OCD and Insight

by smarnad, freedigitalphotos.net

by smarnad, freedigitalphotos.net

Before my son Dan was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, I had little to no experience dealing with people who suffered from mental illness. My preconceived belief was that those who had brain disorders didn’t really understand, or have insight into, what was “wrong” with them. They needed to see a professional who would know how to treat them with the right type of therapy and/or medication, and maybe try to help them understand their illness a little. I believed therapy was something done to people, not with them.

Why did I think this way? Where did it come from? These might be questions best answered in another post. The bottom line is I could not have been more wrong. In fact, in light of what I have learned about people with brain disorders over the last eight years or so, my assumption seems ludicrous. I’m even embarrassed to admit I had these beliefs.

The first person to dispel this myth for me was, not surprisingly, Dan. He diagnosed himself with the help of the Internet, and understood his OCD better than his pediatrician did. For the most part, he continued to have good insight throughout his battle with severe OCD. This is not unusual for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder; most sufferers, at some point, realize their obsessions and compulsions are irrational.

What about other brain disorders? Well, I have read blogs written by those with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and am continually amazed by the insight people have into their own disorders.

Having insight can be invaluable when in treatment for OCD (and I’m guessing other brain disorders as well). I’ve written many posts (my last one included) about Dan’s journey where I’ve stated that just being made aware of his cognitive distortions, or the tricks OCD can play, was extremely helpful in his fight against OCD. And insight doesn’t always have to come “naturally.” It can be helped along by a good therapist.

The benefits of insight are not limited to OCD or other brain disorders. Really, for all of us, the more we understand whatever challenges we face, the better equipped we can become to deal with them.

Education. Understanding. Insight. These things are not only necessary for those who are suffering, but also for those of us who might be on the outside looking in. Those preconceived notions I used to have about those with mental illness? No doubt there are people out there right now who currently hold my old beliefs. We need to break down the stigma and the misconceptions surrounding brain disorders. We need to have open and honest dialogue where people feel safe and unashamed to share their struggles, and we need to treat each other with compassion and kindness. Until this is accomplished, we will not have won the battle against OCD, or any other mental illness.








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16 Responses to OCD and Insight

  1. The insight we have on ourselves is often pretty impressive. I often believe that those with mental health issues know more about themselves then those without mental health issues.

  2. Ruby Tuesday says:

    Janet, what can I say? You are so right and so wonderful to bring this up. If I didn’t have the insights I did (and do still) about all I deal with, I truly would have been lost. ♡

    • Thanks, Ruby. I thought it was important to talk about because I do think a lot of people without brain disorders don’t realize how “in tune” those who do have them can be.

  3. Dr Jeannette Kavanagh says:

    Yes Janet insight is very important. In my work with people who have OCD their insight is often part of their pain: they know how irrational their obsessions are but are still caught in the obsessive web. Until they’re helped to break free. Insight is crucial for all of us. It’s not a competition between concepts/words but I think the far more important word in your post is ‘compassion’. It’s an attitude of mind and heart that doesn’t get much of a role in our education systems. We still have therapists who treat labels rather than the person, the individual. How wonderful to see compassion taught as part of medicine and psychology. It can be learned.

    • Thank you for your insight :), Jeannette. I know that for my son, and for others with OCD, their insight, as you say, is part of their pain. Knowing how irrational their OCD is, yet still being controlled by it, can be torturous. I also agree with you about the importance of compassion. My son saw many health care providers during his journey through severe OCD, some caring and some not, and those with compassion made all the difference in the world. Thank you so much for commenting!

  4. I agree with you, Janet. I think medical professionals sometimes forget that their patients can be their best guides in their treatment. And even if a person is not able to think clearly, it’s so important that we still treat them with compassion and respect. I just finished Elyn Saks’ memoir “The Center Cannot Hold” about her life with schizophrenia (I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it.) That was one of the take away messages for me. That even when people with mental illnesses are not their own best advocate, they deserve the respect we all expect and deserve.

    • I like how you put that, Tina: “patients can be their best guides in their treatment.” And of course everyone should be treated with compassion and respect. Isn’t it sad that we even have to clarify this?
      Thanks for sharing and for the book recommendation…….I have it on my “list!”

  5. edwinkimmd says:

    Reblogged this on Are. You. Mental? and commented:
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. 71 & Sunny says:

    Oh good insight is critical to recovery. There were times that I was very aware of my irrational behavior, and then there were times that others had to show me, and, this was key, I had to TRUST that they were right. Not easy when you feel like someone else’s life is literally in your hands because you feel (incorrectly) responsible for their safety. And of course, the better I got, the more insight I started to develop.

    • Excellent point, Sunny, that you had to trust others when your instincts (or really your OCD) were telling you otherwise. I can’t imagine how difficult that must be, especially when you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders. Another great example of how those who are working to recover from OCD can be so brave! Thanks for your insight :)!

  7. m.mazur says:

    Ive often found myself more educated than my doctors and that can be frustrating. Insight can be a blessing and a curse. Blessing because you can advocate for yourself – Curse because you are well aware of cognitive abnormalities which can cause further anxiety. I think in some cases Ignorance can be bliss!
    I was always told I had anxiety disorder; it’s only recently it has been better defined as OCD.
    My OCD comes and goes every several years and stays a few weeks wrecking havoc on my health (weight loss, gagging, no appetite).
    I have been reading through your posts from the beginning, as I time on my hands due to this particular episode is lasting longer – we think due to hormonal changes.

    • I totally agree with you……there is something to be said for ignorance :)! In the long run, though, I do think having insight is a good thing. I hope things take a turn for the better for you soon. Thanks so much for sharing!

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