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The Best Treatment for OCD: Exposures with a Curious Mindset


Children are the best at being curious. Do you remember when you were a kid playing outside with your friends and found something that caught your attention? Did you dismiss it, or push it away, or were you curious because you wanted to know what it was or how it worked?

Some of us may lose the desire to learn about how things work as we get busy with our everyday life tasks and worries. We can all benefit by practicing and learning to be curious.

And when you struggle with OCD, the search for certainty is king! Thus, as your rule-making mind “helps” you find certainty, it starts giving you reminders about what you should or should not do because after all, by following its rules, you may find certainty!

Take a look at these examples that may likely pop up from your rule-giving mind:

  • “You should check the stove ten more times; if you don’t, your house could burn!”
  • “You’d better repent after having that awful thought. God will be offended if you don’t!”
  • “You should stay away from your kids; if you don’t, you could harm them!”
  • “Are you sure you didn’t want to think of that sexual image? You know better!”

The OCD rule-giving mind seems relentless, doesn’t it? Have you noticed how often your mind gives you rules and most importantly, how often do you engage in an unhelpful activity to appease it?

It makes sense to want to listen to our minds, especially when we are in danger. However, if OCD is part of your life, the fight-or-flight function may be activated all day long as you try to find relief from the doubt and distress caused by the OCD mind.

Though curiosity may not be a natural trait in your life, you can develop it. When your OCD mind urges you to perfectly follow its rules and advice, you can instead be curious as to what happens when you respond differently, instead of rigidly engaging in compulsions.


Because ERP (exposure and response prevention) is the gold-standard treatment for OCD.

Let’s be clear though, exposures are not just about facing your fears and white-knuckling it through life. You already do that every day! The purpose of exposures is to help you change your relationship with any external (e.g., watching a movie) or internal (e.g., thought, judgment, memory, feeling, sensation, urge) experiences you happen upon as you strive to live a meaningful life.

When you adopt an open and curious stance, you are dropping the fight with the OCD mind and moving toward living with flexibility and joy.

When you purposely plan your exposure related to what matters most in your life, would you be willing to be curious and see what you can learn as you respond differently each time?

Would you be willing to explore and discover what happens when you don’t push your thoughts or feelings away?

Brave Moments – Practice

As you go about your day, doing what matters most (e.g., connecting, loving, cooperating, communicating, competing) and being the person you wish to be, you will encounter difficulties at times. When the OCD mind generates fear, take the opportunity to choose to be brave and practice noticing the thoughts and the feelings that are showing up without giving in to avoidant and compulsive (public and private) behaviors.

Notice what the mind is saying with curiosity as a child would. A young child would not try to “judge, fix or figure anything out.” After a while, perhaps a child would probably get bored and move unto something else to explore.

Would you be willing to embody the curious child that you were some time ago? Notice your thoughts and feelings and choose to respond in a different way.

Write down what you learn each time. Have fun being curious as you go about your day. See what you can learn.

Though the urge to respond rigidly may be overpowering, you can take small steps. The key is developing curiosity one step at a time. It is possible!

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. –Albert Einstein

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

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A guide to help you find relief and happiness in spite of religious or moral OCD (scrupulosity OCD). Learn more about Annabella Hagen's book.
Imperfectly Good - Book by Annabella Hagen

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