OCD and Confessing

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

by stuart miles freedigitalphotos.net

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.



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9 Responses to OCD and Confessing

  1. Having gone through treatment at the OCD-Institute it’s funny to me how often in our society we use reassurance. Every time I hear a doubtful question now and a reassuring answer, I can’t help but snicker.

    This was a very good post about confessing and ultimately, reassurance seeking. I’m glad I found this and your blog again. I remember reading the information you posted last year when I was going through the worst of the OCD and when I was waiting for my admission into McLean in MA. Thank you so much for the advocacy you are doing through blogging and for sharing the story, especially thanks to Dan for being open about it and letting you share with others. =)

    • Thanks so much for your comment and kind words. I hope you found McLean helpful and are doing well. I think it’s so helpful when we all share our stories. Hope to hear from you again!

  2. letitbee says:

    Guilt is the one thing that has constantly been present in my OCD. I hate being unsure of myself daily But as you said embrace living with uncertainty,

    • Thanks for sharing, Letitbee, and I know living with uncertainty isn’t easy, but it’s the ticket to freedom from OCD. I hope you are doing well in your fight against OCD and hope to hear from you again!

  3. Working with children, I’ve had the opportunity to see the toll the constant confessions can take on child and family members. Entire evenings can be taken up with confessions. Siblings can feel overwhelmed, begging mom and dad to ask sister or brother to stop running down their list of transgressions. Friendships can be challenged with youngsters not knowing what to do when their friends are constantly telling them what they feel guilty about. Confession is a sly one. It tells the person with OCD that they will feel better if they just …confess. Yet how that one little confession grows and grows into an unwieldy monster!

    • Angie, your comment is a good example of how OCD negatively affects so many people, not just the person with the disorder. I always appreciate your insight…..thank you!

  4. Kaye says:

    So, how do I respond when my child wants to constantly confess and has bad thoughts? I know I am not supposed to reassure him, but I can’t seem to find out what I should do to not contribute to his compulsions. I am working to find him a good counselor as we have had some not so good ones in the past for my other child with OCD. In the meantime, how should I react to him when he follows me around telling me every bad thought he’s ever had and is constantly apologizing for everything/ Any help is appreciated.

    • Hi Kaye, I don’t know how old your son is or the details and/or severity of his OCD, and I’m also not a therapist. But in general, you can explain to your son (on his level) that his seeking reassurance (through confessing) and your enabling him are both only making his OCD stronger. You can also state that you will no longer enable him. So perhaps you can come to an agreement that he is allowed to ask you for reassurance once, and you will answer him. After that, you can respond by saying something like, “What do you think?” or “This is your OCD at work, and I’m not going to participate.” Something like that. It will be tough at first but the less he has your cooperation the better. You might find this post helpful: https://ocdtalk.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/how-to-stop-enabling-ocd-sufferers/. Good luck and I hope you find a good therapist soon>

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