Anxiety, guilt, and doubt are the prevalent feelings experienced by OCD sufferers. They have difficulty tolerating these emotions. When individuals are triggered and begin to obsess, they become overwhelmed by their feelings and will do whatever it takes to avoid feeling that way.
For instance, James had fears of emotional contamination. He’d rather avoid certain friends than take the chance of experiencing a panic attack. Linda had fears of losing her faith and would stay away from triggers that produced anxiety, guilt, and uncertainty. Roy was worried about being near anyone that may carry an infectious disease. Any time his friends or family members got sick, he would avoid them at all costs. Susie worried about possibly cheating during her tests at school. To avoid feeling guilty, she would answer all the questions wrong. This list could go on and on as there are many ways that OCD will manifest itself in each individual.
The good news is that you can learn the skills that will help you silence OCD’s voice. To do so it takes more than just talking about it. The key is in “doing.” The only evidence-based psychological treatment for OCD is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy that includes Exposure and Response Prevention. Research is also showing that Mindfulness skills can make a significant difference when ERP is implemented. CBT and Mindfulness skills will help you change the neurological pathways in your brain. In order to do so, you’ll be expected to practice what you learn.
As you begin treatment, keep these points in mind:
- OCD is an illness of the mind just like asthma is an illness of the lungs. Both are physiological disorders and there is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed of having OCD.
- Tell a loved one or a trusted friend about your illness. Your treatment success is enhanced when you have a loved one’s emotional support.
- When your clinician recommends that you find a medical provider, follow the advice. Many individuals believe they are weak if they have to take medication. This is not true. Some individuals need it and some don’t. If you do, don’t delay it.
- Become a proactive and engaged client. Bring a notebook to your sessions and take notes! You are intelligent, but when OCD sneaks up on you, your thinking brain becomes numb. You won’t be able to remember everything.
- Practice the skills you are taught. You will silence OCD by DOING! Often clients expect OCD treatment to be “talk therapy.” It is not. Treatment requires that you relearn behavioral and thinking habits. You’ll be expected to do most of the work while you are away from your clinician’s office.
- Remember OCD is a chronic illness, but you can learn to decrease the symptoms. You can live a meaningful happy life in spite of it! Many sufferers wrongly believe they can be cured and fantasize of the day they’ll be completely free of it.
- The truth is your symptoms may disappear, but when life stressors come up, OCD has a way of resurfacing. Don’t be disappointed. Just remember to use the skills you’ve learned!
- The prevalent cognitive distortion you may experience is intolerance of uncertainty. The inability to accept uncertainty where OCD is concerned most likely causes you a great deal of anxiety and guilt. Your clinician will teach you how to accept doubt.
Perhaps you dread treatment because you have been misinformed regarding ERP. Search reputable websites that will explain what ERP is (IOCD Foundation and this blog). When clients begin spacing out their sessions to once a month because the OCD symptoms have subsided significantly, I often ask them, “What made the difference for you? When did it click? Do you want to know what they say? They say, “It all clicked when I began doing the exposures. When I wasn’t afraid of defying OCD anymore!”
The moment you are willing to accept anxiety and not be afraid of the thoughts, that will be the very moment you have begun silencing the OCD voice!
You can learn to defy it!