As many of us already know, obsessive-compulsive disorder often latches on to the things that matter to us most. Your family and friends mean the world to you? Let’s give you harming obsessions. You love to travel? OCD will set you up with fears of flying and staying in hotels. The list of possibilities is endless.
One of the obsessions that I often hear about that makes me particularly sad is reading. For so many people, reading is a simple yet vital part of their lives. Whether reading a newspaper for information, a textbook for studies, or a novel for sheer pleasure, OCD can proceed to take these everyday activities and turn them into vicious cycles of obsessions and compulsions.
So how does Reading OCD manifest itself? As with all types of OCD, compulsions can vary from person to person. Some of the more common ones include having to read a word, sentence, or paragraph multiple times before continuing on. This could be as mild as having to reread the last word of every page, to something as severe as having to reread a particular sentence over and over for hours. To me, the worst compulsion of all is avoidance, where someone has given up reading altogether because it just takes too long and is too difficult.
One underlying obsession that typically incites these compulsions is the fear of not completely understanding what is being read. Some people with OCD might feel as if they are cheating if they don’t read and comprehend every single word. Or perhaps they feel others might view them as frauds. Even though those with OCD often acknowledge that these obsessions make no sense, they can’t control their compulsions or escape the vicious cycle.
The treatment for Reading OCD is the same as for all types of OCD – exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Ideally, the person with OCD works with a competent therapist using ERP, which involves doing the opposite of what OCD demands. So no rereading and no avoiding reading. One example of how this might be accomplished involves covering up words already read and not allowing yourself to uncover them to reread.
So without rereading, how can we be sure we really understand everything we read? Well, we can’t. Certainty is an elusive goal and part of ERP therapy is to accept that; there is very little in all of our lives that we can actually be sure of.
I have heard from people who have Reading OCD who haven’t read a book for pleasure in years. That is not the way life should be lived! We all deserve the freedom to be able to read if and when we want to. So if you have Reading OCD, I hope you’ll get the appropriate help. With hard work, you can soon be curling up with your favorite book.