Can OCD make you afraid of being “canceled”?
Today, social technology impacts us more than ever. Social media can make it feel as if there is no privacy, no way to avoid the watchful eyes of others, and many people worry that they could become defined by their worst moments.
Fears about “cancel culture” have exploded in recent years, as many people, particularly public figures, have been harshly criticized for past conduct, online messages, or recordings, often resulting in severely damaged reputations, relationships, and careers. When events like these are in the spotlight, many people worry about their own past mistakes, fearing what could happen if negative things were brought to light.
Most people can adjust to these worries and live their lives normally in spite of them, but for people with OCD, these fears can become all-consuming. They may worry about things they remember doing or saying, or even about false memories, hazy impressions, or slight doubts that feel impossible to let go of.
What happens if I say or do the “wrong” thing?
Being “canceled” refers to the somewhat recent idea that if someone has said or done something offensive, insensitive, or harmful in the past that it will be used against them harshly, and that their reputation can be destroyed in an instant.
Words are powerful, as are actions. We should be introspective and careful about the things we say and do, if we want to be viewed as a kind person. For these purposes, self-reflection is a beautiful and useful tool. However, for people suffering from OCD, it can become their worst enemy.
OCD demands perfection. There’s almost nothing you say that OCD can’t find something potentially wrong with. There is no room for error. With OCD there is no grace, no acceptance of imperfection. OCD wants you to feel all-encompassing guilt and shame. OCD lies and tells someone that if they have ever said or done anything in error, either willfully or in ignorance, it will ruin their life. They can live in constant fear that they have said or done something in the past that will suddenly come to light and wreak havoc in their lives.
No amount of certainty or reassurance will be enough for OCD
OCD is one of the most confusing mental illnesses that one can suffer from. It is manipulative and cunning. It tries to convince you that it is keeping you safe when in reality it is just exploiting your fears to gain more and more control.
The reality is that the lies that OCD tells us only make our fears and anxiety worse. The truth is that you can get better and live an incredible life, full of freedom and joy.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
Sometimes, the thoughts that plague people with OCD are the very things that make them fear being “canceled.” If you experience taboo or violent intrusive thoughts OCD might try to convince you that the thoughts actually mean something about you, and that your intrusive thoughts should make you feel guilty. This is false. Despite what OCD is telling you, these thoughts are neither good nor bad: they just are. You are not your thoughts, and thoughts do not equal actions.
OCD says you must feel guilty over the past, present, and even the future. Guilt over everything you have ever felt. Guilt over things said or things unsaid. It is never enough. Having OCD causes us to doubt the very core of who we are as a person. We question whether or not we are secretly bad people that want to do the things that pop into our heads. But what we have or haven’t done in the past doesn’t define who we are at this moment. People change. People’s beliefs and even personalities can change. People grow in knowledge and maturity, and this can have a large impact on how a person interacts with the world around them.
OCD wants you to believe that you cannot tolerate negative events
OCD wants the sufferer to believe that if something they have done in the past is discovered or exposed, they couldn’t possibly cope with it. They feel that the slightest possibility of an extreme outcome is a serious danger. Unfortunately, OCD sends out false alarms. The feelings of distress are very real, but the threat is not. While we feel uncomfortable and don’t like these feelings, they are temporary and they will pass. We can tolerate the feelings. We are not in danger. Most importantly, we do not need to do anything to deal with them. When we engage in compulsions to neutralize this perceived danger, we are inadvertently telling the brain that there really was a danger and reinforcing the faulty alarm system.
We are also much more capable of tolerating stress than we recognize. Even if we were to be “canceled,” we would get through it. Many people encounter negative responses to things they have said or done in the past, and through self-reflection and care for others, can continue to socially engage with others positively.
OCD will also tell you that avoidance will make it go away, that by never interacting online or on social media, there will be no risk of being “canceled.” The truth is that OCD is cruel—it will just introduce more and more uncertainty and worry until you are unable to live the life you want to. In the long run, avoidance only makes obsessions grow stronger and increases OCD’s power and control in your life.
OCD will prey on fears that you will feel this way forever, and that you could always be seen as socially unacceptable. This is an OCD falsehood. Nothing ever stays the same in this world. You can get to a place where your life is your own, and not controlled by this debilitating illness. The truth is that OCD wants to limit your growth. The good news is that you can make a decision to fight back.
ERP can help with fears of being “canceled”
If you’re living in fear of your reputation, friendships, or livelihood being destroyed due to fears about things you have said in the past, these fears don’t have to rule your life. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), the gold-standard treatment for OCD, teaches people with OCD that they are able to tolerate uncertainty and anxiety, and can live their lives with confidence.
Effective, specialized OCD therapy is hereLearn more
Through ERP, you can learn that although it may not be comfortable, you can actually tolerate distress. Eventually, the feelings of anxiety do pass. When you don’t give in and do a ritual or a compulsion, your brain actually relearns that there was no danger in the first place, and your fear and uncertainty can decrease over time. But it takes consistent practice. Retraining your brain takes time, commitment, and perseverance.
If you’re struggling with OCD and want to take the power away from your intrusive thoughts, NOCD can help. Our licensed therapists deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs, and that means the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.
Stacy Quick LPC, is a therapist at NOCD, specializing in the treatment of OCD. She has been working in the mental health field for nearly 20 years. Her goal is to help members achieve skills to help them live a more fulfilling life without letting OCD be in control. Ms. Quick uses ERP and her lived experiences to help her members understand it is possible to live a life in recovery. She is a mother of 3 children, 2 of whom are also diagnosed with OCD. Ms. Quick is also a writer and content creator. Learn more about Stacy Quick on Instagram: @stacyquick.undone
NOCD Therapists specialize in treating OCDView all therapists
Licensed Therapist, MA
I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.
Licensed Therapist, LCMHC
When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.
Licensed Therapy, LMHC
I've been a licensed counselor since 2013, having run my private practice with a steady influx of OCD cases for several years. Out of all the approaches to OCD treatment that I've used, I find Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy to be the most effective. ERP goes beyond other methods and tackles the problem head-on. By using ERP in our sessions, you can look forward to better days ahead.