Is Thinking about Compulsions a Compulsion?

by FrameAngel

by FrameAngel

I corresponded with a young woman with obsessive-compulsive disorder who had participated in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy and made some major improvements in dealing with her OCD. However, she still struggled at times and wasn’t quite where she wanted to be – like many with OCD, she was a work in progress.

She had an upcoming vacation planned with her serious boyfriend and was determined that her OCD would not ruin this special time they had planned together. She would not avoid people, places, or things that might make her anxious, she would not apologize for no good reason, and she would not ask for reassurance of any kind from her boyfriend. In short, she was determined to not engage in any compulsions during their vacation. Things would be perfect and she’d have a great time.

My first thought was, “How impressive!” She was doing everything she could to resist her compulsions. But as we communicated more, it seemed to me that perhaps she had become obsessed with not doing her compulsions. And to quell this obsession, she would continuously monitor herself to make sure she wasn’t engaging in any compulsions. Could this check on compulsions actually be a compulsion?

If you’ve lost me, I’m sure you’re not the only one. To say OCD can be confusing is an understatement to say the least.

As it turns out, this woman’s vacation didn’t turn out too well, as she found herself unable to stop focusing on not performing compulsions. Her plan had backfired. Her anxiety skyrocketed, and was not able to enjoy her vacation. Sigh. OCD at its finest (she said sarcastically).

So, what should she have done? As someone without OCD, it’s easy for me to say, “She just should have relaxed, enjoyed the moment, and not been so hard on herself.”  But I know that’s often easier said than done. Still, accepting the fact that she is indeed human, and will slip up here and there as we all do, might have made for a better time.

I don’t believe any of us are perfect, and if we focus on perfection, we are bound to be disappointed. Doing the best we can at any given moment, being mindful and present, is all we can really ask of ourselves. And when the mistakes happen? Well, we can acknowledge and accept them, strive to do better, be kind to ourselves, and move on to the next moment. Otherwise we are just letting OCD win.








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6 Responses to Is Thinking about Compulsions a Compulsion?

  1. Paul K says:

    The first thing that comes to mind as I read this post: “Serenity Prayer”. I often recognize that the Serenity Prayer is helpful when coping with OCD. I say “recognize” rather than “find” because I almost never remember to use the Serenity Prayer when my mind is swirling from trying to “fight off” OCD.

    I also wanted to share that this kind of thing (obsessing about how to treat my own OCD) often happens to me when I’m attempting to do ERP. I almost always try to think of phrases to say to myself before I start the Exposure that I can use to help myself Prevent the Response. In other words I plan ahead to do some sort of Thought Stopping. Example: before I start an exposure I will remind myself to say: “Stop! The fear ALWAYS goes away”. Within the last year or so, my therapist pointed out to me that telling myself what to say after the exposure before I do it seems to have become an obsession. I say that because before I begin the exposure I will repeat to myself: “The fear always goes away.” several times before I begin the exposure. So there you have it LOL. I create an obsession even as I begin to try to help myself overcome OCD!

    PS: Janet… I’ve been meaning to ask you: Do you have a favorite book that teaches how to do ERP therapy?

    I hope everyone has a great Sunday!

    – Paul

    • Thanks for sharing, Paul! At least you now have an understanding of what you’ve been doing during ERP therapy – it does get complicated, doesn’t it? I always appreciate your sharing as I’m sure your comment will help others.
      I do recommend workbooks in the Resource section of my book, but don’t typically list books on my website. If you don’t have my book, feel free to email me for more info if you’d like.Hope you had a great day as well!

  2. Laura says:

    OCD is so complicated, it’s amazing how many facets it has. It can be so insidious and manifests in the most interesting ways.

  3. My heart hurts knowing that this individual had to check, check again and continue doing so….in short, her compulsion became her own compulsion. It is a vicious and wicked cycle of mental masturbation (a term my mother used on me). Once you start thinking (obsessing) about the compulsion you unknowingly find yourself making thing worse….the more you think about it the worse it becomes. It’s as if you are stoking the fire to get it going, even though the fire is going you still poke and prod, you try to divert yourself, but you can only think about the fire. I use this analogy because my ex-wife would physical move me away from what ever I was obsessing about. She would tell me to resist the “white hot pain” I was suffering through at that moment and force myself to walk away….I had to because she would stand there and make sure I did. Unfortunately my severity level was so high I would never forget the spot I was at when she helped me “push through the white hot pain”. I would wait days, months and at times years to return and finish my ritual counting. I bring this up because I hid my OCD from everyone….so my advice is seek any and all assistance you can, ERP therapy, counseling on every level and fight OCD with all your heart and soul. The more we all know and share with each other is the most powerful tool we have. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts and ideas. I hope they are helpful. Steve

    • Hi Steve, Thank yo so much for your heartfelt comment and I’m sure it will help a lot of people. There is nothing as powerful as hearing from someone who has “been there.” I am sorry you suffered so much and hope you are doing well now.

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