You can get over OCD, but you need a good plan.
When you have OCD it´s important to have a plan, so that when the obsessions and the thoughts are coming or strong, you know how to relate to them so that you don´t end up getting hooked.
The Thoughts are not the problem
With OCD, we often think that the major problem is the intrusive thoughts and images that pop up into our heads, but whilst it´s true that these experiences can be unpleasant, they are not in themselves actually good or bad, they are just thoughts. When you have OCD, you have somehow come to believe that having these thoughts is unacceptable and that to get better, you must stop having them at all costs, but it is this type of thinking that actually keeps people stuck.
What we have to remind ourselves is that the mind is made up of two major parts. The mechanical part and the observing part. We do not have any control of the mechanical part of the brain and it is constantly worrying, creating, reviewing, analyzing etc.
All of this goes on beyond our conscious control. What often does happen with this mechanistic part of the brain is that if you try to force it to not think about something, it will almost immediately start to think about that very thing and will throw up thoughts and images about it. The problem is, that if you hae OCD you start to take these thoughts seriously and start to believe that they mean something, but they don´t, it´s just that if you really don´t want to think about something, then unfortunately, unless you train yourself otherwise, the brain will keep going back to the thing that you are trying to not think about.
Trying to suppress thoughts makes you have more of them
This is what constantly happens to people with OCD and is what happened to me a lot over the years (before I learnt how to manage it). A thought would come to my mind that I would somehow find disturbing. I would then instantly try to suppress that thought and not allow it and of course that would cause me to experience more of it.
In ACT, they use the following metaphor to help illustrate this. Imagine that you are in the swimming pool and the thought you are trying to suppress is inside an inflatable beach ball. You don´t want to experience or even acknowledge the thought, so you try to push it under the water. It´s not easy keeping an inflatable ball under the water, so you fight with it to keep it held down, but eventually you get tired and suddenly the ball (and the thought) comes rushing up and breaks the surface of the water. When we try to suppress our thoughts, the same thing happens.
Be prepared and have a plan for OCD
If you have OCD and you don´t have a plan for how to manage it, then like then like the beach ball in the analogy, the thoughts will keep forcing their way to the surface and will remain there unless you change the way you relate to them. The first step in your plan is to identify the compulsions you perform when the thoughts come up. A compulsion is basically anything that you do to try and lessen your anxiety. Sometimes they are physical compulsions, but often they are mental compulsions. What I found helped me in identifying them was to keep a record of my obsessions and all the thigs I was doing to lessen the anxiety. I encourage clients to do the same so that they know exactly what their compulsions are. If you don´t know what your compulsions are, then it´s obviously pretty hard to stop performing them.
The next step is to unhook from the obsessive thoughts. When we have OCD we fuse with our thoughts and start believing that they are true or that they mean something about us. To get out of the OCD trap we have to defuse, or unhook from these thoughts, but without pushing them away, as this only makes things worse. For me, what helped with this is to just name the thought. I´m having the thought that or Oh i´m having that OCD thought about XXXX. The objective here is to acknowledge the thoughts, but by saying ´I´m having the thought that´ or something similar we acknowledge both the thought and the fact that it is just a thought and not something that we have to take seriously or ponder over.
Another way of doing this is to apply the work of Jeffrey Schwartz where whenever we realise we are having an OCD thought we tell ourselves ´It´s not me, it´s my OCD´ and again when we do that, we create a bit of space between ourselves and the thoughts. The next step in my planned response to OCD is based on my values. If you spend some time working out your values, you will have a valuable tool in learning to respond to OCD. After acknowledging the OCD thoughts, instead of starting the cycle of OCD by performing a compulsion, I turn to my values. I think about what I value in that moment and this will obviously depend on where I am and on what i´m doing.
If i´m studying something and I value that, then I will gently redirect my attention o to that and each time I find myself distracted by OCD thoughts, I will again, acknowledge them and then bring my attention back to my studies. It may be that i´m with my friends and that friendship is a value for me, so I choose to gently put my attention back onto the conversation and interactions with them. It may be that you are out walking your dog in the park and you decide to put your attention onto taking in the beautiful nature and wildlife around you. In the end, it doesn´t really matter what you choose to focus on, just as long as it´s a valued activity.
Some people say to me, ´but isn´t this a compulsion too?´, which is of course a very valid question, but in truth there is a subtle, but important difference. You are not doing this to try and get rid of anxiety (which you are doing when you perform a compulsion).
What you´re doing is acknowledging the thoughts and the anxiety that comes with them, allowing this to be there and then putting your attention onto something you value. It may be that when you do this, the anxiety goes down, but that is not the objective. When you keep doing this over time, your response to obsessions will change and you will become much more willing and open to experience anxiety without pushing it away. When I was battling with anxiety, I kept doing this for a period of about a month and over time I noticed how the anxiety started to lose it´s power over me and that although the obsessive thoughts would still come up sometimes, I no longer felt the same need to keep pushing them away.
I have found that following this simple plan is a really effective way of learning to respond to obsessive thoughts instead of fighting with them. It may not work for everyone, but from my own personal experience, I think that with support, this method can really help people to have a better relationship with OCD.
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