Obsession and Compulsion

Obsession and Compulsion

Obsession and Compulsion

Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings.

‘There’s AIDS on this doorknob’. ‘I could step right out into this traffic’. ‘I might stab my wife with this kitchen knife’. ‘I’m going to get cancer’. ‘I think I ran someone over’. ‘Did I lock the door?’. ‘What if I’m a sex offender?’ ‘Am I dead?’

We have thoughts of all descriptions. Some can be quite scary/absurd/shocking/violent/inappropriate/random/other. They literally just pop into our heads. Sometimes we might think, ‘Why did I just think that?’.

We might start interpreting why we just thought that. For example, we might go down the road of questioning if we are a bad person because we had a ‘bad thought’, as though having the thought itself is a moral link to ourselves. Or maybe we might get this feeling that since we just thought something it increases the chance of it actually happening. There is a feeling of threat and anxiety that spikes.

A feeling like there is a risk at hand and you are responsible for it. At the same time there might be this other little voice that goes, ‘…but that’s ridiculous, you know you turned the stove off…’ but just in case, that seed of doubt makes you go back to check just once.

Or five times. It only takes a minute and it could avert a disaster! That momentary relief you get right after you see the stove is off (might just touch it twice to make double sure), or after that shower you took because you thought you might have come into contact with dangerous chemical particles, or after you repeat a certain phrase in your mind that cancels out the first scary thought… lasts just until the next thought pops in.

Then you have to do the whole loop all over again. This can happen many times a day, or many times a minute. It can be extremely distressing, and utterly exhausting.

One difference between someone who develops Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and someone who does not, is that the person without OCD wouldn’t interpret the thought as a threat, and wouldn’t try to neutralise it. They don’t respond to the thought like it is dangerous. They might just shrug it off and let it pass – that is, if they note it at all in the first place.

Once we get into the knot of registering threat in a thought (the obsession, or the ‘O’ in OCD), adopting actions to neutralise it (the compulsion, or the ‘C’ in OCD) and do them a number of times, we can get stuck in the cycle (the ‘D’ in OCD).

OCD has nothing to do with how rational or smart or strong you are. It is indiscriminate of culture and occurs across the world in similar patterns. It is a psychological disorder that is treatable.

There are ways to turn down that alarm siren that has been going off at every random thought entering your mind and methods of decreasing the suffering that it can cause. If this sounds like something you are experiencing, please reach out – you don’t have to deal with it all by yourself.

By Dr Ashlen San Letho