From the outside looking in, some things are easy to observe in people with OCD. You might see them doing repetitive rituals or unusual behaviors. Maybe you could see them repeating phrases under their breath hoping that no one notices. Or perhaps you see chapped skin, raw from relentless washing.
However, not everything is so easily noticed, and some of the effects OCD can have on people are entirely invisible to the people around them. Each person is unique, but there are some commonalities that can be observed among people who struggle with OCD. Here are some of the ways that OCD can cause suffering that others may not be able to see.
The impact on self-esteem
Making someone doubt who they are is what OCD does best. Pervasive doubt from OCD can focus on absolutely anything in a person’s life: their job, relationships, sexuality, religious values, and the core parts of their identity. OCD can completely undermine how a person views themselves, which can be detrimental to their self-esteem and identity.
Many people with OCD find that it causes them to doubt their own memory, as well. Things that many people take for granted, such as the ability to trust or have confidence in a memory, can become extremely difficult. And when you feel unable to rely on your own memory, you come to distrust yourself on a deep level.
From the outside, people with OCD may look self-conscious, timid, or fearful, all of which are likely true—but the reason is unseen. They may have been admonished over the years that they worry too much or that they are overthinkers, all while doubt suffocates them. They question everything about themselves.
Intense feelings of shame and guilt
Confusion about intrusive thoughts, especially taboo ones, often overrides logic and insight. People want to know why they have the thoughts that they have, even if they understand how OCD works. They can be left with the feeling that their thoughts make them bad people, even when they directly oppose their values and desires.
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Those with family may feel intense sadness over times they missed out on with their loved ones. Others mourn the loss of time wasted in ritualizing or rumination. Regret may fill their minds as they are reminded of all of the time spent avoiding or isolating themselves from people or situations they could have enjoyed.
OCD can also bring a harmful type of sensitivity. A highly sensitive person may be conscientious and thoughtful, someone who thinks about the impact of their actions and feels responsible for them. But with OCD, this trait can become maladaptive, causing people to hyper-fixate on those around them and feel highly responsible for everything that happens to others. They can feel like they must disappear to meet other people’s needs.
The impact on relationships
Many who have this condition report trouble with intimacy in relationships, finding it hard to connect emotionally or physically. OCD symptoms can impact intimacy at all levels, within sexual relationships and others. Whether between partners, friends, or family members, any relationship involving personal connections can be impacted.
For example, those who suffer from taboo thoughts about their sexuality or about harming others may worry about losing control while with their partner or losing attraction to their partner. This can lead them to restrict physical contact or to be emotionally unavailable, even when they want nothing more than to be close with their partner. People experiencing Relationship OCD may doubt whether they ‘truly’ love their partner and withdraw emotionally as a result.
The misinformation and stigma attached to mental illnesses like OCD can leave many to avoid sharing their experiences with others. There are so many ways OCD can cause people to withdraw from personal relationships, it would be impossible to name them all.
The financial toll
One of the most widely unrecognized costs of OCD is the financial burden. OCD can be one of the most debilitating mental illnesses in the world, leaving many people unable to work or limited in their ability to perform many tasks. Furthermore, due to widespread misunderstandings about OCD, many people may not seek the resources and protections they deserve when struggling with similarly disabling conditions.
For many with OCD, the symptoms can be so severe that even leaving the house feels impossible. The burden of having to provide for themselves and possibly a family can be overwhelming. Even worse, fears of being misdiagnosed, hospitalized, or misunderstood can keep people from seeking help.
Effective treatment can provide relief
Even when the impact of OCD goes unseen, by others, it can be managed by doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the gold standard treatment for OCD, backed by decades of clinical research.
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As part of ERP therapy, you will track your obsessions and compulsions and make a list of how distressing each obsession is. You then progress through exposure exercises, at every step resisting the urge to engage in compulsions. When you continually reach out for quick relief by doing compulsions, it only strengthens your need to engage in them in the future. On the other hand, when you prevent yourself from engaging in your compulsions, you teach yourself a new way to respond, allowing yourself to accept discomfort and feel less anxiety over time.
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.