Imagine that you and your friends go to a park to enjoy a summer evening with a campfire. As your group begins to enjoy the nice bonfire, a park ranger shows up and tells you that all fires need to be put out right away.
How would you extinguish the fire?
Of course, there are countless options. However, let’s pretend that the obvious resources that you want to use are not available for one reason or another. The only potential medium is a pile of wood logs nearby.
Would you use lumber to put the fire out? Of course not, that would be silly since we all know wood is highly flammable. This would only grow the bonfire. What could you do instead?
Maybe, the best solution would be to get back to visiting with friends while the fire slowly burns out on its own. Once in a while, you may glance at the fire, and then get back to having a good time.
When individuals struggle with OCD, their intrusive thoughts torment them endlessly. We could say that OCD is the bonfire, and the natural instinct is to try to “put the OCD bonfire” out with more “wood” or thoughts.
The human mind is very resourceful and it can come up with a myriad of alternatives to extinguish that OCD fire! Suppressing, ignoring, reasoning and rationalizing one’s thoughts may seem like practical ideas. On the surface, this makes sense, but will they provide long lasting results?
Those strategies require additional thoughts. In this context, ‘thoughts’ are actually the wood logs you would never use to quench a fire. Yet, it’s too easy to use more thoughts to mitigate the anguish you feel at times. Unfortunately, they only kindle the OCD fire.
If you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you may have tried everything feasible to smother it. You may think that will work for you. Otherwise you wouldn’t keep doing it. The internal and/or external rituals relieve stress, discomfort, uncertainty, and anxiety temporarily. In turn, the amazing mind makes you believe that some day the result will be permanent.
The fact is that the internal or external rituals you keep doing are strengthening your OCD. The obsessions and compulsions appear helpful, but they may be getting in the way of living your life to the fullest.
What can you do instead of fueling the OCD fire?
Just like you can let the fire subside by itself, you can let the thoughts wane without intervening.
To do so, consider these points:
- Remember the goal is to observe instead of refuel.
- Thoughts are thoughts — not facts. However, when you fuse with them you start believing them. As you believe them, your feelings and sensations arise and yes, those are real experiences in your body. However, you end up using them as evidence that your thoughts are also facts. They are not, but this is what leads you to want to eliminate them, which in turn keeps your OCD fire blazing.
- One way to start changing the fusion between you and your internal experiences is by learning to observe what is happening instead of trying to fix things with strategies that exacerbate the situation.
- Use Mindful Breathing. As you breathe in and out, stay focused on your breathing. Your attention may still go back to the intrusive thoughts or something else. Become attentive when this happens, and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Practice this exercise consistently every day for a few minutes at a time.
- If the unpleasant internal experiences were to diminish or disappear, don’t be surprised when they resurface. They always do because that is what happens naturally in the mind.
You have an amazing mind. Therefore, you can learn to become flexible with your thinking. As you practice observing your thoughts, you will start changing the habit of wanting to abate the OCD fire.
Do not give up because there is always hope and you have a meaningful life to live!