When you have OCD, it can be hard to understand why you are engaging in certain behaviors. You know it doesn’t make sense to be showering 15 times a day, or to be having extreme meltdowns whenever you don’t understand your homework, or to be praying for 20 minutes every time a bad thought enters your head. But you can’t seem to stop. And when it’s this difficult to understand it yourself, the prospect of getting others to understand seems near impossible. This is probably why it’s so common for loved ones of someone with OCD to say “I don’t understand why you can’t just stop!” Well, there’s actually an answer to that question…
Our bodies are capable of emotions so intense that they can completely control our behavior. Consider the level of emotion you might feel in the following scenarios:
Fear: You accept a challenge to be dropped into ocean waters in an area notable for its shark population and tread water for 15 minutes. Unable to see anything in the surrounding waters, it’s about 5 minutes in when you see the first fin rise above the surface. 10 minutes to go.
Disgust: You are relaxing in the park on a summer day when a prankster tips a nearby Port-a-Potty over covering you in urine and feces.
Doubt: You have to answer with certainty whether or not you locked your car. Oh, and here’s the catch. You have to stake the life of a loved one on your answer. Still sure you locked it?
Anger: You receive a call from the cable company informing you that you failed to disconnect your cable from a rental apartment many years ago. Even though you moved out of the residence you are responsible for $500 of unpaid cable service. You talk to every manager you can get on the line and they all say the same thing. You are responsible for the bill. If you can’t pay it, it will be sent to collections.
This Can Be What It’s Like to Have OCD
These are some lighthearted examples, but hopefully they prove my point. Our bodies are capable of experiencing extreme versions of anger, disgust, doubt, and fear, among other feelings. And despite our intellects, we are still very susceptible to our emotions. They can stop us dead in our tracks, even make us unable to function.
Many people with OCD experience this level of emotion at the wrong time. You might feel extreme disgust just from touching the bottom of a shoe, or extreme anger because a game at recess wasn’t played according to the rules, or extreme fear because you have to make a normal, everyday decision. And this can be one of the main reasons why you engage in ritualized and avoidant behavior.
This is incredibly important to realize. It can help you to understand why you are doing what you are doing, and it can help you explain it to others as well. Now, of course, the question remains; what can you do when you’re stuck with all of these crazy, intense emotions? For more on that, be sure to hang tight for Part 2…