OCD and Limerence

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Albert Wakin, a professor of psychology and expert on limerence, defines the term as a combination of obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction – a state of “compulsory longing for another person.” Professor Wakin estimates that five percent of the population struggle with limerence.

Limerence involves intrusive thinking about another person. It is often confused with love addiction but there is a fundamental difference. In love addiction, people want to replicate the feeling of falling in love again and again, while those experiencing limerence are focused on feelings for a specific individual.

Limerence is not the same as being in love. It is smothering and unsatisfying with little to no regard for the other person’s well being. In healthy relationships, neither partner is limerent; they do not struggle with constant, unwanted thoughts about their partner. A person experiencing limerence has feelings so intense that they rule every waking moment causing everything else to be left in the background. The person also tends to focus completely on the positive attributes of the “limerent object” and avoids thinking about any negative aspects.

Professor Wakin says, “It’s an addiction for another person. And we find that the obsessive-compulsive component of it is extremely compelling. The person is preoccupied with the limerent object (the subject of their obsession) as much as 95 percent of the time.”

When I began researching OCD and limerence I was interested in learning about their connection. I imagined it might be the opposite of relationship OCD (R-OCD). But now I’m not so sure. I certainly see the obsessive component to limerence and the compulsions could involve ruminating about the limerent object, but so much of it just doesn’t seem like OCD to me.

One question that I wasn’t able to find the answer to is, “Do those with limerence realize their obsession isn’t rational?” My guess is there is no simple answer. In this day and age, when young people in particular are influenced by television shows such as The Bachelor, it’s not hard to understand why so many of us are confused about what is rational and what isn’t when it comes to feelings, relationships, and love.

To confuse matters more, there appears to be no solid evidence that people with OCD (or substance addiction) are more likely to experience limerence. Professor Wakin and his colleagues hope to conduct and compare brain-imaging research on those with limerence, OCD, and addiction, to see how they might or might not be related. This research should be helpful, but in the meantime, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has shown some promise for those dealing with limerence.

 

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You’ve Beaten OCD – Now What?

A version of this post first appeared on my blog in July 2016…..

For many people, the journey through obsessive-compulsive disorder and back to good health is a long one. Getting the correct diagnosis, or even just recognizing you have OCD, often takes years. Then comes the search for appropriate treatment, followed by a long-term commitment to therapy and hard work. We know recovery is possible, but it is rarely a “quick fix.”

I try to imagine what it must feel like, after being controlled by OCD for so long, to finally have your life back? Relief. Gratitude. Excitement!

Yes, but for many, also add trepidation and confusion, with a helping of uncertainty.

What do I do NOW?

Living with a good-sized case of obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a full- time job. Obsessions, compulsions, more compulsions, getting stuck, avoidance, more compulsions, planning your next move, more compulsions – it can literally take up all your time. When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, OCD was all he “did” day in and day out. It truly stole his life.

And yet, it’s not hard to understand that when you’ve performed compulsions for such a long time, they can become comfortable and familiar – not unlike a security blanket.

So when you finally get your life back, it can be disorienting and scary. You might even feel anxious about feeling well because you’re not used to feeling that way and don’t know how to handle not being a slave to OCD. What do you do with all this free time? How can you be sure to live that happy, productive life you’ve worked so hard to reclaim?

I have heard from quite a few people who have faced this issue, and it’s not unusual for OCD to try to worm its way back into their lives. All the uncertainty about what’s to come can be a ripe breeding ground for OCD. In addition, those with the disorder might start to obsess about how they think they are supposed to feel, or maybe even wonder if they ever really had OCD in the first place?

Hopefully, those who have made it this far in their battle will recognize OCD if it rears its ugly head and see it for what it is – a big bully trying to regain control. They will respond appropriately by just acknowledging the anxiety, not giving it any additional attention, and then continuing on with their lives. Of course, one of the best ways to keep OCD at bay is by continuing to use exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.

Back to the question of “What do I do NOW?” the answer is clear. You live your life the way YOU want to, not the way OCD wants you to. You identify your goals and work toward them within the framework of your values. What do you want out of life? While to some people the answers are obvious, others might need guidance to help figure out their fresh path. A good therapist can be invaluable.

Let’s get back to those feelings of Relief. Gratitude. Excitement! Because for all those whose lives are now unencumbered by OCD, anything is possible. Your hopes and dreams really can come true!

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The Cost of OCD – And Yes, I’m Talking about Money

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If you or a loved one has obsessive-compulsive disorder, then you know how devastating  it can be when left untreated – it takes a huge toll not only on the person with OCD, but also on all those who care about him or her. In addition to wasted time and energy, relationships have been destroyed, families have fallen apart, careers have been ruined, and people’s lives have been shattered.

When we talk about the high cost of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the above scenarios are usually what we are referring to.

But what about the actual cost in dollars (or pounds, or whatever currency you use)? Is it expensive to live with OCD?

It sure is. My guess is everyone with the disorder will have his or her own examples, but let’s just take a look at a few of the more common ways money can be lost to OCD:

  • If you deal with contamination OCD, this might just be the most expensive type of OCD to live with. Perhaps you go through so many cleaning products you are buying them a few times a week or even daily. And don’t forget your inflated heating and water bills from the hours and hours of showers you “have” to take, or from the excessive loads of laundry you “must” do. You might regularly throw out perfectly good clothes or other items because you feel they are contaminated. Then you “have” to go out and buy new items to replace the contaminated ones. And if you wash your hands until they are so raw they bleed, you need to buy lotion and/or first-aid supplies to prevent infection. You might even need to visit a doctor – another expense.
  • If you have “hit and run” OCD or any type of OCD related to driving, you might find yourself driving in circles for hours just to make sure you didn’t hit anyone. Maybe you take longer routes to avoid certain roads. These compulsions add extra wear and tear onto your car and are a waste of gasoline.
  • If you have OCD related to your health it can come at a substantial cost. Unnecessary visits to doctors and hospitals as well as needless tests and medications can easily cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
  • If you deal with “just right” OCD, you might often be late for work, school, or other obligations, causing you to lose your job or perhaps your college scholarship, or at the very least find yourself underemployed. Job loss, poor school and work performance, and underemployment are all common repercussions of living with untreated OCD, and the financial costs can be staggering.

As you can see, in addition to mental torment, there is a huge monetary cost to living with OCD. And the financial losses are not limited to those with the disorder. Family members and all loved ones and caregivers often suffer as well.

The solution?

Get the right help. Yes, finding a good therapist and engaging in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy can be tough – and expensive – but instead of wasting time, energy, and money, you will be making the smartest investment possible as you work toward a life controlled by you, not OCD. And that’s something you can’t put a price on.

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OCD is Messy

This post first appeared on my blog in 2012…….

I follow a number of blogs written by people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and the more I read, the more I realize how complicated, confusing, and unpredictable the disorder can be.

I know a fair amount about OCD. My son has it and I know firsthand how it can affect the entire family. I’ve seen how OCD can devastate lives. I’ve written posts on everything from symptoms and treatment to enabling and recovery avoidance. But I don’t have OCD, and while I can pick one aspect of the disorder to focus on, discuss, and wrap up neatly with a bow, I never truly convey the scope of this illness. My posts are neat, and OCD is messy. Writing about obsessive-compulsive disorder is so much easier than having it.

Many people with OCD also suffer from depression, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), and panic disorder, to name a few common comorbid conditions. Of course, each of these illnesses has their own definition and list of symptoms, which I know is important and necessary for diagnosis and proper treatment. But again, reading and writing about each illness conveys a sense of neatness and order. Patient number one has OCD, GAD and depression. Patient number two has OCD, panic disorder, and social phobia. Symptoms and the illnesses are categorized and seen as separate entities, as opposed to interrelated. It is easy to forget that we are talking about a whole person’s state of being, not just a bunch of different disorders. I am sure people have manifested symptoms of these various brain disorders long before they were differentiated by name.

When my son Dan suffered from severe OCD, he was also diagnosed with depression. Makes sense, right? Who wouldn’t be depressed in that situation? Once his OCD was under control, his depression lifted; two separately diagnosed illnesses that were intricately entwined. While this might be a simplified example, I believe it is worth thinking about.  We all need to remind ourselves that OCD, GAD, depression, etc. are just words used to explain how we are feeling and how our minds and bodies react to these feelings. They are a way of trying to maintain some order and clarity over the messiness of brain disorders. But let’s remember that while these labels and acronyms serve their purpose, our main goal should be striving to understand, and properly treat, the whole person.

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OCD and Reassurance

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This post first appeared on January 3, 2012…

One of the most common manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder is the need for reassurance. “Are you sure it is okay if I do this or that?” “Are you sure nobody got (or will get) hurt?” “Are you sure something bad won’t happen?” “Are you sure, are you sure, are you sure?” While the above questions are obvious appeals, they are not the only way that those with OCD seek reassurance. Indeed, the very nature of OCD centers around making certain that all is well. Obsessions are always unwanted and cause varying degrees of stress and anxiety, and compulsions temporarily alleviate these feelings. Compulsions are always, in some way, shape, or form, a quest for reassurance; a way to make everything okay.

When my son Dan was dealing with severe OCD,  he was always apologizing, he couldn’t eat, he was tied to the clock, and he had many mental compulsions. Though he knew none of his thoughts or actions made any sense, he just could not stop. And therein lies one of the big problems with reassurance: It is addictive.

Psychotherapist Jon Hershfield says:

“If reassurance were a substance, it would be considered right up there with crack cocaine. One is never enough, a few makes you want more, tolerance is constantly on the rise, and withdrawal hurts. In other words, people with OCD and related conditions who compulsively seek reassurance get a quick fix, but actually worsen their discomfort in the long-term.”

So how can those with OCD “kick the habit?” It’s not easy, as people with OCD continually wrestle with the feeling of incompleteness, never truly convinced that their task has been completed. There is always doubt.

But there is also always hope. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, as I’ve mentioned before, involves facing one’s fears and then avoiding engaging in compulsions. No reassurance allowed.  So basically the person with OCD is going through “withdrawal.” While it is incredibly anxiety-provoking initially, it gets easier with time. And with a lot of hard work and dedication, the addiction can be beaten.

I know I am over-simplifying things as OCD can be quite complicated, but I think it might be helpful to look at the need for reassurance in the context of addiction. It is so hard for those who do not suffer from OCD to understand why someone just can’t stop washing his or her hands, stop checking the stove, or stop performing other countless compulsions. Looking at the need for reassurance in this way might not only help shed some light on OCD, it can also give those without the disorder an appreciation for why treatment can be so difficult.

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OCD and Spouses

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This post first appeared on my blog in 2015:

For better or for worse………in sickness and in health.

If you or your spouse has OCD, the disorder affects both of you.

For the person with OCD, issues might include feeling as if your spouse doesn’t care enough and/or support you enough. Perhaps he or she gets easily frustrated with you, and doesn’t even begin to understand how tormented you are and why your lives (and possibly the lives of your children) have been turned upside down because of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

For the spouse of someone with OCD, maybe you feel as if your husband or wife is being selfish, following OCD’s demands with no regard for you or your children. Perhaps you feel your spouse isn’t trying hard enough to get well, and you resent him or her not only for all the slack you’ve had to pick up around the house, but also for allowing OCD to steal whatever joy you still have in your lives.

You are both emotionally and physically exhausted.

To make matters worse, couples who deal with OCD might feel isolated, as  it’s not the easiest subject in the world to talk about with others. If you do reach out for help, either individually or as a couple, well-meaning friends and relatives might take sides or offer bad advice. OCD is tough to understand – you feel alone.

But you’re not alone. You have each other. Remember? For better or for worse.

From what I’ve seen, couples who have thrived despite OCD see themselves as a team. They work together against OCD, not against each other. What this means is that if you’re the one with OCD, you need to commit to getting proper treatment, which includes exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Part of that treatment is accepting the fact that your spouse (and your children) will no longer accommodate or enable your OCD.

If you are the spouse of someone with OCD, you need to learn everything you can about obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even occasionally accompany your partner to his or her therapy appointments, if appropriate. Also, it’s very important to learn the correct ways to respond to your spouse when he or she is dealing with OCD. We want to naturally reassure and comfort our loved ones, but that’s the opposite of what we should be doing!

I know I’m making it sound easy, yet the truth is OCD is messy. Progress is rarely linear, and there will be many ups and downs. Still, it is possible to overcome OCD. Open communication and honesty are important for couples in general, but even more so when dealing with OCD, as it’s not uncommon for misunderstandings to arise. Cognitive distortions often come into play, and OCD will twist and turn things around every chance it gets.

Maybe the best thing you can do is remember why you married each other in the first place. Those people might be buried, but they still exist. While OCD has likely caused some damage, relationships can be repaired as you move toward recovery. In fact, once OCD is defeated, couples might find their marriage has become stronger than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

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Choosing ERP Therapy

 

For the rest of December I will be sharing some of my older posts. This one first appeared on my blog in 2011:

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, as I have mentioned before, is the treatment of choice for OCD.  Though it is intensely anxiety provoking and difficult to do, the results are often dramatic. I have always credited this therapy for saving my son Dan’s life.

In a thought-provoking post entitled “No one should do exposure and response prevention!Dr. Jonathan Grayson argues that nobody should engage in ERP therapy just because the experts say it is the right thing to do. Rather, for it to work, the person with OCD needs to really believe that this therapy is the best way to proceed. In short, the desire to participate in ERP therapy needs to come from within.

Though this advice can apply to many therapies for many disorders, it can get complicated with OCD (so what else is new?). Even though they know it is illogical and their sense of security is false, some people with OCD find it too hard to give up the “safety” of their rituals. It is a risk they are either unwilling or unable to take. In addition, those with OCD are often steered by what they perceive is right and therefore may agree to engage in ERP therapy because it is the “right thing to do,” and not because they truly believe it will help them.

When Dan spent nine weeks at an intensive residential treatment program for OCD, he learned a lot about how OCD operates, and quickly came to the realization that ERP therapy was his ticket to freedom. In my experience, those with OCD understand better than anyone what their disorder entails. They know they act irrationally, but they are rational people. Just read any first-person blogs written by those with OCD, and you are bound to see a phrase such as, “I know this sounds crazy but….”

It is far from easy to muster the courage to fight OCD, but it is possible. Empowered with knowledge, strength and desire, those with OCD can take the necessary responsibility for their recovery. And while the battle may be long and torturous, the choice to keep fighting is what really matters.

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