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Your Anxiety Toolkit - Anxiety & OCD Strategies for Everyday

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Your Anxiety Toolkit - Anxiety & OCD Strategies for Everyday
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Now displaying: November, 2022
Nov 25, 2022

In This Episode:

  • Amy Mariaskin, PhD shares her new book, Thriving in relationships when you have ocd
  • What is Family accommodation and how does it apply to ocd
  • Ocd family accommodation vs family support, 
  • What is OCD reassurance and how it can creep into one’s relationship
  • Relationship ocd, also known as rOCD
  • Relationship issues with ocd and how to manage them
  • Sexual orientation OCD, Gender related OCD, and Harm OCD and the impact this has on relationships
  • Attachment styles in ocd and how to understand them to help you navigate communication. 



Links To Things I Talk About:

Thriving in Relationships When You Have OCD: How to Keep Obsessions and Compulsions from Sabotaging Love, Friendship, and Family Connections
Amy’s Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ocdnashville/?hl=en
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp
Episode Sponsor:This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 312. 

Welcome back, everybody. This is going to be a really important episode for you to listen to. Today, we have the amazing Dr. Amy Mariaskin, who is what I consider to be a very dear friend, someone I very much respect. She has written a book about relationships and OCD, and we talk all about it. We go deep into some of the core skills and discussions she has in her upcoming book. And this is just going to be an episode I really feel like you could take away and put some skills together right away. I’m so thrilled. So, thank you, Amy, for coming on this show. 

But before we do that, I would like to do the review of the week, and I really hope you listen carefully to this. Not because it’s reviewing the podcast, but because I actually think the person who wrote this, who put in this review, is following some key points that I want you to consider. And this is what I encourage a lot of people to do. So, let’s go. 

This is from Detroitreview and they said:

“Thank you, I just started listening today after having a few weeks of anxiety and irregular thoughts that I never experienced. I randomly chose your podcast and am thankful for your experience, knowledge and personal and situations. As a 46-year-old father of two boys and loving wife, your podcast gives me a sense of calming. I’m taking notes on each cast.” Guys, I encourage you to do this. This is a free resource. It is jam packed full of skills. I encourage you to take notes. So, I love that you’re doing that Detroitreview. “While I started with the most recent, I have listened to #301/302/303.” And then they went on to say: “And they’ve already given me strategies that I’m using. I decided to start from your first podcast in 2016.” And that is what I encourage you all to do, mainly because those first 11 episodes are core content. I want you to take the content I talk with my patients about all the time. He went on to say, “I have been so impressed. I’ve listened to 1-2 daily. I’m up to 10 and 11. There’s so many things to listen to and I’m so grateful for you. The meditations are amazing. Keep up the great work.”

Thank you so much for that review, Detroitreview. That is exactly my intention. This is a free resource, you guys. I want you to take advantage of the skills and tools so that you can have a toolkit for yourself. And so, I’m so thrilled for that review. It just makes me feel like, yes, that’s exactly what I want you guys to take from this podcast.

Okay, before we get over to the show, let’s talk about the “I did a hard thing” segment. This one is from Kelly, and they said:

“I recently faced one of my biggest fears – general anesthesia.” Holy moly, Kelly, I feel you on so many levels with this. “I started struggling with some gallbladder issues and was told I needed to have it removed. I was terrified, and I didn’t think I could go through with it. Thoughts were racing out of control. I sought help with therapy and your podcast. Thoughts are thoughts and not facts was huge for me. It was calm the day of the surgery, and I did it. Thank you.”

That is amazing. You guys, listen, thoughts are thoughts. Just because you have them doesn’t mean they’re facts. I love that they’re bringing in that key concept as well. 

Alright, let’s go over to the show. This is the amazing Dr. Amy Mariaskin. She’s an OCD therapist. She’s an advocate. She’s an author of an upcoming book. You must go and check it out. I’ll leave the link in the show notes. I am so, so honored to have you on the show, Amy. Let’s get over to the episode.

312 Thriving in Relationships When You Have OCD (with Amy Mariaskin PhD) Your anxiety toolkit

Kimberley: Welcome, Amy Mariaskin. I am so excited for this episode today. Can you do a little introduction of who you are and all the good things about you?

Amy: Yes. Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here. I’m Dr. Amy Mariaskin. I’m a licensed clinical psychologist and owner and director of the Nashville OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center in Brentwood, Tennessee. I’ve been working with OCD and anxiety for over 15 years now, and I just absolutely love it.

Kimberley: And you wrote a book?

Amy: And I wrote a book. I know I need to get better about that. I was like, “Oh, do I say it now or do I say it later?”

Kimberley: You say it all the way.

Amy: All the time. I wrote a book. It was fun and not fun and everything in between. And I think we’ll be talking quite a bit about it. It’s called Thriving in Relationships When You Have OCD.

Kimberley: Right. Now, when you told me that you were going to write this book, I was so excited because I feel like at the crux of everything we do, a lot of the time, the reason people with OCD want to get better or the thing that propels them is how much their OCD impacts relationships. Not always, but I feel like that’s such a huge piece of the work. So, I am so grateful for you for writing this book, and it is an amazing book. I’ve read it myself. You did a beautiful job. And I want to cover some of the main pieces that you cover in your book today and go from there. So, first of all, congratulations. I know writing a book is not easy.

Amy: Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a dream for a long time. So, I’m excited about the accomplishment and I’m ready to figure out the next topic.

When Ocd Is The Third Wheel

Kimberley: Yeah. I love it. I love it. Okay. So, Chapter 1, I think it’s funny. I’ll have to tell you how, when I was reading your book, I was lucky enough to get an early manuscript. I remember sitting, it was with my kids at track and they were running. And I opened the book and the first chapter said, “The Third Wheel: Understanding OCD’s Role in Relationships.” And I was like, “That’s exactly it.” So, I was excited right off the bat. Tell me, what do you mean by the third wheel? Tell me a little bit about that.

Amy: Yeah. First, I should also thank you for writing the wonderful foreword for the book. So, if anybody is a fan of Kimberley, yet another reason that you might be interested in this book. Well, let me think. So, yeah, the third wheel analogy, it felt very apt because when I work with couples, I often imagine, and sometimes I’ll have couples imagine that the OCD is like this other presence in the room sitting there with us. Not physically, but in all the things that are important for relationships, all the ways that we develop intimacy, and that we even structure our time or the activities we choose to do together that OCD can wiggle right in there and can be this like third presence. And the thing is, it’s really easy, I think, for somebody without OCD if they don’t have good education or they don’t understand it, to get that third wheel confused with the person with OCD itself. So, like, “Well, you never want to go out,” as opposed to saying, “We both want to go out.” And here’s this other guy, OCD, really bossy, really pushy, really oppressive, who’s also coming along with us. And even when you do the things that you love, OCD can come along. 

So, it felt to me like this sense of something in the relationship that makes it both unbalanced and is this separate component and that both people, in coming together, have to find creative ways to connect around it or eventually connect and evict it more and more. And so, that’s why I chose that metaphor.

Kimberley: Yeah, I love that. And it’s funny because I remember when I was an intern and I was seeing a family or perhaps the wife who had OCD, what was interesting is I’m sitting in my chair and I noticed that the family members always sat across from her as if it was like her versus them, like who’s on which side of the team. And a big part of it was like, all you guys need to be over on that side of the room. You’re the team. I’ll be over here with OCD and we’ll work this out. But I think that that, even metaphorically, is such an important part of how OCD can turn everyone against each other. Is that how you’ve experienced it?

Amy: Yeah, I think at times there are a lot of conversations about how everybody has a common goal to figure out how to live with one another, develop intimacy, connections, be they friendships, parenting relationships, romantic relationships, even work relationships, and things like that, how to form those and how to come together around common goals. And sometimes OCD can be, again, confused as a goal that one person in the relationship has. And the truth is, everybody’s suffering in a way, and that everybody can be a part of that process of, again, reducing symptoms or evicting it, things like that. 

I do the thing as well when I have people in my office to just look at where are they sitting or when OCD comes up, what is the body language? Are both people really like arms crossed? Is the person with OCD hanging their head in shame, which we know could be such a powerful emotion and such an inhibitor of connection and vulnerability. So, I look for some of those and I remind them, “Head up, we’re all talking to OCD right now, and we’re all working with that, and we’re all on the same team.” 

Family Accommodation & Ocd

Kimberley: Such an important message. Thank you for that. I think that’s beautiful. So, let’s say the third wheel, I always think of like you go on a date and the third wheel shows up. And we know that definitely happens with OCD. You addressed a lot in your book about family accommodation. Can you share what that means and how that can impact a relationship?

Amy: Yeah, absolutely. Accommodation is this thing where we’re extending this metaphor. You’re on a date, you’re with somebody, and the third wheel rolls on up. It’s, “Hey, my buddy from college is here, what’s up?” Essentially, accommodation is like, “Hey, why don’t you have a seat right here? Here’s the menu, here’s a place mat.” It is anything that the person in the relationship without OCD is doing to make OCD have a comfortable place at the table. So, that’s the metaphorical way. That’s abstract, but bringing it down to practically what it looks like, it means doing things generally in the service of what feels comfortable in the moment for the person with OCD. We’re going on a trip and I have concerns about contamination and I really want you to check all the hotels, do all this research to make sure that none of these places have ever had bedbugs or things like that. Then when we get there, we’re dirty from traveling, so I’m going to need you to take a shower. And so, the person, the spouse is taking showers and doing research and perhaps taking over responsibilities from the person with the OCD in order to provide that short-term relief. But it ends up, again, making a place for OCD in the relationship. And it reduces that motivation for the person with OCD to change. 

Family Accommodation is tricky. There are a lot of ways that it can happen. I think reassurance-seeking is certainly one that I think we’ll talk about, but providing excessive reassurance about things to the person with OCD in a way to keep them comfortable but keep them caught up in compulsions. And I think it’s important to note that a lot of times, partners will hear about accommodation. And just as much as we think being apprised of accommodation and looking out for it is important, it’s also, I think, really important that partners understand that that’s nuanced and that they don’t take it to like, “Well, I’m not going to do that for you. That might be accommodation,” or, “I’m not going to reassure you about anything,” or “Is that your OCD?” I guess I say that to say that it’s a little tricky, but it’s really anything that is preventing the person with OCD from experiencing discomfort and thereby strengthening the cycle.

Kimberley: Right. No, I’m grateful that you bring that up actually, because probably the one that I get asked the most from parents, and this not in every relationship, but with parents, is like, okay, my child is having a really hard time getting homework done, their OCD is impacting them. So, if I don’t help accommodate them, if I don’t do some compulsions for them, read for them or so forth, they won’t do their homework. And then there’s an additional consequence. So, they’ll say like, “I feel like that’s too risky. I could actually be letting my kid fall behind, so I can’t stop doing this accommodation.” What are your thoughts on that? Again, how would you approach that type of situation? I mean, there’s many examples.

Amy: Sure. I think with a situation like that, first, I would validate the parents’ love and desire for their child to do as well as possible. Most accommodation is coming from a place of love and not a deliberate enabling or anything like that. Of course not. So, I really provide a lot of validation there. And then I help them reframe it as, “One way to be loving and supportive in the long run is to really cheer your child on in taking over, taking on more and more ownership of that.” So, does that mean, “I know that I’ve been reading. Right now, I’ve been reading for you, and that makes it easier to do your homework. We also know that you have OCD and we know that your brain tells you, you’ve got to reread and reread and reread. So, can we be on the same team together, fight that rereading? I’m not going to read it for you because I love you, because I know you can do this. Boy, is it going to be hard at first and I’m going to be there to cheer you on and motivate you.” I sit with kids, I’m always about gamifying it. “Do we want to just race through this? We don’t have to be perfect.” Again, it depends on the symptoms, if it’s perfectionism or what’s getting in the way. 

And then what I say is, if a parent says, “Well, then they’re really just not going to get their schoolwork done,” sometimes then I’ll say, “Well, if it gets to the point where it is interfering with things like that, then it may be that they need a little bit more support.” Because it’s like, with kids, your job is school and with the adults, your job can be a job or it can be care taking. It can be a lot of different things. But if one of those major domains of living is affected, then it may just mean that you need more support. So, we might up the number of sessions per week or refer out to another program or things like that. 

But those kinds of things would be the same things I would say in any kind of relationship where there’s an accommodator, which is, wow, you love your friend or partner or coworker so much that you’re willing to do this stuff for them so that they’re not suffering or so that they can demonstrate their potential as in the case of the kid with homework. But here’s why that’s not the loving response in the long run.

Ocd Family Accommodation Vs Ocd Support 

Kimberley: Right. You’re right. I mean, you mentioned like, then we have the complete other end of the spectrum where people are going, “No, I’m cutting you off completely.” And I think too, I think it’s important, as you said. Some accommodation happens in every relationship. I don’t particularly like cleaning hair out of the sink drain. That’s not my favorite. So, I’m going to ask my husband to do it, knowing that I take the trash out or whatever. We trade-off. So, how might people identify accommodation through the lens of OCD compared to loving exchanges of acts of service? 

Amy: Right. Oh, I love that question, because essentially, what we call compromise in relationships could be called accommodation – accommodation by a gentler name. And I think part of that has to do with, what’s the motivation there? You do such a wonderful job in your podcasts and online and everything of talking about how doing the hard things are important, and how if you’re not doing the hard things and you’re avoiding difficult things that can really shrink your world over time and put anxiety or OCD in the driver’s seat. So, if the motivation, if a child or a spouse or a friend is asking-- well, if you are asking a child or a friend or a spouse, if you’re saying, “Hey, can you do this for me,” or “I’d feel a lot more comfortable if you did this,” thinking about, is it a compulsion or a preference to me? There are so many different ways that we can look into that, but is it in the service of just like, I could, but I prefer not to? Or is it, I feel like if I do that, I’m going to be too anxious or I’m going to do too many compulsions, or something bad is going to happen? So, I think if the motivation there is more avoidance due to anxiety as opposed to just preferences, I think that’s helpful. 

Sometimes I’ll say to people when they’ll say to me like, “Well--” and I think division of labor in the house is such a good example. When people say, “Well, I don’t ever take the trash out,” I will often ask, “Well, what happens when your roommates are out of town?” Let’s say they’re living in a roommate situation. And if they say, “Well, it just piles up and I can’t deal with it,” then I say, “Aha, this might be a place that we need to work on and chip away.” And again, reducing accommodations doesn’t mean like all of a sudden, I’m a garbage master and I’m the only one doing it. It might mean that I’m doing some exposures to get up to the point where I can have that role in the household. 

So, I love that question of like, well, what if you had to do it? What would that be like? And if it’s really hard, then hey, let’s help break down some of those barriers and reduce accommodation.

OCD Reassurance

Kimberley: Yeah. I usually tell clients like, “Okay, let’s just do it so that we know you can, and then you can move on to the next exposure.” Tell us about reassurance. You talked about it a little bit. And in your book, actually, the thing I highlighted, because I read it in Kindle, that I love the most is your reassurance tracking. Tell us a little about that. 

Amy: Yes. Because again, I love that you’re highlighting this because reassurance is something that is okay. Reassurance happens in all relationships. Again, we might call it by different names. It might just be checking in. It might be clarification. It might be getting information from one another. So, I developed a worksheet that’s also available with the book that allows for people to track when they’re asking for reassurance from loved ones, and to answer a series of questions that aren’t going to give you a 100% certain answer of whether or not it’s compulsive, but are going to give you some clues. So, on the worksheet, it says, people write down the situation. So, for example, I was asking my friend if she was mad at me. That might be the situation. And then there’s a column that says, what were your emotions? 

Again, if we’re seeing anxiety, guilt, shame, some of those words might be a clue that our OCD is at play, but not always. And then people track, did you ask only once? Because we also know if it’s truly the type of reassurance, “Oh, I just need to know. I’m having a vulnerable moment. I just need to know, is this okay with you? Are you upset?” Then asking once and accepting the answer is generally how it goes. So, if you’re asking more than once, if you answer no to that, it’s a clue that it could be compulsive reassurance. And then also, was the source credible? 

I feel like I talk about this example a lot, but I just love it so much, which is that I worked with a little girl who was really worried about getting strep throat. She would ask everybody for reassurance about her tonsils. I mean, anybody and everyone. At one point, she took a picture and she was just old enough that she got social media. She put it on her Instagram and she was like, “Do you guys think I have a strep throat?” That was the caption. That was the little caption, which is like, she was laughing about it afterwards, but that’s not a credible source. I mean, she wasn’t even friends with all the docs in town or anything, or ear, nose, and throat specialist. So, was the source credible? 

Now, often if it’s social reassurance, it is a credible source. If I ask you, if I say, “Kimberley, was I too long-winded,” you’re going to be able to tell me. So, you would be a credible source. If I leave this room right now after doing this podcast and I ask somebody, “Do you think I was long-winded? Do you think I was?” and they’re like, “Well, we weren’t there,” that’s that answer. That’s that question about credibility. 

And then the last one is, did you accept the answer? Anxiety and OCD have this way of undermining. Well, pretty much everything, but undermining any answer we get and countering with it. ‘What if,’ or ‘Are you sure?’ ‘But I think...’ So, if it’s starting with a ‘but,’ a ‘maybe,’ a ‘what-if,’ then again, it may not be that helpful reassurance-seeking.

Relationship Ocd (Rocd) Vs Relationship Issues With Ocd

Kimberley: Yeah, I love that. And thank you for adding that because I just love that template so much. That is just like gold. I love it so much. Alright. So, as you move into Chapter 4, I believe it is, you talk about specific subtypes of OCD that are commonly impacted in relationships. Can you share just briefly what your thoughts are around that?

Amy: Yeah. I love this question too because as I’ve been talking about the book, a lot of people are like, “Oh, great, a book about ROCD, or relationship OCD.” And my answer to that, or my response to that is, “Yes, and...” Just a step back, any subtype of OCD can affect and often does affect relationships. Why? Because OCD goes after what’s important to us. And for many of us, our connectedness with one another is just so important. That being said, there are subtypes of OCD that are relational in nature. And so, I do have a chapter that is more devoted to these types, and one of which is relationship OCD. This is a passion of mine. I’ve done now a few iterations of an ROCD treatment group at my clinic, and I have other plans to expand that group and do some cool programming around that. 

But relationship OCD, it’s basically when OCD symptoms are about the relationship itself or about the person with whom you’re in relationship. So, it could be about-- we think about it a lot of times with romantic relationships, but it could be any relationship. To use a different one, it could be, am I a loving enough parent? Do I love my kids enough? How do I know? Do other parents have these thoughts? So, it could be about the relationship or it can be about the individual. Like, my spouse doesn’t like the same music that I do, and are we ever going to get past this? And so, something that might be seen as, yes, it’s an actual difference, but then there’s all this story making around the difference and how the difference is going to be the demise of the relationship. Those are the two flavors of ROCD, relationship and partner-focused. 

I also want to pause here and say that oftentimes when people talk about ROCD, I feel like there’s this pull to say, “Well, if you know you have ROCD, if relationship issues come up in your relationship, it’s probably your ROCD.” And that’s just like another backdoor to the certainty that we all want. I think all relationships have some crunchy bits and some edges that chafe. And so, I want the people with ROCD to feel empowered to also develop the relationships that they want and then notice that maybe the ROCD turns up the volume on some of their concerns, if that makes sense. 

Kimberley: It’s hard, isn’t it? Because so many times a patient will say, “But I don’t know if I really love-- is he the one?” And we’re like, “Well, we’ll never know.” There’s no way to objectively define that. And then someone, a friend is like, “Well, if you don’t know, it must be a problem.” It’s so hard for those people because people without OCD also don’t know all the time either, so it’s a common concern.

Sexual Orientation Ocd & Gender Related Ocd

Amy: Right. No, that’s a great point. So, I have some stuff about relationship OCD in there and then the identity subtypes of OCD as well. So, sexual orientation OCD and gender-related OCD. I put those in there because oftentimes our identity is the foundation from which we interact with others and create relationships and things like that. So, I talk a little bit about sexual orientation OCD, not just even in dating, but in finding a community and friendship and things like that. SOOCD can rear up and lead to lots of social comparisons or it can just really try to sabotage certain relationships, and with gender-related OCD as well, be it somebody who is cisgender and wondering if they are transgender or vice versa. I’ve worked with people in the transgender community who have OCD and have these unwanted thoughts about like, “Well, what if this is not who I am? What if I’ve been doing this for attention?” And then, therefore, are wanting to compulsively disengage from their community because of the feeling of like, “Well, I don’t feel authentic enough.” So, that’s a way in which that can root in relationally.

Kimberley: Right. So, we’ve got relationship OCD and identity. What are the other ones? 

Harm Ocd & Its Impact On Relationships

Amy: Yeah. And then the last one that I highlighted in here in that section is harm OCD. And I put that in there because harm OCD, which again is a huge category, which I would say under that are anything that’s violent. That could be sexual as well. So, sexual violence toward others or sexual intrusive-- obviously, all intrusive thoughts, but intrusive thoughts about being sexual with children. I would roll all that into the harm OCD category. And this one is just, it’s always so striking to me the ways in which OCD can take something that’s really important. Like, I want to be a good person, I want to be a kind person and then undermine it. So, the amount of people I’ve worked with harm OCD who are experiencing isolation and really the self-imposed isolation, the irony of which is “I’m isolating myself because I don’t want to harm others,” but then they’re withholding themselves as this fantastic person to be out in the world. And so, that’s what I always say, is you’re doing more harm isolating, but sort of. Get out there. You have so much to offer and in fact, your OCD has attacked this area because it’s important for you generally to have relations with others.

Kimberley: Yeah, I love that. So, I love how you’ve given us a way, and as you said, it can impact any relationship outside of those subtypes as well. What I’d love to do is give you the mic and tell us just now, in general, give us your best relationship ideas, advice, tips, tools, whatever you want to call them, for the person with OCD and the loved ones of people with OCD.

Amy: Yeah. Thank you. I feel like that’s a dangerous thing to be giving me the mic.

Kimberley: It’s all yours. Go for it. What’s the main thing you want people to know?

Amy: I think I want for people to be able to-- number one, there’s no right or wrong way to have a relationship provided that everything is consensual and respectful. And so, taking a step back-- and actually Russ Harris just put out this. I don’t know if you saw this, but this incredible list of relational values words. So, there’s an activity where-- or I don’t know if it’s new, it’s new to me. That’s clarifying what are your relational values and what are they with different relationships? Is it playfulness? Is it intimacy? And so, figuring out what you want and having your spouse do the same. In our relationship OCD group, most recently, we had people and their significant others, I shouldn’t say spouse, do this and figuring out ways to connect around those things. I think it comes down to connection and to supporting each person, like supporting each other’s goals. 

I think I’m bringing this up in part because I think sometimes there are these narratives out there about like, we have to have all the same interests or opposites attract. And again, to that, I say yes, and... For some people, they want people with really similar interests and for others, they want somebody who’s going to be different. But I think what we can do is support each other and try to see the world through your loved one’s eyes and try to celebrate when they’re celebrating. 

I think part of this is like, I’m married to somebody who’s a huge thrill seeker. He’s paragliding. He just got his private pilot’s license. He does things that are not in my nature. If he’s gone out and he’s done some sort of paragliding trip in a different country, and he’ll come back and he’ll say, “I found a lift here and there were thermals,” in my head, I’m like, “You didn’t die. You didn’t die. Yeah, you didn’t die.” And I have to stop my own anxious story about it or my own interpretation of “I wouldn’t like that” and just be there with him in that moment of sharing his joy. It’s finding joy in others’ joy. It’s being there with other people’s emotions about whatever they are. Because I think with anxiety and OCD, it can always be this upper-level analytical process of like, “Oof, I don’t like that. Is that okay?” or things like that. I know a lot of the Gottman’s research will talk as well about how very important it is to just support one another, be cheerleaders, et cetera. 

Attachment Style & Ocd 

I think too, knowing your attachment style. And this is a whole topic that we could spend forever on, but knowing if you’re somebody who-- when you get close to others, do you feel more resistance in getting closer or do you feel worries about like, “Ugh, I don’t want to lose myself by merging with someone else”? Or do you have more resistance around, “I’m worried they’ll abandon me, I’m worried they won’t love me enough?” And that’s a very, very, very rudimentary look at two of the concepts of attachment, that more avoidant attachment where it’s, “I’m worried I’ll be subsumed by the other person and I value independence,” or more anxious attachment, which is, “I’m worried they won’t love me enough or I’ll be abandoned.” Knowing that and knowing when those thoughts come up, take a pause, take a step back and check in with yourself and your body and the facts and things like that, instead of reacting in that moment. When anxiety is there, it wants us to just react to every alarming or provocative thought that we have. So, yeah, those are some things. I know that I had them scrolling through because I know I had more in the book from the Gottman. They’re top of mind.

Kimberley: I think back to when I was first married, I was so young. So, if someone had explained to me attachment styles, it would’ve made the first five years so much easier. You know what I mean? My husband would go away. He’s actually away right now. He would go away because he loves to fly fish. And for me, I would feel anxiety because he would leave and I would interpret, because I’m anxious, and I was like, “No, this isn’t hard for me to be alone.” It would quickly turn to anger towards him for having a hobby. I’m totally fine to say this too. I’m feeling anxious here by myself. He’s off doing something fun for him. So then I got angry that he’s doing fun things and leaving me to have my anxiety. He would come home not to a happy wife. He would come home to wife with her hands on her hips. You know what I mean? And I think that that is so common for people with anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious, you feel like they’re doing it to you like, “Why are you doing this to me?” And then that can create a whole narrative that can interfere in relationship. So, that’s just a personal example of how, if I had have known my anxious attachment early in our marriage, I think that would’ve saved us a lot of fights.

Amy: Yeah. Oh, I love that example. And I feel like for me, as somebody who tends toward the other side, I tend to feel more worried about being stifled by relationships. I want to be fully seen and encouraged. And so, sometimes, in particular with friendships, if I’ve had people who are like, “I’ve felt exactly the same way,” or “I had the same experience,” or “We should do this all together. Let’s get matching jackets,” I’m like, “I am an individual.” I get really threatened because my feeling is-- my brain’s automatic interpretation is they don’t see you because they think that you are just-- they assume like we’re all the same, whereas they’re just like, “We want to affiliate.” So, I’ve had to do some work there as well, even with friendships, to know like it’s not-- people aren’t trying to kidnap my identity and merge it with theirs. They’re actually just being loving. 

Kimberley: Right. But it feels threatening. Yeah, absolutely. I think the last question I have for you is, it goes back to that accommodation reassurance piece, particularly related to these dynamics. And maybe this is just my experience, I’d actually love to hear yours. What I do find is, when the person with OCD is coming from an anxious place, like often overanalyzing things, hyper-attending hyperawareness of things, their need for reassurance or their need for everyone to follow what OCD tells the family to do, I have found that the partner, because it’s so overwhelming for them, tends to flip to the other end of the spectrum where they don’t worry about anything or they’re like, “It’s fine.” Or maybe even they’re frustrated of like, “It’s fine, it’s fine.” Have you noticed that as a trend in dynamics of a relationship?

Amy: Yeah. Sometimes almost like there’s a dismissiveness. Yes, I have noticed that and I think that there are so many reasons why that can happen. And I think for the partner and their experience, getting at what that is and what’s motivating that is so interesting because, to the person with anxiety or OCD, it can feel really invalidating, or it can feel very comforting. But I think a lot of the times, it can feel invalidating and the partner might be doing it because they might be having their own feelings come up about, “I don’t know what to say.” I’ve tried to use facts and sometimes facts can bounce right off of OCD if you’re not in the mindset to accept them. OCD is skeptical about everything. So, I’ve tried everything and I’m really now at this place of like, “I am so tired.” And it’ll come out. “I’m so tired of hearing you talk about this.” And that’s when, as a clinician, I see time out. I think you’re both really tired of this cycle that OCD has you both in. 

So, yeah, I will see that. And I think sometimes when that’s the pattern as opposed to a lot of overly accommodating, I think when that’s the pattern, the element for me in working with couples to inject back in there is the validation of, “This is really hard.” And also for them to take a step back and realize, well, not everything is going to be OCD either. Sometimes if there is reassurance-- I mean, again, the irony is sometimes this pattern can lead to more reassurance because then it’s like, “Well, you just dismissed me. You said that there’s nothing wrong in our relationship that you did it in a manner that felt dismissive. And so, now I’m going to ask again.” 

So, yeah, deconstructing that pattern. Does the partner feel angry? If so, you’re angry at this pattern, not your partner. Does the partner feel helpless, hopeless? Did they feel scared? Are they grasping at straws? So, yeah, that would be how I would look at that when I see it come up.

Kimberley: Oh, thank you. I’m so grateful that you shared all that because I think they are all great questions that need to be addressed within the relationship. Thank you. So good. Okay, tell us about your book. I want to be respectful of your time. Tell us about your amazing book, which I think every family that has members should read. Tell us about it.

Amy: It’s called Thriving in Relationships When You Have OCD: How to Keep Obsessions and Compulsions from Sabotaging Love, Friendship, and Family Connections. It’s available for pre-order as of the recording of this, which is in October, but I think this is going to come out later. It will be hot off the presses December 1st from New Harbinger Publications, available on Amazon, available through New Harbinger, I think available on other websites. People keep sending me links and I’m like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” 

So, yeah, I tried to cover all different kinds of relationships. We talk about family relationships, parenting, romantic relationships, sex and intimacy and those kinds of relationships, friendships, work, and really just a relational lens to what can be a very isolating and security disorder. And I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to go at it alone.

Kimberley: Thank you. Again, hats off to you. Much respect. You did a beautiful job writing the book. It’s an honor. I was so honored to write the foreword. And I think, again, it’s like a handbook I think everybody needs to have on the onset of being diagnosed. Here’s the book to make sure you can protect your relationship and nurture the relationship outside of OCD. So, thank you.

Amy: Well, thank you for having me.

Nov 18, 2022

In This Episode:

  • What if people notice I am anxious?
  • How to handle the fear that people ill judge you 
  • Tools to manage anxiety



Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 311. 

Welcome back, everybody. I am so happy to have you with me today. Today, we’re talking about what to do if people notice how anxious you are. This is something that I’ve even thought about myself. When you’re having anxiety, it’s like, “Are people noticing how anxious I am?” And when you worry about that or you think about that, sometimes it can actually create more anxiety for you. Quite a few of you have asked this question to me in the past, specifically around when doing exposures. As you go to do your exposures, then you have this secondary thought of like, “Oh my goodness, are people actually seeing how anxious I am?” So, I wanted to do a podcast just about this topic. 

Before we get into the episode, let’s quickly run through the “I did a hard thing” for the week. This one is from Anonymous and they said:

“My son just started preschool this month. For context, my OCD and anxiety has me housebound for the last two years, and never in a million years did I think I was going to be able to handle this. I still feel discomfort and struggle with intrusive thoughts, but the sparkle in his eye when I pick him up makes it all worth it. This has reinforced the importance of pushing through even when it’s hard.”

Anonymous, this is so good. Look at you go. And I think we can all resonate with being so overwhelmed with anxiety, but we make decisions based on our values, not our fear. And then we get to see people sparkle in people’s eyes or our own eyes. And I’m so excited to have you share that with me. So, thank you so much.

All right, quickly, review of the week. This is from Sybil Cross and they said:

“Compassionate and competent care. My ERP therapist recommended this podcast to me and I love it! It is both educational and supportive. It helps me learn more about my OCD and feel comforted, all while retaining its therapeutic value. Thank you for all your hard work and love, Kimberley!”

It is my pleasure. Thank you, Sybil, for sharing that amazing review. Please do go and leave a review. I know I say it every week, but you do not understand how helpful it is to me. I am really doubling down in 2022 and next year on really making sure this podcast reaches as many people and makes a massive impact. So, your reviews mean so much to me. 

311 What If People Notice I am Anxious Your anxiety toolkit

All right, let’s get over to the show.

Have you ever been out and about doing your thing socially and then all of a sudden, you have anxiety and then you start to worry, what if people start to notice that I’m anxious? If this is you, you’re going to want to listen up because today we’re going to go through what to do if people do notice or what to do if you’re afraid of people noticing that you have anxiety. 

So, thank you so much for joining me again today. I love spending time with you, talking about all things anxiety. Let’s talk about what to do if people do notice that you have anxiety. So, the first thing to ask yourself, and I love asking questions because I think it really helps us to really understand the actual problem, but what I’m going to ask you is, what’s your actual fear? If you’re afraid of someone noticing that you are anxious, what are you actually saying there? Are you afraid that maybe they’re going to judge you for having anxiety? Or are you afraid that there may be some consequence for having anxiety? Sometimes people are afraid in certain work environments or school environments. Or is it that you’re afraid that if they notice you have anxiety, that then you’ll then have even more anxiety and then that creates a perpetual cycle? Let’s take a look at these outcomes depending on which one you struggle with. 

So, let’s talk about first the fear that they might judge you. Now, if this is you, there is a pretty good chance you may have social anxiety. Social anxiety is a specific anxiety disorder around the fear of being judged by others socially or feeling humiliation or embarrassment around others socially. And often what we understand about social anxiety is it’s actually not so much an anxiety disorder. Well, yes, you will feel a lot of anxiety, but we actually understand it to also be a shame disorder. Often people go out and then enter the social environment and they’re afraid that if someone notices an adequacy or a floor, that they’ll be judged and that will create a lot of shame for them. Remember, fear and shame is often associated together. They often go together. And shame is really about us having a thought that there’s something wrong with us, that we are inherently bad. 

So, if your fear is that you’re going to be noticed and they’ll catch you, and then you’re going to feel shame, what you’ll want to do here is work at being able to navigate your shame. Stay here and we’ll talk about that a little bit later. It could be also that you’re afraid of humiliation or embarrassment. Some people don’t want to be judged because then they know they’ll get stuck in a cycle of regret. “Why did I do that? Should I have done that? What could I have done different?” which looks a lot like mental rumination, which we know is a mental compulsion, a common behavior we do to try and reduce or remove anxiety. 

So, we can talk a little bit more in a second about how to manage that. First, let’s talk about another concern people have, which is that you’re afraid that if you get noticed for having anxiety, that you might have more. The thing to remember here, and you probably know this from me already, is the more you try to make fear go away, the more likely you are to have a strong wave of fear. So, remember, what you resist persists. So, if you’re saying, “What if someone notices that I’m anxious and then that makes me more anxious,” if you’re paying a lot of tension to their facial expression, trying to figure out what they’re thinking about you, chances are, you will have more anxiety because of how much attention you’ve put on their opinion of you.

The last piece here is, will there be consequences? So, let’s really talk about that. Some people are concerned that if they are visibly anxious, let’s say you’re giving a presentation at work or school or you’re meeting your boss for your yearly meeting or your teacher for a check-in and so forth, that there will be consequences if you’re visibly jittery, nervous, stuttering, shaky. Some people are afraid that they’ll get noticed for sweating. And sometimes there can be consequences. Maybe a part of your job or your schooling is to be able to perform. And if you’re engaging in avoidant behaviors, yes, there may be some consequences that go along with that. 

But what I’m going to encourage you to do to manage this is talk to your boss, talk to your teacher, talk to your coach, whoever it may be that you’re concerned will employ these consequences. Ask them what we can do and what they can do and how you can get supported as you manage your anxiety. Hopefully, it’s an environment that supports mental health struggles and supports mental health in general. And usually, I have found, if you go to your boss or your teacher or your dean or your parent or your coach or whoever it may be, and you let them know that you’re struggling, they may have some really helpful tools or they may actually be able to help you to manage that in that environment. So, 100%, while I know bringing it to their attention is actually your fear, that can often very much help. 

Now, if you’re in a situation where you don’t feel comfortable going to them and sharing that-- it could even be with a friend, or a partner, a boyfriend, girlfriend, someone you’re interested in. If you’re really afraid of that and you don’t want to share, that is entirely okay. But what it does mean is, and this is where we get to the tools, you’re going to have to give yourself permission to have anxiety. 

So, number one, the main thing I’m going to tell you if you have this fear in any certain way is, if you are going into this circumstance or this event saying you shouldn’t have anxiety, you’re going to have more anxiety. We know that to be true. So, what do you do instead? You can practice allowing your anxiety to be there and actually saying, “This is a good thing.” And I know it doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel fun, but what you’re saying is, “Here is an opportunity for me to have the anxiety and show up anyway.”

Number two, here is an opportunity for me to have the anxiety and show up and really see who are the true friends, who are the unconditional friends, who can be caring and compassionate in this environment, and can I face this fear, and baby steps, make small wins, and have small achievements where you’re able to increase your willingness to have the anxiety, increase your tolerance of discomfort and sensations that you don’t like. 

The next thing I want you to do is, number three, the most important, you will be shocked how important and how helpful it can be if you practice self-compassion. If you are using the tool of self-criticism to manage this, chances are, you’re going to make your anxiety a whole bunch worse. So, instead, try validating yourself. “It makes complete sense that this is hard for me. It makes complete sense that this would create anxiety for me.” Maybe you would say, “Anyone else in this situation would have anxiety.” And I know your brain is going to say, “No, no. Jack, John, and Jennifer could do this without anxiety.” The thing to remember is, they might be a few steps ahead of you and you can get there too. Our brains are neuroplastic. We can actually get there too with practice, small wins and self-compassion. The self-criticism is only going to make you more anxious. Really, I think you probably already know this, but I think it’s important for you to understand, self-criticism only makes it worse, and we want you to do great, and we know you can do great. 

Number four is, be an observer to what’s going on. So, let’s say you’re about to do this event or this social experience with somebody, or you’re about to have a conversation, and you’re shaking or you’re sweating or you’re stuttering, or whatever it may be. Your job is to be an observer of your thoughts about that. 

Now, here is an example. I am often with anxious people. It’s a normal part of my day. I’m an anxiety specialist, but I go into a lot of exposures with my patients. We go to Costco, we go to the supermarket, we go to the outdoor park, and my patients practice exposing themselves to the exact thing they’re afraid of. And what you’ll find here is the average human that they interact with are incredibly forgiving. Humans want to like you. They don’t want to not like you. They want to be in connection with you. They don’t want to be out of connection with you. And when you’re struggling, if that is the case, 99% of the time, they have enough empathy and compassion to help you along. And so, a part of this work is you increasing your ability to see the good of the human race. 

Now, I know you may have had a few experiences where people weren’t so kind, but the good people are out there. It’s just a matter of practicing. And when I go on exposures with my patients, they’re actually pleasantly surprised. We might go to the supermarket and we might say, “Okay, I want you to go and ask 10 people for the time, or I want you to look 15 people in the eye and say good morning to them. Or I want you to ask five people a question, where is the local bank, or can you tell me where such and such street is?” And 99% of the time, they walk away going, “Wow, people are actually kinder than I thought.” There are people who don’t want to talk to them, and that’s usually because they’re anxious too. And so, it’s important for us to understand and have an understanding of the human race here, and give ourselves permission to show up imperfectly when we’re around other people.

Now, another thing I want you to think about here is, how can I practice on purpose facing this fear. I know what you’re thinking. You’re like, “Let me just shut this down. Where’s the pause button?” But I really want you to understand that there are hundreds of opportunities in your day where you can practice showing up anxious on purpose and how many of those can you put in a day. Put them in your calendar, plan for them, leave work, or leave for school a little early so you could get an extra couple of practice runs in with this. 

If someone had, let’s say, a fear of being shaky, I actually encourage them to be shaky. Sometimes we even induce shakiness for them. We might have them have a cup of coffee before they do the exposure so that they’re on purpose feeling this feeling and they’ve got a lot of practice doing it.

And then the last thing I want you to remember is, once you’ve done all these steps and you’ve done the hard thing, because I always say it’s a beautiful day to do hard things, I want you to then practice what we call response prevention. Response prevention is, now that you’ve done the hard thing, you’re to practice not engaging in rumination and self-criticism, the things that actually you used to do, which only make you feel worse and actually reinforce the fear. You’re going to practice not doing those things and instead engage back into the world and just practice moving on, practice engaging in what you are showing up to do, practice engaging in the things that you love and that you value. Instead of sitting there looping about how it went and what they thought and what they think about you and how did they perceive you and you should have said this and you shouldn’t have said that, your job is actually to catch the urge to engage in that rumination and then bring yourself back to the present. Now, if you can do those things, you are leaps and bounds ahead of where you would be if you weren’t engaging in those things. And we know that small steps lead to medium size steps, which lead to massive steps forward. 

Now, what is the one thing I want you to take away? Because I really love giving you a takeaway here. Number one, the more you try and avoid the fear, the more you’re probably going to have it. And then the last thing here I’m going to say is, go gentle. Go easy. Catch how you’re engaging in self-criticism. The truth is, we have a lot of research to show that people aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are. Most of the time, they’re thinking about them. They’re thinking about what they’re going to have for lunch and their meeting that they have coming up and, “Whoops, I forgot to get milk at the grocery store.” They’re not hyper-attending to every little mistake that you make as much as you think they are. And if they are in fact judging you that heavily, that is a strong relation and reaction of what’s going on in their mind. It actually shows us a lot. It’s a reflection of what they value and what they’re judging about themselves. And so, really other people’s judgment is often just a reflection of their judgment about themselves and the way that they think. And our work is actually to focus on actually being the person you want to be or who do you want to be? How do you want to show up? What are your values? What kind of person do you want to be? 

So, I hope that’s been helpful. At the end of the day, you will be judged. This is something I have had to learn the hard way. I have had to learn that not everyone is going to like me, and that is okay. I am a messy human being. I am not perfect. I was never supposed to be perfect. And my job is to give myself some grace and some compassion for the fact that I’m just a human, messy person, just like you’re a human, messy person. And that’s true for every human. Okay? 

Have a wonderful day. Do remember it’s a beautiful day to do hard things and I look forward to talking to you again next week.

Nov 11, 2022

SUMMARY: 

  • What if you don’t identify with the concept of an obsession being a FEAR? It’s a repetitive thought or feeling, but you’re not scared of a specific outcome. 
  • What is the UNCERTAINTY when it comes to these obsessions? 



Guilt Obsessions: 

  • WHAT IS OCD GUILT? 
  • OCD Guilt over past mistakes
  • “I shouldn't have done that” 
  • “That was a mistake” 

OCD Guilt as a simple intrusive thought- no known mistake

  • “Is it bad that I did that” 
  • “Did I make a mistake?” 
  • “What could be the consequences” 

 REGRET obsessions. 

  • I’ve heard a lot about how guilt is a common intrusive feeling in OCD but not much about regret. 
  • “I wish I didn't do that” 
  • “I wish I had done it another way” 

Guilt and Regret accompanied with sadness?? 
How to stop OCD guilt? 
How to treat OCD guilt and regret

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love!
Everyone needs tools for anxiety...If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 310

Welcome back, everybody. We are at Episode 310. I just recorded it as 210 and I’m still in shock that we have hit 310 episodes. I recorded it and I was like, “Hang on a second. That doesn’t sound right.” And it wasn’t, and that still shocks me to this day. 

All right. Today, we are talking about a very important topic, which is guilt and regret. And I’ve called this episode Guilt and Regret: The Most Misunderstood Obsession, and I believe that to be true because a whole bunch of you are walking around wondering whether you have OCD or not because a lot of what you hear is that OCD is all about anxiety and uncertainty. But what about the folks who don’t have a lot of anxiety and a lot of uncertainty, but they’re having obsessive guilt and obsessive regret in the form of OCD guilt and OCD regret? So, I wanted to talk about that today. 

Before we do so, let’s quickly do the “I did a hard thing” segment. For those of you who are new, this is where listeners and followers share the hard thing that they’ve done. Why do I do this? Because so often, you guys forget that just because your hard thing is hard for you doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with that. I want you to see that hard things are hard things and we should celebrate them and we should share them, and this is a platform I want to do that with. So, this one is from Mars, and Mars said:

“After many weeks and years of hard work, I finally managed to reach an important stage of my career, and I ended up with two job offers.” Amazing. “Both were great really for different reasons, and I couldn’t choose. I went back and forth and tortured myself four months trying to get certainty about which one is the right choice. I’d never been so anxious in my life. Finally, today, I sent the final email, even though I wasn’t certain about the choice, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I finally feel like I can move forward with my life again.” 

Mars, number one, congratulations. Sounds like you’ve worked really hard. And number two, you’re also doing this hard thing where you’re allowing the discomfort into your day, into your life, and you’re moving forward anyway. Thank you for sharing that. That is such an amazing accomplishment.

Interesting, isn’t it, how you’ve shared here too like it was around the certainty, but it sounds like that was similar to what we’re talking about today, and let’s talk about that. So, let’s start from scratch. Start from the beginning. So, often people will come into therapy and say, “I didn’t seek treatment for the longest time, because all I’m hearing is OCD is the uncertainty disorder, and I don’t feel a ton of uncertainty in the way that I’ve heard other people do with OCD.” What do I do if I don’t identify with this concept of the obsession being around fear and uncertainty? What about if you have a repetitive thought or a feeling, but you’re not scared of the specific outcome? And this is so important, guys, because we do hyper-focus on uncertainty and I really do believe that uncertainty is the root of lots of OCD obsessions and a lot of our suffering if we don’t accept that uncertainty. But what about those who have obsessive guilt and obsessive regret? So, let’s talk about it.

Guilt OCD - Guilt Obsessions

Let’s first talk about guilt obsessions. So, what is guilt obsessions, or what is OCD guilt? Ultimately, it’s a thought or an action that occurs. That’s the trigger. So, you had a thought or you did some behavior, and then you are having this onset of guilt. Remember, an obsession is an intrusive thought, feeling, sensation, urge, or image. And so, in this case, we’re talking about intrusive feelings. And so, what’s happening here is you’ve had a thought or you’ve done something and then you feel this very, very real feeling of guilt, very real feeling of guilt. Most of my patients who struggle with OCD guilt or obsessive guilt will say, “I genuinely feel like I’ve done the equivalent of killing a person. That’s how much guilt I feel.” Even though you might be very clearly able to identify like, I didn’t kill a person, or it doesn’t make total sense on why I’m feeling this high level of guilt, that’s so disproportionate. and that can be really confusing. And so, they’re really confused as to what’s going on. 

So, they might show up in-- the guilt may be accompanied by intrusive thoughts like, “I shouldn’t have done that. That was a huge mistake. I wish I didn’t do that. How can I avoid that in the future?” And then you can easily see why we then move into compulsions, like avoidance, rumination, tons of reassurance seeking. In therapy, a lot of people go to therapy, not even OCD therapy because they don’t even know they have OCD yet, and they spend all this time doing EMDR and biofeedback and hypnosis and all of this deep therapy work, exploring the deep meaning of the guilt, only then to realize like, “Wait a second, this is OCD. I’m doing all these compulsions and I’m even doing them in session.”

Now, as I mentioned, OCD could be as simple as an intrusive thought of you’re walking down the street and you just get the onset of guilt after some kind of trigger where there’s no known mistake. Or it could be that you did something that didn’t completely line up with your values, but again, then you have disproportionate degrees of guilt. Disproportionate. 

If it’s just a simple intrusive thought that has no known trigger or no known mistake, maybe your thoughts are related like, “Is it bad that I did that? Did I make a mistake? Was that right? Did that line up with my values? What could be the consequence of this?” And it can be incredibly painful. 

Regret OCD- Regret Obsessions

So, now let’s move over to regret obsessions and compulsion. So, with regret obsessions or regret ocd, they usually are presented more as, “I wish I didn’t do that. I wish I hadn’t done it that way. I wish I had done it in a different way.” It’s often accompanied with a deep feeling of sadness, like regret this deep feeling. Again, it can be an intrusive thought, but it often is just an intrusive feeling. This deep sense of, “I wish I didn’t do that.” Sometimes it’s accompanied with dread. “Oh, I hope I never do that, have this emotion, or do that thing again.” It can be incredibly painful. And again, people can get stuck in really the wrong kind of therapy, ruminating, ruminating, trying to solve what it was. 

Sometimes I’ve had patients even come to me and say, “Oh, I saw you because you do self-compassion and I want to be able to forgive myself,” and they’re doing compulsive forgiveness. I believe in forgiveness. I’m not saying there’s anything compulsive about forgiveness in the day-to-day. But if they’re doing it to get rid of an obsessive degree of regret, an OCD degree of regret, and that involves obsessions and compulsions, well then, that forgiveness practice can become impulsive. 

OCD Guilt Over Past Mistakes

I always laugh because I’m doing this breathing training, this meditation training right now. And some of them, the trainers who obviously are not OCD informed will say, “Breathe in your discomfort and breathe it out and let go of it and release it.” And I think that’s a beautiful practice. But for a person with OCD, that can become compulsive. And so, it’s important when you have OCD to catch these little nuances and these little behaviors and activities that can end up becoming a problem. 

So, let’s talk about how to stop this obsessive guilt or this OCD guilt, and let’s think about this a little bit in terms of how you might master this sensation and this feeling that you’re having. So, a couple of things before we move on is I have done quite a few episodes on guilt or letting go of things in the past in other episodes. So, I wanted to let you know, you can also go over, I did one episode about feeling guilty. It’s Episode 161. I did another episode, which was highly requested, Episode 70, which is called How to Let Go of the Past. And I did another episode, which was actually me talking about my own sense of getting through something that I felt regret and guilt for, which was Episode 293 and it was called I Screwed Up, Now What? So, we’d actually have tons of sources here on the podcast about that, and I wanted to share those in case you wanted to really delve a little deeper. But let’s talk about how to stop this OCD guilt. 

How To Treat OCD Guilt And Regret

All right? So, as you know, trying to stop an emotion usually doesn’t work. So, we don’t want to try that. That’s not going to work. Same with regret. How to treat OCD regret, I don’t encourage it. What we want to do instead is we want to be able to acknowledge it and observe it and do nothing about it. Now, I am a big believer in this. Truly I am. Whether you have OCD or not, when it comes to guilt, when it comes to regret, when it comes to shame, I’m going to encourage this very mindful approach. 

Number one, are you able to catch it in its tracks? That is number one. That is a tactical skill, is awareness, to be able to catch, “Oh, I am stuck in this guilt bubble or this regret bubble or this shame bubble.” Just like you would when you’re stuck in OCD. You’re able to catch, “Oh, I’m engaging in a pattern of behaviors that looks a lot like OCD.” Same goes for this situation. So, I’m observing and being aware of it. And then number two, catching where I’m wrestling with it. What safety behaviors do you have in relation to this feeling? Again, when it comes to OCD, it doesn’t matter what the obsession is, it doesn’t matter whether it’s associated to uncertainty or not, it doesn’t matter if it’s real or feels real or not. What we want to do is take a look at the safety behaviors we’re engaging in and first ask ourselves, are these helpful and effective? 

So, if you have guilt or regret, and your way of coping with that is to beat yourself up in hope that you never do it again, how effective is that? Is that working for you? Is it actually preventing you from doing things in the future that may trigger off regret and guilt? No. Are you avoiding certain things so that you don’t have to have this guilt and regret in the future? Do a quick assessment on those safety behaviors and ask yourself, does this help me in the grand scheme of things, knowing that OCD may pull guilt and regret on me for the most minor thing again tomorrow? Is it effective for me to try to make my life really small and avoid things because of an emotion that I may have to experience? 

Remember, the emotion will not hurt you. You’ll allow it to rise and fall. It is painful. I’m not going to lie, it is painful, but it won’t destroy you, especially if you have a relationship with guilt and regret and with this discomfort where you’re not resisting it. Remember, what you resist persists. 

So, you want to take a look at, do a functional analysis, do a review on how effective is my safety behaviors. Are you engaging in reassurance-seeking compulsions saying, “Do you think I did something wrong?” Going to your partner, “Do you think I did something wrong?” Maybe you’re confessing. “I feel guilty that I did this thing. I want to tell you what I did so that I can let it off my conscience.”

Now again, within a normal degree, we do this to some degree. I always laugh. Several years ago, my son, who was four at the time, came home and blurted out to my husband that mom had run through a red light, just out of the blue. He’d figured out that red lights were bad and you can’t drive through them and he’s like, “Mom went through a red light,” the minute he saw him. Of course, he was like, “No, you didn’t.” And I had to admit to it. But after that, I felt this urge to admit to things so that I could absorb myself of that guilt and regret that I had. And we all do it. I want to normalize that. I don’t want to pathologize those kinds of behavior. But if you’re doing that repetitively and it’s interfering with your relationships and it’s creating more and more stress for you, and you do it once and you don’t completely feel absolved and you feel like you need to confess again, this is a safety behavior that isn’t effective and that’s causing long term problems and is feeding the cycle of OCD. We want to break that, guys. We want to break that.

So, what I want you to look at here is, again, awareness. Are you able to acknowledge what’s going on? Are you able to identify the compulsions that are problematic? And then are you able to let it be there? Let it be there. Do nothing about it. Now, if you’re a real badass, which I know that you are, you will then, if you’re really ready, you might even do something fun and pleasurable while you feel guilt. Now that is doubling down. While you feel the obsessive guilt, while you feel the obsessive regret, you’re actually going to go have some fun and enjoy yourself. So important. This is a super important piece of the work that we do. 

How To Stop Relationship OCD Guilt

Now, for those of you who have relationship guilt or relationship OCD guilt in relation to your OCD, this is so important. It’s so important that you catch the safety behaviors that you’re doing and then you reengage with your loved one, because often what we do is we either do a whole bunch of compulsions or we shut down completely. We stop hanging out with them, we stop opening our heart with them, we stop engaging in intimacy with them. And that can become a big problem.

For those of you who have real-event OCD and guilt associated with real-event OCD, the same thing is applicable, which is we want to go through those steps, and then we want to practice opening up our life being fully engaged in our life, in the things that you value, whether the real event happened or not. I often get emails and DMs from people saying, “I feel like my real event is worse than other people’s real event, and so therefore I should suffer, or I should figure this out.” And I want to say, “That’s a very tactical trick that OCD plays on you to get you back into doing compulsions.” 

And so, I want you to be aware specifically to harm obsessions, relationship obsessions, real event obsessions, sexual obsessions. This is such an important piece because that’s often where it shows up. But again, it doesn’t have to be fear and uncertainty related. Sometimes the guilt and the regret can be the actual obsession that people experience. Okay? 

So, as always, we want to throw a massive dose of self-compassion onto this. Self-compassion in and of itself is an exposure for many people. and often people with specifically this OCD guilt and OCD regret when they practice self-compassion, it is like the ultimate exposure. The ultimate exposure. And I really want to encourage you guys to surround yourself with kindness, encourage yourself with kindness, motivate yourself with kindness, nurture yourself with kindness when you’re struggling and you’re experiencing a high level of discomfort. It doesn’t have to be fear. It can be around these other emotions that you experience, and shame. Shame often comes along with this. So, we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to engage in self-compassion as much as we can. Okay?

All right. That’s it for now. Let’s quickly do the review of the week. This is from Triphonik and he or she said:

“Love this podcast. Kimberley’s podcast is so inspirational, relatable, and helpful. I have been dealing with OCD since my early 20s. I went through extensive therapy, medications, and lots of prayer! I got to the point where my OCD was not taking over my life anymore & hardly noticeable. I’m now 43 & I’ve recently gone through some lapses with it after these years. It really shook me to the core. Following Kimberley’s anxiety toolkit podcast was helpful in getting me back on track with the tools I’ve learned from my past along with some new ones! Her spirit and her level of sincerity with the knowledge and experience she has helped me so much! I’m so incredibly grateful to have found this podcast. Thank you, Kimberley!”

Thank you so much, Triphonik. Your reviews mean the world to me. Really, they do. And I’m just so happy to be on this journey with you. 

All right, folks, I’m going to see you next week and I’ll talk to you soon.

Nov 11, 2022

SUMMARY: 

  • What if you don’t identify with the concept of an obsession being a FEAR? It’s a repetitive thought or feeling, but you’re not scared of a specific outcome. 
  • What is the UNCERTAINTY when it comes to these obsessions? 



Guilt Obsessions: 

  • WHAT IS OCD GUILT? 
  • OCD Guilt over past mistakes
  • “I shouldn't have done that” 
  • “That was a mistake” 

OCD Guilt as a simple intrusive thought- no known mistake

  • “Is it bad that I did that” 
  • “Did I make a mistake?” 
  • “What could be the consequences” 

 REGRET obsessions. 

  • I’ve heard a lot about how guilt is a common intrusive feeling in OCD but not much about regret. 
  • “I wish I didn't do that” 
  • “I wish I had done it another way” 

Guilt and Regret accompanied with sadness?? 
How to stop OCD guilt? 
How to treat OCD guilt and regret

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love!
Everyone needs tools for anxiety...If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 310

Welcome back, everybody. We are at Episode 310. I just recorded it as 210 and I’m still in shock that we have hit 310 episodes. I recorded it and I was like, “Hang on a second. That doesn’t sound right.” And it wasn’t, and that still shocks me to this day. 

All right. Today, we are talking about a very important topic, which is guilt and regret. And I’ve called this episode Guilt and Regret: The Most Misunderstood Obsession, and I believe that to be true because a whole bunch of you are walking around wondering whether you have OCD or not because a lot of what you hear is that OCD is all about anxiety and uncertainty. But what about the folks who don’t have a lot of anxiety and a lot of uncertainty, but they’re having obsessive guilt and obsessive regret in the form of OCD guilt and OCD regret? So, I wanted to talk about that today. 

Before we do so, let’s quickly do the “I did a hard thing” segment. For those of you who are new, this is where listeners and followers share the hard thing that they’ve done. Why do I do this? Because so often, you guys forget that just because your hard thing is hard for you doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with that. I want you to see that hard things are hard things and we should celebrate them and we should share them, and this is a platform I want to do that with. So, this one is from Mars, and Mars said:

“After many weeks and years of hard work, I finally managed to reach an important stage of my career, and I ended up with two job offers.” Amazing. “Both were great really for different reasons, and I couldn’t choose. I went back and forth and tortured myself four months trying to get certainty about which one is the right choice. I’d never been so anxious in my life. Finally, today, I sent the final email, even though I wasn’t certain about the choice, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I finally feel like I can move forward with my life again.” 

Mars, number one, congratulations. Sounds like you’ve worked really hard. And number two, you’re also doing this hard thing where you’re allowing the discomfort into your day, into your life, and you’re moving forward anyway. Thank you for sharing that. That is such an amazing accomplishment.

Interesting, isn’t it, how you’ve shared here too like it was around the certainty, but it sounds like that was similar to what we’re talking about today, and let’s talk about that. So, let’s start from scratch. Start from the beginning. So, often people will come into therapy and say, “I didn’t seek treatment for the longest time, because all I’m hearing is OCD is the uncertainty disorder, and I don’t feel a ton of uncertainty in the way that I’ve heard other people do with OCD.” What do I do if I don’t identify with this concept of the obsession being around fear and uncertainty? What about if you have a repetitive thought or a feeling, but you’re not scared of the specific outcome? And this is so important, guys, because we do hyper-focus on uncertainty and I really do believe that uncertainty is the root of lots of OCD obsessions and a lot of our suffering if we don’t accept that uncertainty. But what about those who have obsessive guilt and obsessive regret? So, let’s talk about it.

Guilt OCD - Guilt Obsessions

Let’s first talk about guilt obsessions. So, what is guilt obsessions, or what is OCD guilt? Ultimately, it’s a thought or an action that occurs. That’s the trigger. So, you had a thought or you did some behavior, and then you are having this onset of guilt. Remember, an obsession is an intrusive thought, feeling, sensation, urge, or image. And so, in this case, we’re talking about intrusive feelings. And so, what’s happening here is you’ve had a thought or you’ve done something and then you feel this very, very real feeling of guilt, very real feeling of guilt. Most of my patients who struggle with OCD guilt or obsessive guilt will say, “I genuinely feel like I’ve done the equivalent of killing a person. That’s how much guilt I feel.” Even though you might be very clearly able to identify like, I didn’t kill a person, or it doesn’t make total sense on why I’m feeling this high level of guilt, that’s so disproportionate. and that can be really confusing. And so, they’re really confused as to what’s going on. 

So, they might show up in-- the guilt may be accompanied by intrusive thoughts like, “I shouldn’t have done that. That was a huge mistake. I wish I didn’t do that. How can I avoid that in the future?” And then you can easily see why we then move into compulsions, like avoidance, rumination, tons of reassurance seeking. In therapy, a lot of people go to therapy, not even OCD therapy because they don’t even know they have OCD yet, and they spend all this time doing EMDR and biofeedback and hypnosis and all of this deep therapy work, exploring the deep meaning of the guilt, only then to realize like, “Wait a second, this is OCD. I’m doing all these compulsions and I’m even doing them in session.”

Now, as I mentioned, OCD could be as simple as an intrusive thought of you’re walking down the street and you just get the onset of guilt after some kind of trigger where there’s no known mistake. Or it could be that you did something that didn’t completely line up with your values, but again, then you have disproportionate degrees of guilt. Disproportionate. 

If it’s just a simple intrusive thought that has no known trigger or no known mistake, maybe your thoughts are related like, “Is it bad that I did that? Did I make a mistake? Was that right? Did that line up with my values? What could be the consequence of this?” And it can be incredibly painful. 

Regret OCD- Regret Obsessions

So, now let’s move over to regret obsessions and compulsion. So, with regret obsessions or regret ocd, they usually are presented more as, “I wish I didn’t do that. I wish I hadn’t done it that way. I wish I had done it in a different way.” It’s often accompanied with a deep feeling of sadness, like regret this deep feeling. Again, it can be an intrusive thought, but it often is just an intrusive feeling. This deep sense of, “I wish I didn’t do that.” Sometimes it’s accompanied with dread. “Oh, I hope I never do that, have this emotion, or do that thing again.” It can be incredibly painful. And again, people can get stuck in really the wrong kind of therapy, ruminating, ruminating, trying to solve what it was. 

Sometimes I’ve had patients even come to me and say, “Oh, I saw you because you do self-compassion and I want to be able to forgive myself,” and they’re doing compulsive forgiveness. I believe in forgiveness. I’m not saying there’s anything compulsive about forgiveness in the day-to-day. But if they’re doing it to get rid of an obsessive degree of regret, an OCD degree of regret, and that involves obsessions and compulsions, well then, that forgiveness practice can become impulsive. 

OCD Guilt Over Past Mistakes

I always laugh because I’m doing this breathing training, this meditation training right now. And some of them, the trainers who obviously are not OCD informed will say, “Breathe in your discomfort and breathe it out and let go of it and release it.” And I think that’s a beautiful practice. But for a person with OCD, that can become compulsive. And so, it’s important when you have OCD to catch these little nuances and these little behaviors and activities that can end up becoming a problem. 

So, let’s talk about how to stop this obsessive guilt or this OCD guilt, and let’s think about this a little bit in terms of how you might master this sensation and this feeling that you’re having. So, a couple of things before we move on is I have done quite a few episodes on guilt or letting go of things in the past in other episodes. So, I wanted to let you know, you can also go over, I did one episode about feeling guilty. It’s Episode 161. I did another episode, which was highly requested, Episode 70, which is called How to Let Go of the Past. And I did another episode, which was actually me talking about my own sense of getting through something that I felt regret and guilt for, which was Episode 293 and it was called I Screwed Up, Now What? So, we’d actually have tons of sources here on the podcast about that, and I wanted to share those in case you wanted to really delve a little deeper. But let’s talk about how to stop this OCD guilt. 

How To Treat OCD Guilt And Regret

All right? So, as you know, trying to stop an emotion usually doesn’t work. So, we don’t want to try that. That’s not going to work. Same with regret. How to treat OCD regret, I don’t encourage it. What we want to do instead is we want to be able to acknowledge it and observe it and do nothing about it. Now, I am a big believer in this. Truly I am. Whether you have OCD or not, when it comes to guilt, when it comes to regret, when it comes to shame, I’m going to encourage this very mindful approach. 

Number one, are you able to catch it in its tracks? That is number one. That is a tactical skill, is awareness, to be able to catch, “Oh, I am stuck in this guilt bubble or this regret bubble or this shame bubble.” Just like you would when you’re stuck in OCD. You’re able to catch, “Oh, I’m engaging in a pattern of behaviors that looks a lot like OCD.” Same goes for this situation. So, I’m observing and being aware of it. And then number two, catching where I’m wrestling with it. What safety behaviors do you have in relation to this feeling? Again, when it comes to OCD, it doesn’t matter what the obsession is, it doesn’t matter whether it’s associated to uncertainty or not, it doesn’t matter if it’s real or feels real or not. What we want to do is take a look at the safety behaviors we’re engaging in and first ask ourselves, are these helpful and effective? 

So, if you have guilt or regret, and your way of coping with that is to beat yourself up in hope that you never do it again, how effective is that? Is that working for you? Is it actually preventing you from doing things in the future that may trigger off regret and guilt? No. Are you avoiding certain things so that you don’t have to have this guilt and regret in the future? Do a quick assessment on those safety behaviors and ask yourself, does this help me in the grand scheme of things, knowing that OCD may pull guilt and regret on me for the most minor thing again tomorrow? Is it effective for me to try to make my life really small and avoid things because of an emotion that I may have to experience? 

Remember, the emotion will not hurt you. You’ll allow it to rise and fall. It is painful. I’m not going to lie, it is painful, but it won’t destroy you, especially if you have a relationship with guilt and regret and with this discomfort where you’re not resisting it. Remember, what you resist persists. 

So, you want to take a look at, do a functional analysis, do a review on how effective is my safety behaviors. Are you engaging in reassurance-seeking compulsions saying, “Do you think I did something wrong?” Going to your partner, “Do you think I did something wrong?” Maybe you’re confessing. “I feel guilty that I did this thing. I want to tell you what I did so that I can let it off my conscience.”

Now again, within a normal degree, we do this to some degree. I always laugh. Several years ago, my son, who was four at the time, came home and blurted out to my husband that mom had run through a red light, just out of the blue. He’d figured out that red lights were bad and you can’t drive through them and he’s like, “Mom went through a red light,” the minute he saw him. Of course, he was like, “No, you didn’t.” And I had to admit to it. But after that, I felt this urge to admit to things so that I could absorb myself of that guilt and regret that I had. And we all do it. I want to normalize that. I don’t want to pathologize those kinds of behavior. But if you’re doing that repetitively and it’s interfering with your relationships and it’s creating more and more stress for you, and you do it once and you don’t completely feel absolved and you feel like you need to confess again, this is a safety behavior that isn’t effective and that’s causing long term problems and is feeding the cycle of OCD. We want to break that, guys. We want to break that.

So, what I want you to look at here is, again, awareness. Are you able to acknowledge what’s going on? Are you able to identify the compulsions that are problematic? And then are you able to let it be there? Let it be there. Do nothing about it. Now, if you’re a real badass, which I know that you are, you will then, if you’re really ready, you might even do something fun and pleasurable while you feel guilt. Now that is doubling down. While you feel the obsessive guilt, while you feel the obsessive regret, you’re actually going to go have some fun and enjoy yourself. So important. This is a super important piece of the work that we do. 

How To Stop Relationship OCD Guilt

Now, for those of you who have relationship guilt or relationship OCD guilt in relation to your OCD, this is so important. It’s so important that you catch the safety behaviors that you’re doing and then you reengage with your loved one, because often what we do is we either do a whole bunch of compulsions or we shut down completely. We stop hanging out with them, we stop opening our heart with them, we stop engaging in intimacy with them. And that can become a big problem.

For those of you who have real-event OCD and guilt associated with real-event OCD, the same thing is applicable, which is we want to go through those steps, and then we want to practice opening up our life being fully engaged in our life, in the things that you value, whether the real event happened or not. I often get emails and DMs from people saying, “I feel like my real event is worse than other people’s real event, and so therefore I should suffer, or I should figure this out.” And I want to say, “That’s a very tactical trick that OCD plays on you to get you back into doing compulsions.” 

And so, I want you to be aware specifically to harm obsessions, relationship obsessions, real event obsessions, sexual obsessions. This is such an important piece because that’s often where it shows up. But again, it doesn’t have to be fear and uncertainty related. Sometimes the guilt and the regret can be the actual obsession that people experience. Okay? 

So, as always, we want to throw a massive dose of self-compassion onto this. Self-compassion in and of itself is an exposure for many people. and often people with specifically this OCD guilt and OCD regret when they practice self-compassion, it is like the ultimate exposure. The ultimate exposure. And I really want to encourage you guys to surround yourself with kindness, encourage yourself with kindness, motivate yourself with kindness, nurture yourself with kindness when you’re struggling and you’re experiencing a high level of discomfort. It doesn’t have to be fear. It can be around these other emotions that you experience, and shame. Shame often comes along with this. So, we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to engage in self-compassion as much as we can. Okay?

All right. That’s it for now. Let’s quickly do the review of the week. This is from Triphonik and he or she said:

“Love this podcast. Kimberley’s podcast is so inspirational, relatable, and helpful. I have been dealing with OCD since my early 20s. I went through extensive therapy, medications, and lots of prayer! I got to the point where my OCD was not taking over my life anymore & hardly noticeable. I’m now 43 & I’ve recently gone through some lapses with it after these years. It really shook me to the core. Following Kimberley’s anxiety toolkit podcast was helpful in getting me back on track with the tools I’ve learned from my past along with some new ones! Her spirit and her level of sincerity with the knowledge and experience she has helped me so much! I’m so incredibly grateful to have found this podcast. Thank you, Kimberley!”

Thank you so much, Triphonik. Your reviews mean the world to me. Really, they do. And I’m just so happy to be on this journey with you. 

All right, folks, I’m going to see you next week and I’ll talk to you soon.

Nov 4, 2022

SUMMARY:

  • Not having a subtype makes it hard to get diagnosed with OCD 

  • Not fitting into a subtype can make you doubt having OCD. 

  • When you don’t see other examples, you can feel like an outsider in the OCD community. 

  • All the subtypes seem to have their “people.”  

  • The doubt can make you feel that it really is about the content, not OCD. 



  • What if I don't fit into a typical OCD Subtype Examples: 
    • What if I picked the wrong name for my baby? 
    • Obsessions about the weather and whether you will enjoy the weather? 
    • This nail color makes me feel strange. 
    • What if I don't remember this the way it was? 
    • What if my partner cheats on me?
    • What if my child suffers? 
    • What if my taxes were not correct? 
    • How will I know when it is time to stop therapy? 

General Anxiety Vs Ocd?

  • Dimensional Obsessive COmpulsive Scale (Jon Abramowitz) 
    1. Concerns about germs and contamination
    2. Concerns about being responsible for the harm. Injury, Bad luck 
    3. Unacceptable thoughts 
    4. Concerns about symmetry, completeness, and the need for things to be “Just right.” 

  • Does ERP work for these obsessions? 

  • Does the process of treatment work any differently than it would with a “subtype”?  

  • Ideal Treatments for OCD
    • ERP 
    • ACT
    • SC
    • MINDFULNESS

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

309 What if my obsessions don't fit into a typical OCD subtype Your anxiety toolkit

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

What If I Don’t Fit Into The Typical Ocd Subtypes?

Welcome back, everybody. Thank you so much for joining me. I know your time is so valuable, and so I am so honored to spend this time with you to talk to you about today common question that I get asked. Well, actually, no, it’s not a common question, but it has been a question that I have been asked over the years by clients and followers, and listeners. And I was proposed with this idea as something that we really need to address. And so, here I am. And my goal is to always address the things that maybe aren’t getting addressed if possible. And so, today we are going to talk about, what if I don’t fit into the typical OCD subtype? So, what if my obsessions don’t line up with the typical classifications and categories that we have for OCD?

Ocd Subtypes

So, for those of you who maybe are new to this idea, we have OCD as a general diagnosis. And then under that umbrella of the diagnosis, we have-- over the years, the clinical and OCD community have created subtypes of OCD to help us, number one, categorize different groups of obsessions so that we can then direct the treatment to being very specific. We also do that to build a sense of community so that you feel less alone. Let’s say you have a harm obsession that can be very stigmatizing and feel very, very overwhelming, and you can have a lot of guilt and judgment about that for yourself. So, knowing you’re in a category, in a group with other people can actually soften the blow of the stigma and the judgment around that obsession. Same goes for sexual obsessions, pedophilia obsessions, and so forth.

Again, as a clinician, as I’m training my therapist, these subtypes are actually helpful so that we can help the newer therapists have a treatment plan specific to that person’s obsession. However, what about the group of people who don’t line up perfectly in those groups? And so, in today’s episode, we’re going to talk about what to do if that is you, what to do if you’re a therapist and you’re dealing with this, some skills that you might use, and maybe a few shifts and reframes here, I’ll use some clinical research that may help you shift the way you look at this problem. And maybe we can even stop calling it a problem. We could actually not address it as a problem and actually move through that together. Okay? 

Before we do that, let’s get straight to the “I did a hard thing.” I haven’t even read this hard thing you guys, so I’m as excited as can be. This one is from Hannah, and this is what Hannah had to say:

“Earlier this year, I suffered a debilitating OCD episode that focused on harm OCD,” so, there we are, we have a subtype already explained, “Specifically the fear of sleepwalking or going crazy and harming my family. At the time, I had no idea I had OCD as I had always been told I was just an anxious person. So, this well and truly threw me to the point that I couldn’t get off the couch, take my daughter to and from school or be alone. I wanted to admit myself into a mental health facility for fear that I was a real danger to my family and my daughter in particular. Long story short, after weekly ERP with a therapist and starting an SSRI, I did a very hard thing by being at home alone with my daughter for a whole weekend while my husband went away for work. I don’t think I’d be able to do it and I had been feeling anxious for months prior to knowing it was coming. But I did it and I actually ended up enjoying our time together despite some fairly consistent rumination.”

Hannah, oh my gosh, this is so good. You are such a walking billboard for how effective ERP and medication can be. I love that you did this. This is so good. And so, congratulations. I am so honored that you shared that with us. And look at you go. Look at you go.

All right. Again, quickly, let’s do the review of the week. This one is from Austin-mang, and they said:

“I finally did it and signed up for therapy. My session is this Friday. I’ve been doing my best to prepare and was uncertain about what to expect my first session. This show helped me to know exactly what to expect and gave me some great mindset tools going in. Thank you!”

Austin-mang, it sounds like you did a hard thing too. This is so wonderful. So, thank you guys for sharing your hard thing, and thank you so much for leaving a review. It does help me immensely build trust for those who are new to the show. 

All right, let’s get to it. 

A Common Question: “I Dont Fit Into A Typical Ocd Subtype?”

So, let’s backtrack to the main concern here, which is what if I don’t fit into a typical OCD subtype. Now, this is a hard thing for people, because not falling into that subtype can make it hard to be diagnosed. I was just thinking about this yesterday. Ten years ago or longer when I first started treating OCD – it’s been nearly 15 years now – if you typed into Google “What if I harm my baby,” maybe one or two articles would come up, but you would find an article about OCD and then you would slowly, if you’re able, get to treatment. Remember, our mission here is to reduce the amount of time it takes someone with OCD to get diagnosed and treated. Right now, it’s seven to 14 years, which is absolutely horrendous, but we’re getting better. We’re getting better. 

So, if you typed in “What if I harm my baby” or “What if I sinned,” you would probably come to an article that may lead you to, you may have OCD. What if I get sick and die? If you typed your what-if thought into Google, you’d probably find an article somewhere. But there are a group of people who if they typed their fear in, OCD would never come up. It would never show up on a Google search. If you told your doctor, they might not be able to identify this as OCD, because as far as we’ve come with educating, these subtypes have actually helped us educate doctors, nurses, teachers, and caregivers so that they can be more likely to pick up on children’s and young adult’s OCD. As much as we’ve done this, if you don’t have those specific subtypes, it can make it very difficult to get diagnosed.

The next piece here is a lot of people, and this is what I really hear a lot in my community online, on Instagram – if you follow me on Instagram, it’s @YourAnxietyToolkit – is some people will say, “Because I don’t fit into this subtype, I have a lot of doubt that I have OCD at all.” We know OCD is a doubting disorder, but often people with OCD even doubt, even if they fit into a subtype, they doubt that they have OCD. But if you don’t fit into one of these categories that we’ve put, these loose categories that we’ve put, that can make it even harder to really double down with your treatment and feel confident in your provider and feel confident in your diagnosis and so forth. 

There is a lot of times when people don’t talk about their specific obsession, when it doesn’t fall into that subtype in fear that someone would say, “You don’t have OCD. You don’t follow any of the subtypes.” And I’m sure maybe even some uneducated clinicians have shared that with their clients like, “No, you don’t meet criteria because you don’t meet a subtype.” And hopefully today we can actually get rid of that and hopefully resolve that issue. And what really comes and becomes apparent is, as we were talking before, let’s go to the “I did a hard thing.” They said they had harm OCD. And as I said before, it can feel really validating to know you have your community like, “Oh, I have perinatal OCD.” So, you have your little-- you can find a group of people who have the same obsessions, and that can be really validating. It can be very, very comforting to feel like you have that community. But for those who don’t feel like they fall into a subtype, they may actually feel quite isolated and alone, like unseen. And that doubt can really make it really difficult. 

And what I thought was really interesting is somebody said to me, the doubt can make you feel that it really is about the content, not the OCD. So, remember, we’re always talking about like, it’s not about the content. The content doesn’t matter. And in this case, they were saying, no, it really does feel like the content matters because if your content is within a category, well then you get that community, you get that reassurance. Not compulsive reassurance, but you get a little reassurance like, “This is OCD, you’re on the right track, keep going.”

So, I have such compassion. If you are somebody or your client is somebody who has an obsession that doesn’t fall into these categories, let’s really make sure we validate them. Let’s really make sure we slow down to understand what that is like for them.

Examples Of Ocd That Do Not Fit Into Traditional Subtypes

Let’s talk about some examples of what this might look like. So, examples of what it might look like if you don’t fit into a typical OCD subtype might be: What if I picked the wrong name for my baby? Some people could go, “Oh, that’s just a normal concern. Let’s come up with a solution.” You know what I mean? That would be probably, “Let’s work at making the right choice.” And I have had clients in the past who’ve gone as far as changing their baby’s name multiple times. I’ve seen this case multiple times, trying to just figure out the solution. But you can see here, it’s not a general fear. It’s something that is repetitive and they can’t seem to get rid of that uncertainty. And even if they do change it, the uncertainty still returns and it’s very urgent. Again, we can really see that’s OCD. Clear and clean OCD. It’s got the obsession, it’s got an urgent compulsion that is repetitive, that causes distress. It doesn’t line up with their values. So typically OCD.

Some people have obsessions about the weather and whether they’ll enjoy the weather. And you might immediately think, well, again, that doesn’t sound like OCD. But again, let’s look, it doesn’t matter about the content, it matters on the process. Is this person ruminating about this a lot? Are they stuck on trying to find the correct answer or the answer that resolves their uncertainty? Is there an incredible amount of distress? Are they trying to solve this with urgency? If that is the case, we have a very clean and clear case of OCD. 

I’ve had clients who’ve spent a lot of time obsessing and compulsing over the nail color that they picked or whether nail-- simple things like things they’ve chosen for their body – tattoos and so forth. And again, we could say that’s a generalized anxiety or that’s a common concern, but if it’s done repetitively and urgently and it’s causing them an extreme amount of distress, and it’s often targeted around uncertainty or anxiety or disgust, clean and clear OCD. 

Some clients I’ve had have said, “What if I don’t remember something the way that it actually was? What if I can’t remember it the exact way that it was? What if I lose a part of the memory?” Now, this might show up around, let’s say the loss of a loved one. What if I don’t remember them? And we might say that is a total normal stage of grief, except this person is trying to solve this memory issue repetitively, urgently over and over again, struggling in massive amounts of distress. The uncertainty of this is really destroying them. And again, clean and clear case of meeting criteria for OCD, but they don’t seem to make these into these categories. They don’t seem to slide into a category. 

I’ve had patients have obsessions about whether their partner cheats on them, and we could say, “Oh, well, they were probably--” in some cases, they have been cheated on before and we go, “That makes complete sense that they would worry about that. That’s not OCD.” But we look at the presentation and it goes far beyond generalized anxiety. It goes far beyond daily normal anxiety concerns for that situation. Again, it could become massive amounts of reassurance-seeking, rumination, avoidance, compulsions, self-criticism, self-punishment. And we can see that the way these compulsions are playing out meet criteria for OCD. And you might even say there, “Well, that’s kind of relationship OCD.” But that fits into the category. And we could argue that maybe you’re right, but I really wanted to highlight how often. Let’s say, if the partner had cheated on them and they’re having this obsession, usually, people would not put it in the category of relationship OCD because the partner had cheated on them or because a family member had cheated on their partner and they were somewhat traumatized by that event. We can sometimes miss cases because it doesn’t fall into a category. 

I’ve had people and clients who’ve worried obsessively and compulsively about their thought, what if my child suffers? What if my child goes through hard times? And again, we would go, “Oh, that makes complete sense. Every parent feels that. Every parent worries about that.” But then again, it crosses a line into massive amounts of rumination, massive amounts of checking, massive amounts of reactivity. It might not even be that it’s the typical compulsions. It might be just a great deal of reactivity done because the uncertainty of this is so overwhelming. 

I’ve had patients have obsessions about their taxes. What if they weren’t done correctly? They go back and they check them and then they go back and have a second opinion, and then they-- and again, we could say, “Well, isn’t that kind of like a bit of a moral obsession?” But when we ask the patient, they might say, “No, it’s not about that. It’s just about the fact that it’s uncertain.” Again, doesn’t fit into a typical subtype.

One other example I have is a lot of patients I’ve had have had the obsession, how will I know when it’s time to stop therapy? Now that’s a common rational concern. That’s actually a really good question to ask. Well, how will I know? But again, the obsession is excessive and causing them great distress. They spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. They can’t figure it out. There is no solution. The uncertainty is so overwhelming and overbearing and painful, they end up doing a lot of compulsions. 

And so, there we have all of these examples, and I’m sure you probably have more of where your obsession doesn’t fit into a typical subtype but is so clearly OCD. 

So, here is what I want to offer you. In this case, I’m going to give you the answer up front, and then we’re going to work through it together. The truth is, the subtypes really don’t matter. The only reason they matter is they help with treatment and they help with validation in helping people to feel not alone. But we must remember that nowhere in the criteria for OCD does it say you have to have a subtype. The only criteria you need to have is to have an obsession, a repetitive thought, feeling, sensation, urge, or image. And that obsession has to create a lot of distress in your life and can impact your functioning. Not always, but it can. And then must contain compulsions. And the compulsions are either covert or overt, meaning they’re behavioral, they’re physical, or they’re mental. They must cause a lot of distress in your life. They must take a certain amount of time. And if you meet that criteria, that’s all we really need for you to move forward with your recovery, and I want to encourage you to move forward as fast as you can. Try not to get caught up. Remember the subtypes. Just think about me being a therapist who trains staff. I have ERP School, which is our online course. That is for people who don’t have face-to-face therapy, who don’t have access to therapy, who want to learn how to structure ERP for themselves. I talk a lot about subtypes there, but only because it’s an education tool to help people get direction for their treatment. But if you don’t meet that criteria, that means nothing about whether you can recover or not. So, that’s the main point, and now we’re going to talk about how we can do this.

Now, first, before we do this, I actually want to introduce to you something that is a science-based measurement tool we use for OCD that may be very validating to you folks if you don’t have a specific subtype that you fall into that category.

Dimensional Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Jon Abramowitz) 

Now, Jon Abramowitz and his team has created what he calls the Dimensional Obsessive-Compulsive Scale. If you Google it, it should come up. I will do my best to link it in the show notes. And this ultimately doesn’t have anything about subtypes. It really just has four categories of concerns that people with OCD have. And what I found so wonderful about that is if we throw out all the subtypes and we just look at the symptoms, we look at the process that someone with OCD goes through, you’ll probably find you fall into one of these categories. If you don’t, still don’t worry because-- but I think that this is-- I love the way that they’ve really put this together because it simplifies everything. It makes it a whole lot less confusing. So, let’s go through them together. 

Number one, category 1 is concerns about germs and contamination, and they go through to explain that. If you download it, you’ll get more information about this. 

Category 2 - concerns about being responsible for the harm, injury, or bad luck. And so, for that one, that includes harm OCD, it includes religious obsessions, self-harm OCD, moral obsessions. A lot of those subtypes can fall into these little categories, but I like that these are really basic. 

The third is simple, unacceptable thoughts. And in these cases of people with OCD that don’t fit into the subtypes, we could easily just say, “You fall into the unacceptable thoughts category, that these thoughts are unacceptable to you. The uncertainty is unacceptable to you.” 

And then the fourth category is concerns about symmetry, completeness, and the needs for things to be just right. And what I think is so helpful about that is so often these cases where they don’t fall into these more typical subtypes, I find often they do fall into somewhere around this idea of the need for things to be completed or just right or resolved. Hopefully, this Dimensional Obsessive-Compulsive Scale helps catch a net underneath all of these subtypes that can validate you, that you still fall under the category of having OCD, that you can still move forward with your treatment. You go full fledged into your ERP and move forward ultimately. 

Ocd Vs General Anxiety Disorder (Gad) 

Now, that being said, we also need to look at the overlap, or maybe we should actually say the spectrum of where generalized anxiety can meet OCD. Some of these, as we said, some of these obsessions fall under maybe that’s more generalized anxiety, but we know that you could have generalized anxiety fears. But if they’re presenting with obsessions and compulsions, we’re actually going to treat it like OCD. And some people – I’ve actually really loved the OCD community – are now arguing that general anxiety and OCD are the same thing, just on a spectrum, from not so severe to very, very severe. And they’re doing that. People with generalized anxiety are doing obsessions, having obsessions, and doing compulsions. The biggest one being mental rumination and avoidance. 

So, let’s round this out by talking about what to do now. So, if this is you, here is what I want you to remember. At the end of the day, and this is what I say to my clients, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we call this. We could call your set of symptoms bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, and we would still use the same tools to get you effective results because what do we know? It doesn’t matter. Whatever the content is, what do we know is the problem that you’re struggling to manage the uncertainty that you’re having, that you’re having a great deal of distress and discomfort, and we need tools to be able to manage and ride that out. 

So, again, if we call it this specific subtype, we call it OCD, we call it generalized anxiety, we call it bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, at the end of the day, they all require us to stop trying to suppress the thought because we know suppressing the thoughts make it worse. And then we can practice exposing ourselves to the situations where those thoughts come up without doing those compulsions. So, if you’ve taken ERP School or you’re interested in taking ERP School, we go thoroughly through what ERP is, which is exposure and response prevention. What it is, is that we expose you to the thought and fear and the obsession that you’re having. And then we practice, slowly but surely, reducing – this is called response prevention – reducing the compulsive behaviors that you do that reinforce that fear and obsession. That’s ERP. It’s actually pretty structured. We walk you through it in ERP School, but if you have an ERP therapist, they’re going to walk you through identifying your obsession, even if it doesn’t meet those categories, identifying what is your fear, and then practicing, exposing you to the life that you want to live, whether that fear shows up or not, and then practicing reducing those compulsions. The process of treatment is the same, disregarding the subtype, whether you have a subtype that you fall into or not. It is effective either way. 

Ideal Treatments For Ocd

And so, what I’m going to encourage you to do, and I’m just going to think of this as me finishing out the podcast, but giving you some direction, is if you meet criteria for OCD, and that involves doubting your disorder-- I remember once John Hirschfeld when I was training to become an OCD therapist. He said to me, if he had his way, he would add to the criteria for OCD that you must doubt your disorder because it’s so common for people with OCD to doubt whether they have the disorder. So, here we want to do is we want to have a plan where ERP is the meat and cheese of your treatment. And what you can do then is supplement treatment with either acceptance and commitment therapy, self-compassion, mindfulness. Sometimes people use DBT. There are new supplements coming to treatment all the time, which is wonderful, but the meat and cheese is to make sure you’re doubling down on that exposure and then the reduction of those compulsions. Okay? 

My message to you is you can still 100% recover from this disorder. Look at the “I did a hard thing” today and look at the review even, talking about the benefits of practicing ERP. So, that’s what I want you to focus on. 

If you don’t have access to an ERP therapist, we have a course available to you. It’s $197, which is actually less than one session with any of my staff or most ERP therapists. That is about seven hours long and will walk you through this process. So, if you’re interested, head over to CBTSchool.com. The course is called ERP School and hopefully, it will give you the tools and the education you need to feel like you can get the ball going here, even if you don’t fit these typical subtypes. 

Okay, that’s all I have to say about that. I hope that this has been absolutely jam-packed with helpful skills for you to learn. I hope it absolutely validated your concern if, in fact, this is a concern that you have, and it is my honor to be on this journey with you. 

So, as I always say at the end of almost every episode, it is a beautiful day to do hard things. Thank you so much again for supporting me. I just adore sending out these free resources for you and hopefully filling up your cup if your cup is feeling very empty. Please also, one thing I should have said, be gentle guys. OCD and anxiety in general can be a mean beast in our minds. And one of the best antidotes to that can be kindness, gentle self-care, loving, nurturing presence. And so, I hope that’s what I am for you and I hope that is what you are for you as well. 

Have a wonderful day, everybody.

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