I’ve previously written about recovery avoidance in reference to obsessive-compulsive disorder, where those who have OCD refuse to embrace proper treatment and fight their disorder. In general, recovery avoidance is attributed to two things: fear and incentive. All things being equal, a person will not seek recovery unless the incentive to get better is stronger than the fear of getting better. Those who are familiar with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy know that the thought of engaging in this treatment can be terrifying to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder; they are being asked to face their worst fears and refrain from completing compulsions that they believe, on some level, keep their world “safe.”
For those of us without OCD, this is often difficult to understand. While many of us can relate to experiences where we have had to face our fears, dealing with OCD seems to take “facing our fears” to another level.
Why is this?
I think the answer to this question lies in how OCD operates – it is tricky and deceitful.
Think of the most important things in your life – what you value more than anything else in the world. It could be those you truly love, your work, or your integrity, to give a few examples. Each person has his or own unique values.
If you have OCD, it will latch on to those values you hold most dear and convince you that certain things need to be done to safeguard them. OCD pretends to be on your side – it is disguised as a friend who will protect you from harm and will keep you from losing what is most important to you. All you have to do is perform compulsions as OCD commands, over and over again, and all will be well. And on some level, those with OCD feel these rituals do their job; their deepest values are indeed protected.
So when it comes time to do ERP therapy, those with OCD often feel that they are not only being asked to face their greatest fears, they are being asked to go against everything they believe is keeping their world intact. They are being asked to betray a friend, and they must be willing to face a world of uncertainty where anything can happen. Of course this is the world we all actually live in, but adhering to OCD’s requirements has created an illusion of safety.
So how does someone with OCD escape its clutches?
By understanding the inner workings of OCD and how it seduces sufferers. A good therapist can help here. Once OCD is seen for what it really is – a big bully – those with the disorder are more likely to embrace ERP therapy and work toward a life of freedom. It might not be easy, but nothing worthwhile rarely is.
Thank you for hitting the nail squarely on the head with this one (which hits so close to home). It can be very scary to give up what is so familiar. As a parent, I also know how difficult it can be for parents to allow their child to suffer OCD’s negative consequences. It can be so painful to watch them suffer, yet sometimes the road to recovery involves allowing the situation to become uncomfortable enough that they choose to fight for themselves.
Thanks for your comment, Angie. I agree it is so difficult for parents to just sit back and watch, but the bottom line is it’s our children’s battle to fight and there is only so much we can do. It’s not easy…for any of us!
Thank you for your wisdom and insight! /Anna in Sweden
Thanks for your kind words, Anna, and I’m glad you found the post worthwhile!
Reblogged this on Jackie Lea Sommers and commented:
This is so well put! And I agree with Janet: as I sometimes say, “When the hell of OCD is worse than the hell of ERP, you’ll be ready.” The only thing harder than ERP was living daily life with OCD, which made the therapy worth it. Now that I am about eight years out from my life-changing ERP experience, it is harder and harder for me to remember why I ever avoided it. Every single thing in my life improved via exposure therapy; it is one of the single greatest decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
If you are thinking about ERP but too scared to start, it’s okay. It will be there and available for you when you realize the scale has tipped– and that life with OCD is worse than the treatment, which, though difficult, has years of evidence showing it brings freedom.
Thanks for the reblog Jackie, and also for your words of wisdom. There is nothing like hearing from someone who has been there!
Did you do ERP with or without meds?
I did it with meds. I still take meds. That said, I would choose ERP over meds if I had to choose. Every time.
Thank you for being such a blessing and transparent regarding OCD. I’m a 26 yr old Christian who loves Jesus. For the last year and a half, I’ve been struggling with HOCD and Scrupulosity kinda sorta. Majority of my obsessions are based around sex. I have mental images of women, naked women, doing sexual things with women, sexual thoughts about God, especially when I pray or listening to a worship music. I get heart palpitations and physical responses when I do these things. I can’t even walk down the street without looking at women/getting aroused. I even get pressure in my head when a women walks past me. It’s been the hardest time of my life. I have been in ERP since Mid March of this year….I’m not seeing that much relief. I think it’s because I don’t do the exposures at home. My exposures involve looking at pictures of women and saying this about them. As a woman of faith…you could imagine how HARD these exposures might be. I feel like I’m sinning towards God every time I walk into a session. I feel terrible and dirty. In the bible it tells us to cast down all vain thoughts, but then my therapist wants me to look at this picture of a naked women and imagine myself doing things with her. I can’t take it AT ALL. Please give me your thoughts on how I should move forward…..
I’m sorry you’re having such a tough time. To be sure Jackie sees your comment, I suggest posting it on her blog:
I realize my response is late so I’m not sure this is still applicable for you. I think maybe if you are uncomfortable with what is being asked of you in treatment you could try discussing this with your therapist, hopefully they would understand? It is ultimately your choice after all, and though exposure to upsetting thoughts can be upsetting, you have the right to decide for yourself where to draw the line. Just know that I think God distinguishes between if you’re doing something for pleasure versus doing something because you’re trying to rid yourself of scrupulosity, because God wants you to be free of that.
All the best,
Thank you for your comment and I hope Mudriakat sees it. I think you bring up a great point that open communication with your therapist is so important. Thanks for sharing!