Shame is a powerful emotion. It’s difficult for anyone to experience, but OCD can take shame even further, making it feel all-encompassing. OCD-related thoughts and obsessions are often accompanied by feelings of shame among those experiencing them. Adding to this pain are the compulsions that OCD makes people feel they must perform to alleviate their fears.
OCD often makes people internalize their shame, and can make it feel difficult to seek help. If you feel burdened by shame, remember that you are not your OCD. There is support to help you through what you’re experiencing, and there are steps you can take to begin letting go of shame.
The connection between OCD and shame
The relationship between OCD and shame is multifaceted. Shame emerges from different situations and experiences, and can be fueled by OCD’s tendency to latch onto bizarre, taboo, and socially unacceptable topics or themes. This often creates an intense fear of being judged or misunderstood among people with OCD. If you or someone you love has experienced this, you’re likely well aware of what a debilitating impact it can have.
We know that the reason certain thoughts get “stuck” for people with OCD, or are difficult to stop thinking about, is because they are ego-dystonic. This means that these thoughts, images, or urges go against the nature of that particular person, against their true goals and desires. These thoughts can be violent, sexual, or focused on anything that conflicts with an individual’s values—which is why they’re so anxiety-inducing. Even though people have no actual desire to act on these thoughts, that doesn’t stop OCD from creating shame and guilt around them.
The societal stigma around OCD can also cause feelings of shame—which is one of many reasons why it’s so important that we continue to raise awareness of OCD and educate people on the condition. By teaching others to respond with empathy and understanding, we can help mitigate this source of shame and create safe spaces for those who are suffering to seek help.
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How shame can affect OCD symptoms
Shame can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, and when individuals with OCD are more stressed or anxious, they’re more likely to experience an increase in symptoms. This is due to distress intolerance, one of the core aspects of OCD. OCD makes people feel as though they cannot possibly endure uncomfortable feelings, leading them to look for ways to alleviate their distress. This often results in compulsions like avoidance. In this way, shame keeps the OCD cycle going.
But shame affects more than OCD symptoms. It also impacts our self-worth. The way we feel about ourselves has a significant impact on how we interact with the world around us, and can have acute implications for our relationships. Deep feelings of shame can make it feel difficult, if not impossible, to socialize in a meaningful manner. This can lead to self-isolation and loneliness that reinforces these feelings of being unworthy.
While the harsh, critical voice of shame may feel convincing, please know that the things it’s telling you are untrue. You are inherently worthy, and can nurture a new inner voice that affirms your worth. There are steps you can take to let go of shame. Through practicing them, you can learn to deconstruct self-critical thinking and show yourself compassion.
How to let go of shame caused by OCD
1. Acknowledge the experience of shame.
In order to begin letting go of shame, you have to recognize it exists in the first place. This may sound simple. In actuality, shame often flies under the radar. While everyone experiences it to varying degrees, shame often prefers to hide in the deepest and darkest parts of our minds. By acknowledging its presence, we can become more attuned to the experience of shame and its impact on our lives.
Identifying the role OCD plays in bringing on feelings of shame is also important. People with OCD are prone to being hard on themselves, and can struggle with a sense of hyper-responsibility, or end up ruminating on perceived flaws or inadequacies. If you relate to these experiences, know that they are feelings, not who you are as a person. Your experiences with shame do not define you.
2. Practice self-acceptance.
You’ve probably heard time and time again about the importance of accepting yourself. It may feel cliche, but the reason it’s mentioned so often is because it’s necessary. Every single person is flawed. Every single person makes mistakes. That’s what it means to be human. Our imperfections are what make us unique.
Allow yourself to release your negative self-judgments. You are so much more than OCD. You did not choose to have this condition or any of the thoughts that come with it. Forgive yourself. You deserve the same grace that you offer to others so freely. Treat yourself with the same kindness that you would someone that you care deeply for.
3. Release the desire for validation from others.
Your worth is not measured by what anyone else thinks about you. No one knows you better than you, and no one else has the power to define who you are. Focus on your values and beliefs. Make your opinion the top priority. When you live authentically, you give yourself permission to be free from shame.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seeking out the support of a professional to help you manage OCD is nothing to be ashamed of. An OCD specialist is familiar with the thoughts, images, and urges that can arise from OCD, and knows they are not indicative of your true nature or personality. They will help you build the tools to manage feelings of shame and show yourself compassion.
ERP can lessen feelings of shame in OCD
If you’re struggling with OCD and want to take the power away from intrusive thoughts and feelings of shame, exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) can help. In ERP, you’ll develop the tools you need to sit with uncertainty and tolerate anxiety, instead of living in a state of shame and guilt.
A successful exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapist will guide, support, and motivate you. They will not only show you empathy and compassion, but more importantly, they will guide you to show yourself these things. By learning to separate who you are from what you think and feel, you can more readily tolerate the distress caused by these thoughts, recognizing that they are not a reflection of your identity.
Our licensed therapists at NOCD deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP therapy. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs to provide the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with a therapist and get started with OCD treatment.