Cognitive Behavioural Therapist Katie d’Ath lists 7 things you need to know about OCD
1. OCD does not discriminate.
Anyone can develop OCD. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, fat or thin, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor: It’s not something you’ve chosen, it’s simply very bad luck. What’s more, it’s not your fault! It’s not because you’ve done something wrong or you’re doing this to yourself (let’s face it, if you could snap your fingers and have it go away, I’m sure you would). It’s unclear exactly why people develop OCD but it is thought to be a combination of genetics, personality, upbringing & life experiences. Attempting to work out why you developed OCD is unlikely to help you combat it and very likely to frustrate you, so concentrate on finding helpful resources rather than spending time asking “why me?”
2. You can obsess about anything. (You are NOT mad).
It’s a common misconception that OCD is about people fearing germs and washing their hands excessively, being super tidy or checking things repeatedly. All these things can be OCD but there are thousands (in fact probably millions) of other subjects on which OCD can be based. It’s possible to obsess over anything, for example whether you are in the right relationship, whether you’ve accidentally caused harm, whether you’re a psychopath, whether you are breathing properly, whether you’re looking at people’s genitals when you talk to them, whether you are gay and don’t realise it, whether you’ve molested your dog, whether you’re going mad, why the earth is round or whether eating anything red will kill you.
“You can look forward to a time when you can say ‘I used to have OCD'”
If you, or someone you know, experience thoughts, images, urges or sensations which you find distressing (usually because they are so contrary to your beliefs) and you respond to these intrusions by doing something to try and alleviate the distress or ward of threat (this could be an external behaviour or mental activity) but it isn’t making the problem any better in the long term, than you may well have OCD.
3. You can be OCD free.
Years ago OCD was seen as a chronic condition that could only be managed and not cured. Unfortunately many people will still say this about OCD, however, it’s not the case! With advances in research and treatment, we’ve seen that it is possible to overcome OCD. Becoming OCD free is no easy task; it takes time, effort and dedication but with the right treatment (even if you choose to treat yourself) you can look forward to a time when you can say “I used to have OCD”.
4. There is help out there.
If you think you may be suffering from OCD the first port of call is usually to see your GP and discuss possible treatment and medication. Unfortunately, the treatment for OCD is quite specialised and not all therapists will be experienced in dealing with it. The treatment of choice for OCD is CBT using ERP. In order to understand the kind of treatment you should be getting it’s worth reading an up to date book such as “Managing OCD with CBT for Dummies” by myself and Rob Willson, which will help you learn the basics. Don’t be afraid to ask the practitioner if they are used to treating OCD. There are also charities such as OCDUK and OCD Action, which offer valuable advice and support.
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5. The more you resist, the more it persists.
When you feel some kind of fear or other uncomfortable emotion, it’s human nature to try and get rid of this feeling and avoid it happening again. Unfortunately, when it comes to OCD this natural tendency makes the problem worse in the long run. The more you avoid things or take special precautions the more important it will become for you to keep doing this. Over time, the reassurances or techniques (compulsions) you use to try and alleviate your distress will become less effective and you’ll need to do more complicated, time-consuming things to bring about the same amount of relief. It’s a very vicious cycle. The same thing is true of persuading well-meaning friends and family to compensate for your OCD or do things for you so you can avoid getting distressed.
CBT for OCD will help you recognise this cycle and using ERP (exposure and response prevention) you will learn to gradually confront your fears and deal with the consequences differently. In treatment, you’ll learn that short-term gain = long-term pain and be encouraged to turn this on its head through learning new ways of dealing with the issue. Through CBT for OCD using ERP you’ll experience the remedy: Short-term pain = long-term gain.
6. You are not your OCD.
Whether you’ve had OCD for many years or you’ve just developed it, it’s important to recognise that OCD is a disorder and it is NOT an integral part of your personality (however much it might try and tell you it is). In treatment we encourage people to give their OCD a character like a devil or (in the case of one creative person) Darth Vader. Seeing your OCD as something separate to yourself is a powerful step in learning to stand up to its demands. The more you recognise that your OCD is bullying you, trying to control and influence you, the easier it is for you to keep trying to choose to not listen to it and act against it. When your OCD is doing a good job of controlling you and you’re struggling to stand up to it, don’t be angry with yourself. Be angry with your OCD. The OCD does a good enough job of keeping you down and calling you names without you joining in! The kinder and more compassionate you are to yourself the better armed you will be to fight your OCD another time.
“OCD is a disorder and NOT an integral part of your personality”
7. OCD’s favourite question:
If you have OCD you’ll most likely be familiar with the regular crippling doubt that comes as part of it, often characterised by questions starting “what if…?”. Since OCD can be on any subject so can the “what ifs”. You may have noticed that even if you find an answer for one doubt there’s usually another one which pops up in its place. However, there is one “What if” that is pretty common to all types and forms of OCD and that is “What if it’s NOT OCD?”. This is OCD’s favourite line for undermining any good work you are doing by trying to ignore intrusions or act against the OCD. It’s the ultimate doubt grenade: As in “What if it’s not OCD and I actually am evil/infected/psychotic etc (insert your fear) – does this sound familiar? The truth is you’ll never be 100% certain that what you are experiencing is OCD (just as you can’t get certainty about pretty much anything else in life) but you can test out treating it ‘as if’ it’s OCD and see whether this helps alleviate the problem. The OCD won’t go quiet just because you do this, and it’s highly likely to keep throwing its doubt grenade at you but the more you act against the OCD the less powerful the doubt grenades will be.
If you need help or support you can always reach us here at Ditch the Label.