My doctor once asked if I performed any compulsions with my OCD. I had told him no, because as I understood, compulsions were repetitive behaviors like handwashing to try and neutralize the bad thought. These were things you acted out to try & make the obsessions or bad thoughts go away. Nope, don’t have these, I said.
But later in the month, after Googling my OCD symptoms, I discovered something rather interesting. Compulsions are not strictly behavioral. They can also be mental. Compulsions are also “thoughts that a person uses with the intention of neutralizing, counteracting, or making their obsessions go away… Compulsions are time consuming and get in the way of important activities the person values.”
Mental compulsions for me are checks. I ‘check’ feelings, and in doing checks, I tend to desensitize what I want to feel or increase whatever I don’t want to feel (ahem, anxiety). This only feeds the obsession. Anxiety spikes and checking happens again.
Reassurance seeking behaviors are also common it seems. Asking friends and family to reassure the ‘bad’ thoughts are false. But this also feeds the cycle. No one can be sure of that reassurance and in that uncertainty, anxiety lies. “If I don’t feel right with the answer, then that must mean the bad thought is true!” and there it goes again. Sound familiar?
The actual problem is thoughts only have the meaning we assign to them. At first I scoffed at this. “A violent thought is bad to me. It does have meaning.” But why does it have meaning? “Uh, because it’s bad!” Why is bad? “Because I say it is!”
When we call thoughts bad or intrusive even, it shines a spotlight on those thoughts, making them more meaningful to our bruised minds. I say bruised in the sense that it feels like OCD hits me over the head sometimes, calling out for attention.
I’m guilty of this myself, the labeling. Calling thoughts as simply thoughts may be the best approach. I’m still learning but I’ve notice how labeling some thoughts as bad makes them that more powerful.
I’m not a therapist. I’m not recommending any particular treatment plan for OCD. But there are many resources out there (see my new Resources page). So far I’m learning it’s a journey, that of self-discovery through reading, meditating, exercise, journalling, therapy and plenty of good cups of tea.