Many individuals who experience a high sense of responsibility and integrity believe that they just have high moral standards and persist in doing certain behaviors. However, when the guilt persists and the behaviors become repetitive in order to release the guilt and other feelings such as anxiety, it may actually be OCD. Let’s take a look at some situations and discuss the difference.

Lisa is driving down the road in the dark. All of a sudden she senses she went over a bump. She worries and wonders if she has run over someone’s body. She can’t stop thinking about it, and the more she reviews the scenario the more she believes it may have been someone on the road. She returns and checks to make sure she didn’t hurt anyone.

Matt’s hands are raw pink from excessive washing for the past 3 months. Flu season was in full swing when he began to worry about his children getting the flu. He couldn’t stand the possibility of being the agent of germs. He spent hours washing his hands and disinfecting things to ensure his kids didn’t get the flu. Sometimes he would not kiss or hug them if he thought he had been in contact with someone carrying the virus.

Sophia’s younger sister had been babysitting. When she came back, Sophia was home. Her sister told Sophia how the child she had been caring for had dumped all his toys in the living room and then had tripped over them. She thought it served him right for being so messy. Her sister’s story triggered Sophia back to the time when she was 14 and had a similar experience. She had forgotten about this incident, but the more she thought about it, the more concerned she became. She remembered the kid sitting quietly in a corner playing with some of his toys when the parents arrived. She neglected to tell the parents about the child tripping over the toys and hurting his head. Now the idea that she may have caused brain damage to that child tormented her. She believed it was her duty to find the family and tell them about it, though the family had moved to another state 20 years ago.

What do these three scenarios have in common?

  • The individuals in the scenarios above believed it was within reason to excessively worry and ensure they would not cause harm to others due to their own negligence. On the surface it made total sense to them.
  • However, what they believed was their sense of integrity is a common thinking error normally called “inflated sense of responsibility” or “hyper-responsibility.” This thinking error is prevalent in individuals who struggle with OCD.

How can you know the difference between reasonable sense of responsibility and OCD?

  • The answer lies in the excessive worrying and guilt. The telling point is in the drive individuals with OCD experience as they wish to carry out the compulsion (whatever you do to relieve the unpleasant feelings such as guilt, stress, anxiety, etc.) to completion. If they don’t, they will continue to obsess about the situation.
  • Their incessant washing and checking physically or into the past (either with others or their own memories), end up interfering with their values such as kindness, friendship, and citizenship.
  • No matter how many times individuals do the compulsions, OCD will trick them into believing it is not enough.
  • The guilt may appear to be about protecting others, but the inflated sense of responsibility is driven by guilt. They begin to avoid situations, activities and yes, responsibilities in order to avoid or decrease the guilt.
  • Inadvertently, the thinking errors lead individuals to falsely believe their acts are solely to protect others. Reality is that their mind has become foggy by the obsessions and the focus has become the compulsions in their daily life. Making OCD the focus of their lives leads them to selfishness, though they don’t recognize it.

It doesn’t have to be that way! There is hope and you can get untangled from the OCD thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges.

What can you do?

  • Start today by noticing how OCD has been the culprit for your guilt. OCD has set rules for you. If we were to objectify OCD, we could say OCD is a big bully who likes to lie! You don’t have to fall for its lies anymore!
  • OCD is treatable and you can learn skills that will help you get back to what matters most in your life!
  • Educate yourself and find the right provider to help you. Read articles from the IOCD Foundation website. This website will also provide you with questions you can ask potential mental health providers. Your provider needs to understand the complexity of OCD.
  • Remember what matters the most to you and begin taking steps towards focusing on that!