Is it important that you stop doing all your compulsions?
How can I practice Self-Compassion as you move through recovery?
How can you balance facing fears and also being gentle on yourself?
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp
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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This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 290.
Welcome back, everybody. 290, that sounds like a lot of podcast episodes. It’s funny. Sometimes I don’t think of it. If you have asked me on the street, I’d say, “Yeah, I’d have about maybe 110 in the can.” But 290, that is a lot of episodes. I do encourage you to go back and listen to them, especially the earlier ones. They’re my favorite. But no, go back, play around, check out the ones that you love. There’s probably some things there that you could probably go back and have a good giggle at.
All right. We today are talking about a question that came from a student in one of my courses. I’ve found this question to be so important. I wanted to bring it in and have it be a podcast episode because I think this is a very important question and I think it’s something we can all ponder for ourselves.
Now, before we go into it, I would like to give you the “I did a hard thing.” This is a segment where someone shares a hard thing that they’ve done. And I love the “I did a hard thing” segment probably as much as anything.
This one is from anonymous and they said:
“I have contamination OCD. And one thing I’ve avoided for a very long time is raw meat and eggs. Over the winter, I discovered that ERP is so much EASIER (and I use this term very loosely in capital letters) if my exposures are value-based.” This is so good, Anonymous. “So I decided that I wanted to be the mom that baked with her kids, anxiety be darned. I wanted my kids to have warm memories baking in the kitchen with their mom as the snow fell. So each week over the winter, we picked a new recipe, and over the weekend we made it as a family. The first time I cracked an egg, my husband took out his phone and took a picture. He was so proud. The exposure was still hard and I didn’t feel calmer at least while baking, but I tried my best to present and enjoy the time with my kiddos. Later, my son brought home A Joy Is book made at his school. Each page had something on it that brought him joy – fishing with dad, some are vacations. And there on the page.” Oh my God, Anonymous, I’m getting goosebumps. “There on a page was ‘making cookies from scratch with mom.’” Oh my God, I think I’m crying. Oh my goodness. I have goosebumps everywhere. “It is so hard to measure success with ERP sometimes, but that gets real, tangible evidence that I had accomplished something and it felt so good.”
Holy my stars, Anonymous. This is incredible. Wow. This is what it’s all about, you guys. This is what it’s all about. For those of you who are listening, I don’t read these before the episode. I literally read them as just I pull them up and I read them. This one has taken my breath away. I just need a second. Oh my goodness, that is so beautiful. So beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Oh my gosh, that is so perfect for this week’s episode. All right, here we go.
This week’s episode is about a question, like I said, is it okay to keep doing some of my compulsions? Again, this came from one of the courses that we have. We have two signature courses for OCD. One is ERP School, and then the other one is this Mindfulness School for OCD that teaches mindfulness skills.
Now, the reason I love this question is, they’re asking me as if I am the expert of all things, OCD. And I want to let you in on a little truth here – I am not. You’re probably like, “What is happening? She’s been telling us that she’s an OCD specialist all this time. And now she’s telling me she’s not the expert.” I am not the expert of you. And I want to really make sure that is clear. Anytime someone says, “What should I do? What’s the right thing to do for me?” I try my best not to tell them that is best for them because I’m only telling them what I think is best for them. That doesn’t mean it’s the facts. So, I want to be very clear. I am not the expert in you. You are. You do get to make choices of your own.
That being said-- and I’ll talk more about that here in a second. But that being said, let’s look at the question and just look at it from a perspective of just general concepts of OCD.
Now, in the beginning of ERP School, we have a whole module that explains the cycle of obsessions and compulsions. I draw it out on a big sheet of paper, like this huge sticky note. And it’s actually really funny because I’m trying to squeeze myself into the frame of the video with this huge sticky note. When I think back to it, it makes me giggle. But here let’s take a look.
The thing to remember here regarding this question is, if you have a fear and the fear is what we call egodystonic, meaning it doesn’t line up with your values, you know it’s a fear, and you know it’s probably irrational. If you have this fear and you respond to the fear as if it is dangerous and important and urgent, you actually are keeping your brain afraid of the fear. And you’re continually keeping your brain stuck in a cycle where your brain will set off the metaphorical fire alarm every time it has that fear. When you have fear and it doesn’t line up with your values and you have the insight to see that it’s irrational or that it’s keeping you stuck and it’s not effective for you and not responding anymore, your job is to practice changing your behaviors and your reaction to that thought so that you can train your brain not to set the fire alarm off next time. It may take several times or many times. But again, if you have a fear and you respond to it like it’s important, your brain is going to keep thinking it’s important. If you have a fear or an obsession and you keep responding to it with urgency, your brain is going to keep interpreting that fear as urgent, serious, dangerous, scary things.
So, I’m always going to encourage my patients and my students to always check in on this one golden question, which is, what would the non-anxious me do? Or what would I do if I weren’t afraid of this thought? Or another question is, am I responding from a place of fear, generally? And if that’s the case, then I would encourage my patient to really work at reducing that compulsion because the compulsion keeps the cycle going.
Now, that being said, still, again, I’m going to say, under no circumstances do I get to tell you what to do. Only you will know what’s right for you. And I have had clients, I will say, I’ve had clients where they’ve written out their hierarchy. They’ve gone all the way to the top. And there’s several things at the top where they’re like, “No, I’m actually going to keep these ones. These ones are ones that don’t interfere with my life too much. I’m comfortable. I’m not ready to face them yet. And so, no, I’m going to keep doing them.” And I respect that. Again. I am not the expert on everybody. Everyone gets to make their own value-based decisions. That’s entirely okay.
I always say to them, going to the top of your hierarchy and cutting back on all of the compulsions is, think of it like an insurance policy on your recovery. It’s not going to completely promise you and guarantee that you won’t have obsessions in the future or you won’t have a relapse here or there. No. And that’s okay. That will happen. We’re going to actually have a conversation about that here in the next few weeks on the podcast. But you can help train your brain by marking off all those compulsions.
So, what I’m going to leave you here with-- this is actually not going to be a long podcast, but what I’m going to leave you with is the actual answer to the question. Is it okay if I keep doing some of my compulsions? Yes, it’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to win all the challenges. And for reasons that are yours, you get to make those decisions. And really that’s your personal decision as well, and-- we don’t say “buy,” we say “and.” And just keep in mind the nature of compulsions. Compulsions keep the cycle going.
Just keep that in mind gently, in a tender place. Put it in your back pocket. And here is the question I’m going to leave you on, is ponder why you don’t want to stop this compulsion. What’s getting in the way? If you’re really honest with yourself, what’s the reason you want to keep doing it? Does doing it keep you aligned with your values? Is there a way to be creative and strategic in this situation where you can slowly reduce the compulsion, even if it’s a baby step? It’s so important just to be pondering and asking yourself questions. I have to always stop and say like, “Okay, Kimberley--” I call myself KQ. Everyone calls me KQ. “KQ, let’s get real. What’s really happening here.?” And I’m not doing it in a mean way. I’m having a heart-to-heart. What’s really happening? What’s really getting in the way? Are you being honest with yourself? And sometimes you have to have really honest conversations to be like, “Oh, I know. I’m totally giving myself stuck here.” And it might take some time before you’re ready, and that’s okay too. Okay?
So, I want you to think about those things. Maybe even write the questions down. Go back and listen, or you can go to the transcript of this podcast. Write those questions down and go back and review them every now and then, because those are questions I ask my patients every single day. Every single day. And the questions I ask myself and the questions I ask my patients are often what defines how successful they are because we’re questioning the status quo. And that’s what gets them better.
Before we finish up, let’s do the review of the week. This is from Robyncox and they said:
“Thank you, Kimberley. I’m not sure how to condense all of my happiness and thanks but I’ll try. I was recommended to listen to your podcast by my therapist (who is just superb and I’m grateful she exists) and I instantly fell in love with your genuine desire to help which seeps through the sound waves.” I love that. “I am hooked on the real-life stories that I can connect to my own experience and have gotten my sister hooked as well who struggles with anxiety as I do. Thank you for your tools and support!”
Thank you, Robin. Again, I love hearing your reviews and I just love hearing that I can be of service and help you and be a part of your day. I love knowing that people are like taking walks, listening to me and we get to have chats together. It’s beautiful. It’s really, really such an honor.
All right. That’s it for Episode 290. That’s a lot of episodes, but I think we’re doing well. I will see you next week for Episode 291 and we will go from there. Oh, one thing to note. By the time you talk to me next time, I will be in Australia. We are going to spend the summer there this year and I could not be more excited. I’ll send you my love from there. Have a great day.