OCD and Indecision

choicesI’ve been an advocate for OCD awareness for almost ten years now and while I feel that some progress has been made in the public’s understanding of the disorder, we still have a long way to go. One of the more difficult concepts to get across, I believe, is just how debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder can be. Maybe because many people, on some level, can relate to some of the more common obsessions and compulsions, they also believe they “know how those with OCD feel.” Perhaps these people are afraid of germs or everything has to be “just so.” But in reality, unless they actually have obsessive-compulsive disorder, they have no idea of the torment those with OCD experience.

One aspect of OCD that I believe falls into this category is indecision. For whatever reason, I seem to be coming across more and more people with OCD (and those with depression as well) who are affected by this issue. But not affected like those of us without OCD. While those of us without the disorder might agonize over important decisions and possibly even lose a night’s sleep, those with OCD might be paralyzed with fear over any decision – large or small.

For example:

Reviewing breakfast options over and over again in your mind, trying to determine the best combination of food to eat. The perfect meal always seems to be just out of reach, so a decision is not made, and the meal is skipped.

Thinking of, praying about, and analyzing the pros and cons of attending a particular event for days on end. Not being able to come to a decision means missing the event, and then the worrying (for days) begins over the repercussions of not showing up.

Deciding what shirt to wear to work and fearing that whatever you choose might lead to someone you love getting hurt (you know it makes no sense, but still, you never know…).
You’re late for work so you grab a shirt and for hours after repeat the phrase, “Nobody will get hurt.” You’re not able to concentrate on anything else for the rest of the day.

In the above examples, avoidance is evident, as is the need for certainty. Perfectionism often plays a role in indecisiveness as well.

It’s not hard to see how lives can almost be destroyed by this level of indecisiveness. I hope these examples have illustrated how indecision in those with OCD differs from “regular” indecision. And while these situations can indeed be debilitating, there is a solution. As I’ve said over and over again, OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. Addressing cognitive distortions and embracing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy are both life-changing decisions that should be easy to make.




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12 Responses to OCD and Indecision

  1. GEOFF HUDSON says:

    Thank you for this very interesting article on O CD it would appear that I have already subscribed to this site sorry for any inconvienice sufferer of OCD since early childhood remember being laughed at by my parents who at that time thought my checking of light switches and electric plugs etc was funny thankfully that is not the case in the 21st century

    • You’re welcome Geoff and I am so sorry to hear how you were treated as a child. That is so unacceptable – it must have been horrible for you. Yes, we have come a long way but still have so much farther to go!

  2. Hi Janet. OH, the one about trying to pick the right meal item. I’ve heard families sitting in anguish because the member with OCD cannot decide. And how difficult it is before they realize it is OCD they are dealing with! Thank you for an informative post!

    • You’re welcome, Angie. I agree – how horrible it must be to not have an inkling what’s going on………….why can’t I (or my loved one) make a simple little decision? At least knowing it’s OCD allows you to move forward with a plan (hopefully :))!

  3. I definitely struggle with decision making as a result of obsessive thoughts and perfectionism. I felt like I was reading about myself. Thank you so much for raising awareness.

  4. Daniel Walks says:

    One of my earliest memories of OCD was indecision over toys as well as what I wanted to do with my life. It wasn’t picked by my family dispite trying to explain my anxiety. (Kids that age simply dont have problems’). Looking back it was just as crippling as decisions are for me now.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for bringing awareness to this. So often the general public will offhandedly say things like, “My OCD is bothering me”, when straightening/fixing an object or something of the like…although meant to be a harmless comment without any malicious intent, it’s very painful to hear it mentioned so casually when someone you love suffers from it in every decision of every day.

  6. abder says:

    The professor of philosophy used to recount this story: a donkey died cos it couldn’t decide what to do first: to drink water or to eat some herbs. Now, I realize what was missing in this story: this donkey had OCD.

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