to experience uneasiness the quality of your life would significantly improve. I’m not saying you have to enjoy anxiety or fear. I’m just saying you’d be compulsion-free if you agreed to coexist with your thoughts and feelings.

Tired of compulsions? Then apply the principles of Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP).

But hold on!!! If you decide to engage in ERP, the reason you’re doing it is critical. What is your goal? What do you hope to achieve through confronting OCD and resisting compulsions?

Are you engaging in ERP to stop thoughts? Bzzzzz. Wrong. Are you participating in ERP to avoid feeling unsettled or anxious? Bzzzzz. Wrong. Are you employing ERP to get rid of OCD? Wrong! Are you engaging in ERP to fire up anxiety or an uneasy uncertain feeling? Ding ding ding. RIGHT!

How else can you learn to tolerate an unpleasant emotion unless you hunt down ways to feel it?

You can’t heal what you won’t feel!

Now I want to give you, the reader, a peek at a therapy session:

Let’s say that for an exposure exercise you put a big piece of spinach in your teeth and talk to people all day.

ERP With a Different Twist

Predicting what will happen if you do this exposure is not new to the practice of ERP. The different twist is to make sure you lay it on thick. Don’t make little of what could happen. Be vivid. Go beyond saying you’ll “be laughed at” or people “will stare.” 

What do you predict will happen? Think about your worst fears. Go for it! Don’t just predict someone will think “less” of you. Use your words! Use foul distasteful adjectives! Amplify, magnify, go into detail and elaborate what you fear could happen.

Okay, I predict this will happen: People will be disgusted with my poor hygiene. They’ll accuse me of not bathing too. They’ll think I’m of low intelligence. I’ll be accused of never brushing my teeth. Someone will hand me floss and say, “Here, floss. Your teeth are disgusting.” Because of that spinach in my teeth, people will call me, a big fat pig! Oink Oink.

Now that we have gone hog wild and been thoroughly descriptive with your predictions, it’s time to put the spinach in your teeth.

ERP With a Different Twist

Make sure it’s noticeable. You might think, “Maybe we should start with a small piece.” Not really. You can if you want. That’s traditional ERP; slowly working your way up to a higher level of anxiety. But then you’re not fairly testing out your hypothesis. We need to see if your predictions come true!

We need to make sure the spinach is in plain sight! We need to find out what happens! Uh-oh…you’re losing your nerve, aren’t you? What are you having a hard time believing? Are you worried you can’t handle this experiment?

I’m worried I will be looked down upon. I’m going to fret all day long if that spinach is in my teeth. I’ll be demoralized and just want to die.

Do you feel like the anxiety is too much to tolerate?

YES!!! A thousand times yes! This is a horrible idea!

Okay, so that’s another prediction you’re making…”I can’t handle the anxiety if I do this.”

Let’s regroup for a minute. Do you want to live well with OCD?

Yes.

Well, then we need to test out your hypothesis! 

Be willing to find out what happens, and you can live well with OCD.

Before you put the spinach in your teeth, I just want to point out that it’s important to engage in ERP for the experience, not the outcome.

Be willing to find out what happens when you put your hypothesis to the test. In summary, what is your hypothesis?

I predict

People will think I’m a disgusting pig. I’ll be cast aside. I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.

I predict 

I can’t handle all of this anxiety. I’ll have a panic attack and never recover.

It’s been two weeks since our appointment. How’d you do?

Surprisingly, great!

Awesome! Despite your predictions, you feel great about your efforts! 

So, did your prediction turn out to be factual?

No one even seemed to care about the spinach in my teeth. There’s no way they missed it, but nobody seemed grossed out. Eventually, somebody pointed out I had spinach in my teeth, but it was no big deal. We laughed.

Your predictions were false. There was no catastrophe. Nothing bad happened. Nobody called you a pig or accused you of not bathing. And, you’re happy about your discovery!

The purpose of the exercise was to poke holes in your prediction. Did it work?

Yes.

But, if someone had called you a pig, would that be factual or an opinion?

An opinion. I can’t be a pig. I’m a human.

And by the way, only a person who is in pain would call you a name for having spinach in your teeth. A happy or caring person would have no need to bring you down. If someone calls you a name, we must have compassion for that person who must be hurting.

Alright, but there’s more to ERP than trying to disprove a hypothesis.

What if your fear cannot be readily disproven? Maybe you fear something that could happen months or even years from now. Or, what if you fear something where the outcome can never be known? Lesson #1 will be of little help to you.

ERP With a Different Twist

When does the exposure end? Hint: It doesn’t end when your anxiety comes down.

It’s not so bad to look foolish, be stared at, ignored, or called names. It’s unpleasant but not dangerous. The purpose of exposure exercises is to discover you’re more capable of tolerating anxiety and unpleasant events than you thought.

I didn’t think I could walk around with spinach in my teeth, but I did it! I didn’t panic! 

Did you keep the spinach in your teeth until your anxiety came down, or did you stay in the situation until your brain got an update about your ability to cope with the discomfort?

I ended the exposure when my anxiety came down. It came down when I realized my predictions were false.

How will this help you for obsessions that can’t be disproven? 

The lessening of anxiety because you recognized a discrepancy between what is predicted and what occurs is nice and all…but it’s not enough. There are many obsessional thoughts you can’t disprove. And many obsessions consist of questions that simply can’t be answered.

But, I could probably do that spinach experiment again now that I know my anxiety will lessen.

Yes, but will that be true at a later time or in a different context? Let’s not care so much about your anxiety lessening. If we place emphasis on reducing the anxiety, what kind of mixed message is that? That’s teaching you that you should be able to control your anxiety. And isn’t that what compulsions do?

Anxiety is inevitable, a part of life and it can be tolerable. Accepting this as the truth is how you can live well with OCD.

It’s important to stay with an exposure until you discover it’s okay to be anxious and have weird thoughts. Instead of trying to fix your anxiety through exposures, learn to be with or experience your anxiety.

If I ask you, “what surprised you about this experiment” and you answer, “I was surprised by how well I tolerated the fear” then hurray mission accomplished! But, if you answered, “I was surprised nothing bad happened,” that’s probably not going to translate into long-term benefits. Nor will it be applicable for every obsessional thought.

It’s about the lesson, not the lessening.

It doesn’t matter if your anxiety comes down. It’s all about the experience, tolerating it and discovering it’s okay to step out of your comfort zone. 

ERP With a Different Twist

The exposure ends not when your anxiety comes down, but when these objectives are met:

  • You realize anxiety is unpleasant, not dangerous.
  • You’re surprised by how well you handled the anxiety without a compulsion.
  • You accept it’s important to coexist with unpleasant feelings and obsessional thoughts.
  • You exceed your expectations about being able to continue an exposure even while feeling anxious and having obsessions.

If you’ve achieved those objectives even though your anxiety is still high, the exposure is considered completed.

Focus on the anxiety being tolerable; not the anxiety being fixed or controlled.

ERP With a Different Twist

You don’t even have to rate your anxiety. Instead, pay attention to your ability to withstand and tolerate anxiety and obsessional thoughts.

I end the exposure when I learn that I can stand uncertainty and anxiety. I tolerate experiencing these feelings and admit the feelings are unpleasant, not dangerous. And third, I must reinforce my strength and courage by admitting how surprised I am. Only then do I stop the exposure?

Exactly. 

Wait, that last objective . . . How do I exceed my expectations about being able to continue an exposure?

Step outside your comfort zone even more. Demand the anxiety become worse.

Not only put spinach in your teeth but also part your hair differently. Talk to someone really important with spinach in your teeth. Adding a bit more discomfort to the situation, and the fact that you survived it, would have even surprised you more! You would have exceeded your expectations.

One more time, what do you mean by “coexist” with my anxiety and obsessional thinking?

Be a person not willing to be overcome by anxiety or obsessions. Accept that anxiety and weird thoughts will be a part of your life and that you must live with this fact and tolerate it. Do not try to eradicate or influence thoughts or anxiety. Despite your anxiety and obsessions, agree to live together.

Remember, the practice of ERP is about the lessons, not the lessening!

ERP is more effective than any other intervention. AND, research continues to find ways to improve the short and long-term benefits of stepping outside of the comfort zone. Incorporate all three lessons into your daily life and you can live well with OCD.

One Thing Bossy-Pants OCD Hates

Bossy-Pants OCDTo cope with bossy-pants OCD, you might have gotten the idea it’s necessary to perform compulsions to feel “just right” or prevent bad things from happening.  Performing compulsions or mental acts might be what you’ve been doing for years. In your mind, it’s what you’re supposed to do or what you’ve got to do. At least, that’s what Bossy-Pants tells you.

Hallelujah, there are times you defy OCD! Somehow you pull it together, and you say, “NO!!! I’m not going to do that ridiculous compulsion.” In this precious moment, you have gained clarity and recognize that OCD is nothing more than a BFL (big fat liar). You resist the compulsion.

The anxiety rises. You ride it out. You use self-talk like, “Maybe it’s true OCD. Maybe it’s not. Time will tell.” Strangely your prediction doesn’t come true. It’s not the end of the world. Nothing bad happens. You tolerate the anxiety better than predicted. The discomfort dissipates. All by itself. No compulsion was needed. 

OCD strategiesTo your surprise, you don’t feel particularly anxious. But, alas you don’t feel amazing either. You don’t even take the time to pump your fist in the air and say, “Take that bossy-pants OCD!!! KAPOW!”

When you win the battle and outlast OCD are you reminded of your strength and courage? Do you feel blessed to have what it takes to be tricky enough to outwit OCD?

Bossy-Pants OCD Hates Gratitude

Developing the skill to break free of OCD involves much more than Exposure & Response Prevention. Without self-appreciation and gratitude, you will only end up white-knuckling your way through most of it.

Whenever you resist a compulsion be sure to savor the victory. If you have OCD then celebrating victories might not occur to you. Patting yourself on the back doesn’t come naturally to you.

Not honoring your achievements is a problem that needs your attention!

Don’t wait for OCD or anybody else to say, “Good job.” You must take time out to be thankful for all that you are doing to break free from OCD. Each success that you experience is a reason to be thankful.

Your ability to #bossitback means that you are developing a hard-earned skill. Give thanks for the ability to say no to OCD. Even if it’s only once in a while or some of the time–give thanks. Don’t ever, EVER minimize your ability to defy OCD.

beat OCDStay in the winning mode and keep your skills sharp by giving thanks. The more time you spend recognizing your victories, the higher the likelihood of beating OCD the next time, and the next time, and the next time.

If someone wants to give you a high five don’t deny; fortify!!!

Accept compliments. Put your hand on your heart and say, “thank you that means a lot to me.” Welcome the support you get from loved ones who are honoring your quest to break free from OCD. Their emotional support and encouragement will help you face the next fear. Recognize the gift your family and friends give to you when they applaud your efforts. Don’t deny or pooh-pooh their praise.

Truly appreciate when others point out your victories. Don’t take for granted people’s acknowledgment of your successes. Give much thought to their praise. Let the sun shine inside your mind and heart. Be happy to hear their kind words. 

When someone tells you how happy they are that you resisted a compulsion, allow yourself to feel inspired and you will endure again. 

When you say, “thanks that means a lot to me” it readies your mind to repeat the success. Embrace the positive feeling of being appreciated. Accept recognition from others. They too are being positively impacted by your hard work.

Even when others forget to recognize all your hard work know that the impact of resisting a compulsion is still just as significant. Other people don’t live in your mind. They don’t know what you’re up against. So if they fail to acknowledge your victories, don’t use it as an excuse to downplay your achievements. Minimizing your success will only cripple you.

It’s quite simple. There are negative consequences if you don’t celebrate your victories.

It is an astounding blessing to be able to accept challenges and bulldoze your way through OCD. Whenever you feel your hope and determination waning, take a moment to recount all of your successes. Don’t drift away from recognizing even the tiniest step forward. If you make light of your victories, you’re leaving the door wide open for OCD to close you out of future triumphs. 

Be grateful for each time you overcome OCD’s senseless demands. Be proud and give thanks when you resist a compulsion. Let the gratitude wash over you. Savor the moment of your victory. Basking in your achievements will rewire your brain!

Be thankful for each opportunity to learn and grow. Find the silver lining. 

Self-Reflection Questions:

  1. When you #bossitback how do you celebrate your victory? Eating a special treat? Listening to your favorite song? 
  2. How do you savor the moment of a triumph and anchor it in your mind? Do you do a happy dance? Clap your hands? High five somebody?
  3. How often do you express gratitude for all your hard work? Not often? How’s that working out for you?
  4. Do you say ‘thanks’ to others when they compliment you?
  5. Can you feel the gratitude of others even if they don’t thank you? If they don’t acknowledge your hard work does that mean they don’t notice it? Maybe in the past, you’ve shown discomfort when they spoke about your accomplishments.
  6. Are you treated differently by others when you pooh-pooh their praise? Do they become less verbal about your triumphs?
  7. What moves you forward: Putting yourself down or picking yourself up?
Gratitude

Gift Idea: Gratitude the Great OCD Sanitizer

What Happened at the OCD Conference

This year at the OCD Conference I spent all of my time at the Exhibition Hall. I was exhibiting, “ERP in a BOX“™ and as a result, hundreds of people told me about their challenges with OCD. I’ve never talked with so many people at once about ERP and it was energizing. 

People from all over the world stopped by and shared their stories. We had a lot of laughs with two women from Japan and had a thought-provoking conversation with a young man from Germany who is working hard for the USA on climate change.

I was especially concerned about a couple who stated there is no therapist in India to help them learn about Exposure and Response Prevention. I encouraged them to come back to the USA, rent an apartment and attend an intensive outpatient program like Rogers Behavioral Health.

I met a Mom and Dad who told me how their son had been hijacked by OCD. Thankfully, he broke free and their story brought me to tears. I told them I wanted to meet their son and they introduced me to him later on. His eyes were bright and he grinned from ear to ear. As soon as I laid eyes on him I said, “up top” and we shared a “high-five.” I know how hard he had to work to get free.

What Happened at the OCD Conference

I met two of the girls that were in the movie UNSTUCK. (Which, by the way, should have won an Oscar Award for Documentary Feature.) It was an incredibly moving experience to watch hundreds and hundreds of people thank these kids and their parents for raising awareness about OCD and ERP. 

A very energetic and brilliant doctor introduced herself to me. I wish she saw patients because she reminded me of an OCD whisperer!!!! Instead, she is devoting her time to very important research for the OCD Genetic Study @SUNY Downstate Medical Center. She’s hunting down the OCD gene.

One of the most unique exhibits was a nonprofit organization called pickingme.org. It wasn’t uncommon to see people at this table with stickers on their face and arms. (It’s better to pick at the stickers than the skin.)

Well-known for his treatment of skin picking, the famous Fred Penzel stopped by our exhibit and chatted with us for a while. He’s quite the history buff in addition to being a leading OCD specialist. The doctor who usually treats celebrities with addiction, Dr. Drew, was in the house as a keynote speaker. He only breezed through the Exhibit Hall so we didn’t get to chat.

I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter “A Penny For Your Intrusive Thoughts” and met one of the founders of this movement. It can be a triggering site for people with OCD. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Right??? It’s an opportunity to practice using #bossitback skills!

This is something I am asked about all the time: Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This is a noninvasive brain treatment and its FDA application for the treatment of OCD is pending. The doctor at this exhibit approached me inquiring about my availability to help with this research. Yeesh…I don’t know how but I’d certainly try to find the time. TMS and ERP combined to reduce the volume of white matter…KAPOW! 

Near our exhibit, an OCD Foundation affiliate out of Jacksonville Florida had a table displaying very cool FEARLESS swag from Natural Life. If you’re looking for gifts to give people with OCD this is a meaningful place to check out.

One of my favorite moments was being able to hug people I’ve only known through Facebook or through this blog. (I’m so glad you came by to say hello!!!) And finally one of the highlights of the weekend was to see an OCD thriver break out with dance and song at karaoke! She was belting it out! Now that’s a healthy coping skill!

Each year I attend the conference it’s apparent that OCD awareness is reaching new and brighter heights. It was validating to hear so many people say that “ERP in a Box” is brilliant. But, it was invigorating to meet so many OCD thrivers because of ERP! You know what I say, “Nobody is healed until everybody is healed!” I’m not going to stop thinking of ways to beat OCD.

This and so much more happened at the OCD Conference! Save the date. The next one will be 7/19-21 in Austin Texas.

The Little Boy and His Crickets

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.

160_F_100424984_bJ1ZAQ1ILMccEmbvbMXlDMoMlNI6fJe6First, 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.

160_F_71319414_7iyMT49HLM3sGxpXsyIwfB413Hv0AU88

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.

Obsessing About Obsessing

I have OCD

Pure O

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. 

Pure O
There’s got to be a way out of this.

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?

Therapist: No.

Pure OSam: 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?

Sam: Anxious.

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!~

Pure O

How to Deal With OCD in 5 Seconds or Less

Here’s the problem with all the cool stuff you know about beating OCD. You can’t always remember the cool stuff. At least, not in the heat of the moment. When your anxiety is at a 6 or 7 (out of 7), you’re not going to remember much of anything that helps. You need something that doesn’t require a lot of thought. Something that takes less than 5 seconds.

It’s not your fault that you forget to use your tools! The reason you need a strategy that doesn’t take a lot of thought or mindfulness is that your Four Lobes (in your brain) are offline. When the Four Lobes are offline, the reptilian part of your brain takes over. Fight-Flight-Freeze. Danger-Danger-Danger. Fight-Flight-Freeze.

Your Four Lobes are there to help you. When the Four Lobes are online your brain is a lean, mean, fighting machine. The ability to be rational and logical is essential in beating OCD. But if your Four Lobes are offline, it’s impossible to think or feel like a reasonable person. Good news! You can get your Four Lobes online in less than 5 seconds.

The Four Lobes are Driven to Help You Adapt to Anything

Beating OCD

The Four Lobes remind you: If it’s not happening NOW…it’s NOT happening. Live in the moment and cross each bridge if you get there.

When the Four Lobes get deactivated, the ability to reason is lost. You need something that gets your Four Lobes back online. Something that doesn’t take a lot of thought and works in 5 seconds or less. Otherwise, you’ll spend days in your Threat-Alarm System.

The Threat-Alarm System is your Fear Center (a.k.a. Limbic System) and it is Driven to Alarm You!Beating OCD
Guess what triggers the Threat-Alarm System?

If you answered, “a worry” or “an unwanted, intrusive thought,” you’re WRONG!

OCD certainly spins a tangled web, but the tale itself isn’t what initially triggered the threat-alarm. At some level you know thoughts aren’t true, and feelings aren’t facts. But, something influences you, and suddenly you forget all of this. What influenced you? If you answered, “my thoughts,” you’re WRONG. 

Everybody gets weird, intrusive thoughts. Some people shrug them off. Some people don’t. Why? If it’s not the thought that triggers the fear. What else could it be? 

Plenty of people can touch doorknobs and eat food that fell on the floor. Almost 60% of people don’t even wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Why do some people care and others don’t?

The more you care about your unwanted, intrusive thoughts the more your Four Lobes will fail to function. The size, activity level and the number of neural connections will only increase in the fear center of your brain.

What makes people live in their Fear Center and others in their Four Lobes? We could certainly propose that anxious people were born with an overactive Fear Center. It would explain why you’re more likely to feel threatened and subsequently lash out, avoid or freeze-up. 

Maybe you weren’t born this way, and it has more to do with experiences early in life. Don’t worry. We’re not going to excavate or dig up those early life experiences. That certainly wouldn’t take 5 seconds! 

It’s probably a combination of nature and nurture that causes you to live in your Fear Center. But, what triggers your alarm system? Do your thoughts trigger your Fear Center or could it be something else?

Guess What Triggers Your Threat-Alarm System?

Your thoughts don’t trigger the alarm system. The trigger comes from sensory input. Something you saw, smelled, tasted, touched, or heard triggered your threat-alarm system. Anything you perceive requires sensory input.

Something you saw, smelled, tasted, touched, or heard is associated with a memory of an early learning experience. You probably don’t even remember what that experience was. It could have happened in real life or on TV. 

You think you’re afraid of something bad happening but oh….what tangled webs OCD weaves. The way it spins tales should earn it an Academy Award. OCD can make a story so believable that you think there’s fire where there’s only smoke.

The story is irrelevant. The sensory input is relevant. Stay away from the tale OCD is spinning. Do this instead:

  1. RECOGNIZE you were triggered by sensory input.
  2. Go into RELAXED BODY.

This will not take more than 5 seconds. Try it now. Set your stove or stopwatch to 10 seconds. Say, “Sensory input triggered me. Relax body.” Right now that might have taken you about 6 or 7 seconds to say, and you probably didn’t <YET> get into “relaxed body.” It’s okay with a little bit of practice look what you will learn to do in 5 seconds or less:

  1. You’ll notice the OCD tale,
  2. Attribute your anxiety to sensory input (not your thoughts or the OCD tale.)
  3. And get into the relaxed body

All in 5 seconds or less.

What Does “Relaxed Body” Mean?

Right now scan your neck and shoulders. Are they tight, tense, or stiff? Maybe you even have pain that travels down into your arm. Can you feel the knots and hard spots around your shoulders?

Your neck and shoulders have 12 bones. Your neck and shoulders are tight and tense when you’re not letting those 12 bones govern. You’re asking your muscles to do the work, and they can’t do it!

Your neck connects your body to your head. Imagine the responsibility! Your muscles can’t handle this job. They’re telling you this! Deuteronomy 31:27 “For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are.” Your muscles are rebelling! They don’t want the job! Let your bones do all the work.

OCD will spin tales until your neck and shoulder relax. As long as your muscles are tight, the Limbic system will stay online. Tight muscles signal danger. How can the Limbic system go offline when there is perceived danger. And the threat is first perceived by sensory input-not thought. 

We don’t have to figure out the specific sensory input. Just know it as a fact. Stay away from the OCD tale. Stick to the sensory input. Now ease into “relaxed body.”

This is not the same as relaxation therapy. We don’t have time for that or meditation. We only have less than 5 seconds. And we need to be able to do it on the go…we can’t go into a dimly lit room and take a break. This is done in real time.

How to Get Into “Relaxed Body”
  1. Let your bones do the work. When you turn over all responsibility to your bones, it will feel like you’re floating. Do this all day long! It’s not “set it and forget it.” Keep doing it whenever it occurs to you. It only takes 5 seconds! Or;
  2. Visualize that you are warming your hands over a fire or holding a warm beverage. Don’t close your eyes to do this. On the go just picture it in your mind. Or;
  3. Try to see what’s in your peripheral vision without moving your eyes from side to side. Or;
  4. Touch thumb to the index finger and say “sa”; thumb to the middle finger and say “ta”; thumb to ring finger and say “naa”; and thumb to pinky finger and say, “maa.” Or;
  5. Take deep breaths from the belly, not the chest. Inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to the count of 1. Your breath is portable; it goes wherever you go and this exercise can be done in real time.
Beating OCD Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

These techniques counteract the stress response which will immediately put your Four Lobes online. Choose what works for you as long as it’s something you can do on the go. You don’t need something you have to do behind a closed door. Do it on the move. And it needs to be something you can do in 5 seconds that doesn’t take a lot of thought.

Not Buying That Something So Simple Can Work?

Despite my efforts to explain that anxiety is a helpful messenger telling you to change course, and reminding you to keep your Code of Honor, there are still many who see anxiety as an evil perpetrator. I can spend a whole day with clients and not once do they mention their Code of Honor. Instead, they want to talk about the tale OCD is spinning–which is so irrelevant!

So those of you who continue to see OCD as a perpetrator, “how long do you want this perpetrator in your brain and body?” When you spend your time listening to the tales being spun, how does that work out? Why keep doing something that doesn’t work? Every time you break your Code of Honor you will experience anxiety or depression.

Try this instead: Attribute your anxiety to sensory input not story. Whenever you are anxious or notice tension in your neck, shoulders (or stomach) get into “relaxed body” and see what happens to your perpetrator.  Focus on your Code of Honor. It’s much more meaningful than the OCD tale.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

If It Looks Like a Duck, Swims Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck

Is It OCD? 

How do you know if you have OCD? Many people call upon me for my help because of their online research. They Googled their symptoms and discovered they sound a lot like someone with OCD. They’ve never been officially diagnosed, and when they find out there’s a name for what is going on in their mind, they are relieved and curious about treatment.

People Who Are Misdiagnosed

Then there are the people who have been misdiagnosed. They Googled their symptoms and thought they sounded like someone with OCD. Indeed, they do have OCD but are told they don’t. The doctor claims it’s not OCD because you “don’t excessively wash your hands.” ~or~ “That’s not OCD, because, everybody does that.” ~or~ “Everybody has a little OCD.” ~or~ “You’re not organized and tidy enough to have OCD.”

I apologize on behalf of all these practitioners. Just when I think the word is getting out and doctors and therapists are becoming more aware, I meet someone who has been suffering a long time because they’ve been in psychoanalysis forever. We have to keep educating, especially through OCD Awareness Week and showing films like Unstuck.

People Who Aren’t Certain It’s OCD

Then there are people who have been diagnosed with OCD by other practitioners, but this fact is not shared with me. The only reason they are seeking a meeting with me is for reassurance. “Maybe I didn’t tell the practitioner everything they needed to know to make the right diagnosis.”

They’ve been properly diagnosed with OCD. But, they need to keep hearing it. Similar to those who keep getting tested for HIV. The lab report is negative but they get tested repeatedly.  I don’t usually see these people again because they aren’t seeking treatment. Just reassurance.

Authors of books on OCD often get contacted for this same reason. Even my own clients will ask me, “Are you sure this isn’t something else? How do you know it’s OCD.” This is reassurance-seeking and so all I can do is shrug and say, “Maybe you don’t have OCD.”

What I really want to say to them is this:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck…then
…it probably is a duck!!!!!!!

It’s better not to try and get certainty. Worrying whether you have OCD is just another obsession. The way to handle any obsession is to respond with, “Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.” Then move on. Live your life.

A life of certainty is a life not lived. 

For those who cannot access the necessary services to get an official diagnosis, don’t spend all your time Googling trying to get to the bottom of it. You might end up in a rabbit hole.

How do you know if you have OCD?

If it’s important to you, then you probably won’t be able to know. OCD makes you doubt whatever is precious and sacred to you. But here are a couple of good ways to understand more about your symptoms:

Complete the most widely used screening tool for OCD, the YBOCS and bring the results to your practitioner who hasn’t yet realized you have OCD. Ask your practitioner or insurance company for a referral to a CBT therapist who uses Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) as part of the treatment plan. 

For those with no help or support, I also recommend a Facebook Group called “Friends with OCD.” Fortunately, there are people with OCD in this group that will lead you in the right direction. Don’t use this group for reassurance. Use it for education and support. 

The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsions Can Backfire

I tried to resist compulsions before, and it didn’t work. I felt worse! Why should I try again?

resist compulsive behavior
You can’t choose your thoughts but you can choose your reaction.

Resisting compulsive behavior and mental acts is a long process. The process has a beginning, middle and no end. At any time during the process you can:

  • expect to have setbacks
  • anticipate having POLS (Persistent, On-fire, Lasting, Sinking- feelings)
  • doubt resisting is worth the pain and agony
  • continue to have unwanted, intrusive thoughts even though you’re resisting compulsions

Contemplate this truth: Resisting compulsions is going to be the worst and best thing you’ve ever done.

In the beginning, more times than not you will think, “Resisting compulsions isn’t working.” If you think it’s not working, does that make it real? Does it mean you’re not getting better if you don’t feel better?

Does it mean you’re getting better only if you feel better? Such as when you’re performing a mental act or compulsion. Upon completion, you probably have some relief.  It’s only temporary, but let’s admit it, briefly, you feel better. Does that mean you’re getting better because you’re feeling better?

Not at all. To get better, you’re not going to feel better at first. Is that okay with you? Will you commit to resisting compulsions even though you’re going to have POLS? Besides, when you’re performing compulsions, you still have POLS.

Do this now: Put your hand on your heart and vow to do whatever it takes to get healthy. 

“That’s easier said than done.”

Of course! You’ve performed your rituals and mental acts to the point of automation. In other words, you’ve habituated to your compulsions. You’ve gotten used to them. Breaking a habit is hard! Does that mean you shouldn’t break it?

There is an excellent technique for this kind of automatic compulsive behavior. I call it “recontaminating the scene of the crime.” The crime is the compulsion. So whatever the compulsion “fixed,” your job is to unfix it. Recontaminate the scene by reintroducing the anxiety. For example, if you:

  • counted car door handles before you pulled out of a parking space, pull back into the spot and this time back out without looking at the car door handles.
  • sanitized after touching a doorknob, go back and touch the doorknob and resist washing.
  • rewound and replayed a conversation you had earlier to see if you said something bad, go ahead and say something bad.
  • scanned the environment to see if you dropped identifying information about yourself, drop part of your social security number in the parking lot and walk away.
  • checked the faucet too many times, turn the faucet back on and let it drip. Walk away. Don’t check.

The most critical part of recontaminating the scene is what you say to OCD while you’re doing it. Your words must be tough. Like this, “Oh yeah OCD? You think something bad is going to happen now that I recontaminated? OK OCD. Whatever happens, happens. Time will tell.”

Resisting compulsions is going to be the worst thing you’ve ever done. It’s also going to be the best thing you’ve ever done.

The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire

#1   Did you resist compulsions for the right reason?

The reason to resist compulsions is not to get rid of unwanted thoughts or anxiety. That can be the prize but never the goal. Put your nose to the grindstone—focus heavily on the work not the bonus.

The right reason to resist compulsions is to learn how to be incredibly strong, perceptive and empathic. It’s the exercise of learning that is life-changing. Resist compulsions because you like working hard to learn how to be grateful and optimistic in dark times. Value the challenge, not the reward. 

#2   Did you think Control was all you needed?

“I can control my thoughts” is the same thing as saying “I can control my compulsions.” The name of the game is not CONTROL. Trying to control is what got you into this mess. It’s about surrender. Read on.

Don’t expect to control: Frantic Effort to Avoid Reality

#3   Did you put in an honest day’s work?

You need a strong work ethic. What is a strong work ethic? Stop asking others to help feed OCD with reassurance or safety behaviors. Be more cooperative with your team. Just because you don’t like what they’re telling you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear them out. 

Compulsive behavior
Dive in. This is no time to wait.

If you don’t put in the time, then the work won’t get done. Get a lot of therapy done each day. Be productive. This is no time to avoid—or be idle. You’re in the fight of your life. Climb your exposure hierarchy with a vengeance. Get to it!

Even after you’ve climbed your hierarchy go back and climb it again. Find some other fears to face. It’s how you keep your brain sharp and your OCD dull. This is a life-style, not a one shot fix.

People who have a strong work ethic are led by values—not fear. They are distinguished from others by their dedication, integrity, and self-discipline. Put your nose to the grindstone and focus heavily on your therapy. Let nothing get in your way of an honest day’s work.

Are you: Finding Excuses And Reasons?

The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire

#4     Was there a pity party goin’ on? 

If you think it’s unfair that you have OCD then your ability to power up and find strength will be quite limited. The sooner you accept you have this neurological condition and do something about it—the sooner you will do something about it!

Asking, “why is this happening to me” is not going to get you anywhere but deeper into the hole. When you’re resisting compulsions, you have to talk tough. “Oh yeah, OCD? You think if I don’t do this compulsion something bad will happen? Well, time will tell. Whatever happens, I’ll deal with it. I’d rather take the risk than live like this.”

You’re in the fight of your life. Stop wishing you weren’t. It is what it is. If you think like a victim, you will feel like a victim and then act like a victim. Wipe “I wish” from your vocabulary. Stop saying “I can’t.” Yes, you can.

Watch out for: Failure Expected And Received

#5   Did you enter the combat zone unwillingly or hesitantly?

Did you enter your OCD recovery program with boots on the ground? If you knew your loved one in the military didn’t go into combat yelling “BOOYAH” and instead was pleading, “No please…” you’d question his or her readiness. Can you afford to have OCD question your readiness?

compulsive behavior
Booyah! Let’s go! Now!

The moment your eyes open—your feet hit the floor, you are in COMBAT.  YOU NEED TO HIT THE FLOOR RUNNING. Resist compulsions and stick to the plan. Feelings don’t matter in combat. Second guessing your mission won’t save your life.

To help you remember BOOTS on the GROUND put a pair of old unused boots near your bed. Look at them when you wake up and remember you’re entering a combat zone. Until you master the skill of resisting compulsions, you’re in the fight of your life.

Drills develop skills. You’ll get good at whatever you practice. You can’t build skills on the run. Stay and fight.

Don’t: Forget Everything [you’ve learned] And Run!

#6   You didn’t surrender during the combat.

Resisting compulsions is not the traditional combat zone. Your combat is different. For you to outwit and outplay OCD, you need to proudly fly a white flag that reveals you’re surrendering.  

resist compulsive behavior
This is not how to resist! OCD is just as stubborn as the donkey!

Whatever OCD says might happen if you resist a compulsion, nod your head and agree. “Yes, maybe that is so. Time will tell. Whatever happens, happens. I will deal with it. It will be horrible, but I will handle it.”

After all, this ain’t your first rodeo. You’ve been through plenty of real-life situations. And you probably dealt with them better than most.

You’re really good in an actual crisis. It’s the things in your imagination that creep you out. But when push comes to shove, you’re the one who holds your head above water while others are drowning.

YOU ‘RE SO FREAKIN’ STRONG! BOOYAH!

Do: Face Everything And Rise!

The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire

#7    Did you stay in the moment?

OCD is the most significant force you will ever be up against. It knows what you fear. It will work very hard to keep you from ever having to feel that fear. OCD is not your enemy. It’s trying to protect you from feeling afraid.

Just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean something is wrong. But, OCD doesn’t know this! Just because you’re startled or anxious—it doesn’t mean stop.

If it’s not happening, now…it’s not happening. Stay in the moment. Live one moment to the next. OCD has no clue what this means. Do you?

“In this moment, right here, right now I’m pretty okay.”

Did you: Forget Everything’s [Actually] All Right?

Contemplate this truth until you understand it clearly: OCD doesn’t get the meaning of anxiety or weird thoughts. It can’t differentiate reality from imagination. You can’t count on OCD to lead the way.

#8   Did you give up too soon?

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will
When the road you’re trodding seems all uphill
When care is pressing you down a bit
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit
Oh, no, don’t you quit
Whoa, no

Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint on the clouds of doubt
But you never can tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems so far, ooh
Gotta stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit
And when things go wrong, oh, you must not quit
Oh, no, don’t you quit

You got to stick to the fight
When you’re hardest hit
And when things go wrong
No, oh, no, don’t you quit

Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up
You better not give up the fight
Don’t give up
Oh, no, no
  ~Caron Wheeler “Don’t Quit”

No Matter What, Stick To It

It takes a lot of patience, intention, and mindfulness. Arm yourself with inspirational stories of people who persevered and carried on even in the face of difficulty or adversity.

Think of all the famous stories we know about people who had stick-to-it-ness. Your story is no different.

  • Even after failing to land a role and being called too ugly, most Academy Award nominations, Meryl Streep never gave up on acting.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by the USA film school three times.
  • After his first performance, Elvis Presley was told, “You ought to go back to driving a truck.”
  • Dr. Seuss was turned down by over 25 different publishers.
  • At age 30, Steve Jobs was fired from the company he founded.
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven’s music teacher said he was hopeless.
  • Oprah Winfrey was told she “wasn’t fit for television.”
The ingredients for success
Inspiration, opportunity, creativity, patience, resilience, vision…All of this equals results.

The Day You Quit Is The Day You Were Going to Win!

  • Thomas Edison’s teacher told him he couldn’t learn anything.
  • Colonel Sanders became a world-known figure by marketing his “finger lickin good” Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). His recipe was rejected over 1,000 times before it was given a chance.
  • Before winning six NBA championships and receiving five Most Valuable Player awards, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. 
  • The Beatles were rejected by a recording studio that said, “They have no future in show business.” 
  • And Albert Einstein’s parents and teachers said he would never amount to much.

The secret ingredient all of the above people had is stick-to-it-ness. This ingredient is available to you too.

Contemplate this truth: A setback is a setup for a breakthrough.

Yes, Face Everything And Rejoice!
Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:

If you’re struggling with resisting compulsions, review the above 8 principles and see which ones need improvement. Don’t quit. Keep at it. Resisting compulsions is a marathon comprised of a series of sprints. 

resist compulsions
The storm clears eventually.

You are the blue sky. It may seem cloudy and the thunder may roll, but the blue sky always, always comes back.

This post concludes the series, “The Best Advice on How to Resist Compulsions.” Let me know which one(s) helped you the most. If I overlooked a topic that you have questions about please ltell me in the comment section! Other topics covered in this series:
Forget Compulsions Try This Instead

Compulsions: Once You Start It’s Hard to Stop

Compulsions Feed OCD

Compulsions might help you avoid discomfort but the price you pay is enormous. Every single compulsion feeds OCD. Anything you feed gets stronger. 

Resist compulsions
The One You Feed

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “Son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. 

One is troubled. It is worry, anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inadequacy, lies, self-loathing, and fear.

The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, vulnerability, humility, kindness, gratitude, empathy, generosity, truth, self-compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, the one that you feed.” (click for podcast)

Compulsions feed the troubled wolf…the OCD. So of course in order to beat OCD, compulsions must stop.

resist compulsions
If it’s hard to do is it worth pursuing?

Inevitably the client says “I’ll try but that’s easier said than done.”

I respond, “It’s supposed to be hard! Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”

The relief from a compulsion is only temporary!

Yes, compulsions can provide relief. But, for how long? It’s similar to the relief an addict gets from drugs. It’s a vicious cycle. You just end up needing more. It might initially feel good but on the other hand, it makes you feel powerless and stuck in a hamster wheel.

The relief you get from a compulsion is temporary but the effect is long-lasting. What is the effect? Think about it. You started compulsions to:

  • get rid of doubt and now you’re more doubtful than ever
  • feel in control and now you feel out of control most of the time
  • avoid discomfort and now you’re more uncomfortable than before
  • improve the way you feel and now you feel worse
  • feel “just right” and now you always feel “just wrong”

What If Resisting Compulsions Makes Me Feel Worse?

As an OCD therapist, I can’t give reassurance. I have to shrug and say, “Maybe things will get worse.” 

However, for educational purposes, I say this one time to every new client: “If you provoke your OCD with exposures and resist the urge to do a compulsion, your chances of getting strong and healthy is very high.”

resist compulsions
Compulsions help you to avoid. Avoiding is costly.

Besides, ask yourself if compulsions are sustainable. Is this truly something you want to do for the rest of your life? Once you start it’s hard to stop. 

You get good at what you practice. Are you sure you want to keep practicing compulsions? All compulsions help you do is avoid. Are you sure you want to get good at avoiding?

The Risks Outweigh the Benefits

In what way do you benefit from doing compulsions? If your answers are the ones below, hopefully, you know this is nothing more than trickery.

Are these the reasons you think you benefit from compulsions?

  • My compulsions are protective and keep bad things from happening. You’d be rich and famous if that were true.
  • This compulsion keeps me from feeling gross. No, actually it keeps you from feeling anxious. Gross is just another word for anxious.
  • The only way I can feel “just right” is by doing this compulsion. How many people stop and think, “I can’t leave my house until I feel just right?” To be concerned with feeling “just right” is exactly what drives you to feel “just wrong.” People who don’t think about feeling “just right” typically feel..just right!
  • Until the compulsion is completed I won’t be able to sleep. This just means you’ll have to do compulsions every night for the rest of your life in order to sleep. Is that really what you want?

You’ll discover the only benefit to a compulsion is temporary relief from anxiety. That’s it. There is no other benefit. And is that really a benefit–to avoid anxiety for brief moments of the day? Wouldn’t it make better sense to learn how to experience the anxiety?

Every Compulsion Feeds OCD

The only reason you’re performing compulsions is that you don’t <<yet>> know how to experience anxiety. Any other reason is just a story that your very creative brain has made-up.

A question I get asked often:

I’m prescribed drugs to help me feel better, so why can’t I use a compulsion to feel better?

I’m not a chemical warfare expert but there’s a huge difference between the purpose of taking a medication and performing a compulsive behavior. Prescribed medications like Prozac or Luvox help you to experience your anxiety. Compulsions help you avoid anxiety.

If you are having trouble being with your anxiety talk to the person prescribing your medication. Resisting compulsions might initially make you feel panicky, but if it continues and you’re not having much success saying no to OCD, a medication adjustment might help.

Another question often asked:

It seems like I get rid of one compulsion only to develop a new one. How can I make sure I don’t start a new compulsion?

The answer to this question is twofold. 1.) Evaluate the way you are talking to OCD when you’re resisting compulsions. 2.) Consider the possibility that you haven’t come to terms with your lack of control over what actually happens in life.

Evaluate the Way You Talk to OCD

If new compulsions are popping up, perhaps you haven’t really confronted your core fear. You’ve resisted a compulsion which is the “B” of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). You’ve changed a behavior. But without the “C” of CBT, you haven’t grabbed the bull by the horns. 

When you’re resisting compulsions it’s important to talk tough to OCD. No rationalizing or answering any of OCD’s questions. OCD is trying to convince you that a compulsion will prevent something bad from happening. “If you do this compulsion there will be no harm” or “If you do this you won’t end up abandoned.”

Your response must sound like this, “Yup. You might be right OCD. That might happen. Time will tell.” Just nod your head in agreement and resist the compulsion. You might not feel in agreement with what you’re saying. You’re telling OCD you don’t care but you probably really do. 

It’s okay. Keep talking tough. Answer none of OCD’s questions. Shrug at OCD and say, “whatever.” Sound like a broken record and just keep repeating your “I don’t care” act. Fake it ’til you become it. This is a mental Kung Fu game you must play with OCD. 

Do You Practice Radical Acceptance?

The answer seems to always come back to whether or not you are willing to see what happens next. Be curious to see what happens in this very moment. The only other choice is to try and control what happens. We know where that gets you. It’s better to accept whatever happens happens.

If in this moment you are experiencing anxiety, be curious about it but not analytical. Curiosity is the opposite of fear.

Now is the time to challenge the dysfunctional belief that you have control over what happens in life. This is not true. Practice radical acceptance, “Whatever happens happens. It is what it is.”

If nobody else has to do these compulsive behaviors neither do you.

Stopping compulsions isn’t just about halting the repetitive behavior. Another compulsion will just pop up. OCD morphs into all kinds of things until you finally start to accept the anxiety. First of all, your obsession is just noise. What really needs your attention is your anxiety.

Most importantly, every time you are in the process of performing a compulsion acknowledge the repetitive behavior is just your way of avoiding anxiety. The only time the details of your thoughts and beliefs is of any interest is when you’re trying to figure out how to provoke your anxiety.

Provoke your thoughts. Don’t argue with them. Shrug and say, “time will tell” or “maybe, maybe not.” Step toward the threat and embrace the anxiety. Build an ERP hierarchy and move forward.

Notice the anxiety and be with it. You don’t have to like the anxiety. But be grateful for the opportunity to practice your skills

Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:

Finishing a compulsion might feel good. But, it’s temporary. The anxiety returns. In no time at all, another compulsion is needed. Practice radical acceptance. Whatever happens happens.  Otherwise more compulsions are likely to pop-up like a whack-a-mole.

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

 

When Resisting Compulsions Backfires: Find Out Why 

Resisting compulsions
Questions? I can help!

If you have questions about how to resist compulsions be sure to add them to the comment section of this post. I’ll be sure to address your questions and give you…The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions

Forget Compulsions, Try This Instead!

Resisting compulsive behavior is one of the hardest parts of your recovery.

Finding the willpower to say, “No!” to OCD

Finding the willpower to resist compulsions requires energy you don’t think you have. But, it’s no mystery where that energy can be found. 

You’ll find the willpower to resist compulsions eagerly awaiting you in two places: Your mindset and your body.

What Kind of Mindset Do You Have 

Here are a few questions to test your mindset. Do you want to:

  • be all better or getting better?
  • stay in the comfort zone or be challenged?
  • succeed or grow?
  • be all-knowing or always learning?
  • avoid anxiety or seek it out?
  • have certainty or live with uncertainty?
Resisting compulsions
A love for learning is better than a fear of failing

Success Mindset

If you chose answers mainly in the blue then you have a Success Mindset.

  • Your agenda or plan for daily life is fixed and rigid.
  • You care deeply about failure, inadequacies, and outcomes.
  • The capability of taking an action can’t occur until an emotion is felt first. (e.g. “I can’t do anything until I feel ready and right about it.”)
  • What people think of you matters very much.
  • You tend to be self-loathing and easily frustrated with what appears to be a lack of progress.
  • Everything is seen in all or nothing terms. 
  • The path you’re on always needs to be definite, clear and unmistakable.
  • Effortless is preferred over effortfulA student with school anxiety who makes it to school five out of five days is pleased with meeting the goal of attendance. (Focuses on outcome) Had she attended four out of five days she’d have felt like a failure because everything is either all or nothing. (Values perfection.) 

Finding the Willpower to Resist Compulsive Behavior

Growth Mindset

If you chose answers mainly in the green then you have a growth mindset.

  • You’re curious and flexible about daily life.
  • If something doesn’t go as planned you easily adjust.
  • Your focus is on finding hard challenges and opportunities for personal development.
  • The process of getting from A to B is more important to you than the outcome.
  • Celebrating your victories is not something you do enough.
  • Practicing gratitude and counting your blessings is something you do often.
  • You prefer daily tasks and life experiences to be effortful–full of variety and challenges. A person who deletes 24,000 emails out of 26,000 (egads something I need to do!!!) focuses on the effort it took to sit there and do that! She doesn’t become discouraged that the inbox is still full.

A student with school anxiety who makes it to school each day of the week is pleased with how incredibly hard she worked to get there each day. (Focuses on effort) Had she attended four out of five days she would be proud of her effort and look forward to working harder next week. A setback is a setup for a breakthrough. (Values experience.)

It’s harder to find the willpower to resist compulsive behavior if you have a success mindset.

Here’s how to get out of the success (or fixed) mindset and shift into a growth mindset:

  1. Focus on your incredibly hard work and effort. Remember, “If you had fun you won?” That’s an example of focusing on effort, not outcome.  To use a growth mindset to resist compulsions here’s another cheer: “If you had anxiety and abstained you won.” (i.e., abstained from compulsive behavior.)
  2. Drills develop skills.  Appreciate the value of experiencing anxiety. It gives you an opportunity to practice your skills. You get good at what you practice. If you’re avoiding anxiety, you won’t get good at experiencing it. Hunt down anxiety. Go find it and experience it.
  3. Be curious about your anxiety. “Hmmm, it’s so fascinating how my body can put butterflies in my stomach. I wonder how my body does that.” Focus on the experience of anxiety, not the story about why the butterflies are there. How not why.
  4. Ask, “what does anxiety make possible?” One young man told me that his anxiety makes him a better football player. “How’s that?” I asked. He explained, “I’ve got some big guys I have to block. They’re a lot bigger than me. My anxiety gives me the energy to do it.”
  5. Do your values need a realignment? What is it that you value? A sense of security or experiencing something new? What do you care deeply about? Being with loved ones or avoiding anxiety? Values drive behavior. Make sure your priorities represent your values.
  6. Don’t get caught up in OCD’s story about something bad happening. To focus on the story is nothing but a trick! This is about your anxiety. Stay focused on the true issue. You don’t need compulsions. You need experience.

Resisting Compulsive Behavior and Mental Acts

The Physicality of Anxiety

You can use your body to resist compulsions.

Super Pose
You aren’t the boss of me!

Stand up like a superhero. Look OCD in the eyes with your hands on your hips. Chin up. Shoulders back. 

Don’t contain all the energy from anxiety inside one area of the body. If you clutch your chest, cover your head with your hands or make fists where can the anxiety go? 

Experience the Anxiety

Notice where you experience anxiety and stay with the sensation. Don’t go into the sensation. Notice it like a bystander. Think of it like a neighbor who is visiting. “Oh, passing through again?”

Oh no…did you just ask, “But, what if I don’t want the neighbor to visit?” This question reflects your mindset. It’s not a growth mindset. You’re not valuing learning and developing. You need the “neighbor” to visit so that you can gain experience. Keep working on your mindset until you can welcome the “neighbor.”

Stay with the experience of anxiety and away from the story about something bad happening.

The Physicality of Anxiety: Discover where the sensation of anxiety is located in your body. 
  • Ask your body, “What part of you wants my attention right now?
  • Say hello to the bodily sensation of anxiety. “Ah ha, there you are.”
  • Where in your body do you feel the anxiety? Perhaps it’s unclear. Maybe it’s puzzling, numb or fuzzy. Stay focused on finding the sensation. Keep hunting down the anxiety in your body. 
  • Your OCD story is irrelevant. We’re not doing exposure exercises right now. This exercise is not about your story. It’s about anxiety. 

    Resist Compulsive Behavior by Finding the Anxiety In Your Body

  • Describe the sensation of anxiety in great detail as if trying to get someone else to understand what it feels like.
  • Just notice it. “I feel it here.” Describe it in great detail. Are any of these descriptive words a good fit: 

-Is there any tightness or pressure? Where do you feel it?

-Does your skin have any pain, tingling, prickling, twitching, itching? Where on your body is this occurring? 

-What is the temperature of the sensation?

-Is there any motion and if so what is the speed at which it is traveling? 

-Can you taste or smell anything?

-Does this sensation have any particular size, shape, weight, texture, or color? 

-Can you hear any sounds in your ears like buzzing or ringing? 

  • Once you’ve described the sensation, get curious about how your body creates these sensations. Don’t ask why. Ask how. Curiosity is the opposite of anxiety. 
  • When your mind tries to wander to an OCD story, keep bringing your focus back to the physicality of your anxiety. Focus. Notice. Focus. Notice. Experience it fully by describing it and getting fascinated.
Let this sink in: Just because you’re anxious when you resist a compulsion doesn’t mean something is wrong.

Experiencing anxiety is (unfortunately) not what you’ll usually be told to do. But truly, the only way out is in. You can’t master anxiety by avoiding it! 

Resist Compulsions
Get into position!
Today’s Best Advice on Resisting Compulsive Behavior:

You can’t be limp when it’s time to resist a compulsion. Rise up like you mean it! Be firm. Stay with the anxiety not the story. Experience the physicality of anxiety.

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

 

“If resisting compulsions is the right thing to do then why does it feel so horrible to resist them?”

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. I’ll be sure to address your questions and give you…

The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions