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The Four Challenges of Recovery From OCD

Let's review these four challenges again, first with how people generally think about this problem, and then with how I am encouraging you to think as you begin your self-help program.

The first challenge: People say, "I'll always be controlled by this problem." You want to shift it over to, "I'm now determined to conquer this problem."

The second position is: "I believe my obsessional concerns are accurate." I want to shift that one over to: "My obsessions are exaggerated and unrealistic." The third one: "Rituals are the only way to reduce my distress." Shift that to, "there are other options to reduce my distress." The fourth one: "I must stop these obsessions" is the problem stance. Shift this to, "I accept these obsessions."

How would you apply this fourth challenge? When you begin obsessing and worrying, you typically react emotionally to those thoughts and images, by becoming anxious and afraid. That compels you to ritualize. The first place to start practicing is anytime you begin to obsess. Take that opportunity to focus on the idea of permitting the obsession to exist in that moment. Work on not being afraid of the obsession and not being mad at yourself that you just had the thought. Wouldn't that be great, to not get distressed at those momentary worries, to not think that they mean anything.

Let me tell you a story. When my children were infants, I would carry them in my arms as I walked around the deck of our home. Every once in a while, I'd stand at the railing, looking at the beautiful scenery out in the woods, and then I'd have this flash: I'd see myself accidentally dropping my child two stories down from the deck, and there she'd lie on the ground, dead. And then I'd see myself jump over the edge to kill myself out of my shame that I'd just killed my child. But I'd break my neck instead, and end up being humiliated and shamed for what I just did to my son or daughter.

And then I'd step away from the edge of the deck.

It was the same with my kids as toddlers. I'd be reading in the living room while one of my kids was playing in another room. Then I'd notice that all was quiet. On a number of occasions I would then think, "Oh, my God, he's swallowed a penny and he can't breathe, and he's passed out..." And I'd get up and quickly move to the other room to check on my child. There he'd be, quietly and safely drawing on the wall with crayons. Now, I'm sure I've have had those kinds of fantasies over 40 times. Each one took about two or three seconds, with slight variations.

What is the difference between what I experienced and what someone with OCD experiences? There are many similarities. The difference is not about the thoughts that we have but in how we interpret those thoughts and images. I would say, "I know what that's about, and that's no big deal." I'd say, "That's because I'm a new parent. It's my mind's way of reminding me that I need to protect these fragile children. I know I'm not really about to accidentally drop my kid."

People with OCD might say, "Oh, my God, I had the thought of killing my daughter? Why did I think that? I'm not sure I can trust myself. I might accidentally do that." They decide to doubt their ability to stay in control.

So this is where you begin in your self-help program. Confront your interpretation that the content of your obsessive thought means something terrible about you. I want you to downgrade each obsession to a kind of momentary glitch in your thinking. The thought doesn't mean anything. You had a fearful thought, and you got scared by it. That's all. When I saw in my mind the image of my child lying on the floor not breathing, I became momentarily scared, and my heart raced. That's an expected reaction. It's like sticking your finger in the wall socket and getting shocked. That's all it is. And that perspective is what you should work toward.

When you notice your obsessions, choose to have them. As soon as you choose to have your obsessions, they're no longer involuntary. Remember that the definition of an obsession includes that it is involuntary. So as you begin to accept your obsession, as soon as you choose to have it then that involuntary thought is now voluntary. And you've begun to change the nature of the problem.

This is the direction I am going to take in this self-help program. I am not asking you to stop obsessing right now, or to stop ritualizing. I am asking you to change some smaller components of the pattern. You're going to disrupt the pattern by various means. You're going to modify your obsession in little ways. You're going to add things to your ritual. In this way you can gradually learn about your ability to control your symptoms

next: Anxiety and Depression in Women
~ back to Anxieties Site homepage
~ anxiety-panic library articles
~ all anxiety disorders articles

Last Updated: 01 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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