5 OCD Hacks
Start taking back control now!
Posted Jun 22, 2020
There is no perfect time when you wake up and feel, "today is going to be the day to stop doing the compulsions." It takes a great deal of effort and focus for a person to push through the discomfort and pain that resisting compulsions entails. This is because doing a compulsion feels as if you are “helping yourself” or “protecting yourself" and your loved ones. I always say, when it comes to resisting, it’s not impossible — it’s just extremely uncomfortable.
In my practice, I see clients with all different types of OCD and other compulsive/addictive behavioral problems. I found that there are a few strategies and techniques that seem to help all of these clients. I observed that as long as the individual applied these strategies correctly and consistently, they were able to resist the compulsions, leading them to long-term success. Here are five tricks to help you start resisting the compulsions now.
Submit to the thought
So, OCD loves to send an intrusive, disturbing, and terrifying idea your way. The OCD person then feels horrible but is completely unable to shake this horrific thought. This cycle ultimately leads the sufferer to perform some behavior or ritual to make the thought stop. Basically, the person is so desperate they would do anything to make what is happening in their head go away.
It makes sense that the person never sees the entire disturbing thought all the way through. It would be like seeing the most awful scene in a movie in front of you. You would want to shut the television immediately and walk away. Sounds reasonable, right? Wrong! This never works. I wish it did but it only makes the thought worse and stronger.
The problem is, the OCD person always wants to resolve the thought completely so there is zero doubt that they did not or will never kill someone, molest someone, contract a deadly disease, lose their minds, and so on. Submitting to a thought means, instead of getting to the bottom of it (which will never happen), you simply say to the thought, "okay." You agree with it and let the thought have the last word.
For example, your thought says, "what if I am fake and this world does not really exist?" (existential OCD). Instead of doing hours and hours of research and avoiding watching movies like, The Matrix, you keep telling yourself, "I agree. I totally agree I might not be real. We may all not be real. You are right, we may all be fake and nothing is real. It’s true and I agree."
By completely submitting to the thought and not fighting back, you ultimately make the obsession less terrifying.
Face the fear
As humans, we are programmed to see or feel danger and run. It is part of the fight/flight instinct. So, it makes sense that it is instinctual and intuitive for the OCD person to run when they perceive danger. The problem is, these are compulsions that the person trains their brain to use. These compulsions send strong messages to the sufferer’s brain that the obsession really is dangerous and deadly.
Not only is it great to face the fear, but I like to take it a step further and try to “make the fear happen.” (See my post “Battling OCD? Try To Make Your Worst Fear Happen. Seriously.")
For example, I recently had a client that read about people having heart attacks and dying after playing tennis. She had just started taking tennis lessons. In an effort to “protect” herself, she began drinking more water and taking it easier on the court so as not to increase her heart rate too much. She would go straight home and take a long shower to cool her body temperature and would be sure to constantly check her pulse.
Not only did her therapy involve taking away all of these extra behaviors, but she was instructed to on purpose try to overheat herself during tennis. I knew all along if you tell an OCD person to "on purpose make their worst fear happen," this will almost always result in the person getting rid of all extra extraordinary measures and operating like a non-OCD person.
Avoidance is one of the most-used compulsions. It is so tempting to avoid having to be in a position that will ultimately trigger anxiety and panic. What the OCD sufferer does not realize is whatever they are avoiding is nowhere near as bad as what they are already battling inside their own head. When a situation or object is avoided, it sends a message to the brain that the situation or object is very dangerous; way more dangerous than it really is. This causes the person to enter an avoidance loop, which needs to be ended immediately. The only way to make the avoided situation or object "safe" again is to stop avoiding.
Kill the obsession
Okay, so there is no way to literally kill an obsession, although that would be amazing. However, I mean kill it through the use of imagery. I recommend pretending the triggering thought is an evil, bad alien sent to destroy the world. Really picture it in your mind. There it is, looking all sinister and wicked; it has come to destroy your planet. But you're not going to let it! Imagine shooting it down. Imagine your army of heroes are taking their laser guns and bringing all those nasty aliens down. Of course, your "army of heroes" is actually your logical/rational thoughts coming through. Make sure that those "hero" thoughts win the battle.
This is an excellent way to resist compulsions. Exercise! Do cardio, weight lifting, yoga, pilates. Anything that will get your body moving. In fact, I highly suggest you incorporate some form of physical activity into your life every single day. This way you are more prepared to resist the compulsions when the obsession strikes. I strongly feel people who are prone to do compulsions have a lot of energy and they really need a strong physical release and a lot of outlets.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.