I’ve previously written about my son Dan’s need to apologize. This need was in fact a compulsion – a roundabout way of seeking reassurance. It worked for a long time, until I finally realized I was enabling him by telling him he had nothing to apologize for. OCD sure can be tricky!
Another compulsion that is not uncommon in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder is the need to confess. If your OCD involves harming obsessions, you might confess these thoughts to your sister, who has asked you to babysit your niece and nephew. Maybe she shouldn’t leave her children alone with you? If you had a tickle in your throat while buying cookies at a bakery for said niece and nephew, you might confess that maybe you were sick and you might have possibly touched the cookies, and so maybe the children shouldn’t eat the possibly contaminated cookies.
Confessions related to OCD can run the gamut from something as minor as confessing to ignoring an acquaintance on the street to something as major as confessing that maybe you committed murder by hitting someone with your car while driving. Not only is OCD tricky, but it also has quite the imagination!
So why do those with OCD often feel the need to confess? It is because confessing is just another way to seek reassurance. Just think of what our typical responses might be:
“Of course you can stay with the kids. I know you would never hurt them. And they can eat the cookies too; nobody will get sick.”
“Everyone avoids people now and then. You have nothing to feel badly about.”
“Hit someone while driving? C’mon, you know that’s not true. You would know if you hit someone.”
Those are good responses, right? Well, no. Not when you are dealing with someone with OCD. When we reassure, we strengthen the vicious cycle of obsessions and compulsions.
Those with OCD who have made the above confessions (or any confessions for that matter) are looking to relieve the heavy guilt they feel. For example, someone with OCD might think: “If the children get sick after eating the cookies I brought, it’s not my fault. I warned them.” But alleviating guilt will not help those with OCD in the long run. There are always more feelings of guilt just around the corner.
As with all compulsions in OCD, reassurance seeking also aims to erase any doubt the person with OCD might feel: “She’s right. Of course I would know if I killed someone with my car.” The problem here is the idea of certainty, of no doubt, is elusive and unattainable. There is very little we can be certain of in our world. Those with the disorder have to not only accept, but also embrace, living with uncertainty.
As I mention in this post, OCD can be tricky, and it can have a wild imagination. But it’s not smarter than us. Understanding the role confessions play in perpetuating OCD and then working toward not engaging in this compulsion brings us one step closer to recovery.