Many individuals struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and report feeling very frustrated with their inability to stop their ruminating thoughts. The impact on one’s life can be mild to quite severe. One of the first things I have noticed as a clinician working with clients with OCD, is that obsessive thoughts often share similar interpretations by those afflicted.
Doubting thoughts- This person has developed an inability to trust their own judgement in making decisions. Unless they can have a guarantee that their decision will have the desired outcome they want (which of course is unrealistic) they feel tremendous anxiety regarding making decisions so they avoid it at any cost. The result is people then have an inability to create any change in their life and report feeling” stuck” and relying heavily on others to help them with any decision. This often leads to the compulsion of seeking constant reassurance from others.
Harming thoughts- This person finds themselves having unwanted persistent thoughts of harming themselves or another. They may bear no particular ill will toward themselves or others and often a loved one is the person about whom they are having harming thoughts. The good news is it is not necessarily that these thoughts convert into action. However, having these thoughts creates a belief by the individual that they are a “bad person” and they come to fear acting on their irrational thoughts and suffer feelings of shame and guilt. At times they withdraw from their loved ones out of fear of their thoughts being realized.
Health related thoughts- This person tends to believe that their worst fears are likely to happen. They may feel a sensation in their body and determine that this means they must have a severe illness. The obsession may consume them and they may read all about illnesses and determine they have them or seek out medical advice continually to reassure themselves that they are not ill. Unfortunately, the pattern then repeats where they feel another sensation in their body and again wrongly determine that it is a catastrophic illness. The obsessive thought may then lead to other compulsive behaviors such as avoiding eating certain foods, repetitive hand washing, inability to stop showering, avoidance of crowds or other areas they perceive as “unsafe.” People may greatly withdraw and live very restricted lives.
Perfectionist thoughts- This person believes that there is only one “perfect” way to handle anything in life. As a result, they find themselves constantly disappointed in their contributions to life because they think that they are not meeting the impossible expectations they have set in their mind. Individuals with this obsessive way of thinking tend to suffer low self esteem as they have determined they are not capable of being “perfect” and therefore feel they are “failures.” They are very hard on themselves and tend to speak to themselves without compassion and kindness. Yet with others they are able to offer support and recognize flaws as permissible.
Often times people need help learning how to manage OCD and must understand that the inability to control their thinking or actions is how the disorder disrupts the brain and it is not their fault nor a sign of weakness. It can be tremendously challenging to live with OCD. However, with assistance one can learn to live with OCD and restore a sense of value and quality of life.