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What If the ‘What Ifs’ Come True?

Question Mark CardsMost people with obsessive-compulsive disorder typically realize their obsessions and compulsions are irrational and make no sense. There are times, however, that this belief can waver – especially when on the surface it appears that the compulsions are working. For example, a woman with OCD might feel compelled to perform a certain set of rituals to keep her husband safe when he travels for work. Perhaps she says the same words to him every time he leaves, or she organizes her kitchen in a particular way on the day he travels. Let’s just say that for whatever reason, the last time her husband traveled she was not able to complete these rituals. And lo and behold, her husband was in a car accident where he, thankfully, sustained only minor injuries. Another example might involve a dad who was terrified of transferring germs to his young daughter, and wouldn’t you know it, when he wasn’t able to wash his hands for as long as he felt was necessary, the little girl contracted a nasty viral infection.

If, in our first example, the woman had performed her rituals the day of her husband’s accident, would the accident still have occurred? In the second example, if the dad had washed his hands just one more time, would his daughter have gotten sick? The answer, of course, is we really don’t know.

Uncertainty, which we know fuels the fire of OCD, is simply a fact of life. In the course of all of our lifetimes, good things will happen and bad things will happen and we can never be sure, from one minute to the next, what awaits us. Whether we suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder or not, there are bound to be challenges and surprises, and in order to live satisfying, productive lives, we need to be able to deal with whatever comes our way.

Which brings me to what I find amazing about so many people with OCD. They might obsess over certain things and live in fear of so many “what ifs,” but when these “what ifs” actually do come true, they typically handle the tough situations just fine. When the “something bad” finally happens, it is usually manageable; much more manageable, in fact, than their OCD. The toll that obsessive-compulsive disorder takes on not only the person who has it, but on their loved ones as well, tends to be much worse than the “what ifs”  they spend so much time worrying about.

Along the same lines, I often hear those with OCD say they can’t face exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the evidence-based treatment for the disorder, because it is too difficult and anxiety-provoking. Really? Could it truly be worse than the continuous torment of OCD? At least with ERP therapy there is a purpose to the uncomfortable feelings and anxiety – you are working toward a life not controlled by you, not obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I often think of a blog post I read years ago that was written by a person with OCD. The writer came to the realization that with all the horrible things she always worried about happening, the worst thing that had actually happened was OCD. It was an epiphany, and she went on to fight OCD and regain her life. I hope others will do the same.

What If the ‘What Ifs’ Come True?


Janet Singer

Janet Singer’s son Dan suffered from OCD so severe that he could not even eat. After navigating through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs, Dan made a triumphant recovery. Janet has become an advocate for OCD awareness and wants everyone to know that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is so much hope for those with this disorder. Janet, who uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy, is the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield. Her own blog, www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com, has reached readers in 167 countries. She is married with three children and resides in New England.

APA Reference
Singer, J. (2018). What If the ‘What Ifs’ Come True?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-if-the-what-ifs-come-true/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 19 Dec 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.