When you think of OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, what comes to mind? Maybe someone who needs to wash their hands over and over? Or that person you work with who says "I'm so OCD" because they like to organize their desks? We have a lot of ideas of what we think OCD looks like. We see images of it in movies and shows. We hear people throw the term around like it's a quirky trait instead of a debilitating disorder. Most of this talk doesn't get to the honest truth of what OCD really is.
The core of OCD is unwanted and intrusive thoughts that just won't leave you alone.
People with OCD might worry about something dangerous happening to themselves or people they care about. They may even worry that they will directly cause danger to others. Some suffer over the idea of their worth in their relationships or about their sexuality. Some may struggle with worry over religious blasphemy or harming children. While some people with OCD undergo outward compulsions to temporarily relieve the intense worry and anxiety, like hand washing or touching things repeatedly until it feels right, others have no outward compulsions.
Sometimes the compulsions are internal and come in the form of constantly policing yourself about whether or not you are having unwanted and intrusive thoughts.
A large part of OCD is the avoidance of things that may trigger anxiety. Anxiety, unfortunately, only grows stronger the more a person tries to avoid those triggers. People with OCD, particularly those with internal compulsions (or primarily obsessional OCD, also known as "Pure O") can find themselves worrying extensively about whether they are thinking about something dangerous or inappropriate. They are no longer even thinking about the unwanted thoughts: they are thinking about THINKING about the unwanted thoughts. Does this sound confusing? It's extremely confusing and that much more frustrating for someone with the disorder.
How do you treat thinking about thinking?!
The more we worry about our thoughts, the stronger our brains learn to make us worry about those thoughts. After all, we send messages to our brains that something is dangerous, especially when we avoid those things. We do rituals meticulously with hope that, if we get it right, nobody we love will die. We are scrolling through our social media feeds mindlessly yet very aware of how quickly we scroll past pictures of children without looking at them. We are in a room but aren't hearing the conversation because, in the back of our minds, we're making sure our brains are very aware of the windows and that we need to stay away from them. We tell our brains that these things are dangerous because we have come to believe we ourselves are dangerous. So our brains sound the alarms that much louder.
The thing is, everyone has the thoughts that are unwanted and intrusive to us. Many of those people shrug them off or let them go without much concern. The difference is when we put value into those thought. We believe having those thoughts says something about who we are, and we try so desperately to be good people.
But everyone has unwanted thoughts.
Unwanted thoughts become intrusive when we give them power through our concern, attention, and meaning. Our brains learn they are important thoughts, so they come up more frequently and more emotionally charged. We can also teach our brains these thoughts are not important. We can model the peace and calm we want our brains to have.
I don't know you, but if you suffer from OCD or Pure OCD I can tell you: you are not the person your brain thinks you are. You can learn more about intrusive thoughts by clicking here. If you're ready to be free and would like me to work with you, we can schedule some time to talk. Be good to you, ok?
Stephanie Bloodworth, LMFT-A