The bully that is OCD
A bully might call you names. A bully might take your lunch money. A bully might push you around, hit you or trip you in front of a group of your friends. Bullies make us feel bad and more often than not we react in some way to whatever the bully is dishing out.
That’s what a bully wants. More than anything else a bully wants you to react to his assault on you. For whatever reason, perverse or otherwise, the bully wants you to react because, in some way, it makes the bully feel better. The bully calls you a name. You yell back you’re not like that. That’s a reaction and the bully likes that, egging him on to do it again. The bully trips you and you fall down in front of your friends. You are embarrassed and you cry over the situation. That’s a reaction and the bully like its, spurring him on to do more in the future.
OCD is very similar. Oh, OCD doesn’t have an ego to stroke. It doesn’t actually want anything because it doesn’t have the capacity to want. But it is a psychological disorder that causes an urge within us to want to respond. OCD is like a bully. It assaults us with intrusive thoughts that cause us distress, just like a bully. And we react to the assault by performing compulsions. And in a very real way, our responding by performing compulsions spurs on the OCD, ensuring that it will produce more assaults in the future. It can become an endless cycle.
There has been much written about how children should react to bullies. Some dads say to their children, stand up to the bully. Call him names back, hit him if he hits you, embarrass him if he embarrasses you. But doing is still a reaction. It’s still, in a twisted sort of way, giving the bully exactly what he wants.
There is another way to deal with a bully. Don’t react. Don’t react at all. If the bully calls you names, walk away. If the bully trips you, get up, dust yourself off and walk away. It’s not easy to do because our natural reaction is to release our emotions or cry out for justice, but take away the expected reaction from the bully and eventually the bully will give up. Oh, initially the bully will try harder and harder to get you to react but, with no reaction present to keep him going, eventually the bully will leave you alone and go find another victim to pick on.
The same happens with OCD. Obsessions pop up and we react by performing compulsions. It happens over and over again. But then a change happens and we stop with the compulsions. Initially the obsessions might come on stronger and harder, causing even more anxiety than usual, but eventually the obsessions start to wither. Without the reaction, the obsessions have nowhere to go.
This is the basis of how to overcome OCD. It’s a very, very simple concept but it’s one that can be very, very difficult to implement. For one thing the urge to perform compulsions can be almost overwhelming. Your brain can fairly scream at you that you must do a compulsion to try and alleviate the distress caused by the obsession. It takes a lot of guts and perseverance to not give in to that urge and refuse to perform a compulsion.
Another problem with not performing compulsions is that some people see it as agreeing with the obsession. The natural reaction, just like with a bully, is to fight back. In the case of OCD, we want to disagree with the onslaught of thoughts. We want to fight the thoughts and prove them wrong. We are not murderers. We are not pedophiles. We do love our partners. So we’ll spend endless amounts of time ruminating over obsessions, trying to figure them out and prove them wrong. If we stop doing so, goes the thought, we are agreeing with the thoughts. We are caving into them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Not reacting is simply not reacting. It doesn’t mean you agree with the bully. It doesn’t mean you take the names he calls you to heart. It doesn’t mean you believe the bully. On the contrary, by not reacting you are simply not giving the bully the satisfaction of getting a rise out of you. Same thing with OCD. Don’t react doesn’t mean agreeing with. It means you’re not going to give the obsessions the time of day. You’re leaving them alone. You’re making them unimportant, not worthy of a response.
Don’t give in to the bully that is OCD.