Tag Archives: Scary Thoughts

Is This OCD or ME? How to Find Out in Less Than 10 Minutes

How can I tell if my bad thoughts are caused by OCD? This pounding unstoppable thought that something bad could happen—is that OCD or intuition? Could the bad thoughts be a reflection of who I am and OMG what I really want? These are questions I get asked a lot. 

I listen to my clients and hear the sound of confusion. Even with a diagnosis of OCD people don’t believe their bad thoughts are just a bizarre side effect of a strange neurological condition. There is 160_F_103659112_UGJStekEhKfNymvHV8oJsWCTdfwpMsmgno sound worse than confusion. I’ll take nails on a chalkboard any day over the sound of confusion. I want to scream THIS IS SO OUTRAGEOUS! THIS IS RIDICULOUS! It’s so abundantly clear to me that it’s OCD. Hello!!! Captain Obvious! But someone with OCD has never met Captain Obvious.

But there are ways to put the thoughts to the test and find out if they’re just neurons misfiring, creating false alarms and causing you to be hyper-aware. Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) is the most effective way to do this. I won’t describe that therapy here—another post another time. Instead I want to share two ways to challenge your thoughts and name it OCD.

#1 Let’s Poll the Population

Let’s ask 50-100 people what they think and whatever the majority of them say—that’s how we determine if you’re having a reasonable thought or worry. If it’s not reasonable, we’re going with “It’s OCD.”

I’ve posted questions on Facebook to find out what the majority would worry about. 

These are just some examples of what I’ve asked my Facebook friends: Would you still love a significant other if his or her stomach wasn’t flat.(Yes) Since toilet paper doesn’t come with instructions, what is the average # of wipes after a bowel movement.(3) Recently I asked when is it appropriate to ask a question at work regarding an assignment. (I’ll share these answers in another post—it’s lengthy!) Do you wash your hands after touching a doorknob?(No) Do you knock three times on the ceiling to keep a loved one from harm?(No) Are you hyper vigilant about touching your dog?(No)

Once I’ve collected answers the results are shared with clients who are obsessing about these topics. The majority rules and proves reasonable behavior/worries. If the behavior or worry proves to be unreasonable we call it OCD and boss it back.

Sometimes we can’t poll the population and we just imagine what 100 people would say. In a gymnasium of 100 people how many of them would be worried about being gay? Not the majority!

#2 Is Your Brain Super Focused?
Another way to tell if it’s OCD is to ask how long you’ve been focused on one particular thought or worry. How long have you been trying to get certainty? The brain normally has a very short 160_F_20199276_5xlNinnPcFCmYZGypiv3a8TDKgu8zeEu-2attention span. The average brain can only focus intensely for about 5-10 minutes, and then it drifts.

So if you’re wondering if this thought or worry you’re having is OCD, ask yourself if the amount of time you’re focusing on it has increased or decreased. The brain does not naturally expand its capacity to focus! If you’re stuck on a thought and increasingly spending more and more time on it—you’re brain is not functioning normally and this is the very nature of OCD.

Even if you poll the population and discover you’re not behaving like the majority or if you discover your brain is spending an abnormal amount of time focusing on one specific thought—you’re probably still going to question, “Is this OCD or the real me?”

If you have OCD you have the doubting disease and there is no way to get certainty about why you’re having the thoughts you’re having. Your brain will try to keep pulling you into the abyss—a bottomless pit. You’ve got to be strong and say, “The majority of 100 people aren’t worrying about this so I’m not going to either. No matter how much doubt I have, I’m going to act like the majority. It could be risky but if other people aren’t thinking about this past 5 or 10 minutes, then neither am I.”

Leave a comment about your own success with these two tests. Have you tried either one?

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.