Extreme Emotions Part 2: or Why Star Wars was Wrong

In my last post, I discussed how it can be hard to fight the urge to engage in OCD rituals because the emotions associated with resisting are too extreme and uncomfortable. When faced with the choice between doing a ritual like completing a 10-minute ritualized hand wash or feeling the guilt and anxiety that will result from resisting this urge, it makes sense that you would get in the habit of performing the ritual. But once you commit to OCD treatment, you realize that the only way out of OCD involves finding a way to resist your rituals. So, let’s discuss what you can do to face those extreme emotions of OCD and find success.

1. Realize that Star Wars was Wrong. There are a number of scenes in the Star Wars films when characters are told to “search their feelings” to discover what they know to be true. Unfortunately, when you have OCD there is a little glitch in your brain that is causing you to have certain feelings at the wrong time. You’re feeling guilty when you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re feeling disgusted when you’re not actually dirty. You’re feeling anxious and panicked when no one is in danger. One of the keys to successfully battling OCD is to learn NOT to trust the emotional signals your brain is sending you, at least when it comes to your specific OCD obsessions. This requires you to create some distance between yourself and your feelings. The next time your OCD is triggered, be sure NOT to search your feelings. DON’T ask yourself questions like: “Why do I feel so anxious?” “What did I do wrong this time?” This will only lead to getting stuck in your head with your OCD thoughts. Instead, remind yourself that “This is just my OCD making me feel this uncomfortable physical sensation at the wrong time.”

2. Get Good at Feeling Bad. Once you start to question the signals your brain is sending you, the battle is far from over. Your OCD is going to keep making you feel the uncomfortable feeling for a while. This means that, while you have to stop searching your feelings and figuring out what they might mean, you still have to accept their existence. This will involve increasing your tolerance for the uncomfortable feelings you’ve been trying to get rid of all these years. Some of the bad feelings that OCD sufferers have to feel include anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and disgust. Whatever emotions your OCD has been torturing you with, try to get in touch with the physical experience of these emotions. Instead of fighting the physical experiences, make room for them. Notice where in your body they happen. Loosen up your muscles and let the sensations spread and disperse. The physical experience is often more tolerable than you realize, especially when you stop analyzing your feelings and trying to figure out what they mean. If you were busy with something before you were triggered (doing homework, talking to someone, etc) try and redirect your attention back to the activity, even if the uncomfortable feelings remain. And if you’re not busy with anything, see if there is something you can occupy yourself with. Just try and resist your typical OCD rituals. And don’t wait for the feelings to pass. Accept them. And get back to living your life.