OCD and Identity
I’ve previously written about some of the factors involved in recovery avoidance in OCD. Often those with the disorder are fearful of giving up rituals they believe keep them and their loved ones “safe.” Even though people with OCD usually realize their compulsions do not make sense, the terror that comes with losing what they perceive as control over their lives can be so real that they choose not to fully engage in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. They are afraid of getting better, of living a life without the “safety net” of OCD.
There are those with obsessive-compulsive disorder who compare how they feel to Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages (those with OCD) side with their captors/abusers (the OCD). While I’d known those with OCD might find it hard to leave their disorder behind, it had never occurred to me that they might not want to rid themselves of obsessive-compulsive disorder and all it entails. To me it is so counter-intuitive that I never even considered it. Why would anyone want to live with an illness that robs them of everything they hold dear?
It’s hard for me to comprehend, but then again, I don’t have OCD.
Perhaps because living with obsessive-compulsive disorder is the only life many who suffer with OCD have known, it might feel, in a way, comfortable. It is like family (though a dysfunctional one, at best). No matter how much our family might annoy us, and no matter how much we might even despise some of our family members, we still love them and want them around. Is this same type of love/hate relationship common with OCD?
And what will those with OCD do with all the extra time they’ll have once they are not slaves to hours and hours of daily compulsions? While this freedom is obviously a good thing, it can also be a daunting and frightening task to try to figure out how to spend time previously stolen by OCD.
Also, there is no question we are all shaped and influenced by many different factors in our lives, including our illnesses. Do those with OCD believe they won’t be their real selves if their illness is under control? For those who are able to see their obsessive-compulsive disorder as separate from themselves, I wouldn’t think this would be an issue. But maybe it is. Perhaps those with OCD believe not having their disorder as an integral part of their lives might change their true identity. To complicate matters more, it might be difficult for people with the disorder to even know what they believe. Are their thoughts their own or is it their OCD talking?
In my son’s case, getting treatment for his OCD is what allowed the real Dan to emerge. In over ten years as an advocate for OCD awareness and treatment, I have never heard from anyone with obsessive-compulsive disorder who felt their true self had been compromised after ridding themselves of this horrible disorder. Indeed, it is just the opposite. With OCD on the back burner, they were finally free to be their authentic selves.
Singer, J. (2018). OCD and Identity. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/ocd-and-identity/