Healthy Doubt Versus Unhealthy Doubt

crossing NYC street

This post first appeared on my blog in August 2013….

I’ve previously written about how I used to scrutinize my son Dan, trying to decipher which of his behaviors were OCD related. I finally realized my intense involvement in his life was doing us both more harm than good, and I was able to let go and just trust my son.

What I wasn’t aware of at the time is that sometimes those who deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder aren’t sure themselves if their thoughts and behaviors are related to their disorder. Because those with OCD often have good insight in regard to their illness, I just assumed they knew when what they were thinking or how they were acting was OCD based. However, from reading blogs and connecting with people, I realize this isn’t always the case.

So how do we know if certain feelings and/or actions are related to OCD?

In his book When in Doubt, Make Belief, author Jeff Bell discusses healthy (intellect-based) doubt vs. unhealthy (fear-based) doubt. I highly recommend reading this book, if you haven’t already. While theoretically it might be easy to distinguish between the two, Jeff, by using an example of a man deciding whether or not to cross a busy New York street, shows us how complicated it can be. As he says, “…the same fear-based doubt that can distort our thinking is also quite adept at masquerading as intellect-based doubt.” (When in Doubt, Make Belief, page 9).

In his book, as well as in this interview, Jeff talks about the five questions he asks himself to help determine the source of his doubt:

  1. Does this doubt evoke far more anxiety than either curiosity or prudent caution?
  2. Does this doubt pose a series of increasingly distressing “what if” questions?
  3. Does this doubt rely on logic-defying and/or black-and-white assumptions?
  4. Does this doubt prompt a strong urge to act — or avoid acting — in a fashion others might perceive as excessive, in order to reduce the anxiety it creates?
  5. Would you be embarrassed or frightened to explain your “what if” questions to a police officer or work supervisor?

If you answer “yes” to these questions, there’s a strong chance you are dealing with unhealthy doubt.

As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and the more people with OCD understand their disorder, the better position they will be in to fight it. A competent therapist can also help those with OCD distinguish between healthy and unhealthy doubt, giving them a clearer picture of how OCD operates.

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One Response to Healthy Doubt Versus Unhealthy Doubt

  1. Reblogged this on Real Momma Ramblings and commented:
    This is what I am struggling with now. As I am trying to tackle my scrupulosity through therapy, I am often caught in the obsession of “Is this OCD? or do I really think this?”

    My therapist is starting me small and wants me to say “this is OCD” when ever I have a doubt concerning my faith and just sit with that realization. But I am having a hard time with even this simple task because I’m afraid a thought won’t be OCD and I am labeling it wrong. After all, as Christians we are supposed to be inquisitive and curious to deepen our knowledge. I am afraid I won’t be able to recognize an OCD doubt and a real doubt when it comes to say, reading a book or hearing a sermon that doesn’t sit right. Because right now, nothing sits right. Everything feels wrong, sounds wrong. It’s a very lonely feeling that I struggle to share. Because someone who doesn’t understand could take my questions or doubts wrong and reassure me in unhelpful ways.

    I have just restarted my therapy after a bit of a break (me avoiding treatment because of the anxiety) and I already feel hopeless. Scrupulosity is so different from my harm OCD. So many uncertainties that my OCD takes and runs with. I am already exhausted.

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