Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Exploring Core Fears in OCD Treatment Through Movie Ratings

6 min read
Sina Tadayon
By Sina Tadayon

In the 15 years since I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), I have had the opportunity to receive effective treatment for it, during which I learned a plethora of tools and tactics to combat my OCD symptoms. As I employed these tools, I found that some proved to be useful, while others began to feel dull, rusted, or ultimately ineffective for me.

Everyone’s experience with OCD is unique, so the strategies that might help one person manage their symptoms can be less helpful for someone else. That’s why I believe it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to trying out new tactics. Who knows when you’re finally going to grab the hammer that drives in the pesky nail you’ve been dealing with? In fact, I recently had this exact experience. I want to share more about the strategy I found helpful in the event that it also proves to be helpful for you.

The core fears exercise

During a recent session with my therapist, I was introduced to the potential of using a new “hammer,” this one called the core fears exercise. An exercise that would—well, I guess it’s self-explanatory in nature—uncover your core fear.

You start the exercise by writing down any anxiety-provoking, disturbing, or obscene thought that your OCD ties itself to. Then you ask yourself, “What is the worst possible scenario that can come out of that thought?” Once you come up with an answer to that, write it down, then ask yourself the same question again: “What is the worst possible scenario that can come out of THAT?” As you keep asking yourself this same question you travel down the rabbit hole toward your core fear.

A cinematic approach to core fears

Now, I know that may seem a bit confusing, so I want to provide an example I think will help clarify the process of this exercise. As an actor and screenwriter, I’m going to do this in the best way I know how: with movie ratings. I will start by referencing a recent issue that was anxiety-provoking for me: smelling cigarette smoke.

If I were to assign this initial thought or fear a movie rating based on the level of distress it caused me, I would give it a G. In the same way that G-rated movies are considered suitable for all audiences, I consider this thought to be on the less distressing end of the spectrum leading to my core fear.

Next, I’ll continue to ask myself what would be the worst possible outcome of each thought. Please keep in mind that these worst-case scenarios and the ratings I assign them are based on my opinions—your own thoughts and ratings will likely look different.

Initial fear: Smelling cigarette smoke

Rating: G

Then I ask myself, what is the worst possible situation that could result from smelling cigarette smoke?

“My lungs/body will not be as ideal.”

Rating: G

What is the worst possible result of my lungs/body not being in ideal condition?

“I won’t be able to look, sound, or feel good as an actor.”

Rating: PG

And what is the worst possible situation that can happen if I don’t look, sound, or feel good as an actor?

“ ThenI won’t become a successful actor.”

Rating: PG

Okay, now what’s the worst-case scenario for me if I don’t become a successful actor?

“I would lose my sense of purpose.”

Rating: PG-13

What’s the worst possible result of losing my sense of purpose?

“Life would have no meaning and I could end up taking my own life.”

Rating: R

If I were to take my own life, what would be the worst possible outcome of that decision?

“I would have regrets about not being the best version of myself.”

Rating: R

Now what’s the worst possible thing that could happen if I end up regretting not being the best version of myself?


Rating: NC-17

Once you can’t question your answers any further, you’ve reached your core fear.

Now, here’s the thing: when most of us see a G rating, we don’t step down the ladder and go from G to PG, to PG-13, and so on. No, we see a G rating and think NC-17. It isn’t until we write it out for ourselves and examine each thought that we can see the intricate trick OCD can play on our minds.

We all have a hierarchy of things we value most in our lives—things that, because of how important they are to us, can influence every conscious and subconscious decision we make. Our values can be anything from a sense of belonging, financial security, or success to our relationships, hobbies, or careers. You name it, we all have something we value more than anything else.

OCD knows you have these values, but see, OCD and our anxieties are really flawed protection mechanisms, right? Our minds don’t intend to hurt us; rather, they aim to “protect” us and make sure we are acting in alignment with what we value most…even if that means representing smelling smoke as an indication of self-failure. These distressing thoughts can be frustrating, but upon further examination, they can also give you insight into what you value most.

The goal of using this exercise to uncover our core fears is to become more aware of the tricks that OCD can try to play on us. Once we have this awareness, we have the power to resist giving into compulsive behaviors to avoid our fears, which can ultimately continue the OCD cycle.

The benefits of exploring core fears

I also want to acknowledge the weight of this exercise. When I first did it, it brought me to tears—of joy, really. By working through the choreography of each irrational thought, I felt like I was able to really find OCD’s most powerful move and hit it at its Achilles’ heel.

It can also be useful to recognize that your core fear has likely been a part of your experience already. Realizing its presence doesn’t give it more substance. Engaging in the exercise simply helps you uncover what has been happening subconsciously all along.

The response you get from this exercise can show you the fundamental belief system that can shape your identity and influence your judgments and choices, especially in times of anxiety. By reaching your core fear, you’re able to gain insight into your true self.

And if you don’t ever find the dragon, how can you slay it?

NOCD Therapy user on phone

Recover from OCD with NOCD Therapy

World-class OCD treatment covered by insurance

NOCD Therapy can help you live the life you want to live, not the life OCD wants you to live.

Learn more

We specialize in treating OCD

Reach out to us. We're here to help.

Sina Tadayon

Sina Tadayon is an advocate for those suffering from OCD and other anxiety related disorders. His path in OCD advocacy is rooted in his life experiences and a strong belief in the power of education to shed light on what living with OCD truly means. As a storyteller, he understands the impact of narratives in our lives. Everywhere we go, we hear and share stories, and Sina firmly believes that the complexity of OCD, along with the challenges it imposes on many, is a story that desperately needs to be shared.

Use insurance to access world-class
treatment with an OCD specialist