OCD, Motivation, and Self-Efficacy

by nitinut freedigitalphotos.net

by nitinut freedigitalphotos.net

Whether we have obsessive-compulsive disorder or not, I think most of us can relate to lacking motivation at times. We are tired, it’s just easier “not to______”(fill in your own blank), we are going to fail anyway, we don’t see the point. We just aren’t motivated to do what we need to do.

In the context of OCD, motivation is likely one of the most deciding factors in overcoming the disorder. Asking for help isn’t always easy, and ERP therapy is hard work. If you’re not motivated, you’re unlikely to be successful, and OCD will continue to rule your life. I’ve written before about recovery avoidance and the role incentives and motivation play in fighting OCD.

In this wonderful blog post (which I highly recommend) titled Self-Efficacy: Turning Doubt into Drive, Anna Cutteridge discusses how those who possess self-efficacy are more likely to be self-motivated in the face of a challenge. She says:

With high self-efficacy, one can attempt goals and conquer stress more readily, and as a result, experience better wellbeing. On the contrary, those who have doubts about their own abilities ruminate on personal flaws, slacken efforts and lose faith in the face of failure – a mind-set that in the long run can act as a brake on one’s ambitions and increase proneness to mental illness.

While reading the above paragraph, I couldn’t help relate it to those with OCD (okay, I pretty much relate everything to OCD :)). But that word, that cornerstone of obsessive-compulsive disorder stood out to me: DOUBT. Those with OCD are consumed by doubt and uncertainty – that’s what keeps their OCD alive. They also often have low self-esteem and doubt their strength and ability to get through difficult times. It’s not hard to come to the conclusion that many people with OCD are lacking in self-efficacy, which might very well be hindering their OCD recovery.

So how can we change this? How can those with OCD, indeed how can any of us, improve our self-efficacy?

In addressing this question, Ms. Cutteridge turns to research conducted by psychologist Albert Bandura whose studies concluded that one way to increase self-efficacy is through actually overcoming adversity. Whether it is getting right back up after experiencing failure or just possessing a “can do” attitude (think The Little Engine That Could), those who believe they can prevail usually do. Bandura also suggests that surrounding ourselves with good role models – those who set goals for themselves and accomplish them – can help with our own self-efficacy.

Again, I can’t help thinking of those with untreated OCD. They spend their lives trying to avoid adversity, not overcome it. Most compulsions are designed to keep bad things from happening. Compulsions that revolve around perfectionism are supposed to help avoid failure, not embrace it. So if you’re suffering with OCD now, you are likely doing the opposite of what you need to do to develop your own self-efficacy.

I know it’s not easy. I know it’s hard work. But the bottom line is it is doable. Find a good Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who can help you see through your cognitive distortions and a good OCD specialist who can get you started on ERP therapy. Embrace the struggle and you will come out on the other side with more self-efficacy than most people.

If you think you can, you can.


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10 Responses to OCD, Motivation, and Self-Efficacy

  1. repsychl says:

    Beautiful article!!! You put it so well, I think a lot of people hold completely false/stereotyped beliefs about OCD that would be rectified if they read this. Thank you so much for the mention that’s made my day! ❤

  2. grannyK says:

    You know, you scare me sometimes! I swear that you reach into my brain and pull out my thoughts! I fear failing and disappointing someone. I fear changing the way I feel and think because I don’t know who I would be if I change. But, at the same time, I WANT to change and be more positive. I recently started in direct sales to get outside my comfort zone. Tonight is my launch party and I have been trying to find ways to back out lol. But, I will see it through! I might be 59, but I can still change! Thank you for all of your encouragement and great information. It does help!

  3. Good points. This is also one of the reasons why it’s important to tackle ERP in a hierarchical way vs. flooding. If you start your ERP with lower level triggers, you can stack the deck in favor of “success experiences” (which can build self-efficacy). If you start too high, you may set yourself up for “failure experiences.” These “failures” can reinforce faulty, negative beliefs about yourself and further detract from your perception of yourself as an active agent in your own life and your own recovery.

    • Thanks for sharing your insight Dr. Seay and what you say makes so much sense. Nothing like a few successes under your belt to give you some confidence! We need more therapists like you who truly understand OCD and how to treat it.

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