When I was a little girl struggling with OCD, my main compulsion centered around confessing my inner thoughts. I distinctly remember not wanting to tell anyone these thoughts, but I felt I had to. I remember feeling that I could not move forward until I told someone. I felt stuck with my guilt, shame, and anxiety.
I recall the sense of urgency that would arise in my tiny being, and the inner voice making me feel like I was a bad person. The nagging feeling that I was living a lie and that I was not who others thought I was. I was convinced that they needed to know the kind of monster they were dealing with.
I needed to tell my mom, in particular. She needed to know that something was wrong with me. What other explanation was there for these strange, sometimes disgusting thoughts?
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Momentary relief led to long-term distress
In true fashion, the OCD cycle would always begin this way: An intrusive thought would appear, typically out of the blue, then I would be overcome with panic, my heart would race – I felt like nothing was okay. I can still feel vividly how awful it was, even 30 years later. Being completely overcome with fear and anxiety is one of the worst feelings one can experience.
OCD offered empty promises. “Just tell Mom so you can feel better. She’ll say that everyone has these thoughts. She will decide whether you are good or bad, and you will no longer have to carry this burden.” OCD always offered the same hollow assurances: once you do this one thing, you can be free from distress.
And usually, this seemed to work – for a while, at least. My mom would tell me that I was a worrywart and that everyone had those worries; I was just extra sensitive. She would hug me and send me on my way, letting me know I was not crazy or weird. I trusted her. I knew she would make it all better.
The only problem is, that it never lasted long. I would feel better and move forward, but only until the next thought debilitated me and I repeated the same pattern over and over.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was reinforcing the lies that OCD was telling, and the idea that I could not trust myself or my own beliefs. That my worth was found in what someone else said about me, not what I knew about myself. My brain began to count on someone else’s opinion to keep anxiety at bay. Without reassurance, I felt alone, scared, and defective.
Stuck in the cycle
The relief I felt from confessing is hard to explain – it felt addictive. Immediate relief would sweep over me, and I felt a sense of freedom, but it rarely lasted long. The longer the cycle continued, the shorter the relief lasted.
That’s the double-edged sword of confession and reassurance. The initial relief fades more and more quickly as the cycle goes on. Ultimately, it leaves you feeling more and more out of control. You feel dependent on it until your life becomes consumed with it.
I heard it said before that people change when they’re uncomfortable; I know this was the case with me. Once I became too uncomfortable with the way I was living my life, filled with nonstop fear and tormenting thoughts, I finally looked for help. This would be a long journey, and it was difficult to find the right treatment.
Finding a life-changing solution
When I finally learned about and received exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the gold standard treatment for OCD, I recognized that my cycle of confessing and seeking reassurance was actually causing me more harm than good. I was getting little relief in the moment, and it was keeping me from long-term relief. I was teaching my brain that I was in danger every time I decided to confess. I was telling my brain that I could not be trusted and that I needed someone else’s opinion to be okay.
These were lies that OCD told. ERP taught me how to stand up to OCD and manage difficult feelings of panic and discomfort. It taught me the importance of preventing compulsions that would only bring temporary relief. This was a difficult process, and it took time, but it allowed me to live a free, fulfilling life.
I no longer have to answer OCD. And you don’t have to either.
If you are struggling with compulsions, the best way to overcome them is to practice ERP with a specialty-trained therapist. At NOCD, our therapists specialize in OCD and ERP, and they will provide you with a personalized treatment plan designed to meet your unique needs. Your therapist will teach you the skills needed to recover from OCD and will support you every step of the way. They will guide you in taking small steps to reach your goals.
Our team of therapists at NOCD are passionate about the treatment of this debilitating disorder and are trained by world-renowned experts. To learn more about working with a NOCD therapist, schedule a free call with our care team.