OCD Guilt as a simple intrusive thought- no known mistake
Guilt and Regret accompanied with sadness??
How to stop OCD guilt?
How to treat OCD guilt and regret
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.