OCD and Vulnerability

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I recently came across two wonderful TED Talks given by Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent much of her career researching shame and vulnerability. She is a great speaker, and I highly recommend listening to what she has to say.

Dr. Brown talks about our need, as humans, to “be connected” to one another. That’s really what it’s all about. In order for these connections to happen, we have to first believe that we are worthy of belonging, of being loved. We have to embrace our imperfections and let go of shame. Dr. Brown eloquently expands on this topic here.

Also, if our quest to “be connected” is going to be successful, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; be able to “put ourselves out there.”

In other words, we have to embrace living with uncertainty.

Once again, I am reminded how many of the challenges faced by those with obsessive-compulsive disorder are the same that we all confront. It is the severity of the struggle that differs. Who among us could not relate to feeling vulnerable?

Dr. Brown explains that, as a society, we tend to do everything we can to avoid feeling vulnerable. She says, “We numb vulnerability…we are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in US history.” We mask our vulnerability and see it as a shameful weakness.

Really though, being vulnerable is not about being weak. It is exactly the opposite. It is about having courage; the courage to fail, the courage to forge ahead into the realm of uncertainty. It is about taking a risk and exposing yourself to whatever might be. While being vulnerable can be difficult for all of us, it can evoke paralyzing fear in those with OCD.

But if we can learn to embrace our vulnerability, then we will be able to live “wholeheartedly.” What this means to Dr. Brown is not numbing our vulnerability, but feeling what we feel. Whether it is despair, fear, or hopefully joy and gratitude, there will be no more secrecy or pretending.

For those with OCD, this path to wholeheartedness likely involves Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy. To me, this therapy is the epitome of vulnerableness (yes, it’s a word 🙂 ). ERP Therapy takes courage and resolve, but by engaging in it, OCD sufferers are working toward what they deserve: a life of authenticity filled with whatever “connections” they desire. Because as Dr. Brown says, that’s what it’s all about.

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16 Responses to OCD and Vulnerability

  1. Thank you for this lovely post, Janet. It’s the second time in about a week that I’ve heard about Brené Brown, so I think that means I should look into what she has to say! Happy New Year!

    • ocdtalk says:

      That seems to happen to me a lot, Seth. I’m not familiar with someone/something, and then once I hear about them/it, they seem to be everywhere. Thanks for your comment!

  2. I had never thought about ERP making us vulnerable, but you’re right–it does. We’re facing a lot of anxiety and fear and uncertainty. But good things can come from it, as you say.

    Thanks for a great post, Janet. It was very enlightening.

  3. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks, Tina, and thanks for the Retweet also!

  4. Pinned and tweeted you. Will also pin the talk if I can. Thank you for all you do. http://pinterest.com/pin/147141112797378603/

  5. nrkellner says:

    Once again I am moved by both the content and writing of your post. Your perspective on OCD specifically and mental health in general gives your readers much to think about. Dr. Brown’s two talks about vulnerability flipped a switch for me. As you have noted before, much of what you write about applies not only to those who suffer from OCD but the general community as well. Your blog should reach a wider audience. It has so much to offer.

  6. jess greenbaum says:

    My 19-year old daughter, through three hospital programs, sounds so much like “Dan” when he wasn’t able to push back. I just found these posts so I can’t follow what has happened . . . but I know we are looking for a residential therapeutic treatment community where our daughter can begin to regain her young adulthood and reconnect with her brilliant self. Maybe you had a past post about that? I am going to try to start at the beginning and make my way through! best, jessica greenbaum

  7. ocdtalk says:

    Hi Jess, There are a few posts about Dan’s residential program. If you’d like more information, please feel free to email me at ocdtalk@yahoo.com. It’s good to hear from you.

  8. 71º & Sunny says:

    I love this post, Janet. There is so much truth to it. My psychologist worked really hard to show me how to be vulnerable in a healthy way. It took me a long time, but it has been one of the best things that I ever took a risk on. My relationships have deepened tremendously and I feel like I can really be myself in front of others now. Thanks for passing on such good information.

  9. Mike says:

    I have OCD and I am 37 and completely alone. I can connect with no one. Or I start to connect and then the bad behavior that accompanies worries in a relationship is so exacerbated by my OCD I cannot continue or I scare the person off. I cannot have sex because of it. It seems I cannot let myself be vulnerable b/c when I do, or when I think I am, something happens that shutters me in again. I’ve lived 20 years with this hell. And if it weren’t for the meds I’m on and the very limited time I spent with a therapist in 2007 it would be much worse. I’d probably be dead.

    I yearn for a connection. I yearn for love. You get to a point where you to shout to people that you are a great person, if only they could see past the outside: the bitterness, the sad face, the despair. I always think of myself as Eben Flood, the protagonist in E.A. Robinson’s poem “Mr. Flood’s Party”. Life is just passing me by…and I don’t even recognize myself anymore.

  10. ocdtalk says:

    Thank you for reaching out, Mike, and I am so sorry to hear how difficult things are for you. I really hope you can bring yourself to find a good therapist who knows how to treat OCD. The IOCDF website is a good place to start. You are still young, OCD is treatable, and you deserve to feel better. I wish you all the best.

  11. A truly great post with terrific links! I am glad you sent it to me because I wouldn’t have probably found it. For some reason i am hopeless trying to find things in here.
    You are such a wonderful example of someone who is strong enough to be vulnerable. You should be so proud of yourself and your successes.

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