itch

OCD is like a mental itch that just has to be scratched.

If you have an itch on your arm, you scratch it. In fact if you have an itch anywhere on your body, you are likely to scratch it as soon as you possibly can. There’s something about the uncomfortable feeling of having an irritating itch that makes us want to scratch very, very badly.

OCD is like that. OCD is like an itch that just has to be scratched.

Think of the obsessions that OCD sufferers get as the itch. Obsessions pop into our minds. They are intrusive, unwanted, just like an itch. They demand attention, just like an itch. They are toddlers, screaming for attention and demanding that something be done. Obsessions don’t go away. Try to ignore them and they get more and more irritating. OCD obsessions are exactly like an itch.

Compulsions — those behaviors, rituals or acts that we perform in response to obsessions, are just like scratching. The obsessions demand attention from us and we submit by mentally scratching them or performing overt compulsions. The urge to do so is so powerful we are very often drawn to performing compulsions like a moth goes to a flame. And just like scratching, we can get temporary, welcome relief from performing compulsions.

OCD, however, is not like any ordinary itch. OCD is like an itch that keeps coming back. Scratch one spot hard and you get temporary relief, but soon enough the itch comes back, either in the same spot or in a different spot. No matter how many times you scratch, the itch pops back up, demanding attention from us (more scratching).

No more how you scratch or how hard you scratch, the itch comes back. No matter how well, how often or how focused you perform compulsions, the obsessions come back. Paradoxically, the way out of the vicious cycle is to not scratch — not perform compulsions. Whether scratching or performing compulsions, not doing what seems natural is anxiety invoking, but only in the short term. Not giving obsessions attention is the best way to make them fade and whimper.

Resist the urge to scratch, even if it is uncomfortable.