If someone asked you what your values are, how would you answer? Whether it’s compassion, honesty, loyalty, or kindness, our values are a fundamental cornerstone of who we are. They shape the way we navigate the world and make decisions. And that’s not all—our values can also help us face the challenges of OCD.
In moments of uncertainty and anxiety, when intrusive thoughts feel overwhelming, our values can act as a stabilizing force. By identifying what’s important to us, we can practice acting in accordance with those ideas, or taking values-based action. Learn how you can identify your own core values, and how practicing values-based action can help you confront OCD.
Identifying your values
Think about your goals for the future and what you believe in. These goals and beliefs are informed by what you value. Whatever your values are, they’ll be a reflection of what you care about the most, or what you believe is meaningful and worthwhile. You can have any number of key values that are important to you. Giving thought to what these values are is the first step to taking values-based action.
Identifying your values allows them to serve as a moral compass, guiding your path for decision-making and action. Your values make you unique and can serve as a reminder that your identity is so much more than the symptoms of OCD. Intrusive thoughts often relate to fears that go against our personal values and when you practice placing your values over fear, it can lead to powerful changes.
1. Providing a sense of purpose
OCD often makes people feel like they have no control, creating a sense of being overwhelmed by symptoms. In these situations, it can be beneficial to focus on your values. When people are able to hone in on what’s most important to them, it can take their focus off of the symptoms they’re experiencing, leading to a reduction in distress and providing a sense of purpose.
When people experience a deep sense of purpose, it’s often accompanied by a feeling of determination. This determination can help to shift your choices to act in accordance with what is most important in your life, in spite of how you may feel at that moment. Moving towards your values helps you live life with a sense of purpose.
Through living a life that connects you to your value system, you can find a sense of purpose beyond what OCD tells you. At times, OCD might make it feel like you don’t truly know who you are or what you value. But that’s just a trick OCD likes to play. OCD tries to get you to question your true nature, and who you really are. Living a values-based life helps counteract this by providing a sense of autonomy and agency. This can be a powerful tool in the treatment of OCD.
2. Increasing self-compassion
Living a life based on your values can also help you be more compassionate with yourself, leading to a greater sense of fulfillment. Instead of judging the intrusive thoughts, images, or urges you experience, focusing on your values can help you learn to approach these thoughts with curiosity and non-judgment, knowing that they are not your identity.
Your values can also help you practice acceptance—not in the sense that you’re accepting intrusive thoughts as being true, but that you’re accepting their temporary presence because you know they don’t define you. Through practicing acceptance, you can learn how resilient you are, and that you’re able to face difficult feelings. Reducing this struggle with our symptoms can even decrease their severity. Giving ourselves self-compassion is a key component of recovery.
3. Accepting uncertainty
In that same vein of acceptance, your values can also help you accept the uncertainty surrounding the things OCD calls into question. While accepting uncertainty can be misunderstood as something negative, it actually takes power away from OCD. Instead of viewing obsessions through a lens of negativity and as something that must be eradicated completely, accepting uncertainty can help you learn to not engage with them, knowing they will pass.
Many people with OCD experience rigidity in their thinking. This can drive them to participate in repetitive behaviors and engage with intrusive thoughts, often believing that they can prevent harm or neutralize risk by doing so. OCD makes it seem like compulsions will alleviate anxiety—and they may, but as we know, this relief doesn’t last. When we learn to embrace and commit to a life of values-based action, we can also learn to be more flexible in our thinking. This can help us free ourselves from playing the back-and-forth and forth game with OCD.
4. Helping you recognize when OCD is at work
Identifying your values can also help you better understand how OCD is operating. When you’re experiencing an obsession, it can be helpful to examine it and determine which of your values that particular obsession is attacking. Sometimes, OCD tries to sneak up on you and make it seem like an obsession is new, or somehow different from a previous one. The truth is, the content of any obsession is likely to be based on something you value.
When we recognize the core value an obsession is targeting, it allows us to more clearly see all of the ways that OCD tries to insert doubt and fear into what we care about the most. Once we spot OCD in the act, we can then fight back by making conscious decisions based on our values, in spite of what OCD says. By doing this, we can kick OCD out of the driver’s seat. We can take back the control OCD has tried to take and live a life based on our wishes and desires.
Support that helps you move towards your values
If it feels difficult to move towards your values or show yourself kindness, know this: you are not alone in your fight against OCD. You are braver, stronger, and more resilient than you know, and there is support to help you believe this yourself. A specialty-trained, qualified, and licensed OCD specialist can help you practice responding to fear and anxiety by taking actions that are aligned with your values.
Using their expertise, a qualified OCD specialist will help you gradually face the fears that are holding you back through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, a highly effective, evidence-based treatment for OCD. In ERP, you’ll develop tools that help you take values-based action and practice self-compassion.
ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. They deeply understand all themes of OCD and will never judge you for your thoughts or symptoms. If you have questions or think that you may need ERP therapy for OCD, you can speak to our team on a free 15-minute call.