Separate yourself from OCD through personification
I have found that personifying my disorder—seeing OCD as a part of me but also separate from me—has been a very useful tool in taming OCD. In fact, my entire memoir is written like a suspense novel (because that’s what living with untreated OCD can be like) where my OCD is one of the main characters in the book and personified as the villain. To me, my OCD has a variety of different personalities, changing moods, and bags of tricks it uses to try to manipulate me into doing its bidding.
My recovery has been fueled by learning to outwit OCD every step of the way with exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) for OCD, and as a result, my disorder is much, much less successful in getting me to do compulsions. But OCD being OCD, that doesn’t mean that it’s stopped trying. For instance, sometimes it says “I get it! We’re not doing compulsions now, and that’s fine! But let me show you a few compulsions for your consideration just in case you might be interested in the future. No harm in that, right?”
If OCD says it’s harmless, think again…
To visualize what my OCD does next, envision it as the orange dog toy in this picture.* When it would like to show me potential compulsions I could do, it’s like it goes into a dressing room, puts on an outfit, comes back out and spins around while saying, “What about this compulsion? I think this might just be the one!” And I’ll consider it, and say “no, I don’t think so,” and then OCD says, “No problem! I’ll go try on something else!” It goes back into its dressing room and a few seconds later emerges in a different outfit. It admires itself in the mirror, twirls around and then says, “What do you think of this? This is a great compulsion! Low risk, high reward, am I right?” I’ll once again say “No, OCD, I’m not going to do that,” and then OCD goes back into the dressing room to find another compulsion it would like to show me.
This goes on and on until I finally realize that OCD has once again pulled something out of its bag of tricks.
The “trying on compulsions” compulsion
Because watching OCD try on outfits, i.e. thinking about all the compulsions I could do, even if I don’t actually do any of them, IS a one big compulsion!
It’s a meta compulsion: a compulsion about compulsions. What makes it compulsive is that by mentally considering these rituals, I’m acting as though OCD’s worries are real and so important that I need to mentally do something about them. Thinking about doing compulsions is acting as though what OCD is saying is relevant, which is the opposite of ERP.
OCD is as smart as you are, and sometimes it comes up with ideas like the trying on compulsion that feel innocent (after all, you’re not really doing the compulsions, you’re just thinking about them, right?), but don’t be fooled!
Instead, act like OCD doesn’t matter
Next time OCD tells you it wants to mentally show you some harmless compulsions, act like OCD doesn’t matter! Put your Shoulders Back, mindfully place your attention on what is relevant in your life (or use “may or may not” scripts if OCD is screaming too loudly for you to redirect your attention successfully), and leave OCD’s mental dressing room behind.
*Check out page 172 of Is Fred in the Refrigerator? Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life, if you’d like to know why OCD has a tissue and a knitting project in the photo!
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My blogs are not a replacement for therapy, and I encourage all readers who have obsessive compulsive disorder to find a competent ERP therapist. See the IOCDF treatment provider database for a provider near you. And never give up hope, because you can tame OCD and reclaim your life!
Featured illustration (c) Can Stock Photo / sellingpix