What is OCD?
OCD is a condition where a person experiences powerful, intrusive and distressing thoughts or images, usually connected with an imagined disastrous event (e.g. that their house will burn down) and devises rituals designed to prevent that from happening or to compensate for having had the ‘bad’ thought. Typically, the more the rituals are carried out, the more the thoughts recur, requiring yet more rituals.
The condition arises from raised stress levels, often as a result of trauma, illness, worry, lack of sleep, or some personal crisis. For example, someone who develops a compulsion to wash their hands and who may spend many hours each day hand-washing, may have been very anxious about their health and then this developed into a fear of germs. Critically an essential emotional need is not being met – in this case the need to feel safe and secure.
Rituals can be extremely varied and numerous. They may involve counting, checking or clapping a set number of times, or a precise set of movements which must be carried out in exactly the right way, otherwise the whole sequence must be begun again. People with OCD are convinced that something dreadful will happen if they don’t complete their rituals, whatever number of times they are required to do them.
Many people with OCD succeed in hiding their condition and suffer alone.
What’s going on in the Brain in OCD?
What happens in OCD is that a primitive part of the brain, the amygdala, which is our emotional alarm system, starts to associate the thinking of the OCD thought with danger, triggering a stress reaction which leads the person to carry out the ritual to avert the danger and reduce the stress. When they are caught up in this thinking and carrying out the rituals, they are in a trance state, just like a dream. And, just as our dreams seem totally real and believable when we are in them, so the trance state of OCD is equally compelling and believable to sufferers. They are, therefore, absolutely terrified about stopping their rituals.
The more that the person with OCD does not carry out the ritual after experiencing the thought, and realises that nothing terrible does happen, the more the rational part of the brain can override the messages from the amygdala. As time goes on, and the messages continue not to be acted on, the thoughts start to fade, lose their power and eventually stop altogether.
If you suffer from OCD
OCD can usefully be thought of as a “bully”. This externalises it – it is not a part of you but an enemy. Although it is very frightening for someone with OCD to not perform the ritual, the more you stand up to it the more you diminish the power of the bully.
OCD thoughts need to be recognised as different from normal thoughts. (emotionally generated, not reflecting reality). Distraction is a useful technique i.e. whenever an OCD thought pops up, to have a variety of different activities lined up as options that can be switched into instantly e.g. singing, dancing, calling a friend, going for a walk, doing a puzzle.
Human Givens therapy can be very effective in treating OCD so contact me today. I can help you in a structured way to defeat the OCD by setting mutually agreed goals and providing the understanding and techniques you need to retake control of your life.
If the worrying thought is related to a trauma I can help by using an effective Human Givens technique to remove the powerful emotion attached to the traumatic memory.
As a Human Givens therapist I can also use deep relaxation techniques to enable you to visualise yourself experiencing the frightening thought but not carrying out the ritual and calmly doing something else instead, such as making a cup of tea or doing the washing-up. Going through this, in a calm state, in the imagination helps instruct the brain to respond this way in reality.
It is not unusual for people with OCD to have had their lives taken over by the OCD rituals with little time left over for other meaningful activities. As a Human Givens therapist I will also help you to identify what is missing in your life and help you to get your needs met in fulfilling ways.
If you are struggling with OCD, let me help you take back control. Contact me today.