I’ve previously written about recovery avoidance in those with OCD, and how heartbreaking it can be for family and friends to know there is treatment for the disorder, yet their loved ones refuse to commit themselves to it. I’ve talked about how important it is for those with OCD to identify their values, so that the desire to regain the things they hold most dear could hopefully propel them toward recovery. But still, time after time, I hear of those who just can’t bring themselves to embrace treatment.
They are too afraid.
As someone without OCD, I have never understood this. In my mind, since OCD sufferers are already living a life of fear, it makes sense to pursue treatment (ERP therapy), and at least have this fear lead to some positive results: freedom from OCD. I know treatment is scary, but is it really scarier than living with obsessive-compulsive disorder?
For some people, it is. I now realize that for a good number of OCD sufferers, the thought of living without OCD might be more frightening than living with the disorder. While those with OCD typically realize their disorder makes no sense, they also, on some level, believe their OCD keeps them and their loved ones safe. After all, isn’t that the whole “purpose” of all those compulsions? To make certain that all is well? Why rock the boat? It’s too scary.
Another fear some OCD sufferers have is that if they “lose” their OCD, they will not be themselves; they will be missing a part of who they are. Again, as someone without the disorder, this makes no sense to me. In fact, I think the opposite is true: OCD does not allow sufferers to truly be themselves. When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he was caught up in the world of OCD and anxiety, unable to spend his time, pursue his goals, or even think his thoughts, the way he wanted. Only when he recovered did he return to his authentic self; who he was, and is, meant to be.
I believe OCD sufferers are often a lot stronger than they think they are. It’s not unusual to hear stories of children with OCD who are able to resist doing their compulsions at school (likely due to fear of ridicule), or of adults who find themselves in situations they can’t control. Maybe they absolutely have no choice but to use a public restroom, or perhaps they also resist compulsions for fear of being “found out.” Whatever the scenario, if the incentive is strong enough, sufferers can stand up to their OCD.
Almost three-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a post called Where There’s a Will…, where I discussed my son Dan’s motivation to fight his OCD. I still truly believe that for all OCD sufferers, where there is a will there is a way. The trick is to find that will, fight through the fear, and refuse to let OCD ruin your life anymore.
Fear and OCD definitely go hand and hand. Personally, when I first started getting help for my OCD, I struggled a lot with the paradox of wanting my OCD gone yet questioning who I would be without it. Although I’m not OCD free, with my OCD more manageable now, it frees my mind up to be a much better (and happier) person. My true goals in life are so much more clear now. Also, I find that since I no longer am constantly trying to abate my own internal anxiety, I have much more of a desire to improve the lives of others as well.
Thank you so much for sharing. I think it means more for those with OCD to hear how much better life can be after treatment from someone who knows firsthand, rather than hearing it from me. I especially appreciate your last sentence, and feel confident that you have improved some lives just through your comment. I wish you all the best!
Thank you for sharing that, I honestly never heard anyone else talk about being afraid to “get better” and to be free from my OCD. I’ve always thought that I was afraid because I’m a bad person or I must want the attention or something. But this is so accurate, I’m so afraid of the change because I’ve had OCD since I was 5 years old, and after 20 years how am I supposed to know who I am without it?
Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad the post resonated with you. Maybe you’re not “supposed to know” who you are without OCD, because your true self will appear once your OCD is under control…I think you would be the same “you” only better!
Great post, Janet! I know the fear of wondering who I will be if I don’t have OCD, or if it’s not a big part of my life. I have gotten so much better now, and I know now that I do have a life and I am a “real” person without OCD in control.
On the other hand, I can understand not being able to parse out which parts of us are OCD and which are our authentic self. I’m working on this now after reading a wonderful book by Parker J. Palmer called Let Your Life Speak. It’s about finding your authentic self, and I wonder how I can ever do that with all the OCD and depression intertwined.
Thanks for your insight, Tina, and I always love to get book suggestions. Sounds like a good book for working through these issues.
Interesting post, I can certainly identify with those who are frightened about keeping safe. That rocking the boat is venturing into the unknown. I personally think that unknown can be very scary, and it does place doubts there about “what happens next?”
Also, in relation to exposure therapy, I can understand those who are fearful of such things, they aren’t easy to go through, but, and for anyone reading who is waiting for therapy, I promise this is true, going through the exposure can be more helpful than certain other therapies, perhaps more so than purely CBT. That has been the case with myself.
Thanks for sharing, Jack. As you likely know, ERP therapy helped my son immensely, but the real reason I keep pushing it is because so many others have also been helped by it. Hearing (or reading) it from someone who has gone though the therapy, as you have, is the best endorsement for it!
Reblogged this on Jackie Lea Sommers and commented:
My friend Janet has a great post today about recovery avoidance. I have the benefit of seeing the things she discusses from both sides: I was terrified of treatment and ALSO scared to lose my OCD-identity, but in the end, the daily hell of OCD was stronger than my fear, and I started ERP therapy. Now, on the other side, I wish I’d done so sooner! I have a newfound freedom and am my real, authentic self again. If you are avoiding ERP therapy, let’s talk. If you have an excuse, I have the counter-argument. 🙂
Thanks Jackie (and Janet) for sharing your experiences.
When I tried to do ERP on my own early in my OCD experience (without knowing what it was, really), I probably did it wrong?–because I didn’t get much better and might have even got worse. But since I heard ERP is the only known therapy that helps with OCD, I’m planning to give it another try (this time with a therapist, who hopefully knows more than I do). Do you have any advice/encouragement about how to approach it and follow through?
While the premise of ERP therapy might seem simple, it can be a complicated therapy and the most important thing is to find a therapist who has experience and success in using it to treat OCD. This post might be a good start for you:
Finding the right therapist can be hard work and you need to do your research. Unfortunately just because someone says they use ERP doesn’t mean they actually know what they are doing :(. Good luck and keep us posted :)!
I agree with your statements that “if the incentive is strong enough, sufferers can stand up to their OCD.” That has been my experience: For a while I voluntarily put myself through what I now know is my own form of ERP when I forced myself to go to class. My incentive was that I didn’t want people to see what was wrong with me and I wanted to finish the semester. But instead of feeling proud that I beat the OCD for awhile, I felt ashamed and exhausted and often did compulsions on the way home. And after the class ended, instead of getting better from OCD I got more and more agoraphobic and ultimately housebound. So I think I understand why people would fear ERP more than they want to be healed.
I’m sorry to hear you suffered so much and hope you are doing better now. Thank you for sharing and for all your thoughtful comments!