“Sometimes what you’re most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free.”

If you were to you use the above quote within the context of OCD and if facing your worst fear is the thing that will set you free, how does this make sense?

For example, how can holding a knife set you free from the fear of hurting someone with that knife? How does it make sense that you would hold a child in your arms when your fear is that you could be a paedophile? Where’s the logic in deliberately coming into contact with germs and then delaying washing your hands? Why would you agree with your therapist and allow blasphemous thoughts to be in your mind when you fear being damned to hell for having those thoughts? Or what is the point in messing things up when you are somebody who likes to do things perfectly?

For the purpose of this blog let’s use blasphemous thoughts as an example and look at why facing the thing you fear can set you free.

Okay, let’s discuss why a therapist, like me, would persuade you to acknowledge and accept your blasphemous thoughts and images and then sit with them? Nobody wants to go to hell, so this seems a bit risky don’t you think? Just sitting there with your thoughts and wanting to escape them but can’t; and then feeling the wrath of the higher powers looming over you. You suffer great fear of being doomed. Guilt and shame torment you. Your anxiety reaches to such a limit you fear collapsing into a state of panic. And then your therapist has you agree to not give into your usual responses because this will set you free? Yet, all you can think of are those anxiety relieving behaviours that have “saved” you so many times before.

So what’s going on here?

Well first, let’s address guilt. Exactly how does OCD play a role in this otherwise natural emotion? How can you forgive yourself or be forgiven for having blasphemous or immoral thoughts?

BUT WAIT… is there anything to forgive?

Actually no. Why? Because experiencing intrusive thoughts is literally mental fraud… and OCD is the culprit, so this isn’t your fault. This is a disorder that sabotaged your mind when you least expected it and had you believe in its paradox.

Where am I going with this?

Well let’s consider a real misdeed. This has a complementary relationship with the level of guilt experienced; for instance, deliberately desiring and carrying out an immoral act would come with normal human guilt, if the person is remorseful. Yet, when someone has an OCD episode one feels false guilt, not actual guilt. This is the part that is hard to define and so to put it simply a resolve can never be in accordance with the emotions experienced because both are unfounded and therefore invalid. The thoughts and guilt are illogical. In other words, you never committed any misdeed when you had those blasphemous thoughts, you are not the guilty party, and so using a counter response (such as praying for forgiveness) for something that OCD is accountable for is futile. Neither is it worthwhile carrying out any other counter response (compulsion) because there’s nothing to counter.

Let’s put this into perspective?

Imagine obsessions resembling liquid bubbles. When you blow those bubbles and you see them rise in the air and then pop, there is nothing there inside and the liquid dissipates. When you look at it like this you can visualise the intrusive thoughts as meaningless misfires that come into your mind involuntarily and when they pop they alert you. But no action in response to that alert is needed because OCD thoughts are biological bubbles of nonsense. Similarly, there is no need to feel guilt and shame about something that isn’t your fault.

If you find yourself conjuring up the thoughts yourself and they appear, note this as a checking compulsion. This is done to prove or disprove whether the “content” is truly about you. This is similar to other themes where people check for signs whether or not they are gay, dangerous, a paedophile, a cheat, and so on.

So now we come back to facing your fears?

Facing your fears is all done gradually. A therapist basically helps you acknowledge and accept the obsession. By acknowledging and accepting the thoughts you give them the freedom to go through the natural process of filtering out in their own time. Trying to control them by analysing or blocking them won’t work because they’ll just push through more; or come with endless what-ifs. When intrusive thoughts are allowed to filter out in their own time they are at first be a bit sticky so bear with this, they will leave eventually. Intrusive thoughts do usually return too, and so be strict with yourself, be motivated and repeat this process because by doing so the frequency of thoughts will start to decrease before long – you will get out of the prison!

What about increased anxiety?

Part of facing your fears means bearing with increased anxiety because building distress tolerance is part of the recovery process. Remember, the more practice you get at doing this, and whereby you resist giving into any and all anxiety reducing behaviours, the sooner your obsession will start to decrease in intensity and frequency.

Exactly how does this happen?

In a nutshell, it’s because compulsions add strength to obsessions and so the urge to ritualise also gets stronger; it’s this that keeps OCD going in a circle. Yet, not yielding to compulsions weakens the obsessions, and the urge to ritualise diminishes and eventually puts OCD into remission.

So now you can see why sometimes what you’re most afraid of doing is the very thing that can set you free.

Will you face your fears and start the journey of setting yourself free from OCD?

“Go slow, keep going, each day, and your courage will eventually set you free.”

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Photo Credit: pixaby