Assay of Ten Things You Need to Know to Overcome OCD by Fred Penzel, Ph.D.
Subject as you are to desperately wondering What is OCD? – desperately seeking answers more pertinent to your particular kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, Harm OCD – it is unfortunately easy to take at face value the info you’re finding and be worried that you’re stuck with a thing you cannot get rid of. Especially so if this information comes from an esteemed medical source that owns a few letters after a name.
Now, far be it for me to be having a pop at anyone who is trying to help, or to be putting myself forward as the sole great arbiter of all things Harm OCD, I would have you note what follows has been chosen to highlight the fact that although there is most certainly common opinion regarding certain aspects of Harm OCD, there always will be the potential for qualified disagreement from those of us who have come through the worst of it and returned to full health.
And for that cause, because I think it’s really important for you to hear this, I can categorically say, having had no relapse into Harm OCD or even the slightest sense of the likelihood it could ever return, I cannot see why that once you too have recovered, this should be something for you to worry about – ever again – regardless of what others might say, MD’s included. Full healing should mean exactly that, a return to full health, not full health provided you continually watch over your shoulder lest it returns. Why there seems to be a policy for healthcare professionals to insure against comeback by stating chance of relapse, is quite beyond me.
Now, I’ve probably already made clear my main bone of contention and given you a sense of what is to follow. But please note, that although I have chosen this article by licensed psychologist Fred Penzel, Ph.D. for us to consider, I would not have you take my evaluation here as broad sweeping swipe at a man, whose work, for the most part, so far, I resonate with.
With this in mind, let’s now consider each point in turn.
N.B. you’ll need to open the article up in another tab to relate to what’s here.
1. OCD is chronic
The implication here is that OCD is something you’re stuck with, and in likening it to asthma and diabetes a condition that will exacerbate should you neglect to administer the appropriate care. Which, as already indicated above, is something I quite simply do not agree with.
He also says: “You can get it under control and become recovered, but at the present time, there is no cure”.
“Recovered” surely means “cured”, or am I missing the point?
Mr Penzel seems to suggesting something entirely different:
“The things you will have to do to treat it are really controls, and if you don’t learn to effectively make use of them throughout your life, you will run the risk of relapse. This means that if you don’t use the tools provided in cognitive/behavioral therapy, or if you stop taking your medication (in most cases) you will soon find yourself hemmed in by symptoms once again.”
Like I say elsewhere on this site, Harm OCD hasn’t scarred me at all, and my strong opinion is if I have fully recovered to live a normal life with no lasting recourse to depend on such “tools” or “controls” as is here being espoused, then others can too. Such “tools” or “controls” may undoubtedly be useful in helping us reach our desired destination, but once there, to hold a continued fear of Harm OCD ever returning just doesn’t seem right.
Without doubt our health depends upon a certain harmony between Body, Mind, and dare I say, Soul – but once achieved, it’s not something that has to be continually settled through use of the “tools” that brought us to it.
Moreover, it seems somewhat imprudent to suggest return to a previous state of ill-health, when it’s just as likely for us through loss of “harmony” to end up with some other form of malaise than return to the throes of Harm OCD, especially when we have through our experience of it become massively apprised as to what works and what doesn’t in righting ourselves.
2. Two of OCD’s main features are doubt and guilt.
Mr Penzel’s pretty well bang on with these “hallmarks of the disorder”, as with Harm OCD and other forms of OCD doubt and guilt commingled make for a fairly woesome but most certainly not unchangeable life situation. Nevertheless, where he says “it is not understood why this is so” I’m going to have a wee dabble and put up a little rationale for you to mull over.
“You” because this is your life: I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of it, the life experiences that brought you to this juncture. Only you know. Only you know where in your life you have strained in the pleasing of others, where because you have suffered censure you’ve suppressed your natural instincts to trudge a path not entirely of your own choosing. Only you know. Maybe your downers were your parents, your siblings, your teachers, your so-called friends. It doesn’t matter who they were, or in what combination or order they came it. We’ve all had them – abusers and controllers, amongst other things – and they’ve leached from you power. Invasive, they’ve made sure to show you their needs were greater than yours. They have showed you your station below them. Their hopes and their dreams they have wanted for you, to live their lost lives. Your individuality they shot down in flames. Your pride they abused. Your exuberance, mocked. You. The real you they saw as a threat and rival to cast shadow on them
Wounds. None are immune. Caused by others.
Now, we’re not recognizing them here to play victim and loll in self-pity, because recovery from Harm OCD means we are willing to give up that game. No, this is gaining perspective, so we can rise from the fall. Your noting of things that have tripped you before, so they trip no more. This is you becoming mindful of balance and your own guide and light.
The way I see it, doubt is your own energy flung back on itself. Suppressed creativity caused by those who have damaged your capacity to experience your legitimate greatness. And so weakened, any assertive person can make us feel small, make us think twice about expressing ourselves. And yes, this is frustrating, it makes us angry, we feel entrapped, powerless even. We berate ourselves for our weakness, for not speaking up. But strangest of all, while on the one hand we are indignant for that, guarded against becoming like our oppressors, so we make sure not to stoop to their level: on the other, for all we resent them, we might truckle with them and seek their approval, seek their acceptance.
Which brings us to guilt. The feeling we get for doing what we love to do, all the while remembering why some powerful other might not like us for that. The feeling we get for not asking permission to be who we are. The feeling we get when we achingly question codes of conduct not of our making, and are fiercely rebuked.
Guilt is inferiority (self-doubt) and loneliness entwined in fear and denial. What we get for not facing the real causes of insecurity: powerful others: what we get for denying that we can, or that we need to, stand up to them. And the truth is we don’t have to. Self-assured, we can sort the wheat from the chaff. Who needs their love anyway? It’s only in our doubting we think that we do, and so we fear their withdrawal, we fear we may push them away.
Indeed, with guilt, as with doubt, there is always the other: our lives revolve around ideas of their perception of us. And perversely, as they seem to exist to make us feel worthless, we think the only cure available to us, is to show them we’re not. It’s just they keep picking us apart when we’ve started to build up our walls of resistance; our endeavour elicits no good wishes or praise; our mistakes they lambaste.
Toxic relationships like this between a powerful other and ourselves usually begin early in life and are hard to get out of due to a bind of mutual dependence, where each one feeds off of the other in a rote of identification with ones own values and the interests of their respective social groups. (Note, however, in this regard, mutual dependence does not mean mutual gain.)
Living under the shadow of powerful others it’s not uncommon for us to become increasingly tense and anxious in their presence, guarded as we are against, and sensitized to, their uninvited opinions. For the more another makes us feel doubt and guilt, the less decisive we are and the less control we feel we have over our lives. We let others decide. By and by, against ourselves, doing so much that we don’t want to, our resentment builds, and indeed, in living for others, all the while longing to be who we are, our effort to find our true place in the world becomes such a great struggle, is it any wonder we end up exhausted with Harm OCD?
What needs to be understood about doubt and guilt are they are markers of a fear of rejection, which is a withdrawal of love and seen at its extreme, complete condemnation in the form of ones doom – which is exactly where it is for someone with Harm OCD, who due to being flooded with anxiety causing stress chemicals fears committing such heinous transgressions as to warrant their eternal damnation.
In essence, however, although it’s really hard to appreciate this in the midst of ones harming obsessions, this experience is none other than the magnified version of a decidedly inclusive fear we all have experienced at various times. Again: the fear of rejection. It’s just that with everyday stress these unpleasant but perfectly normal feelings seem passing and linked to a cause (as in cause and effect). With Harm OCD, however, in a state of nervous exhaustion, our fears are redoubled.
In other words, with normal levels of stress we experience normal levels of doubt and guilt; but with Harm OCD where our stress levels are so very high, our feelings of doubt and guilt are far less yielding and somewhat blown up. And that’s putting it lightly.
Fearing rejection how often have we held back our passion, our aggression, our sense of injustice, even our feelings of rage? Our inner masochist informs us such pugnacious behaviour is the orbit of others. But then all of a sudden it seems like all we have the long years suppressed is like to explode with indiscriminate, sadistic violence. Dark imagining’s plague us. We seem a danger to others. Our anxiety levels rapidly rise as we doubt our humanity, doubt our sanity. And, of course, we are truly ripped ragged with a terrible and burdensome guilt the likes we could have hardly imagined possible prior our harming obsessions and the terror we fear we will reign should we finally crack.
This guilt, however, is a sure sign you won’t. This guilt, mark of your desire to be thought well of others, is gauge of your conscience, your disinclination to do what you fear your harming obsessions are leading you to. This guilt, is sure sign you know right from wrong, sure sign you know your thoughts are not what you’re wanting.
3. Although you can resist performing a compulsion, you cannot refuse to think an obsessive thought.
For now, I’m going to hang fire commenting on the concept of obsessions being merely “biochemically generated mental events that seem to resemble one’s own real thoughts, but aren’t”. What is more important to note, is that Mr Penzel seems to be presenting an inharmonious construct where on the one hand “thought suppression” (i.e. fighting your thoughts) is clearly rejected – while on the other, again quite clearly – that fear, too, originating in the mind, is just such a thing from which there is no hope of escape – therefore it “must be confronted” (i.e. again, fought).
Now, we may perhaps forgive Mr Penzel for the inappropriate use of the word “confronted” here, as I’m sure a word like “abiding” might’ve been better, as he then goes on to suggest that should people with OCD go on to “stay” with their fear, it would surely abate.
Nonetheless, for bearers of Harm OCD, it’s this idea of “facing ones fear” that is so very alarming. For how do you face your fear that you’re going crazy and you think you might kill?
Well, as it’s the purpose of this website to offer specific guidance to aid your return to full health, we have to acknowledge that large part of this purpose is the adoption of a new language more relevant to what you are wanting, and what you are needing, to hear. As we hope to show you, recovery from Harm OCD has more to with “relaxing” than “facing” and as such Mr Penzel’s words should perhaps be seen as impertinent detail more suited to dealing with other forms of fear than Harm OCD, or indeed OCD in general.
Obsessive thoughts are by their very nature, well, obsessive, meaning that they are persistent. They are also symptomatic of your speeded up systems and high anxiety state. Recognizing this, our knowing is these thoughts will begin to diminish as you learn to slow down and deal with the pith of the matter which is your high anxiety state. “Facing”, “fighting”, or even trying to “ignore” disturbing intrusive thoughts merely adds to your tautness where “let go” is needed. This idea of “let go” we will discuss in greater detail elsewhere on this site. Suffice to say here, however, it entails accepting the idea that as you learn to adopt a cool indifference or lack of concern, or casualness, with your harming obsessions – and yes, we will show you how to do this – you will slowly but surely be undermine the anxiety that is producing these thoughts.
*more to follow soon*