Five Myths about OCD

By Benjamin Schoendorff

Tired of being a slave to your obsessions?

In this post, we’ll debunk 5 myths about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In today’s culture, we joke that someone “ is OCD ” when they like to keep their kitchen spotless with each utensil, plate, and pot with its very own place. But OCD is not a preference, it’s not about liking a spotless kitchen or disliking germs.OCD is an overwhelming urge to do certain things: checking, counting, confessing, cleaning, ordering objects or trying to work out if you might inadvertently hurt someone. It can be one of the most painful experiences there is and hearing others joke about it can be deeply hurtful.

At the Contextual Psychology Institute, we know how painful OCD can be and we have developed effective strategies to help you live a rich and valued life. In this blog post we’ll outline some of these strategies.

Research shows that OCD rarely gets better on its own and reading a blog post won’t cure you.This doesn’t mean you’re broken or incomplete, it just means that if you suffer from OCD, we recommend that you get professional help.

Before we go any further, let us make clear the distinction between obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts that show up, often unexpectedly. They often come with unbearable anxiety and can take the form of imperious commands to engage in some action such as cleaning, counting, checking, or confessing. Obsessions can be so painful and scary that people living with OCD  will often seek reassurance from loved ones, sometimes compulsively. So the obsession is what shows up, and the compulsion is what you do to make it go away.


Five OCD myths

  • OCD is a choice.

  • You have to get rid of your obsessions and anxiety to live the life you want.

  • You have no control over your obsessions and compulsions.

  • The best way to get rid of OCD is to stop doing your compulsions.

  • You are OCD.

1. OCD is a choice.

People don’t choose to have obsessions anymore than they chose engaging in compulsions. OCD can be so highly distressing that people living with it often feel isolated, alone, and misunderstood by others who insist they just “ snap out of it ”.

2. You have to get rid of your obsessions and anxiety to live the life you want.

The idea that obsessions are bad and that anxiety must be destroyed is a myth that makes OCD take hold. After all, the point of compulsions is to give relieve you from your anxiety and obsessions. And it works, at least in the short term. Although it’s hard to believe, you can learn to live with all your thoughts and emotions, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help you do just that.

3. You have no control over your obsessions and compulsions.

This one is only half myth. Controlling our thoughts and emotions is a fool’s errand. Try not thinking of an elephant for 30 seconds. Or imagine that you were wired to a machine that would deliver a deadly jolt at the first sign of anxiety. How long would you survive? However, with practice and a good therapist, we can learn to control your compulsions and stop being a slave to what your mind commands you to do.

4. The best way to get rid of OCD is to stop doing your compulsions.

An effective treatment for OCD is, with the help of a therapist, to put yourself in situations that will activate your obsessions and anxiety, for example getting your hands dirty if you fear contamination, and refrain from engaging in the compulsion of washing until your anxiety subsides. Although this can work, it can be too difficult for many people living with obsessions. There is another problem, which is that trying not to do something, often results in stronger urges to do that very thing. At the Contextual Psychology Institute, we believe (and our research backs this) that it can be just as effective to learn to do the things that move you toward the people and things that are most important to you rather than engage in your compulsions. This is not primarily to defeat your compulsions or get rid of anxiety and obsessions (although it will help with that too), but in order for you to move toward a life worth living.

5. You are OCD.

You are not OCD. You have obsessions and anxiety. As part of your behaviors, you engage in compulsions. These are parts of your experience and of what you do, but they are not you. A person has fingers, but it is not fingers. You are much more that this. You have values. There are people, relationships and things that are important to you. Identifying them can help you choose the directions in which you want to move your life. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we put the people and things that are most important to you at the center of your recovery and help you learn how to kindly receive all you think and feel and choose to do what works to move toward what you most value in life.