OCD isn't just some cute little quirk involving doorknobs, straight lines, or a clean home. It is a very real mental condition that causes extreme anxiety, hopelessnes, and fear. OCD is also very complex, and each person will have different thoughts and behaviors, which makes it more difficult to identify and understand.
There are many different types of thinking errors associated with OCD, and we'll explore 4 of them here. When we put a name to something, it can be easier to deal with and overcome. This is why identifying these thinking errors within ourselves can be so crucial for coping with OCD.
It's also important to note that these thinking errors don't apply ONLY to people with OCD. Anyone can deal with cognitive distortions, and we all have different thinking errors! However, someone with OCD will experience these to an extreme degree and it will be accompanied by severe anxeity (obsessions) and often illogical behaviors (compulsions).
1. Overvaluing Thoughts
"If I think about ______ happening then it definitely will." This thinking error makes us believe that our thoughts carry much more weight than they actually do. We don't realize that our thoughts don't control things outside of ourselves. For example, someone might have an intense fear of getting cancer. So, they avoid thinking about it at all costs. If they think about having cancer, or what it would be like, then they believe they are more likely to get cancer.
Often, someone with this thinking error will know logically that this is irrational. However, the intense fear and anxiety cause us to retreat to a place where we feel "safe". This includes avoiding topics even in our thoughts.
2. Polarized or "black and white" thinking.
Life is made up of good, bad, and in between. As humans, we are a product of all of these things put together. We have all made mistakes, and we have all done awesome things. Polarized thinking means that we can only see things one way or the other - there is no "in between".
This kind of thinking can be identified with Scrupulosity, also known as religious OCD. This type of OCD is what causes someone to be obsessed with "right" or "wrong", saying prayers repeatedly and obsessing over perfection, and an intense fear of sin. This person might always be worried whether they are a "bad" or "good" person.
An example might be someone with religious OCD making a simple mistake or committing a sin - something that we all do. This person would be convinced that they are now a bad person. No matter what good things they've done before or after a mistake, they will only see themselves as "bad".
3. Overcontrol & Perfectionism
Many people have heard of these types of behaviors linked with OCD. This might be someone obsessively cleaning, doing things several times, or being a perfectionist. Lots of people do these things anyways, but someone with OCD will have a very severe underlying fear. No matter how irrational these thoughts are, someone still might believe that if they don't do things a certain way, then bad things will happen to them or others.
4. Intolerance of Uncertainty
This is means that someone is completely unable to deal with uncertainty. We all feel this hesitance when trying something new - but someone with OCD will take it to a different level.
This intolerance of uncertainty creates extremely rigid habits or rituals. Someone with OCD will feel "safe" when following a certain routine because they feel that nothing bad happens when they do it. If they stray outside of these habits, things feel more uncertain. This fear of uncertainty is what will cause them to stick to their "safe" zone no matter what.
There are several other thinking errors that I will explore in next week's post, stay tuned!
No matter what type of OCD or thinking error that you're dealing with, there are ways to cope with it! As a Cognitive Behavioral Coach, I help my clients find the errors in their thinking, and learn to replace them with healthier alternatives. When we change our thoughts, we really can change our lives.
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