The OCD Cycle
Do you have OCD? Does someone you know have OCD? Are you not sure what OCD actually is?
Let me tell you... It's not just about keeping things straight, or liking things organized, or even being a clean freak.
Most people only know what has been shown on TV or heard repeated stereotypes that misrepresent what OCD actually is. It's not something that can be "turned off", it is a very real mental health condition that affects between 2-3 million adults and 500,000 teens in the US alone. That's a whole lotta people! Including... *drum roll please* me!
Sooo... let's debunk some of those myths and get down to the root of OCD.
The OCD Cycle
the first thing to know about OCD is that it all revolves around some sort of obsession. To be broad, these include intrusive thoughts or fears that are constantly on the mind. Some intrusive thoughts can be downright alarming. New mothers with Postpartum OCD can experience sudden and intrusive thoughts of harming their baby, or harm coming to their baby. Someone else might have an obsession with germs, illnesses or contamination. Religious OCD includes consistent, life disrupting thoughts about sin or trying to do everything "perfectly" to avoid God's judgement or wrath. In another kind of OCD (scrupulosity), people may be obsessively afraid of committing a crime or doing something unethical or immoral.
It's important to remember that people without OCD can and do have these sorts of thoughts and fears. However, to someone with OCD, these thoughts and fears disrupt their lives, and are not forgotten. Like I said before, these feelings don't ever "turn off".
These obsessions will begin to lead to anxiety. A feeling of needing to react or protect themselves will start to arise.
This is where a very clear distinction between someone with OCD can be seen. The constant fear, anxiety, and obsession becomes so intense that compulsions or "safety behaviors" start developing. The brain is trying to protect itself from this deep fear or obsession by trying to avoid it all together.
For example, someone with a fear of germs might wash their hands obsessively or change their clothes when coming home for the day. A new mom might obsess over the safety of her child by excessively washing bottles, checking on them repeatedly at night, or carrying them in a certain way. Someone with Scrupulosity OCD might develop rituals or behaviors like staying a certain number of miles under the speed limit while driving to avoid breaking any laws. Someone with Religious OCD might pray a certain number of times a day or recite prayers while obsessively making sure to say them in the "right" way.
These compulsions provide a temporary relief to the constant anxiety and fear. Safety Behaviors provide a sense of control for a moment, until the fear comes back with full force.
The problem with compulsions is that each time they are used to provide that relief, it reinforces the behavior in the brain as "good" and "helpful". So, if someone with OCD doesn't wash their hands, drive under the speed limit, or say a perfect prayer, the fear and anxiety rise even higher than they were before. These behaviors become a necessity, and every time the compulsion is practiced, the need for it grows.
Think of it like a mosquito bite. If you leave it alone, it's still there, but it doesn't bother you as much. Once you itch it - even once, the itch gets worse. You can't help but to itch it again, because it feels better for a second. Then, you can't stop thinking about it. It starts driving you nuts! You might even scratch it so much that you end up hurting yourself more.
Soo.. what do we do?
I can tell you first hand that there was a time in my life where I never thought that I'd be able to take my kids to a restaurant, or stay in a hotel, or even bring my soccer shoes inside from the garage. It can be so scary to feel out of control, to be gripped by fear, and to depend on compulsions to bring you any kind of relief. And, it's even scarier to imagine not doing your compulsions. It can feel like you're about to jump off a cliff, and there's no way you'll get through it.
But let me tell you something... It can get better. As you take even the smallest steps, it will get better. You'll find that after jumping, you'll land on your feet again and again.
As you resist the urge for even 30 seconds or 1 minute, you are taking your life back. You are reminding yourself that YOU are in control, not your fears.
If you find yourself stuck in this cycle of anxiety and compulsions, you would definitely benefit from talking to someone about it. Explain the cycle to your loved ones, be open about your fears - no matter how hard it is. The support, even from people who don't understand, can be invaluable to helping you get back on track.
If you'd like to talk with me about your own OCD or the experiences of a loved one, feel free to schedule a free session with me here:
You can also learn more about me, my coaching, and my certifications on my website:
Talk to you soon!