OCD can be a difficult disorder to treat because it is full of tricks and unless you understand these tricks and learn how to play the game to win, then OCD has the upper hand. It’s almost as if the OCD has a tenth degree black belt in karate and you are just beginning. In this blog post I will list several of the more common tricks that OCD uses to “trick” people into doing their compulsions.
- This isn’t OCD, this is real and you better take it seriously. The higher the stakes the more important it will feel to get this right. For example, a young mother who has postpartum OCD and is having harming thoughts about her new baby will be very reluctant to take the chance that her harming thoughts about her baby are harmless and can be ignored. Another example might be someone with contamination fears might worry that the yogurt has turned bad because it is one day past the expiration date and fears that if anyone was to eat this yogurt they would be poisoned and get sick or die. To not be “tricked” by these kinds of thoughts the person with OCD must recognize these thoughts as OCD thoughts and not take them seriously.
- Though it is not always the case, in many instances people with OCD believe that urges are more significant than feelings which are, in turn, more significance than thoughts. While thoughts certainly can be experienced as dangerous, when a thought is accompanied by a feeling it is viewed as even more dangerous and the ultimate fear is a thought with the feeling followed by an urge. Using the same example in the paragraph above, a young mother with postpartum OCD has a thought about harming her child, and then to her dismay that appears to be followed by a feeling of wanting to hurt her child and then much to her horror she then has what she believes to be an urge to harm her child. Of course, all these thoughts, feelings and urges are all part of the OCD cycle but unless one understands this all three of these can be experienced as dangerous.
- “The more you think, the deeper you think”. OCD often invites you to figure something out, analyze something and to dig deeper into the meaning behind something etc. And all of these are done with the false promise that if I can just get to the bottom of this then I’ll understand and it’ll be okay. In over 30 years of practice seeing OCD clients I have never once had a client “figure it out” in such a way that led to relief from their OCD. In fact, just the opposite is true. As the above quote suggests the more you try to analyze, figure something out, etc. the deeper you sink into the quicksand of OCD only to emerge on the other side of this process more frustrated and afraid than ever. OCD appears to offer the tantalizing possibility that if I can just figure this out this time then I’ll be okay, but it never works out that way.
- Most people assume that we are innocent until proven guilty, but with OCD the opposite seems to be the case. For example, a person with OCD might worry that they did something inappropriate at a party last night after having had a drink or two. They will review their actions throughout the entire party and if there are some (understandable) gaps in their memory, they will assume that during those “gaps” they indeed did the inappropriate thing they were afraid of. It’s as if unless I can prove my innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt then I must be guilty.
- When dealing with intrusive thought OCD – having harming thoughts towards a loved one or thoughts of doing something inappropriate sexually – one of the primary goals is to treat these kinds of thoughts just like any other kind of thought and not take them seriously (more about this kind of OCD in future blog posts). However, as the OCD person goes from being terrified by these thoughts to not taking them seriously they often encounter some bumps in the road. One of those bumps is the “trick”/belief that “If a thought doesn’t bother me then I must like and want that thought.” It’s easy to see how this would be very disturbing to the person with OCD and would reignite their anxiety. A closely related idea is that “Certain thoughts should scare/bother me or I’m not normal.” More about these types of beliefs in future blog posts.
I’ve written before about OCD tricks in an earlier blog post entitled “Some OCD Tricks and Distortions” dated February 27, 2014 and there are more “tricks” to come in future posts.