Let’s talk about something seemingly unrelated to OCD: the Stockholm syndrome. Named after a situation in the early 1970s where people taken hostage at a bank started identifying with and defending their captors, the Stockholm syndrome is also known as capture-bonding. It is described in Wikipedia as “a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes ‘strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.'”*
It’s hard to believe people could identify with someone who takes away all of their basic freedoms, but it unfortunately happens to 8% of victims, according to the FBI.
I think that the Stockholm syndrome is actually much more prevalent than that statistic would suggest. In fact, I would hazard a guess that it happens to almost everyone with OCD.
Let me explain.
A hostage and a voice
When I was developing the oral version of Is Fred in the Refrigerator?, I wanted to use a metaphor that adequately described how it feels to have OCD. Characters with OCD have had key roles in numerous TV shows and movies, but for me, those portrayals lacked the emotional depth needed to convey the utter hell that OCD creates in the mind and life of its sufferers.
It hit me as I was trying to go to sleep one night—a hostage crisis! That’s what it feels like to have OCD…like you are being held at gunpoint 24/7. Thus was born the second story in the oral version of “Is Fred in the Refrigerator?”
I like metaphors, and another I created for “Fred” was WDNG, the radio station playing in my head and broadcasting “all danger, all the time…your home for the worst case scenario…all the bad things that can happen to you and the ones you love broadcast 24 hours a day, uninterrupted….for your listening hell.” In a recent Aha! Moment I talked more about WDNG and the demanding, deprecating voice that is OCD.
I know I’m not supposed to “mix metaphors,” but I can’t help it. If you put the hostage crisis and WDNG together, you get a really good idea of what having OCD is like: on one side of your head is the cold, hard barrel of weapon, which keeps you stuck doing your compulsions. On the other side is a vicious voice whispering not only obsessions in your ear, but also what a pathetic, shameful person you are for all the harm you are causing (if you have harm OCD) or how you must get whatever it is you’re doing, thinking, or feeling right (if you have just right OCD), or some lovely combination of the two.
Sounds like fun, huh?
The OCD-induced Stockholm syndrome
Unfortunately, according to the International OCD Foundation, it takes on average14-17 years from the onset of symptoms for people to get the right treatment for OCD, either medication or a type of cognitive behavioral therapy called exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP), or a combination of both. Which means that those of us with OCD live a long time (and I do mean a looooonnnnnnggggggg time) listening to that vicious voice and feeling like there’s a gun permanently pointed at our temples.
Let me remind you of a key phrase in Wikipedia’s definition of the Stockholm syndrome: “where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” To me, that sounds like a great description of what OCD does to the people who have it. Taking just a few choice examples:
“Can’t you be responsible and pick up that piece of trash? Someone could slip and fall on it, and it will be your fault! Won’t you feel awful if something happens that you could have prevented?!”
“Wash your hands again, you negligent oaf! You didn’t do it right the first