Values Over Fear in OCD
It’s fair to say that everyone has their own set of personal values: the things that we consider important and that matter to our well-being and happiness. Personal values help guide us to make the decisions we make and create meaning from our experiences. They can provide a roadmap for our lives and can give us a sense of purpose.
Values under attack
Often seen as a disorder of doubt, it makes sense that OCD would make you question your personal values. OCD typically latches on to the things that are most important to you and that you feel strongest about, filling your mind with intense doubt. It’s as if you’re at war and OCD has been given a detailed map of your battle plan ahead of time, so that it can sneak in and attack the very things that you try the hardest to protect.
I like to picture OCD as my opponent in the game of life; it tries to oppose me at every corner, sneaking up on me and trying to trip me up.
I wish I had all of the answers as to why there is a disorder like this, one that is so cunning and creative. Even with my years of experience, from dealing with the disorder personally and from treating it professionally, I do not have all of the answers. What I do know is that the more you allow OCD to win battles, the more it takes over your life. It’s only through accepting feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, and by embracing the what if’s, that you can truly begin to win the war on OCD.
This will likely mean that you will need to face uncertainty surrounding your core values. You will have to learn to be okay with the idea that someday, there is a chance that you could do something that goes against everything you cherish and value – and maybe you won’t. The key is that you cannot be 100% sure, and you don’t need to be.
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It is also important to point out that often, it is the imagined consequence of intrusive thoughts that you fear the most. In treatment, we will sometimes ask you to imagine the worst-case scenario for if your thoughts came true. We may have you describe it in great detail. This is usually painfully difficult and causes great distress, because people often believe this worst-case scenario would happen if their thoughts came true.
When people I have worked with identify core fears, or the fears at the center of their experience, these typically include things such as being isolated or alone, being thrown in jail and never seen again, being viewed as untrustworthy by others, or being seen as a bad person. Underlying intrusive thoughts usually relate to fears that go against our personal values. Once they become connected to the things we value most, that is when we are most likely to seek help.
One example that sticks out to me is a young man that I worked with years ago who was having intrusive thoughts related to health concerns. Although they were bothersome, he was able to function fairly well for a long time. It wasn’t until he had his first child that these thoughts spiraled out of control. He soon developed fears surrounding his child becoming severely ill and dying. This was unbearable compared to his earlier thoughts; he couldn’t imagine losing his child. His love for his child was so great that it finally compelled him to get treatment.
His story is not unique. Many people who have been diagnosed with OCD have had similar experiences. They often attend their first treatment session and begin looking back at their many years of untreated OCD. Often, they don’t even realize that they had these symptoms for so long, as they were seemingly manageable, and only a nuisance. But eventually, the disorder became so out-of-control that they decided to seek help. When my members explain what their final breaking point was, it is almost always that OCD has targeted something that they hold very near and dear to their heart.
Moving towards your values
The good news is that you get to choose. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, you do get to choose how you want to act, and how you respond to situations. You choose what you move towards and what you move away from. OCD doesn’t get to make decisions for you – it doesn’t have that kind of power.
It’s important to remember that OCD lies, bullies, and attacks what you cherish. I always tell the people I work with that if they have an unwanted thought but are unsure if it is related to OCD, to ask themselves: Do I feel the need to answer this thought immediately? Do I have a great deal of anxiety and a sense of discomfort that I feel needs immediate relief? If so, there’s a good chance that these thoughts are indeed related to OCD.
Although it might seem difficult right now, you can learn to sit with the discomfort of not knowing immediately, and even not knowing at all. By practicing exposure and response prevention (ERP), you will find that eventually, those feelings dissipate and occur less frequently. ERP teaches you to tolerate these difficult feelings. You will see that anxiety, like any other feeling, eventually passes, and you don’t have to do anything to make this happen.
With time, you will be able to sit with the possibilities of even your scariest thoughts. Through ERP, you can learn to accept uncertainty and move forward with your life. You’ll learn to accept that, despite what OCD is telling you, we cannot know with 100% certainty what tomorrow holds and you cannot control everything that happens.
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If you are struggling with doubt and the need to feel certain about your values or identity, the best way to overcome it is to practice ERP therapy 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 begin your OCD recovery journey and will support you every step of the way. They will guide you in taking small steps to reach your goals.
Our 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 an NOCD therapist, schedule a free call with our team.
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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 Therapist, MA
I have personally struggled with OCD and know what it's like to feel controlled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and to also overcome it using the proper therapy. I’ve been a licensed therapist since 2017. I have an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. I know by experience how effective ERP is in treating OCD symptoms.