When I hear people with OCD say that OCD has been useful to them, I gently point out that you don’t want to give credit to OCD for your positive attributes. You may be detail-oriented, but that’s not OCD. OCD will take being attentive to detail and distort it, making you obsessive about details. This over-focus can actually become a disadvantage because it slows you down, makes you miss the forest for the trees, and takes all the fun out of whatever task you’re doing (see my blog OCD is Not What You Think for an example from my own life).

Accidentally selling your soul to OCD

You may have ascribed some of your other positive qualities that you value to OCD, such as being careful, meticulous, responsible, empathic, thoughtful, or responsive. But again, these are your qualities, not OCD’s. OCD latches on to them because it knows you care about them, and OCD always attaches itself to what you value most. So it gives you a slick sales pitch, such as, “If a little bit careful is good, then a lot more careful would be soooooooooo much better!” You sign on the dotted line, but by trying to be “a lot more careful” you’ve now sold your soul to the devil that is OCD.

One of resulting highly destructive outcomes of this accidental deal with the devil is that it can discourage you from making an effort with your exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) because you think that overcoming OCD will somehow make you less effective or successful.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Purposely finding freedom through ERP

With ERP, you learn to be appropriately careful, meticulous, responsible, empathic, thoughtful, or responsive. If you’re doing the opposite of ERP by following OCD’s rules, you’re probably spending inordinate amounts of time either trying, for instance, to ensure you’ve been as careful as anyone could possibly be or trying to avoid being in situations that would require you to be so careful in the first place. In OCD’s black and white world you’re either exceedingly careful (which feels impossible to achieve, because how do you know for sure that you’ve been careful enough?) or appallingly careless (which confirms your fear that you’re a horrible person), and so you stay trapped. ERP teaches you the freedom that comes from living in a different world: the world of uncertainty, where things are gray, not black and white.

Empowering yourself and letting your strengths shine

You succeed because of who you are and what you do, not because of OCD. Empower yourself by recognizing your strengths are yours alone and that taming OCD will allow those strengths to really shine.

For more about how OCD distorted my own attention to detail for its own purposes before I found ERP, see page 112 of Fred. For more about learning to live in the gray, see pages 224 and 267 of Fred.

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FredTalks 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!